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Jacques Lemaire Retires - What He Did as Coach of the New Jersey Devils & What Next

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Big thanks to Steve for putting up the information up from Tom Gulitti so quickly, the big story today from the New Jersey Devils is that Jacques Lemaire has officially retired.  Once again, Lou Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils organization will have to hire a new head coach in this offseason.

Well, it's a step up over quitting, which was Brent Sutter essentially did last summer.  Ultimately, Lemaire will be remembered for being behind the bench for another first round exit from the playoffs. That he and his staff were out-coached by Philadelphia, not making adjustments in response to how they played (I covered this in my Game 5 recap).  That he and the coaching staff couldn't motivate a team that seemingly couldn't be bothered to leave it all out on the ice beyond the first period in Games 3 and 4 as well as all of Game 5.  Some Devils fans will point to his constant line changes - both made out of necessity and experimentation - as something that held the team back.  In a results-oriented business, Lemaire's season can't be seen as a success.

Let me be the first to state that while the results speak for themselves, Lemaire's season as head coach wasn't all that bad.  The Devils did win the Atlantic Division, they did finish second in the Eastern Conference, and did so in defying many people's explanations.  The Devils didn't win games in 09-10 by sitting back in a 1-2-2 and relying on a counterattack for their offense. Lemaire was more than willing to play offensive lines moreso than Brent Sutter did, allow defensemen to pinch in on offense when necessary, and putting 4 and sometimes 5 forwards on a power play. The coaching style by Jacques Lemaire of 2009-10 was clearly not coaching like Lemaire did in 1994-95.

What will Lemaire do now? Per Gulitti, he's going to stay within the organization.  Whether he was "encouraged" into retirement or not, I don't know.  I have my doubts given  that if Lou was so unhappy with Lemaire's performance, then I'd doubt he would want to Lemaire around at all.  Besides, I personally don't want to be so cynical as to not give Lemaire the benefit of the doubt.  He's had a successful coaching career, leaving on his terms, and he ends his coaching career as such.   Phil Coffey's summary of his career as coach at is entirely appropriate and worth reading.  Read on further for additional thoughts on Lemaire as the head coach in 2009-10 and what will happen now.



What I felt was the most impressive was how he structured the team so they could continue winning so many games in November and December in spite of all the injuries.  Mind you, these were injuries to Paul Martin, Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias, etc., etc. - a far cry from just a few guys being day-to-day for a week or so.  The Devils didn't have a fully healthy roster until Martin came back in the first half of March 2010.   The Devils have had multiple rookies from Lowell in the lineup and while it wasn't always pretty, the success still came.   Yes, the Devils slumped in the first two months 2010 (and the first week of March) but short of the very elite teams, teams tend to regress to their mean over time anyway. 

I was glad to read in Gulitti's post that Lemaire was equally as impressed by

"All the injuries that we had and where we finished during the season, it’s pretty amazing," Lemaire said. "We had kids from the minors lots of times and the kids were doing the job. We managed to get points. The season went really well. I could have been a lot more tired. I know it’s disappointing because you look at the team and always feel, ‘Hey, we’ve got a chance here. We’ve got a chance to do something.’ Especially (because) I felt that I was getting towards retirement one day, it would have been nice to do something else in the playoffs and that’s my only disappointment. My only disappointment. The season was great. It was fun, a good coaching staff, good organization. This is why I wanted to keep working for the organization because I know what they’re trying to do and I like what they’re trying to do."

I do remember not being pleased with the initial hire back in July.  I was afraid that the team would take a step back. I gladly ate my words on Christmas 2009, thanking the coaching staff for how well they have done then.  Of course, we now know that the team slumped, especially on offense in 2010. Overall, sure, the goals scored went down but that, I think, can be explained by injuries to offensive players disrupting their production as well as some players dipping a bit in their production (e.g. Parise had a good year, but it wasn't like his 08-09 season). Besides, the team still won the division with a very strong 48-27-7 record.  Not bad for a league that supposedly passed him by.

Do I think the Lemaire hire was a bad one in retrospect, not really.  I agree with Lemaire that the only real disappointment is the playoffs, but that's a blame that falls on both the coaches and the players.   As much as I criticized the coaching staff, Brent Sutter was in a similar situation in 2008 and he got an extra year.  Of course, Sutter also didn't have any jam thrown in his direction after a loss to the Rangers back then.  I noted that in my reaction to Lou Lamoriello's comments about Lemaire returning for another season a few days ago. This past weekend answered any doubts, as per Gulitti's report:

"I spoke to him, had him look at the team, sent him tapes and told him I’d like to see him come back," Lamoriello said. "He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Lou, I don’t know where the energy is going to be with reference to certain things.’ And I said to him, ‘Listen, whatever your decision is, I understand if you do or you do not want to.’ I said to think about it, but there was an understanding between the both of us that he would re-evaluate at the end of the year, which would have nothing to do with how the team went, nothing do with wins and losses, just his feeling of the energy that’s needed to coach and do the things that are necessary to be done.

"We never discussed it during the season. We never got into any of those things because of the respect we have for each other and then over the weekend we met."

Lamoriello said Lemaire told him, "I really want to emphasize to you it has nothing to do with losing in the playoffs because that’s the challenge to want to come back. But you want to do it only if you have the energy to do what is needed to be done at that time."

And Lemaire decided that he doesn't have the energy anymore.  If you want to be cynical, fine, but I'm going to take this quote, per Gulitti's post, at it's word.

"The year went really well. It’s not the problems that you have with the players. It’s nothing. It’s part of the game. It’s not the team. It’s not the lack of result that we had in the playoffs. It’s not that at all. I just find that it’s the end of the line. I’ll be 65. It’s just time."

One final note about Lemaire, I can't but help if Greg Wyshynski was right when he said in his post on the retirement:

Keep in mind the Lemaire wasn't Lamoriello's guy this season. Brent Sutter was. Lemaire was in New Jersey because Sutter suddenly bolted for Alberta, and Lamoriello wanted a familiar, dependable coach to oversee a win-now roster. (One imagines this may have been Pat Burns had it not been for his failing health.)

Sutter put Lou in a spot; Lou went with what he knew; and it seemed to work until the Flyers exposed the Devils.

With New Jersey in "win-now" until Marty Brodeur takes his last bite breath, it'll be intriguing to see where Lamoriello goes.

I agree on Burns, but that's not possible.  Sutter's not coming back here and I doubt many Devils fans would want him back.   So what now?  I have nothing but gut reactions to quick thoughts raised on potential hires raised in the comments to the FanShot Steve put up.

I'm not a big fan on promoting John MacLean up from Lowell.  Yes, he coached the L-Devils to the playoffs, the first time in nearly a decade for a Devils' AHL-affiliate team.  However, I still recall that he was running the power play as an assistant in New Jersey and he didn't exactly get the team going.  With a little more experience and continued success as a head coach down in the A, then I'd be more comfortable. But right now, I'm not. 

I know he's been in the organization for a while but let's be honest with ourselves.  The goal for 2010-11 is for the New Jersey Devils to get beyond the first round.  To achieve not only regular season success but playoff success.  Whoever the head coach is going to have a talented roster and a whole lot of pressure and high expectations resting on his shoulders.   I don't think throwing MacLean into this potential fire is a wise choice for both MacLean, who is still a relatively inexperienced head coach, and the New Jersey organization.

On that note, I definitely don't think Scott Stevens should be head coach as his "special assignment" position for this season kept him only around when the team was local and who really knows if he has the acumen or even the desire to be a head coach. Throwing him into the position with such little experience would be a poor choice in my opinion.

Does Lou promote Mario Tremblay to the head coaching role?  It'd be a stretch as he was only a head coach for two seasons with Montreal (1995-97) and to little success.  He's been an assistant to Lemaire since 2001-02, though, and he would provide some continuity going into 2010-11.  Only thing is, I have zero idea as to what he could do as a coach - I don't even know what he did as an assistant on this team.

It's not going to be Lou. I don't think it should be Lou.  Let the legendary GM be the GM, not the head coach.

Ken Hitchcock isn't the worst idea in the world, as he has had past success in the NHL including the Stanley Cup with Dallas back in 1999.  The question is, how will his personality and style of coaching mesh with these players?  I don't really know, I'd appreciate if someone can share some insight as to what Hitchcock normally does. 

And then there's the unknown.  Who else could suddenly find themselves looking for a job in the summer?  Maybe Lou goes off the board completely and looks to the junior or college ranks for a coach, like he did for Brent Sutter? I don't know but at least Lou has a lot more time to make this decision. Let me know what you think about the whole situation in the comments.  Make your case for who want a a coach. State what you feel about Lemaire's second time being the head coach of the Devils.  Either way, leave them in the comments.

Lastly, thank you to Mr. Jacques Lemaire and good luck to your new position.