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Julien fired as Devils coach; Lamoriello takes over @NHL

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -Having the New Jersey Devils in first place in the Atlantic Division with a week to go in the regular season got coach Claude Julien fired on Monday.

Sound strange?

When you work for general manager Lou Lamoriello, it's all about winning Stanley Cups.

Feeling that Julien didn't have the team ready to make a Cup run with the playoffs scheduled to start next week, Lamoriello fired him on Monday and took over behind the bench for the second straight year.

"I don't think we're at a point of being ready both mentally and (physically) to play the way that is necessary going into the playoffs," Lamoriello said outside an empty Devils locker room at the Continental Airlines Arena. "I am not saying that is going to change. But I think there has to be better focus going forward."

The stunning move came less than a day after the Devils beat Boston for their fourth win in five games. New Jersey's 102 points is tied for the second most in the Eastern Conference.

Julien, who was informed of his dismissal on Monday morning by Lamoriello, was not immediately available for comment. He posted a 47-24-8 mark in his first season in New Jersey.

Lamoriello refused to say how long that he has been considering the move, noting that Julien did nothing off the ice to get fired.

"He certainly understands," Lamoriello said.

Lamoriello, who replaced Larry Robinson as coach on Dec. 19, 2005, would not say whether Julien will remain with the organization.

A practice scheduled for Monday was called off after Lamoriello discussed the move with the team.

"Our job is to listen to what has been said and why the decision was made," Devils captain Patrik Elias said. "Management said it gives us the best chance to accomplish what we want to accomplish and that is to win the (Stanley) Cup."

Lamoriello would not say specifically what was wrong with the team. The Devils, who have struggled scoring all season, have slumped recently, winning seven of 15 games with forwards Brian Gionta, John Madden and Elias sidelined by groin injuries.

However, the three have returned to the lineup in the past week, helping to turn things around.

"You don't always judge by wins and losses as far as where you are at," said Lamoriello, who built three Stanley Cup winning teams in New Jersey the previous 11 seasons. "The way we put ourselves in this organization, you have to look at the big picture. To say that 102 points today isn't an excellent accomplishment, it's extremely positive. But I have to look at a lot of factors."

Julien was handicapped by roster problems because the Devils have been up against the NHL salary cap all season. Injuries have forced him to play several minor league players.

"I think everybody takes responsibility, including me," Lamoriello said.

Monday's firing isn't the only time Lamoriello made a late-season coaching move. He fired Robbie Ftorek with eight games left in the 1999-2000 season and Robinson led the team to its second Stanley Cup title.

Lamoriello didn't consider the change in 2000 in deciding to replace Julien, the Devils seventh coach since 2000, which includes two stints by Robinson.

"You don't think of those things," Lamoriello said. "Nothing makes it any easier, believe me. The day anything like this becomes easy, or when it's trading a player or when you have make these decisions and it becomes easy, that's the day you look for a different position."

Julien previously coached the Montreal Canadiens from January 2003 until January 2006.

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