Jacques Lemaire will always be a legend in New Jersey. He brought the team their first Stanley Cup in 1995 and he rescued their season this year from the dumpster after John MacLean couldn’t put the team together.
When Lou Lamoriello put the call into Lemaire after firing MacLean, it looked like Lemaire was coming in to just mop up a mess of a situation. Instead he helped put some discipline into the Devils play and rallied them out of the NHL basement and made a run at the playoffs before ultimately falling short. With the Devils season over, many wondered and hoped that Lemaire might want to do it one more time and return behind the bench next season. Lemaire, instead, will head back into retirement rather than coach one more season in New Jersey.
Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice gets the parting words from the man responsible for turning the Devils into a consistent winner. As it turns out, Lemaire feels he’s getting just a bit too old for this stuff.
He again cited his age and fatigue as the reasons. Lemaire will remain in the organization as a special assignment coach – the same role he held at the start of the season.
“It demands a lot,” Lemaire said of coaching. “I want to enjoy life. I want to enjoy the family.”
Lemaire also retired from coaching after the Devils’ first-round playoff loss to Philadelphia last season. He came out of retirement to replace the fired John MacLean on Dec. 23.
The Devils went 29-17-3 under Lemaire after going just 9-22-2 in 33 games under MacLean.
“I thought that I did make the right decision last year,” Lemaire said. “I’m happy I took the job for the rest of the season. I had fun. It was a huge challenge for me. I thought the guys responded well. The only regrets I have is not making the playoffs.”
Lemaire won’t often be remembered warmly by fans of teams not named the Devils or Wild. Lemaire’s strict defensive brand of hockey is often credited as the reason why the NHL got boring in the mid-90s on through until the lockout in 2004. When the Devils beat the high-powered Red Wings in 1995 for the Stanley Cup, many teams were eager to adopt Lemaire’s brand of hockey to help them keep up with the NHL powerhouses.
The truth on Lemaire is that he’s one of the best coaches to be a part of the NHL and he’s always been a reporter’s dream for his candid and honest take on the game. Fans might hate the style of hockey he taught, but the man is genuine.
As for what the Devils will do now to find a new head coach, the intrigue is fascinating. Some suggest that Canadiens assistant coach and former Devils player Kirk Muller will get a call from Devils GM Lou Lamoriello but I’d suspect that going with another guy that doesn’t have NHL head coaching pedigree might not be such a warm idea after what went down with MacLean this year. Former NHL bench bosses Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien also might get some serious consideration as well as recently fired Panthers coach Pete DeBoer.