Lemaire relieves MacLean as head coach
Lemaire, who moves behind the Devils’ bench for the second time in two seasons, will fly from Montreal today to take over the reigns for tonight’s home matchup with the New York Islanders.
With a mark of 9-22-2, the Devils are tied with the Islanders for last overall. They have scored the fewest goals (59) in the NHL and own a League-worst goal differential of -44.
“This was a decision that certainly was not one that is pleasant or we feel good about,” said Devils’ President/CEO/GM Lou Lamoriello. “But it’s a decision, in my opinion, that had to be made.”
Lemaire, 65, returned last season for his second stint with the club. Under his guidance, the Devils posted a mark of 48-27-7 to capture their second straight Atlantic Division title.
Lemaire announced his retirement from coaching on April 26, following New Jersey’s first-round playoff loss to Philadelphia, and had remained on staff as a special assignment coach. His 460 games coached, 247 wins, 61 playoff games and 35 postseason wins with the Devils are tops in club history. He led New Jersey to its first Stanley Cup title in 1995.
“I called Jacques (Wednesday) night, had a conversation with him, and asked him where his thoughts were, how he felt and so forth,” Lamoriello said. “He’ll help in whatever way he can. We all know he left because he felt as though it was the right thing to do with where he was at.
“I asked him if he would come back for the second half until we can see exactly where we are and where we’re at. I also felt that there is time to get back on track. I really believe that.”
This was the first NHL head coaching job for MacLean, who was named to the post on June 17. Current assistants Larry Robinson and Adam Oates will remain on staff.
Despite mounting losses, there was some justification for a patient approach. The power play has scored in eight straight games, and the penalty killers are 29-for-31 over that span.
“Maybe (we) were teased with signs at different times,” Lamoriello said. “As I said, I take responsibility for waiting to try and get it to where it should (be). 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 where we’re at.”
Five-on-five play has been a problem. At even strength, the Devils have managed a League-low 35 goals. They've been outscored 15-3 on their current three-game losing skid, and have one win in their last nine, a 3-0 blanking of Phoenix on Dec. 17.
Lamoriello informed MacLean of the move Thursday morning. He cited “the last four or five games” when asked about the timing of his decision.
“John is a professional,” Lamoriello said. “We also know it’s no secret that John was with me as a player and John spent a lot of team with me in different capacities over the last few years. John knew it wasn’t easy on both sides, but he understood. John is a class act in every way, and John is a franchise, an organization person. We’ll certainly get together over the holidays and he’ll be right back at work in the organization doing something.
“I do not feel by any means that his coaching career is over should that be what he wants to pursue. In my opinion he is an excellent coach. It’s just, this is the profession we’re in and we have to win. That’s the game. These are tough decisions.”
Prior to coaching in Lowell last season, MacLean, 46, served seven campaigns as a Devils assistant and was a member of the 2003 Stanley Cup championship. In his one season in the AHL, MacLean led Lowell to its best-ever record and first-ever playoff berth.
Originally drafted sixth overall by the Devils in 1983, MacLean is the team’s all-time leading goal scorer with 347. He was a member of the Devils’ 1995 Cup title and retired in 2002 after 18 NHL seasons with the Devils, Sharks, Rangers and Stars.