Inquirer Daily News
Devils' scary start has MacLean on the hot seat

By Dan Di Sciullo
NHL Editor


Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Forget about tuning into a horror movie marathon this Halloween weekend. If you really want to be scared, how about checking out a New Jersey Devils' game.

With just two wins and five points in their first 10 games of the season, the Devils have gone from Cup contender to worst team in the Eastern Conference in just a matter of weeks and the nightmarish start could cost a rookie head coach his first job.

John MacLean has been groomed for this head coaching position for quite some time, but his dream job may be taken away from him before his tenure reaches the one month milestone. MacLean was a player on the Devils' first Stanley Cup championship team in 1995 and won another title with the organization as an assistant coach in 2003.

He was passed over for the head job a few times since becoming a New Jersey assistant in 2002, but after Jacques Lemaire -- MacLean's coach for the '95 Cup run -- retired last April, Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello felt it was finally the right time for his protege to take over the reins.

Boy, was Lou ever mistaken.

MacLean's Devils are 2-7-1 on the season and have lost three straight games, including a 5-2 loss Wednesday in San Jose that dropped Jersey to 0-2-0 on its current six-game road trip. Of course, it's unclear how close MacLean actually is to being fired, but it's probably safe to say that a winless road trip would cost him his job.

John MacLean's dream job may be taken away from him before his tenure reaches the one month milestone.
The Devils are off to their worst start to a season since 1983-84, when they went 1-9 to begin their second year in New Jersey. But this is about more than just wins and losses. The fact that the Devils haven't even been competitive is the most damning evidence that MacLean is not getting the job done.

New Jersey has been outscored by an embarrassing 35-17 margin in 10 games this year, a simply astounding fact considering Lamoriello's Devils have always been characterized by their stingy play on defense. MacLean was supposed to bring a new up-tempo style to New Jersey, but he seems to have only succeeded in getting rid of the club's responsible defense while doing little to improve the offensive side of things.

At first, some folks want to blame the Devils' poor start on 38-year-old goaltender Martin Brodeur. The future Hall of Famer is clearly not in his prime anymore, but New Jersey's only two wins this season have come via Brodeur shutouts.

Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk is another favorite target; after all, the Russian superstar signed a 15-year, $100 million deal with New Jersey this offseason. Kovalchuk played in 27 games with New Jersey last year after coming over in a trade with Atlanta and was a point-per-game player with the Devils, notching 10 goals and 17 assists.

This year, Kovalchuk has three goals and three assists in nine games, which isn't exactly a great start, but it's also not unproductive. Still, MacLean decided to make an example of his star player last weekend when he made Kovalchuk a healthy scratch.

Did the rest of the Devils get the message? Apparently not, because the Buffalo Sabres waltzed into the Prudential Center and slammed New Jersey, 6-1, on its home ice.

It's not that MacLean should be saddled with all the blame, but it's hard not to give him the lion's share when his team has been so consistently and thoroughly outplayed.

Athletes are often said to have fragile egos and when things go drastically wrong they look to their coach for answers. This is especially true in hockey, where sticking to the system put in place by the coach better produce results or players will start to lose faith in the man behind the bench.

Of course, MacLean is insisting that his strategy will work if everybody buys into it. But, since it clearly isn't working does that mean that the Devils' players aren't trying hard enough or have simply given up on MacLean and are now trying to get him fired.

The latter scenario does not seem plausible because it's well known that Brodeur and other New Jersey veterans are friends with MacLean and were likely pulling for him to get the job when Lemaire left.

It's more likely that MacLean is simply not the right coach for this group of players and it would be folly for Lamoriello to hold onto his head coach if things don't start improving soon. Of course, MacLean's firing could mean yet another stint for Lamoriello behind the bench as the legendary GM is obviously fond of taking over the team on an interim basis.

MacLean doesn't appear to have much time left to save his job and if the Devils lose their games on Friday and Saturday, his nightmare rookie season could fittingly come to an end on Halloween weekend.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.

Follow Dan Di Sciullo on Twitter and Facebook.