By Stu Hackel
Is Lou Lamoriello dragging out the guillotine to behead Devils coach John MacLean?
Mark Everson in The New York Post thinks so, writing today from Toronto, ” It wouldn’t be fair, but should the Devils lose here tonight, that would be about the only remaining reason John MacLean might avoid the looming axe. But everyone knows life isn’t fair. If they can’t beat the dogmeat Leafs, who snapped an eight-game losing streak Tuesday, they’ll be worthy of the dogmeat Devils title themselves.”
It makes for entertaining reading, but not so fast. As Rich Chere in The Newark Star-Ledger wrote Tuesday, Devils president Lou Lamoriello makes his evaluations every 20 games and the depleted Devs don’t hit that mark until Saturday when they play another suddenly wobbly team, the Blues, in St. Louis.
The Devils may attribute their problems this season to injuries, and there’s truth to that. With Marty Brodeur, Brian Rolston, Zach Parise, Bryce Salvador, Anton Volchenkov and now Jamie Langenbrunner all missing at least some time (Parise long-term after knee surgery and Salvador not yet playing following a concussion), MacLean is coaching with a patchwork lineup.
But the patches can’t cover up some obvious holes. The Devils don’t know what they are. Defensive dandies even after the post-lockout rules changed the landscape to favor offense, MacLean was going to bring them into the modern era. But they’ve never adequately replaced the strong defense corps — Scott Stevens, Brian Rafalski, Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer — that made them perennial contenders and that all good teams still require, regardless of the new rules.
Brodeur is older now, and some think he’s slower, but he’s also had to face more quality chances than ever. He’ll be in goal tonight against the Leafs, but his nagging elbow injury remains a concern.
And the forwards, who were supposed to be the strength of this edition of the Devils, have yet to jell — and that starts with Ilya Kovalchuk, whose play so far this season makes the $100 million contract that was so contentious this offseason now seem like a cruel joke. Over his last nine games, darling Ilya has 1 goal, 2 assists and is minus-6.
Chere asked Lamoriello how he’d assess MacLean’s job so far. “No question this has been a difficult situation and he’s handled it as well as you can expect,” he said. “It’s very simple. Our best players have to be our best players. They have at different times. It has to be the case on a more consistent basis.”
Of course, getting the most out of your best players consistently is what good coaches do. And that’s not happening in New Jersey. With Scott Gordon dismissed this week on Long Island, it could be that firing season is upon us.