Is John MacLean feeling the heat already?
Now the first year coach of the Devils, John MacLean waited for his chance to be the head coach in New Jersey for a long time. He served seven years as assistant to a succession of experienced coaches and spent the last year as head coach of New Jersey's AHL affiliate in Lowell.
He was passed over for more experienced veterans like Brent Sutter and then Jacques Lemaire before being finally handed over the reins this season after the latter retired. MacLean was a respected figure as a player and is obviously well liked in the Devils organisation.
Expectations are high for this season after the team invested heavily in the offseason, not just to star sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, but also revamping their defence with long term deals for Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder.
But the team has stumbled out of the gate and some are already wondering if MacLean might wind up as one of the early coaching casualties of 2010-2011.
GM Lou Lamoriello is no stranger to bold moves behind the bench. He fired head coach Claude Julien in 2007 when the team led their division and was second in the conference towards the end of the year and took charge himself, unhappy with the team's "lack of readiness to challenge for the Stanley Cup."
He took the careful approach with MacLean, allowing him to groom himself as a coach as an assistant and AHL coach before giving him the reins, perhaps a year or two earlier than planned after Lemaire's surprising retirement.
MacLean's Devils have looked sluggish in their first six games. They have managed only 10 goals and won just one of those games, none at home. For a team with three solid lines of offensive contributors, that kind of production is inexplicable.
It is very early in the year of course and guys like Zach Parise, Patrik Elias and Kovalchuk will get going eventually, but the team has looked awfully discombobulated to start the year, and first-year coaches in particular find good starts valuable.
It's important to get veteran players to trust the coach and get the feeling he knows what he's doing from the start. With a performance as weak as theirs has been so far, the players might quickly lose faith in the coach, and that certainly would not improve matters in the Devils locker room.
There has been a fair bit of criticism, very rightly so, directed at Lamoriello and the Devils for their mismanagement of the salary cap, leading to them being able to ice only 15 players in one of the games. This has probably worked as a distraction within the team as well, and players wondering about their potential fates as future victims of the cap might be having an effect on some of their performances.
Fatigue should certainly not be a problem six games into the season, considering most teams' fourth liners play about five minutes a game anyway. A few games rolling three lines is not what is causing this team to struggle. They have seemed entirely lost on the ice on occasion, lacking discipline and seemingly not knowing where they are supposed to be on the ice at times.
John MacLean is not a bad coach, and he is well known and well liked by many of the players on his team. He led his AHL team to a fourth-place finish in the conference last year, on their way to a first round playoff loss in his first year as head coach. But if the team keeps playing like they have to start the year, don't be surprised if MacLean, as loyal as he has been to the franchise, might get canned.
Expectations in Jersey are very high. MacLean needs to find a way for the team to gel together and get organised, or he might well end up as one of the coaching casualties of 2010-2011.