Tag: Jacques Lemaire

MIke Yeo

Minnesota welcomes back an old friend: The neutral zone trap

When you bring up the neutral zone trap to fans anywhere across the NHL, they immediately start having flashbacks to the days in the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s that saw the New Jersey Devils, among others, gain great success from employing the defense-first style of play.

One team that saw the trap more often than not was the Minnesota Wild. The Wild under coach Jacques Lemaire saw their greatest success with Lemaire in charge and slowing things down in the Western Conference. As things go with the hardcore neutral zone trap, the fans got bored of things and were eager for a change to add some excitement to their hockey-loving lives.

When Todd Richards replaced Lemaire, the trap was altered for the most part but the wins evaporated as well. Now with Mike Yeo in charge in St. Paul, the Wild are hoping to mix in the defensive strength and excitement of scoring goals and he’s going to do it by tweaking the trap. Michael Russo of The Star Tribune breaks the flashback-inducing news from Wild camp.

In the irony of all ironies, it’s Lemaire’s latest version of the aggressive neutral-zone forecheck that Yeo will deploy as the Wild coach and the one he unveiled during his exhibition debut behind the Wild’s bench Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers.

“Now when I say trap, you’re not going to see a team where five guys are just backing up,” Yeo said. “Like, look at our team last year in Houston. I mean, how many people would say we were a boring team to watch? We trapped in the neutral zone, but we were aggressive in how we did it.”

And before you start freaking out, let’s be clear: The Wild is not returning to the trap. The Wild never stopped trapping.

The facts are simple. While fans bug out about the trap, the trap is employed by every team in the league in some way, shape, or form. The Bruins and Canucks both played variations of it to great, Stanley Cup finals-reaching success. For Wild fans, they’re still scarred from Lemaire’s days of success and boredom and they think that when a coach readily admits he’ll be breaking it out again it’ll be a return to what happened before.

Fortunately for Wild fans and NHL fans all over, teams can’t bog things down the same way as they used to. Obstruction is now a cardinal sin and power plays are too dangerous to hand out like candy. Trying to bog things down like you used to is seen as playing things too safe and in the current NHL, safe is death.

Sure Wild fans are going to be a bit bothered to hear about an old friend like the trap coming back, but with offensive weapons like Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi in place as well as a healthy Pierre-Marc Bouchard and the always steady Mikko Koivu, that defense can turn into offense really fast.

Of course, if things go south expect to see fingers get pointed often at the trap.

Jamie Langenbrunner prepares for a new role with the St. Louis Blues

Jamie Langenbrunner
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Jamie Langenbrunner was playing some of the best hockey of his career in his 30’s, scoring a career-high 69 points in 2008-09 and 61 in 09-10 as he captained the New Jersey Devils. Yet things started going sour at the end of 09-10, as Langenbrunner clashed with Jacques Lemaire.

That funk seemed to carry over into the 2010-11 season, as he managed 14 points in 31 games with the Devils before he finally agreed to waive his no-trade clause and return to the only other team he knew, the Dallas Stars. It didn’t really get a whole lot better for Langenbrunner in Dallas, though, as he scored 18 points in 39 games while seeing reduced time on ice (16:33 minutes per game). The Stars were on the cusp of a playoff spot but couldn’t get the job done against the Minnesota Wild in the last day of the regular season, punctuating a nauseating season for the versatile winger.

Losing just seemed to follow him around like a dark cloud in 2010-11; Jeremy Rutherford points out that the Devils and Stars’ combined record with Langenbrunner on their rosters was 27-44-8. That must have been a bitter pill to swallow for a guy who won two Stanley Cups, one silver medal and made the playoffs in all 13 of his previous full NHL seasons.

The 36 year old winger told Rutherford that he lost some of his passion for hockey last season.

“Jersey had weighed on me so much,” Langenbrunner said. “I’ve always been the type of guy that plays with a lot of emotion and heart, and when you feel like you’re not really part of it, it was tough, especially when you’re the captain. I didn’t enjoy playing hockey anymore, and that is no way to play in this league.”

The Blues are mostly a very young team, with almost every major contributor being in what should be their prime years. Even so, the team decided to add some veteran scoring presences in the form of similar one-year contracts for Langenbrunner and fellow former Devils forward Jason Arnott. When you factor in the addition of defensive forward Scott Nichol, the Blues added three 36 year old forwards during this off-season.

Rather than drawing top line minutes like Langenbrunner often did in New Jersey, Rutherford reports that Langenbrunner will probably play alongside Arnott and Alex Steen on a third line while drawing penalty killing duty.

The Blues don’t expect Langenbrunner to step into a top-six role or line up on the power play. Going into training camp, which begins Sept. 16, he’s slotted for the third line with Alex Steen and Arnott, and he’s scheduled to be on the penalty-killing unit.

“We feel he’s going to provide some work, some defensive responsibility,” Blues coach Davis Payne said. “If there’s a guy not performing and all of a sudden he takes that responsibility, that’s what we’re going to find out. That’s the role we’ve discussed.”

At first, I scoffed at the additions of Langenbrunner and Arnott. Yet when you consider the fact that they’ll likely be in third line/support roles, the moves make a lot more sense (especially since St. Louis gave them low-risk one-year deals).

The Blues could be an intriguing dark horse candidate next season, especially if they manage to make an aggressive trade deadline move or two once a new ownership group is hopefully in place. St. Louis must hope that Arnott and Langenbrunner still have some gas left in the tank, but if nothing else, the team’s younger players can lean on two veterans who have seen a lot in their NHL careers.

Best and worst sweaters of all-time: New Jersey Devils

Ilya Kovalchuk

The Devils haven’t always been the entertaining team on the ice, but they’ve been winners. That sort of attitude applies to their sweaters over the years, as they haven’t always been entertaining or controversial but they’ve always been great. From guys like Pat Verbeek and Chris Terreri to Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur, and Ilya Kovalchuk they’ve had the names but the same look on the ice. But what about those sweaters?

Best: Well, there’s not a lot of room for error here when examining the Devils’ sweaters of the past. They’ve had two different types of sweaters and, depending on your preference in colors that determines which way things fall here. Given that I’m just north of 30 years-old and spent my formative years watching hockey in the 80s and early 90s… I’m a big fan of the “Christmas” color jerseys the team adopted from the moment they arrived in New Jersey in 1982 that lasted until black replaced green in 1992.

Worst: The Devils haven’t done anything egregious at all in their history and I’m not about to call anything they’ve done to be the “worst” of anything. Some of you might take issue with the old days wearing green and red, but those sweaters still looked nice. Switching to black, while predictable in the early 90’s, made a ton of sense considering they’re named the Devils. After all, what colors do you see devils wearing in artistic representations most often? Yup.

Old-timey favorite: The Devils weren’t always in New Jersey. They were born originally in Kansas City as the Scouts and moved to Denver to become the Rockies. Of those previous iterations, the Kansas City Scouts sweater from 1974 is iconic for its wild striping, funky colors, and logo that paid homage to a Kansas City landmark and history as a western outpost.

Assessment: The Devils are about as boring with their sweaters as they were back in the mid-90s under Jacques Lemaire and the neutral zone trap.  The difference here is that people reflect upon the Devils sweaters and its interlocking “NJ” with love and admiration. After all, it was featured prominently in the film “Clerks” and if you don’t love “Clerks” you’re either not a child of the 90s or Kevin Smith himself. The Devils have avoided the third jersey plague and they’ve even brought back the green and red jerseys once a year for St. Patrick’s Day. What’s not to appreciate about that?