Following Saturday's 6-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena, the Minnesota Wild coach announced he will not return in that capacity for the 2009-10 season. The Wild did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, going 40-33-9.
"I think it's time for the organization to get a new coach, get a new voice, try to bring this club to another level," said Lemaire, who was named the franchise's first-ever coach back in June of 2000. "When I first started, I always said there will be a time when I'll have to go. I saw that time, and it's now."
Lemaire, 63, guided the Wild to a 291-256-107 record during his eight seasons in Minnesota. The Wild's 209 wins in its first six years is the most of any of the nine NHL expansion teams since 1991. He also led the Wild to its fourth straight winning season in 2006-07 with a 48-26-8 record, setting franchise records for wins (48) and points (104).
This season, though, was a difficult one. The Wild played most of it without talented winger Marian Gaborik and experienced difficulty scoring goals. Minnesota finished with 219 tallies.
"First of all, I never thought I would stay this long," Lemaire said. "I was pleased and impressed with the fans and the people living in Minnesota. I have to say the same thing for my wife. It's a place that she loved. She was calling Minnesota her home. It was great. It's sad to leave, but we have to do it."
Lemaire understood the fans' frustration at the team's inability to score goals. He took great pleasure in Minnesota's 8-4 win against Nashville on Friday night. Twenty-four hours later, the Wild scored another six goals. But as far as the playoffs go, it was too little, too late.
"You have to please the fans," Lemaire said. "The other night, I was just happy to see the fans enjoy the game the way we did. I wish we could give them 82 games like this. They were patient and supportive."
Lemaire, who guided the New Jersey Devils to a Stanley Cup championship in 1995, believes he still has gas left in the tank. While he's finished coaching in Minnesota, he made it sound as if he'd like to be behind another team's bench as early as next season.
"I still love coaching," Lemaire said. "I'm going to work and I want to stay in the game, that's for sure. I still believe I've got a few years. I don't know what I'm going to do, but I want to stay in the game."
Material from team media was used in this report.