Thursday, December 23, 2010

N.J. Devils ~ Coach John MacLean Fired by Devils

NEW JERSEY DEVILS: Former Devils' Great, Rookie NHL Coach John MacLean Gets Fired By Big Lou.

Lou Lamoriello: Outside of coaching changes, there's nothing else he can do to save his team from the Salary Cap Hell he put them in.

Coming into this season, most Hockey fans and experts were pretty much all sold on the notion the N.J. Devils would boast an above-average offense but that their defense would not meet the standards set by teams of their "trapping" and "post-trap" past.  But the Devilish irony that has repeatedly jabbed at New Jersey with a pitchfork this season is the complete opposite of what anyone expected.

While the low defensive expectations have indeed been unceremoniously met this season, the Devils scoring has been down-right malignant.  In a situation one can only ponder logically by setting all common sense aside, the New Jersey Devils are dead-last in all the National Hockey League in goals scored.

There are ten teams in the League that have surrendered 100+ goals this season.  And while the Devils are one of those teams with 103 GA, they aren't the worst of the lot which is no consolation...(I know).  That distinction is shared by Tampa Bay and Anaheim with 111 goals against.

What is alarmingly bedeviling though, is their paltry fifty-nine goals-for.  That goal total is dead last in the League; eight goals worse than the N.Y. Islanders.  On a team with Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Arnott, Patrick Elias, S. Gionta, Travis Zajac, and guys like Rolston and Langenbrunner being enough to round out three quality lines, what they have combined to offer as support for their new Coach was nothing short of putrid.

The Team-First Philosophy of interchangeable players, all abiding by a system with no room for individuals is all but gone from an organization that worked incredibly hard for over two decades now, with limited means and less than sold-out games, to become one of the League's most consistently successful franchises.

Not only is the woeful play a radical departure from what used to be known as Devil's Hockey, the zeal with-which the organization insisted on signing Ilya Kovalchuk was very strange to all Hockey minded on-lookers.  With a fistful of money, they abandoned their own edicts like drunken sailors on shore-leave. 

The Devil's way was to develop a self-reliant, self-sustaining farm system, so as to seamlessly fit these players on the Big Lines and then make savvy trades at the dead-line.  Unless Ilya's signing is explained to me a different way, I can only surmise the Devils lusted for Kovalchuk, there-by clouding their better sense.  The temptation of "scoring" can be DEVILISH....right fellas?  They knowingly came into the season compromised on defense.  But they, you nor I ever anticipated this offense featuring Kovalchuk would be pathetically worse.  In a very unDevil-like transaction they bought into the STAR System.  After 33 games the gamble has been a complete and utter failure.  And this afternoon, after only 59 goals and 20 team points good enough only for Last Place.... it cost their rookie Coach his job.

John MacLean was relieved of his Head Coaching duties this afternoon by Big Lou Lamoriello in a move widely anticipated.  Not so long ago, Big Lou placed the onus on his star players to get the Devils out of their malaise.  When it was evident they were no closer to solving the team's problems, Coach John MacLean too, failed to continually find things to tell the media.  He literally ran out of words to say as he could no longer provide answers for them outside of, "I don't know."

For that; for a woefully underachieving roster with star players missing in action, and for the sake of loosening an increasingly tightening grip on last place that needed to be immediately addressed, John MacLean, a former Devil Great himself, had to be removed.  He was after-all a rookie Coach.  The position was tenuous to begin with.

Former two-time Devil Coach and Stanley Cup Champion Jacques LeMaire was named interim Coach for New Jersey.

You'll never go wrong hiring Jacques to coach your team.  He's a flat out winner.  But this appointment hints, to me, of something much darker and dire.  This points to something at the very foundation the Devil's Rock is built on....Lou Lamoriello himself.

He is arguably the best Sports Executive in the Metropolitan area.   But there is no ignoring an increasingly glaring problem.  The salary cap has perplexed even the best executives in Sports and Lou is no exception.  Lou has struggled with the salary cap repeatedly in the past and this Kovalchuk contract will be an albatross for years to come.  The farm system has hit a lull in productivity and things aren't as interchangeable as they used to be for Big Lou.

The task Jacques LeMaire has ahead of him pales in comparison to what big Lou has to deal with.  Jacques gets to do what he does best.  Somehow he and Devil Veteran Colin White have to find a way to get Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder, Volchenkov and Anssi Salmela to play a style of defense that will get the offensive "stars" out of their funk and away from other responsibilities and there-by sparking transition in an offensive direction.

Yea....easy right?

Will this move be enough to dramatically save the Devils season that is more than one-third of the way over?  I doubt it.  It's not like Big Lou hasn't fired a coach before.  As a matter of fact he's more known for it.  But this may be more than just paint chipping off the walls and a broken window or two.  And we haven't even touch the Brodeur situation either....have we?

We just might be in the earliest days of the Fall of the Devil's Empire.


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