NEWARK, N.J. — The fourth time apparently was the charm for John MacLean.
A perennial candidate to lead the team he played for and coached as an assistant, MacLean was named the head coach of the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, replacing the retired Jacques Lemaire.
MacLean was considered for the head coaching position with the Devils on three other occasions, but lost out to, in order, Claude Julien (2006), Brent Sutter (2007) and Lemaire (2009).
“It’s a little bit surreal, almost like draft day all over again, being a rookie head coach,” MacLean said after being introduced by the team. “I couldn’t think of a better place to have my first head coaching job.”
MacLean spent last season coaching the Devils’ American Hockey League affiliate in Lowell, Mass., and led the team to its only playoff appearance in four seasons. That followed seven years as a Devils assistant.
That head coaching experience added the final piece of the puzzle that made MacLean a lock for the job, Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said Thursday.
Assistants don’t fully understand the responsibilities of being a head coach “until you are the one who makes that final decision, not the recommendation,” Lamoriello said. “John went there to Lowell this year and found out what that was all about, and that in my opinion was all that he needed.”
One of MacLean’s immediate challenges will be to reverse the Devils’ recent post-season history. Since winning their third Stanley Cup in a nine-year span in 2003, the Devils have not made it past the second round in the playoffs. Last season, they lost to Philadelphia in five games in the Eastern Conference quarter-finals.
Lemaire retired a few days after the series.
New Jersey had won its second straight Atlantic Division title with its 12th 100-point season in 15 years, but scored just nine goals in the five post-season games and allowed the Flyers to convert on 8 of 29 power-play chances.
The Devils have relied on hard work over flashiness for their greatest successes over the years, and have thrived with strong goaltending and a smothering, disciplined defence. MacLean said he would try to reinforce those principles.
“In this organization, even when we weren’t very good, we always worked hard,” he said. “If we can establish that night in and night out, with the talent level we have here, we’ll be a successful team.”
MacLean played for 19 years, 14 with the Devils. He is New Jersey’s leading goal-scorer with 347, and second in career points with 701. He also played for San Jose, the Rangers and Dallas.
While an assistant, MacLean ran most of the team’s practices in the second half of the 2005-06 season after Larry Robinson resigned abruptly in December, and did the same in 2007 when Julien was fired and replaced by Lamoriello with three games left in the regular season.
Robinson, who has since returned to the Devils bench as an assistant, will be retained to assist MacLean along with another assistant to be named, Lamoriello said. He also said Jamie Langenbrunner will remain as team captain.