"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."
That was New Jersey Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire in April 2010, after he announced his retirement. Days earlier, New Jersey had been eliminated in five games by the Philadelphia Flyers and long-time assistant and AHL head coach John MacLean was finally promoted behind the Devils' bench.
In the 2010-11 season, MacLean was quickly out of that job after a 9-22-2 start ... and Lemaire was back.
Things didn't change soon after Lemaire replaced MacLean on Dec. 23, as New Jersey won just two of his first eight games. But here we are today, with the Devils sitting eight points behind the Buffalo Sabres for the final playoff spot in the East and in the midst of an absurd 20-2-2 streak.
The mindset of the Devils fan, from Christmas 2010 on, has changed from thinking about Sean Couturier, Adam Larsson or Gabriel Landeskog as their No. 1 pick in June's Entry Draft to thinking about just how far this #NJuggernaut can actually go.
It's been a tale of two seasons in New Jersey, and the struggles from October, November and December seem so far away. Not only did they remove their coach, but also their captain, Jamie Langenbrunner(notes), and since then have taken 44 out of a possible 50 points.
The chance that New Jersey completes the comeback and makes the playoffs still seems like a stretch. But even if the Devils fall just short, is it crazy to believe that Lemaire can still win his third Jack Adams Awards in June?
On some occasions, the Jack Adams (voted on by the broadcasters) ends up going to the coach of the team that improved the most from the previous season. Bruce Boudreau (2007) of the Washington Capitals and Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes (2010) are two recent examples; as is Guy Boucher, who'll more than likely be a candidate after the turnaround he's helped lead with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
(One also can't ignore Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins, should they finish as one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference despite the absences of Sidney Crosby(notes) and Evgeni Malkin(notes) in the second half -- among the bevy of injuries ravaging the lineup.)
Many would agree that Lemaire would be the odds-on favorite for the Jack Adams if New Jersey does make the playoffs; but Lemaire himself told Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger that he believes any coach worthy of Adams consideration should be behind the bench from Game 1 to Game 82 and not come on-board midway through a season.
Only Bill Barber (2001) and Boudreau have won the award after replacing a coach during a season.
No Jack Adams winner, however, has failed to qualify for the playoffs in the season in which they took home the award. Lemaire's current 21-9-2 record with the Devils this season shows that he's done one of the best coaching jobs in the NHL, even if their season doesn't go past early April.
New Jersey barely had a pulse under John MacLean and neither did Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) in Year One of a 15-year, $100 million deal. Kovalchuk had eight goals while MacLean was in charge. He had almost as many (six) in the first month of Lemaire's return. Kovalchuk's since gone on a mad scoring streak, including potting six game-winning goals in his last 13 games to help erase those "Koval-choke" jokes from early in the season.
Brian Rolston(notes) is another player who's responded well since the coaching change. A week after Rolston was placed on waivers, MacLean was fired, and like Kovalchuk, his production has soared during this Devils' hot streak.
Despite the success and rave reviews from his players, Lemaire has deflected any questions about his future. He came back to help his friend Lou Lamoriello and managed to salvage the season.
As Tara Sullivan of the Bergen Record noted last month, if Lemaire leaves again after this season, New Jersey will be once again looking for a new coach. Seeing the effect Lemaire has had on his hockey team since late December, how many days in a row will Lamoriello have to get on his knees this summer and beg his old friend to come back for at least one more year?
- Jacques Lemaire
- New Jersey