Under rookie head coach John MacLean, the New Jersey Devils slumped to an unusual 9-22-2 start to begin the season. Devils' general manager Lou Lamoriello finally decided to pull the plug on MacLean and inserted Jacques Lemaire back into the role he served last season before his retirement.
Lemaire will arrive in time to guide the Devils behind the bench for tonight's matchup against the New York Islanders. He will serve on an interim basis for the remainder of the season and assistant coaches Adam Oates and Larry Robinson will remain in place.
"This is a decision that was not one that was pleasant. But it's a decision, in my opinion, that had to be made," Lamoriello told reporters this morning.
"Under no set of circumstances should all this responsibility be on the coach, by any means. The responsibility lies on the players and myself for what couldn't be done. Unfortunately, we just weren't getting it done," he continued.
MacLean will stay within the organization but it hasn't yet been determined in what capacity. It wasn't entirely his fault that the Devils are in this position, as a laundry list of injuries hurt New Jersey's chances early this season. MacLean had to make due with a roster filled with players of little NHL experience for the majority of the year. The monster contract handed out to Ilya Kovalchuk this summer handcuffed the Devils' ability to find replacement parts and acquire fresh talent.
Team captain Jamie Langenbrunner was firmly behind MacLean all season, defending the efforts of his former coach, "I think all of us know that this is not on Johnny."
Lamoriello holds out hope that Lemaire's effect can reinvigorate the Devils, "I asked him if he would come back for the second half so we can see exactly who we are and where we're at. I also felt that there is time to get back on track."
Throughout his entire career, Lemaire has preached responsible, defense-first hockey. Bitten hard by injuries, the Devils have had to make due with inexperienced raw youngsters and looked especially weak in their own end. It is now Lemaire's task to get New Jersey back to playing solid hockey and cut down on the mistakes by young defensemen that plagued the team throughout their first 33 games.
Devils' fans hope that somehow the re-installation of Lemaire will result in the team gelling together quickly. New Jersey currently sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and are 18 points of eighth place which is currently held by the Boston Bruins. If anyone can pull of a miracle, it is Lemaire who won the 1995 Stanley Cup in his first go-around as Devils' boss.
Chances are slim that the Devils can make a run at the 8th seed but it's hard to count out a man known to engineer sharp turnarounds throughout his coaching career. Anything is possible with Martin Brodeur in net and the talents of Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott. At the very least, Lemaire will make sure that the Devils fight hard until season's end.