Could John MacLean Be the Next Head Coach of the New Jersey Devils?

JerseySenior Analyst IJune 9, 2009

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 04: Assistant Coach John MacLean of the New Jersey Devils gives players instructions in their game against the Philadelphia Flyers on October 4, 2008 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Flyers 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The big NHL story of the day was the news of Brent Sutter's resignation. I actually found out about it from Levinakl at Bleacher Report, and immediately checked Tom Gulitti's blog for verification.

Because the news has already broken, and because this story has been developing for some time, I will not write an entire post on the topic myself, but will instead refer you to the aforementioned articles.

I will, however, begin the speculation as to who the next coach might be. This will certainly be a much-discussed issue among Devils fans over the coming weeks, but it could be a while until we receive an answer. Lou Lamoriello has said the search begins now, and that although this situation wasn't exactly unimaginable, he wanted to hear official word from Sutter before moving forward.

The name that appears to be on the forefront of everyone's mind is John MacLean, the one time career leader in scoring for the Devils (until his record was broken this season by Patrik Elias), and current assistant coach. While he's never been a head coach, he has spent a lot of time in the organization (within Sutter's system) and would probably be welcomed by the fans.

However, Lamoriello has had a few opportunities to hire MacLean in the past (the Devils' recent coaching carousel is no secret; since firing Larry Robinson in 2002, the Devils have fired two more coaches, seen three more resign, and have been coached at times by Lamoriello himself.)

But despite ample opportunities, MacLean has been looked over time and again. While he may be the logical choice—at least on the surface—it would not be surprising if Lamoriello once again glosses over the assistant coach and makes an outside hire.

For what it's worth, Sutter believes MacLean would be a sound choice. However, he will not be involved in the decision-making henceforth, and Lamoriello would not say if MacLean is a candidate or not. It's hard to believe MacLean isn't even a candidate, but whether or not Lamoriello is seriously considering him seriously is another matter.

Some rumors are pointing in the direction of former Devils coaches Larry Robinson and Jacques Lemaire. Robinson has coached the team twice, and has won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2000. However, his first tenure ended with a mid-season firing (only to be brought back as an assistant later in the year), and his second ended with a mid-season resignation, in which he cited fatigue. Later in that season declared himself ready to return (he did not).

Despite the Cup, I don't think Robinson would be a good hire at this point. The team looked sluggish when he last coached them, and his wishy-washy decisions do not bode well in the current NHL. As an assistant, I'm sure he would be fine, but he is not the man I'd choose to coach this team.

Lemaire is a more intriguing choice. The man known for instituting the neutral-zone trap recently stepped down from his post in Minnesota, and could be brought back to the place that made his defensive system famous. Some dread the return of "boring" hockey to the Red and Black, but I think Lemaire is aware that this team is no longer only about defense.

I think he would be a good hire—perhaps not ideal—but not someone I would stay away from. He is a proven coach and a proven winner, and I'm certain he can adapt his system to the team's needs. His age is a concern, but he would make a solid pickup overall.

As Sutter mulled his resignation, there were rumors abound that he would head to Calgary to be with his brother, Darryl. However, Sutter has said a few times that he has not even considered the position, and is resigning to go home to his family. In addition, he is under contract with the Devils, and cannot sign anywhere else without their permission.

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It seems that Darryl will be taking over the coaching duties vacated by Mike Keenan. But while Sutter's name has been linked to Calgary, could Keenan be his replacement in New Jersey? It may not be a likely situation, but Lamoriello has surprised us in the past. Kevin Constantine, Robinson's first replacement, was a surprising hire. But Constantine did not mesh with his players, and was removed after half a season, so Lamoriello may not want to bring in someone who might not click immediately. Again, this logic points in the direction of McLean, a longtime assistant, or a former Devils coach.

Lamoriello may consider hiring a former player as well. Ken Daneyko is an analyst for the Devils on the MSG network, and has a very good mind for hockey. The longtime career Devil could be an NHL coach one day, and many analysts have left the booth to coach professional teams. But while Daneyko is an interesting name to consider, it would be a shock if he is in fact hired.

He has no coaching experience whatsoever, not even on the assistant level. Plus, he is a former teammate of some of these guys (Martin Brodeur, Elias, Brian Rolston, etc.) and could be in an awkward position as head coach. However, if MacLean is promoted, I would not be shocked at all to see Daneyko behind the bench as an assistant. Like MacLean before him, Daneyko is a former player who could be a great coach one day. If Tommy Albelin can be an assistant, why not Dano?

Other names have been mentioned as possibilities, such as Peter Laviolette, and I do believe Lamoriello will take his time with the decision. Although the draft will take place at the end of the month, Lamoriello will not let that serve as any sort of timetable for a decision.

If I had to put my money on any candidate, it would have to be MacLean. He received Sutter's endorsement, and while Sutter may no longer be involved, I'm sure his recommendation will have some effect on Lamoriello.

The man has been an assistant with the team for a long time and knows the system well. He would be a natural successor for Sutter, and would be recognizable by the fan base. If it's not him, I think Lemaire is the next-best bet, with Robinson a distant third. I doubt Lamoriello reaches for a coach from outside the system, no matter how "big" his name is (even Keenan). Still, Lou could surprise us all. It's not like he hasn't done that before.