Struggling Devils fire MacLean

John MacLean, who played 14 seasons for New Jersey, was named the Devils head coach on June 17....

John MacLean, who played 14 seasons for New Jersey, was named the Devils head coach on June 17. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)

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, Last Updated: 12:10 PM ET

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils have fired head coach John MacLean and will bring back Jacques Lemaire for his third go-round behind the club's bench.

Devils chief executive officer Lou Lamoriello informed MacLean of the decision Thursday morning and said Lemaire would return for at least the remainder of what has begun as a very disappointing season.

The Devils are just 9-22-2 with a three-game losing streak heading into Thursday's matchup with the equally-inept New York Islanders. Both teams have a mere 20 points, by far the fewest in the NHL this season.

"This was a decision that certainly was not one that is pleasant, or we feel good about," said a somber Lamoriello during a Thursday morning press conference. "But it's a decision that, in my opinion, had to be made."

MacLean, who played 14 seasons for New Jersey, was named the Devils head coach on June 17. He replaced Lemaire, who announced his retirement in April after a one-year return to New Jersey. Lemaire's first tenure as Devils coach came from 1993-94 through 1997-98 and featured the first of the franchise's three Stanley Cup championships.

"I called Jacques last night and had a conversation with him," Lamoriello said Thursday. "Asked him how he felt and he said he'll help whatever way he can."

Lemaire had been serving as a special assistant after retiring for a second time in April. Lamoriello coaxed Lemaire out of a brief retirement after the Hockey Hall of Famer left the Minnesota Wild following the 2008-09 season -- his ninth year with that organization.

In 2009-10, Lemaire helped the Devils to their second straight Atlantic Division title with a record of 48-27-7, but the team was quickly ousted in the first round of the playoffs by division-rival Philadelphia in five games and Lemaire decided to step down shortly afterward.

MacLean, who had been a Devils assistant for seven years before spending the 2009-10 season as the head coach of the team's AHL affiliate, was then given the job after being reportedly passed over numerous other times.

The Devils entered the season after a summer of uncertainty that featured the creative signing of free-agent superstar Ilya Kovalchuk. His $100 million-plus contract was first rejected by the league before some tweaking and the talented sniper has struggled with just eight goals and 18 points in 32 games.

MacLean benched Kovalchuk just eight games into the season, sitting him for an October 23 contest against Buffalo for what was termed an internal matter. He was back in the lineup the next night.

Because of Kovalchuk's contract and injury problems, the Devils have had salary cap issues that forced them to play with a shortened roster on certain nights earlier this season.

Injuries have certainly played a role in the club's slow start. Superstar goaltender Martin Brodeur, who usually plays more than 90 percent of the team's games, has dealt with an elbow problem that has cost him significant time, while playmaking forward Zach Parise has been sidelined since late October following surgery for torn meniscus in his knee.

Illustrating the team's shortcomings, especially on offense, Parise, despite having played just 12 games, is still tied for seventh on the team in goals with three. The Devils have scored two goals or fewer 25 times in 33 games this season.

MacLean's job security had been a topic for weeks, particularly after a 2-0 loss to the Islanders on November 26 -- a game that ended New York's 14-game losing streak. The Devils have won just once in nine games this month and have been outscored 15-3 in their past three games.

"I take responsibility for waiting to try and get it to where it should," Lamoriello added about taking time to evaluate MacLean's status. "Under no set of circumstances should all this responsibility be on the coach. The responsibility lies on the players, and myself, for what couldn't be done. Unfortunately, we just weren't getting it done."

Lamoriello said MacLean would remain with the organization in some capacity.

"John is a professional," Lamoriello stated when asked how the coach took the decision. "It's no secret that John was with me as a player and John has spent a lot of time with me in different capacities over the past few years. It wasn't easy on both sides, but he understood. John is a class act in every way."

MacLean, who was part of New Jersey's first Cup team, forever endeared himself to the Devils' faithful with a pair of memorable goals. His overtime tally in the 1987-88 regular-season finale April 3 at Chicago gave the team its first- ever playoff berth. Later that month, MacLean netted the game-winning goal in Game 7 of the 1988 Patrick Division Finals at Washington.

The Devils have made the playoffs in 13 straight seasons, but are in severe danger of sitting out the postseason for the first time since the 1995-96 campaign -- the year after their first Stanley Cup title under Lemaire.


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