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Netcrashing: 'Is it too early for Devils to fire MacLean?'

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Jamie Bell, TSN.ca Staff
10/28/2010 5:15:16 PM
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It would be an understatement to say that John MacLean has had a bit of a rough start to his NHL coaching career.

All evidence prior to the season pointed towards a match made in heaven - a former All-Star with the New Jersey Devils working his way up the coaching ranks to eventually take over behind the bench for his former club. The plan was for MacLean to lead the Devils onward and upward and restore glory to what is considered to be one of the most consistent franchises in all of pro sports over the last two decades.

Unfortunately for MacLean, what should have been a dream job has quickly become a nightmare.

After being hired this past June, the first-time NHL head coach has dealt with salary cap concerns which have left the team short-handed on multiple occasions and an on-and-off ice drama with $100 million star sniper Ilya Kovalchuk.

These factors could be overlooked if the team was performing well. Unfortunately for MacLean, the Devils look confused and disorganized in the early going and sit dead last in the Eastern Conference with just five points in 10 games.  Heading into action Thursday, the punch-less Devils have scored a league-low 17 goals and allowed a league-high 35. 

Since making Kovalchuk a healthy scratch this past Saturday, the Devils have lost three straight games by a combined score of 14-4.

As the saying goes - you can't fire the players so you fire the coach. But is it too early to panic in New Jersey?

While Devils' general manager Lou Lamoriello gave his coach a vote of confidence today in an inteview with Devils' blog Fire & Ice, claiming rumours of MacLean's firing was 'ridiculous', for many head coaches, the pat on the back by GMs often means the kiss of death.

According to a study done earlier in the year by 'The Book of Odds' (using research gathered by hockey-reference.com), a head coach who is currently employed in one of the four major professional sports leagues in North America (NHL, NFL, MLB and NBA), can expect to keep that job for only 3.3 seasons.  The study also states that the NHL has the shortest life expectancy of any of the leagues with just a 2.3-season average for NHL bench bosses. 

To make matters worse (for MacLean), the same study shows that the least stable coaching job in terms of average tenure is in fact, the Devils. During the franchise's 35-year existence, the average tenure for a head coach is 1.2 seasons. Only the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies equalled that mark.

The odds are slightly better if you take the years that the franchise has spent in the New Jersey. Since moving there in 1982, the Devils have gone through 19 head coaches (Tom McVie, Larry Robinson and Lou Lamoriello each had two stints) for a slightly better average shelf life of 1.4 seasons. By contrast, the study shows that the single most stable coaching job in North American pro sports belongs to the Nashville Predators, where Barry Trotz has been behind the bench since the franchise's inaugural season in 1998-99. 

After a blowout loss at the hands of the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night, many pundits, including the Newark Star Ledger, speculated that MacLean would become the latest casualty of the Devils coaching guillotine - after just nine games. If he were to be fired before New Jersey's game Friday night in Anaheim, it would be the shortest tenure ever for a first-time coach in the NHL (The existing record belongs to Maurice Filion who lasted only six games behind the Quebec Nordiques bench in 1980 before being replaced by Michel Bergeron.)

While a nine-game stint as a head coach seems ridiculously short, it would not be an NHL record. The Chicago Blackhawks released Denis Savard in 2008 after the Hawks got off to a 1-2-1 start. That mark equaled the four games that the Pittsburgh Penguins gave to Ivan Hlinka in 2000 and the amount of games the Montreal Canadiens allowed Jacques Demers in 1995.

The closest comparison to MacLean's situation would be the 16 games that the Tampa Bay Lightning employed Barry Melrose for in 2008. While MacLean has already put his foot down with the team's star acquisition, Melrose was at odds with the rest of the franchise's brain-trust on the best way to manage Steven Stamkos. While the Lightning built their advertising campaign around their No. 1 draft pick, Melrose stapled the promising prospect to the bench and Stamkos was held without a point through the first seven games of his career.

After Melrose was fired, Stamkos flourished and went on to score 23 goals and 46 points assists during his rookie season. 

While the firing of MacLean would not solve all (or arguably any) of the Devils woes; it may give the team a short-term boost that will allow them to get back into the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference. It's obviously impossible to win the Stanley Cup in the first month of the season, but history tells us it is very easy to lose the opportunity to play for hockey's Holy Grail with a slow start.

While MacLean should not be completely absolved of any blame, it must be noted that the team is playing without one of the premier shot-blocking, shutdown defenders in the game in Anton Volchenkov, while versatile blueliner Bryce Salvador has yet to see a minute of action due to concussion issues. Also, nine games are nowhere near enough for a new coach to implement his system. This is especially evident on special teams, where the Devils have struggled with a 27th-ranked power play. And Martin Brodeur has shut out the opposition in the Devils' only two victories this season.

So what do the Devils do? Does MacLean stay or does he go?

Our question for you in this edition of Netcrashing is the following: 'Is it too early for the Devils to fire John MacLean?'

Let your opinions be known in our 'Your Call' feature below.

John MacLean (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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