Lou Lamoriello is always full of surprises, of course, but don't be surprised if he hires one of the two coaching Pats -- Pat Burns or Pat Quinn -- to be behind the bench of the New Jersey Devils next season.


Lamoriello stunned hockey followers last week when he replaced coach Claude Julien with himself. He will serve as the Devils' coach as they long as they remain alive in the post-season. His plan for next season, however, is to return to his general manager's position and hire a new coach.


Despite their seasons out of hockey, both Burns and Quinn are eager to resume their coaching careers and both have good relationships with Lamoriello.


Other candidates to take over as coach in New Jersey next season are Marc Habscheid, associate coach of the Boston Bruins, and John MacLean, a New Jersey assistant since 2002.


• Clearly, Lamoriello didn't go out of his way to do the Toronto Maple Leafs any favours on Sunday.

He decided not to use Martin Brodeur, arguably the NHL's premier goaltender, in a game against the New York Islanders.

As it turned out, the Islanders beat the Devils in a shootout and qualified for the playoffs ahead of the Leafs.

Asked if he were concerned about the Leafs' views, Lamoriello said: "Not at all. I care about resting my goalie before the playoffs. That's all I care about. Martin needed a day off."

• Playoff predictions for the eight best-of-seven series:

The Buffalo Sabres over the Islanders in six.

The Devils over the Tampa Bay Lightning in five.

The New York Rangers over the Atlanta Thrashers in six.

The Pittsburgh Penguins over the Ottawa Senators in six.

The Calgary Flames over the Detroit Red Wings in seven.

The Minnesota Wild over the Anaheim Ducks in seven.

The Vancouver Canucks over the Dallas Stars in four.

The San Jose Sharks over the Nashville Predators in five.

• Julien, incidentally, was stunned after Lamoriello summoned him last Monday to axe him.

He said he wasn't expecting to be fired because only three games remained in the regular season and his team was in first place and primed for the playoffs.

"You're thinking you're going to be heading into the playoffs and you're getting mentally prepared for that," Julien said in a teleconference. "You don't want to be let go with three games left in the season, but at the same time, everybody has a job to do, and that's a part of the game you have to understand."

Julien's firing shocked New Jersey players as well, even though the team had gone through a rough stretch, losing seven of its first 10 games in March. The Devils have won five of their past six games since then, including Tuesday night's 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators, with Lamoriello behind the bench.

Julien didn't criticize Lamoriello, who told reporters Monday that he made the 11th-hour change because he felt the team lacked focus and wasn't mentally or physically ready for the playoffs.

"As coach, sometimes you make decisions that are tough to understand but are for the good of the hockey club," Julien said. "In Lou's mind, he really thought that was the best decision for the hockey club, and I have to respect that."

The firing came a day after the Devils regained first place in the Atlantic Division with a 3-1 victory at home against Boston. Winger Brian Gionta, last season's leading scorer, made his return in that game after missing 19 of the team's previous 21 games with a groin injury.

Forwards John Madden and Patrik Elias also were sidelined with groin injuries but have returned to the lineup, although forward Scott Gomez continues to nurse a leg injury. Julien said the Devils were starting to regain their form in time for the playoffs.

"We were working on that, for sure," he said. "Obviously we had some injuries, but you always hope that with your players coming back it's going to help. But there are certain things you can control and certain things you can't."

Although he acknowledged the firing hurt him on a personal as well as professional level, Julien said he had no regrets about joining the Devils last year and that in general he had been treated well by Lamoriello.

Before coming to the Devils, Julien was fired by the Montreal Canadiens midway through the 2005-06 season with a 19-16-6 record. He led the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2004.

Lamoriello has moved behind the bench for the second consecutive year, although he said he does not plan to coach the team again next season. Julien said he had not talked to Lamoriello about whether he would remain with the club in another capacity.

Julien was hired by New Jersey last June. Lamoriello had coached the team through the end of the 2005-06 season following coach Larry Robinson's surprise resignation in December, 2005. The Devils won their final 11 regular-season games to win the Atlantic Division, then swept the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the eventual champions, the Carolina Hurricanes, in the conference semifinals.

• Speaking of the Hurricanes, they're disgusted with themselves after failing to make the post-season.

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