Yesterday, Lou Lamoriello decided to do something of substance in terms of personnel and fired John MacLean as head coach of the New Jersey Devils. As someone who's been on the #FireMacLean bandwagon since the 5-1 loss to Montreal, I was happy to hear this. I wish it was done sooner, but I can't complain that it actually happened. The reaction to the news was varied based on Kevin's post and the comments, but I don't think many Devils fans really miss MacLean.
What really made me happy was that Jacques Lemaire was named as the interim head coach. I fully believe that this was a great move. I can't really name a better caretaker for what is essentially a lost season for the several reasons. Lemaire's press conference after last night's 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders only served to confirm what I believe. After the jump, I'll list these reasons while including a video of the presser.
First, here's the press conference that appeared on MSG+ after the game. You may want to turn up your volume as both Lemaire and the reporters come in low. If you're not interested in seeing the video, Tom Gulitti quoted Lemaire at length from the press conference. But the video, provided by MSG.com, is worth watching to see how Lemaire responded in addition to what it is he said:
I don't know about you, but his final statement about wanting the team to be competitive confirms that the decision to make him the interim coach was the right one. This is ultimately what Devils fans across the board want. An actual legit effort. 2010-11 may be lost, but that doesn't excuse the consistent "going through the motions" that we have seen in many of the 23 losses this season. It's one thing to lose games, but it's down right inexcusable to just give up en route to those losses. It only compounds the frustration within this season and turn people away from paying money to go to games and spending their time following this team. The implicit message is: "If these guys who make 6 to 7 figure salaries doing something they love in front of big audiences don't care, then why should I? I'll stay home. I'll do something else."
The playoffs may the longest of long shots; but if he can get the players to put in a watchable and reasonable effort, then at least there's a reason to care. There's a reason to believe that, yes, this season was dead by Christmas; but there's something to look forward to. Problems were addressed, solutions have been implemented. There's hope. It's the goal I have for Lemaire given the situation and if he can do that, I'll call it a success amid a failure of a season overall.
There's some reason to believe that will happen. While last night's game was a blowout, they didn't sulk when it went to 3-0 or 4-1 or 5-1. A loss was pretty much inevitable, but at least there was an effort to try and get a second goal. They crashed the net, they went to the perimeter when appropriate instead of making it Option #1, and they hit Dwayne Roloson with a deluge of rubber.
Of course, Lemaire's top task should be to get this team stop making ridiculous errors in their own end, be it turnovers, coverages, and miscommunication. If Lemaire can get the Devils to be sharper on defense at 5-on-5, then there will be fewer goals allowed, there will be fewer games where the Devils dig themselves an early grave, and the team will have every reason to feel more confident going forward. We shall see in coming games whether there's any improvement on that front, or at least some accountability. Just punishing a few players for some mindless gaffes would be more than MacLean has done on that front.
There are so many other reasons as to why I really like the decision to have Lemaire as a caretaker manager.
Lemaire was the coach last season's Devils, who had the team win hockey games and make the playoffs despite injuries and other uncontrollable events. Of the 30 players who have played at least one game this season with New Jersey, 12 were not around for Lemaire: 4 new signings, 8 prospects or minor league players. The veterans largely know who Lemaire is, what he's about, and what to expect. There's not a lot of people who have to buy in to what he's doing right from scratch. There's isn't someone new to the organization trying to secure a job for future years, so the focus can fully be on establishing and trying to fix this team's issues. In my opinion, that's an advantage.
Lemaire's overall experience as a head coach means that there's nothing this team can do that will surprise him. I think it explains why his first press conference wasn't like a funeral service; he recognized that it was truly bad, but he wasn't personally bothered by it. This is good, it suggests that he can make changes unemotionally. It's not a surprise though. He's been tough stretches, he's had numerous play like fools in their own end, and he's took on teams both good and bad. When something goes awry or goes well, he has the wisdom to know how to respond. He's even dealt with the locker room problems of the New Jersey Devils before, so he has experience there. When everything is going so wrong, it should be seen as a blessing to have someone who's been through it all to at least know what the realistic options are when it comes to trying to making right.
He's in a great spot, actually, since this is a no-lose situation. Because the John MacLean-run Devils played so badly, almost nobody really expects this team to suddenly turn around and get to the postseason. If Lemaire somehow makes a miracle happen and the Devils are going to the postseason by April, then it would be a wonderful shock. If not, then so what? It'd only confirm what we know now: this season was awful. Lou's statement that Lemaire's only here for the duration of the season emphasizes how great of a situation is: Lemaire can highlight what works best for this roster, his coaching style will help give Lou an idea of what kind of coach to look for (e.g. system, tendencies, philosophy), and hopefully (because it's always a hope) this will lead to a more successful hire in the 2011 offseason.
Lastly, it's clear to me that there will be more changes. Not at coach, mind you. Lou asked Lemaire to come out of retirement for this season only; so I would think Lemaire's pretty much safe in a no-lose situation. Buoyed by the fact that the team responded to a new coach with a 5-1 loss with a horrendous opening 11 minute performance as bad as any this season, the players have sent the unsent message that there are major issues among the roster as-is. You'd think the players would want to play as hard as possible to convince Lou that they should stay, but several just kept on as they have been this season. With that in mind, I do not think that appointing Lemaire as the interim coach was an isolated move.
The various trade clauses and contracts will make it difficult. With Brian Rolston already sitting on waivers, knowing full well that Jamie Langenbrunner - and his faction - had problems with Lemaire last season, and the general performances of the team, though, I doubt there will be more inaction this season. Lemaire for MacLean was the first one.
here's a larger question for the players, though that can be discussed in a later post. Anyway, this is why I really liked the decision. What about you, did you like the decision? What did you think of the press conference? Do you agree with my rationale for the decision, or do you disagree with some or all of the reasons? Please leave your thoughts and feelings in the comments, and thank you for reading.