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Monday, December 19, 2005
Devils need to build around Brodeur

By Barry Melrose
Special to ESPN.com

I know how Larry Robinson feels right now. I've coached a team that has struggled and it's difficult. The stress on a coach is unbelievable -- everyone looks to you for answers, and sometimes, you don't have the answer.

Having said that, Robinson's resignation isn't a complete shock.

Larry Robinson
The Devils were 14-13-5 under Larry Robinson this season.

He's never been the type of coach that couldn't separate himself from the game. He left the game for a while after he played, and he left coaching for a bit after his first stint with the Devils. It's not like he had to coach to live. Now, that doesn't mean he didn't take the job seriously or that he didn't work hard. But some coaches could never be away from the game. Robinson never struck me as that type.

And Robinson is right: no job is worth getting sick over. If there is criticism out there that he was using the stress as an excuse, it's not an excuse, it's a fact. He had stress because his team was losing. If he's in first place, there is no stress!

As for the future of the Devils' coaching situation ...

Team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello is a very loyal man. That's why he gave Robinson a few chances to coach, that's why he gave Robbie Ftorek more than one chance.

Lou is a very different cat and goes to the beat of his own drum, especially with this decision and what type of coach he'll hire. It wouldn't surprise me if he gave Ftorek another go, it wouldn't surprise me if he made current assistant and former Devils player John MacLean the coach. Heck, it wouldn't surprise me if Lou himself coached the team the rest of the season. With Lou, you just never can tell which way he's going to go.

But his team needs to win, and they need to build around the best netminder in the world in Martin Brodeur.

The Devils used to have this aura around them, that their defense was invincible. That is not the case anymore. They can't protect leads, they are taking bad penalties and they are allowing too many shots. Look at New Jersey's last two games: Dan McGillis took a roughing call that led to Atlanta's winner and costly turnovers led to three third-period goals in a loss to Carolina.

This team can't afford to rely on offense and they have to win those 2-1 games. They are not going to score five or six goals a game like Detroit, Vancouver or Ottawa. The Devils need to cut the shots down, build around Brodeur and start relying on him.

No matter whom Lou chooses behind the bench, that coach will likely have Patrik Elias back in the lineup at some point over the second half of the season, giving back the Devils their best offensive player.

At this point, any positive is good for the Devils.

Barry Melrose, a former NHL defenseman and coach, is a hockey analyst for ESPN.