When the Devils announced the hiring of John MacLean as their new head coach yesterday, a few thoughts ran through my mind. The first thought was that the team had finally decided on a coach, and now general manager Lou Lamoriello could worry about the impending free agent market and the upcoming NHL draft. The second thought was one of expectation, wondering how we’ll see a great offensive player improve a lackluster Devils attack. And the third was one of worry, that maybe hiring an unproven coach in a room full of veterans wasn’t the best decision. Even with my doubts, I believe “Johnny Mac” was the best fit for the job.
Throughout May, a mini-drama played out through the local newspapers, chronicling the issues within the Devils locker room. First came Jamie Langenbrunner’s displeasure after being a healthy scratch in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Then, after their playoff loss to the Flyers, some members of the team voiced frustration at the way the coaching staff handled situations. Even former players sounded off on the situation. As the “he said” built, ex-coach Jacques Lemaire responded with his own “he said”, coming out and defending his decisions. The Devils locker room was clearly fractured, and there was no way the team could welcome back Lemaire to coach next season.
Enter MacLean, who should begin to fix these issues. The former Devil spent seven seasons as an assistant, where he was able to run the bench twice. And, as we all know, MacLean went down and coached the former Lowell Devils to their first AHL playoff berth in 10 years. Not only that, but the players responded well to him as a coach. As Zach Parise said yesterday, Lowell players told the NHL players they liked MacLean. He already has the approval of both Parise and Langenbrunner, and he seems to be the guy to address the locker room issues. He seems to be more attuned to players’ needs, while at the same time demanding the respect necessary for a head coach. I think he’ll more clearly define the role players, and they’re probably won’t be confusion that could have led to dissension in the locker room.
I expect MacLean to vastly improve the Devils offensive play. MacLean was always a good offensive player, and the Devils need that mentality to fully take advantage of their talent. Parise continued to shine last season, and Travis Zajac broke out. I would expect to see other role players, such as Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias, enjoy greater offensive success. As I talked about a few days ago, the Devils need to attack more and force their opponents into mistakes. With MacLean, I would expect to see a more aggressive forecheck and more puck possession. MacLean will probably give the scorers more creative freedom, and I’ve even expect an improvement in the powerplay.
The addition of Larry Robinson as top assistant will allow the Devils to continue their focus on solid two-way play. The Devils will never become a sloppy defensive team, even with the offensive-minded MacLean behind the bench. It’s important to continue that philosophy. Most of the time, solid defensive play will lead to offensive opportunities, so it’s good to see MacLean keeping Robinson on staff.
Continue reading to find out my overall conclusion of MacLean’s hiring!
The Devils are in a transition period. They still have the old guard of Martin Brodeur, Elias and Colin White, who have led the team and won Stanley Cup championships. But there’s also been an infusion of youth, especially in the past few years. Parise has rose to the top of the Devils offense, and Zajac continues to improve. Young players like Andy Greene have stepped up on the blue line. And waiting in the wings are proven rookies like Vladimir Zharkov and Matt Halischuk. With his AHL experience, MacLean fits the bill. As I said above, I believe he holds clout with the veterans of this team. But he’ll also be able to relate to the rookies, an important aspect of a team ready to bring in some young talent.
Overall, the MacLean hiring was a good one. I’ve read some reviews implying loyalties were the reason for the hiring, but I don’t feel that played a part in Lou’s decision. Johnny Mac put in his time, working diligently behind the bench and in the minors to groom himself for the opportunity. Hiring someone within the organization who understands the yearly expectations seems like an intelligent move to me. I think MacLean also proved his worth last season with Lowell. To lead a team continually gutted with NHL callups to 88 points and their first playoff berth in 10 years says something about his coaching abilities.
All of these factors lead me to believe MacLean deserved the reins. He’ll face high expectations as a rookie coach, as the team has made the playoffs 13 years in a row. They’ll be some bumps in the road, but I expect MacLean to succeed as head coach of the Devils.
Photo Credit: NewJerseyDevils.com