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Firing MacLean Not The Solution

There are several words to describe John MacLean’s first season as Devils’ head coach.

His team continuously turns in inconsistent performances. The offense is terrible, the injuries are unfortunate, and the bounces have been unlucky. MacLean, who led the Devils AHL affiliate to the playoffs last season, can’t figure out how to get his team rolling. New Jersey currently resides in the league’s basement (29th out of 30 teams) and 13 points out a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Their goal differential sits at -30, tied with the New York Islanders for worst in the league. The Devils continue to play below their talent level and are one of the biggest busts of the early NHL season.

MacLean's first season as the Devils coach hasn't gone as planned. Photo Credit: Andy Marlin/Getty Images

As the situation grows bleak, speculation grows that MacLean will lose his job. The head coach acknowledged those rumors today at practice.

“I can’t let any of that stuff enter into my mind,” MacLean said to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “That stuff is out here (holding his right hand out away from him). No control over that. I have control over coming to the rink every day, running practice, the games and making the decisions to try and help us win.”

While the easy solution would be firing MacLean, it’s not the best solution. The coach has struggled, but it’s been a perfect storm of unfortunate consequences that led the team to this point. Someone needs to be held responsible for the team’s performance, but it shouldn’t squarely fall on the shoulders of MacLean. Here are some other factors contributing to the Devils miserable performance thus far:

1. Injuries

The Devils haven’t played with a healthy roster since training camp. During the season, several key players missed significant time. New Jersey played without scorers Brian Rolston (14 games) and Jamie Langenbrunner (eight games). They also lost defenseman Anton Volchenkov for 12 games, Matt Taormina for nine games (and counting) and Martin Brodeur missed nine games (and counting) with a nagging elbow injury. The team also lost Zach Parise to knee surgery and Bryce Salvador to a concussion.

That’s a long laundry list of important players. In their places, the Devils turned to unproven rookies and minor role players. That never allowed the lines to develop chemistry. It handcuffed the coaching staff and limited their ability to do much of anything. Other players haven’t stepped up, and maybe the coaches didn’t adapt well. But injuries are a major factor into this team’s struggles.

2. Team Wide Slumps

Contributing to the struggles is the team-wide slump affecting every single player. Ilya Kovalchuk is the poster boy for this crippling inconsistency. A proven goal scorer, Kovalchuk has five – FIVE – goals during the season. Jason Arnott only has nine goals, Patrik Elias has four, and Travis Zajac scored only three times. The Devils have received little production from the blue line as well.

It’s not only the offense. Brodeur is on pace for career lows in goals-against average (2.74) and save percentage (.901). As I stated above, the future Hall-of-Famer has battled a nagging elbow injury, reducing his ability to play consistent hockey.

Once again, the inconsistent play and team-wide slumps can’t fully be credited to MacLean. He can’t score the goals or make the necessary plays. The team’s play will only be as good as the players executing the system. Clearly, his players haven’t lived up to their end of the bargain.

Will MacLean still have his job if the Devils continue to struggle? Past history isn't in his favor. Photo Credit: Amanda Brown/The Star-Ledger

3. Inconsistency

The Devils have been terribly inconsistent, to the point of sheer frustration on the part of fans and players alike. One period they look unstoppable, the next they can’t seem to get out of their zone. The Devils can win three of four, but look so futile losing two straight. Every mistake, whether big or small, comes back to kill this team.

Is MacLean responsible for the inconsistent play? Possibly. Maybe he hasn’t motivated the team the right way or made necessary adjustments. But the players need to correct the issues themselves as well. The inconsistencies littering this lineup can only be fixed when the coaches and players get on the right page. Whether there’s a breakdown in communication, etc., the entire team needs to fix the issues.

**********

I believe the Devils problems don’t all stem from their head coach. Some responsibility needs to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the players. They haven’t produced this season. They haven’t carried out the game plan. Their play is inconsistent. All of these things are correctable, and the players need to begin to take responsibility for their play. They’ve said all the right things, but the players need to produce.

The coaches deserve part of the blame as well. MacLean has looked outcoached at times, and there have been instances were he could have done more. Adam Oates can’t help the powerplay produce consistently, and the defensive play under Larry Robinson is shaky. The coaching staff needs to take responsibility for these deficiencies and fix them, and their inability to do so helped put the team in this hole.

Should MacLean be shown the door? I don’t think it would be the right decision. The Devils showed they could win and string together good performances two weeks ago. They’ve once again fallen down, and the team needs to fight back. While MacLean’s leadership has yet to produce wins, he hasn’t been the main factor behind the Devils’ poor start. Jumping the gun and firing him will achieve nothing.

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  1. December 6, 2010 at 10:40 pm

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