By Max Herman
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Well it’s finally happened. GM Lou Lamoriello pulled the plug on rookie head coach John MacLean on Thursday and has replaced him with the previously-retired Jacques Lemaire.
There are those of us – myself included – who will tell you that coaching has not been the issue with this team. But 9 wins in 33 games demands that somebody be held accountable.
Since the outset of the year, salary cap restrictions and a bounty of no-trade clauses have made the task of fitting new parts into the roster about as difficult as parallel parking a school bus. So Lou did one of the few things he actually had the capacity to do, and that was fire his head coach.
Lamoriello expressed that he had every intention of sticking with MacLean, but after losing the last three games by a combined score of 15-3, he couldn’t continue to just sit on his hands.
How bad has it gotten? Well let me put it this way. Before last season, I signed up to receive text alerts to my phone just in case I had to miss a game for whatever reason. It would send a message after every goal and at the end of each period. I never canceled that service, and so throughout this season, I continued to receive those texts. At least that was until a few weeks ago…
It’s been five games since the last time I received a text alert from this service. It’s almost as if it’s the phone’s way of telling me, “C’mon man. What do you expect? Do you really still care? They’re losing. You shouldn’t need a text alert at this point.”
And you don’t need a text message to know that this isn’t the greatest situation that Lemaire is walking into. Boy, would I have loved to have been a fly on the wall for the conversation during which Lou convinced Lemaire to replace MacLean. Considering that the plan is for Jacques to finish out the rest of this year, but not beyond, I have to wonder where the appeal lies for him to accept this position. I imagine the phone call went something like this:
Lou: “Hey Jacques, I know you said that last year was ‘the end of the line’ for you and all, but I’ve got this 9-22-2 team that plays little to no defense and is also last in the league in goals scored per game. Whaddaya say? Wanna coach ‘em?”
Jacques: “I don’t care! Just get me out of the house! This retirement stuff is driving me crazy! I’ve been trying to teach my wife and kids the nuances of the neutral zone trap! They just don’t get it! Seriously, where do I sign?”
Lemaire figures to bring some desperately needed intensity to the defensive aspect of the game, and he sure does have his work cut out for him in that respect. Perhaps the biggest bugaboo for the Devs this season has been their sloppy play within their own zone. Jacques was the coach that was most responsible for the Devils teams of the past being branded as defensively genius. With that in mind, look for the young defensemen on this team to benefit most from the coaching change.
However, there is a potential downside to this hire. Fans may recall that Lemaire butted heads with some of his players down the stretch last season, with the biggest complaint being that he insisted on holding practices during road trips instead of giving the players days off. Some players took exception to finding out that they were being scratched on the day of a game via text message, such as Jay Pandolfo experienced before Game 5 of the playoff series against the Flyers.
The most public clash involved captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who had a big problem with Jacques benching him for a late-season game against Carolina. Lemaire insisted it was to get Langenbrunner some rest before the playoffs, but Jamie was intent on playing all 82 games that season.
When asked on Thursday to describe his relationship with Lemaire, Jamie cryptically said, “We’ll see, right? You guys obviously wrote a lot about what that was like last year – some truth, some not. I respect him as a coach. I think he’s a very smart hockey man. We’ll do what’s best for the team. He’s a very good hockey guy.”
It should be mentioned that Jamie is in the last year of his contract and very well could be a casualty of this lost season himself. But he’s also one of the players with a no-trade clause. It’s my opinion that if he is presented with the right situation, though, that the 35-year-old Langenbrunner would be eager to abandon ship and sign on with a contender. Jamie has said that he hasn’t thought that far ahead, and that he’s “still dealing with the fact that Johnny got let go and feeling somewhat responsible for that.”
At the end of the day, the players don’t have to like their head coach, but they do have to respect him. The players got along swimmingly with Johnny Mac, but they only won 9 games for him. It is time for a head coach with a tough, no-nonsense personality who also demands defensive responsibility. Lemaire is the prototype for that. It’s just too bad that it’s far too late to save the season.
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- Dealing With The Devils: Losing It (newyork.cbslocal.com)