The old sports adage is that you can't fire the players, but you can fire the coach. Unless the coach is Jacques Lemaire, who is usually not fired but given the deference to leave on his own face-saving terms.
For the third time in his NHL coaching career, and a year after leaving the Minnesota Wild after eight seasons, Lemaire has left the bench, choosing to retire and remain in the New Jersey Devils organization rather than manage this collection of players again in 2010-11.
The 64-year-old Lemaire said he was getting close to retirement, but after leading the Devils to an Atlantic Division title this past season -- his sixth overall on the Devils' bench -- he said he was too worn down to continue as coach.
General Manager Lou Lamoriello notified the team of Lemaire's departure because Lamoriello said the coach was too emotional to address the players, who were gathered at the Prudential Center to clear out their lockers after losing to the Flyers in five games in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The Devils were heartless and humbled in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers, losing in five games and exiting in the opening stanza for the third consecutive season. Lemaire said after the series he still enjoyed coaching, and Devils overlord Lou Lamoriello said he'd return as coach next season "unless you know something I don't know."
John Fisher of In Lou We Trust wondered if there was another skate to drop based on that last statement. Well, now we know.
We know that the 2010 New Jersey Devils are the 1998 New Jersey Devils, who lost in the first round against the Ottawa Senators. That postseason saw a superstar veteran acquisition, who never fit the system, play well in his final games for the franchise (Doug Gilmour then; Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) potentially now); Devils mainstays underachieve mightily in the playoffs (leading goal-scorer Bobby Holik(notes) earned no points and a minus-4 then; Jamie Langenbrunner's(notes) one assist and a minus-1 now); and Lemaire leave the bench after the season, after both first-round disasters may have indicated players were quitting on him and his methods.
Keep in mind that 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.
Perpetual assistant/minor league coach John MacLean? "Special assistant" Scott Stevens? Another round of Larry Robinson? Some veteran coach from outside the organization that's on the market, like Ken Hitchcock? Or does Lou begin the coaching search in ... oy ... his office mirror?