Finally, No.15 gets his shot at running Jersey's team. Say what you will about how John MacLean's New Jersey Devil career ended. When I think of Johnny Mac, I'm reminded of one of the greatest Devils to ever lace 'em up.
As a rival fan, I feared a streaking MacLean firing one of those patented slappers streaking down the right wing. No doubt, whether No.15 was wearing Christmas ornament red, white and green or Satanic black and red, he was a constant. Selected by New Jersey sixth overall in 1983, the kid from Oshawa, Ontario grew up in the Garden State- becoming one of the key pieces helping turn around a franchise Wayne Gretzky once labeled Mickey Mouse. The man who got the franchise into the playoffs for the first time ever thanks to his OT winner at Chicago, kick starting an exciting run to the Wales Conference Final in 1988- became its all-time leading scorer, amassing 413 goals and 429 assists for 842 points over 14 seasons ('83-84 - 12/7/97). That included three straight 40-goal seasons prior to ripping up his knee costing all of '91-92.
To Mac's credit, he returned to form netting 37 and tallying 33 assists en route to a 70-point year in '93-94 on a loaded club that pushed the Rangers to the brink before falling in one of the best Conference Finals ever. After coming so close, the Devils took the next step in 1995, winning their first Stanley Cup by sweeping the Red Wings. The club's longest running alternate captain was an integral part tallying five goals and 13 assists for 18 points during the franchise's run to hockey's pinnacle. Unfortunately, it would be the only championship for the team record holder in goals (347), power play goals (92) and power play points (197).
Following consecutive disappointments that included no Cup defense and a crushing second round elimination by the Rangers, the Devils' greatest right wing soon was on the outs due to a philosophical difference on how he was being used at the start of '97-98. His Devil career ended on Dec.7, 1997 when Lamoriello shipped him out West to San Jose. After a brief stint there, he astonishingly signed with the enemy Blueshirts- proving he still was capable of finishing. While a dreadful team had little success, Johnny Mac did himself proud getting into all 82 games for the only time in his career, notching 28 goals and 27 helpers for 55 points during '98-99. Though he didn't duplicate it in Year Two on Broadway, 18 goals and 24 assists weren't bad enough for new President/GM Glen Sather to treat him like garbage. Somehow after just two games, the classy ex-Devil was made the scapegoat with Dolan's snake exiling a proud 16-year veteran to Manitoba.
Eventually, he'd get out of jail winding up with Dallas and getting the last laugh by helping the Stars into the second round while Sather's new outfit golfed. Deployed in a checking role under Ken Hitchcock, MacLean played two more seasons in Big D before calling it a career. It was then that Lou took him back with No.15 hired as an assistant. A role he'd become acclimated with over the next several years. But while the fiery Devil GM changed coaches about as often as Paris Hilton changes men, MacLean had to wait as he tried others with hardly the success a proud club had pre-lockout. While Jacques Lemaire returned behind the bench last season, MacLean was given AHL Lowell. There, he did a respectable job leading the franchise to its only postseason appearance in four years.
Now, it's finally Johnny Mac's time to shine. Can the only No.15 with apologies to current team captain Jamie Langenbrunner restore order in Newark? At 45, he gets his chance to show what he can do. MacLean should be quite familiar with a roster that still includes former 'mates Martin Brodeur, Elias and Brian Rolston. Add to it a core that features Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Colin White, Andy Greene, David Clarkson and the experienced assistant shouldn't have much trouble getting acquainted. He'll also be quite familiar with prospects Matt Corrente, Tyler Eckford, Nick Palmieri along with sophomore Vladimir Zharkov. He'll also have loyal soldier Larry Robinson back behind the bench running a D which could have a different look depending on what happens with Paul Martin. Martin is the team's top blueliner who plays every key situation but is expected to test the market.
With New Jersey turning back the clock to 2000 for Cup hero Jason Arnott by sending Matt Halischuk and a 2011 second round pick to Music City. Apparently, the Preds are selling their best players with the rival Flyers picking up key target Dan Hamhuis the other day for former prospect Ryan Parent- further bolstering the East champs' blueline.
While it remains to be seen what happens with Martin and Ilya Kovalchuk, this now becomes MacLean's Devils. So, while his number doesn't yet hang from the rafters, he gets his shot behind the bench. Given how it's gone lately, the Devil great should be ready for anything. Here's wishing a good man the best of luck.