The club said Thursday that MacLean had been fired, while announcing that Mike Priest will take over as president, and assistant general manager Jim Clark will be elevated to interim GM.
Principal owner John H. McConnell, minority owners and team officials met late Wednesday and agreed to dismiss MacLean, the architect of a team that had gone 172-258-62 since joining the league in 2000.
“This decision was extremely difficult,” McConnell said in a statement. “At this time, our ownership group believed that making this change would be best for our fans and our franchise moving forward.”
The Blue Jackets, 33-42-7 this season, are the only one of the 30 NHL teams to never play in the playoffs. Led by coach Ken Hitchcock, and with players such as Rick Nash and Sergei Fedorov, the Blue Jackets finished 23 points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Forward Jody Shelley, a holdover from the team’s first year, said he was stunned by the dismissal despite the lack of success by the team.
“You hear the rumours but you just figure it comes with not meeting expectations,” Shelley said. “Then when the other shoe drops, you’re still shocked.”
MacLean did not return messages seeking comment left on his cellphone.
Priest, president of the Blue Jackets’ parent company, will oversee all business operations of the club.
A scout with the Florida Panthers and Detroit Red Wings before coming to Columbus with MacLean, Clark will be in charge of all hockey matters, including the team’s draft. Columbus, which has the No. 7 pick in the opening round, hosts the NHL draft on June 22-23.
Priest said the club is in the process of reviewing the general manager position. Likely candidates for the job include Craig Patrick, former GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins; Dave Taylor, former GM of the Los Angeles Kings; Steve Tambellini, assistant GM of the Vancouver Canucks; and Rick Dudley, assistant GM of the Chicago Blackhawks.
MacLean had two years remaining on a contract that paid him around US$1 million per season with incentives.
“I’m unbelievably disappointed about where we are but I think we’ve got an unbelievable foundation in place,” MacLean said after the season. “I’m telling you, I look around the league and how many teams would I trade ours for? Not many.”
MacLean was McConnell’s first hire when Columbus secured the franchise. He supervised the drafts and trades, some that were overwhelming successes and others that were failures.
MacLean even dumped the team’s first coach, Dave King, and took over behind the bench. But the Blue Jackets did not respond under MacLean, going just 9-21-4-3 at the start of the 2003-2004 season before he stepped aside and elevated assistant coach Gerard Gallant.
Gallant was fired and replaced by Hitchcock early this past season after Columbus won just six of its first 24 games.
MacLean coached the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup final in 1996.
He assembled a ragtag group of castoffs that picked up 71 points in Columbus’ first year in the league in 2000-2001.
MacLean traded up with to get Nash with the overall No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft. Two years later, Nash for the league lead in goals with 41.
Perhaps the biggest move of MacLean’s tenure was the Nov. 15, 2005, trade with Anaheim that brought Fedorov to Columbus. He was supposed to help Zherdev on offence, but fought nagging injuries and his production waned.
“It’s a business, but at the same time there’s a human side,” Shelley said. “A guy lost his job today, a guy who was passionate and did some great things for this organization.”