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Lemaire's record shows how smart a coach he was

Monday, 04.26.2010 / 2:12 PM / Columns

By Phil Coffey - NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director

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Lemaire's record shows how smart a coach he was
Jacques Lemaire may turn 65 this fall, but that doesn't mean he's out of touch with the game. His record for teaching the game is exemplary.
At the time, Jacques Lemaire was kidding, but as time wore on, his joking statement to NHL.com's Mike Morreale became serious.

"Yeah, I'm 64 now when I used to be 50," he said with a laugh during a conversation with Morreale.

Monday, Lemaire cited his age as a reason to retire as coach of the New Jersey Devils and take on another role with the team following a 48-27-7 regular-season record and a disappointing five-game, first-round playoff loss to the Flyers.

"It started my last year in Minnesota," Lemaire told reporters Monday. "I was starting to think about retirement and Lou (Lamoriello, GM) came to my place (in Montreal) and asked me if I was interested to coach again. I looked at the team, looked at the organization and I got excited again because I love the game and always have passion for the game, especially (because) it was Lou and I worked for him in the past and I knew how he does things and the team. I felt we had a chance to do good in the playoffs. I went on and accepted the challenge.

"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."

Jacques Lemaire always has been the smartest guy in the room. His career is one of tremendous success, as a player with the Montreal Canadiens and as a coach and assistant general manager, winning eight Stanley Cups as a player and two more in his front-office role. Lemaire won 588 games in 1,213 tries with the Canadiens, Devils and Wild. He won the 1995 Cup with the Devils and then joined the expansion Wild, giving them instant respectability.

Lemaire's teams always were superb defensive squads that didn't make mistakes while capitalizing on those of its opponents. The 2009-10 Devils won the William Jennings Trophy for fewest goals scored against in the League.

"We believed that even in Montreal with all the Cups we had, we were talking about defense in the room," Lemaire said. "When Edmonton started to win (in the early 1980s), everyone went offensive and forgot a little bit about defense. In our minds, we always believed that defense was a big key and that's what we taught to the other players. You can't have 400 goals-against and figure you're going to win."

But Lemaire also changed with the times, too.

"I think every coach does change," Lemaire said. "We learn and we try to follow the trend that is going on and we're aware that in the '90s, the defensive game, and only a defensive game, could win you a lot of games. Now you need more than this to win games."

Lemaire's strong defensive reputation resulted in criticism that he stifled players' offensive instincts. But you rarely heard a former player ever criticize his coaching regimen. Former players would point out that they became better players under Lemaire's guidance. 

"Sometimes he saw something in the morning skate that he didn't like and then I lost my start," Martin Brodeur said of Lemaire. "It was just things like how to prepare yourself, how to be a professional and how to treat your teammates. It took a couple of years, but Jacques really helped me out and helped in different areas that maybe some people didn't see, but that I felt."

"He's a great teacher. He can really teach offensive and defensive things and I think it's good to get back to a lot of the things that we need as players -- that's his greatest asset as a teacher. He explains why we're doing things; it's not just, 'This is what we're doing,' but, instead, this is why we're doing it."
-- Brian Rolston

"He's a great teacher," said Devils forward Brian Rolston, who played for Lemaire in Minnesota and New Jersey. "He can really teach offensive and defensive things and I think it's good to get back to a lot of the things that we need as players -- that's his greatest asset as a teacher. He explains why we're doing things; it's not just, 'This is what we're doing,' but, instead, this is why we're doing it."

An acknowledgment of Lemaire's coaching smarts came this season when he was an assistant coach with Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics under Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.

During his first stint in New Jersey, the Devils became an elite team, going 199-122-57 and 34-22 in the postseason, resulting in the '95 Stanley Cup when they opened on the road in all four series and shocked the heavily favored Red Wings in the Final. The previous season, the Devils took the favored Rangers to overtime in the seventh game of the semifinals before falling.

Earlier this season, Lemaire was very happy with his return to New Jersey after resigning his position with the Wild.

"It's been great for me," Lemaire told Morreale. "Most of the people that worked here in the '90s were still here and that means a lot. It means they're good people and good workers. Lou hasn't changed -- he's only getter better. He's tough, but not as tough as he was, so it's good."
Quote of the Day

It's such a privilege to be one of these 80 great players to do this milestone, and it doesn't get better than this doing it where I started. It means a lot to me. A big thanks goes to all the players tonight who helped me to achieve that and also all the players through my career.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa after scoring his 1,000th career point on Thursday night in Ottawa
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