In the MacLean era, there were many things wrong with the team. Some players looked neutered out there.Every defenseman looked like a pylon out there. I could go and attempt to recall everything wrong with the team under MacLean, but I really don't want to recall all the horrors from that era. However, if there was one thing that bothered me during the MacLean era, it was Jamie Langenbrunner. The team told him they had faith in him, they told him he would be the captain throughout the season. Langenbrunner responded by constantly throwing in terrible performance after terrible performance. He'd talk the talk in the locker room, but he didn't walk the walk (or more accurately, skate the walk) on the ice. Earlier in the season, John had a post up about factors that the coaching staff can't control. He mentioned that the staff can't control the attitudes of players. After MacLean was fired, I kept thinking about what exactly went wrong. I seemed to notice one thing during MacLean's reign- Langenbrunner usually got ice time with the top players, even if he was one of the worst players on the ice. His inability to hold Langenbrunner accountable for his uninspired play might have caused some problems MacLean wouldn't expect. I'll explain my thoughts after the jump.
The concept in action here is reinforcement. Reinforcement is sometimes intentional, and other times unintentional. It's usually used to alter one's behaviour. Reinforcement is often performed by offering a form of stimulus or incentive towards the subject. For example, when training a dog, owners often give them treats after performing a certain action, like sitting. They are more willing to do these actions knowing that they will get a nice delicious treat after doing it. This type of reinforcement is positive reinforcement, as they're encouraged to perform a certain action more often.
One of my favourite examples of reinforcement occurs in an episode of Daria called "The Lab Brat". In that episode, Daria has to work on a lab project with Kevin, the quarterback of Lawndale high's football team (and my Avatar for SBNation/Twitter). Kevin shows alot of interest in the project, as he finds one component of the project interesting. This is a bad thing for Daria, as Kevin is very stupid and if she let him work on the project with her, she would probably fail. To prevent Kevin from working on the project, she comes up with a plan to distract Kevin by showing him the Pigskin channel. It works, as Kevin's interest in the project disappears knowing that he can watch football Daria's sister Quinn decides to start talking to Kevin and pampering him, as he's very popular and if Quinn became friends with him (or started dating him), she'd become more popular by association. Kevin eventually associates going to Daria's house to work on the project with watching football and getting pampered. The type of reinforcement here is Positive reinforcement, as Kevin keeps returning to Daria's house as he knows he will be able to watch the pigskin channel there. An interesting note here is that Daria did not expect this to happen- she was more interested in her own motives, which was keeping Kevin away from the project.
There's also another type of reinforcement- Negative reinforcement. Because I can't think of a better example, i'll let Daria explain negative reinforcement.
(Because most of you don't watch Daria nearly as much as I do, the context of the example is the relationship between Helen and Jake, Daria's parents.)
This brings me to Langenbrunner. While I don't know all of the details involving Langenbrunner and MacLean's relationship, I did notice that Langenbrunner was one of the few Devils who rarely recieved punishment (from what i've heard/seen). Langenbrunner almost always received ice time with at least one top 6 forward when he was on the team. Despite having good teammates on the ice with him, he only managed 4 goals and 10 assists in 31 games. Some of it could be attributed to percentages, some could've been attributed to his injuries and some of it could be attributed towards his lack of enthusiasm. MacLean didn't really do much to discipline Langenbrunner for his Kovalev-esque play- perhaps out of respect for the team's on ice leader, or perhaps out of fear because he didn't want to lose Langenbrunner's trust, and subsequently the locker room.
MacLean not punishing Langenbrunner is a form of reinforcement- Langenbrunner sees that MacLean doesn't really care about what happens on the ice. Whether Langs looks like Gretzky out there or is playing worse than Andrew Peters, MacLean never really took any actions to address Langenbrunner. This is can be considered positive reinforcement, as MacLean's actions essentially rewarded Langenbrunner for not caring and playing badly. Langs perhaps felt he could get away with alot of stuff because MacLean would give him quality ice time regardless of his on-ice performance, which might have explained his uninspired play.
While I don't like recalling events from the MacLean era, I felt that this was something interesting to talk about. While i'm not too sure what went on in the locker room or between MacLean and Langs, I just wanted to throw in a few of my thoughts on a potential cause for Langs' lack of effort this season. It's definitely not the sole cause of Langs problems, or the biggest, but it could've at least been a factor. Or not.