April 10, 2011
New Jersey Devils fans wanted one last ride. One more full season with Jacques Lemaire behind the bench, Martin Brodeur(notes) between the pipes and the stench from the team's disastrous start in 2010 washed away by 2011's unanticipated optimism.
But in their hearts, they knew that Lemaire was in it for this miraculous turnaround, but nothing more. And after the Devils closed out their 2010-11 season with a 3-2 victory at home against the Boston Bruins, their first finish outside of the postseason since 1996, Lemaire confirmed what he had previously indicated: He will not return to coach the Devils next season.
"I'm glad I took the job for the rest of the season... The only regrets I have is not making the playoffs."
"It demands a lot. I want to enjoy life."
And on the season's turnaround: "They're the ones that make it happen. It's not me."
He said he told the Devils this would be his last game before the Bruins tilt; they rewarded him with a victory and a Lemaire-ian effort in the second period, holding the Bruins to a single shot.
The Devils were 9-22-2 when Lemaire took over on Dec. 23; they finish 38-39-5, 11th in the Eastern Conference and 12 points out of the postseason. They were 27 out at one point in January.
In the second half of the season, the Devils found redemption for their terrible start. So did Lemaire for the 2010 playoffs, when he seemed unable to motivate his players in an emphatic trouncing by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games. As Lamoriello has done in the past, he responded by hiring the antithesis of Lemaire in former NHL assistant and AHL head coach John MacLean: player friendly, newbie coach and, let's face it, younger by 19 years.
Turns out they needed Lemaire all along. The structure, the savvy, that prestige beyond the bench the immediately earns respect. He returned to catcalls of being a substitute teacher behind the bench of a lost season; he leaves, as he was in 1995 when the team hoisted the Cup for the first time, a beloved figure for Devils fans.
Where will the team turn next? Two names immediately come to mind: Mike Haviland, Chicago Blackhawks assistant and New Jersey native; and Kirk Muller, former Devils captain and star assistant coach for the Montreal Canadiens. And if there are two things Lou Lamoriello loves, as today's news reminds us, it's retreads and former Habs.