December 23, 2010
Asking John MacLean to turn around the New Jersey Devils' 2010-11 season was like asking a rookie transit cop to take down a Mexican drug cartel. That he didn't have the skills or the experience or clue No. 1 on how to accomplish it doesn't necessarily make him a bad cop -- it's just an indication that the challenge was insurmountable.
But don't tell Lou Lamoriello it's a lost season. Weeks after it might have made a difference, MacLean was fired two days before Christmas ... which is probably a nice gift for someone on this debacle.
CKAC in Montreal reported it first Thursday morning, indicating that former Devils coach Jacques Lemaire took an "emergency flight" to Jersey to take over the team in an interim basis. The Newark Star Ledger confirmed the firing and Lemaire's hiring with an unnamed NHL official.
"I maybe got teased at different times," Lamoriello said. "I take responsibility for waiting and trying to get it to where it should have been. Under no set of circumstances should all of this responsibility be placed on (MacLean). 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.
"We finally got our power play going and our penalty killing, but our five-on-five game for whatever reason (didn't)."
Lamoriello said that Lemaire would coach the team for the rest of the year and not beyond.
The Devils have 49 games left. The No. 8 seed last season made the playoff cut with 88 points, although in the previous year it was 93 points. So assuming a target of 91 points, the Devils would only have to go 36-13 the rest of the way after having gone 9-22-2 in the first 33 games. (Of course, that's without factoring in OT charity points.)
The man to accomplish this is a 65-year-old in his third tour of duty in Jersey, having retired following a heartless defeat in the first round of last year's playoffs to the Philadelphia Flyers, having taken the job only after Brent Sutter hastily bolted for Calgary.
Wouldn't he rather be golfing instead of being with the Devils in April?
If the Devils lose to the New York Islanders Thursday night, they will enter the Christmas break as the worst team in the NHL, last overall in points.
Maybe there's too much pride in the boardroom and the dressing room to admit it's a lost season, to collect some high draft picks (a rarity during the last two decades) and reload for the Second of 15 Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) Seasons.
Maybe there's a warped sense that a new voice behind the bench could get the defense organized, de-age Brodeur, get Kovalchuk rolling (he played well offensively under Lemaire, comparatively) and miraculously rally the team to a playoff spot.
Maybe the Devils break off a winning streak as long as their losing streaks, get Zach Parise(notes) back and watch as Lemaire pulls off the biggest turnaround in recent memory, filling the stands at the Rock that were sure to be empty had the team tanked.
But here's the thing: It's too late. Had this been done before a December that spelled the "conference basement" as "L-L-L-L-L-W-L-L-L" perhaps 2010-11 becomes salvageable. It didn't, it isn't, and Lamoriello once again puts an old bandage on a fresh wound that isn't healing.