If you didn’t think the Leafs were serious enough about changing their approach to the game, the addition of Jacques Lemaire as special assignment coach further solidifies it.
His coaching career spread around Montreal, New Jersey, Minnesota and New Jersey again, Lemaire is best known for pioneering the defensive trap-style play that helped the Devils win their first Stanley Cup in 1995.
In 2003, Lemaire led a Minnesota Wild team out of expansion obscurity and pushed it to relevance in the hockey world, taking them to the Western Conference final where they were eliminated the Mike Babcock-led Anaheim Ducks.
Lemaire later work with Babcock, serving as an assistant coach as part of Team Canada’s 2010 Olympic gold medal-winning team
The relationship with both Lamoriello and Babcock and having both of them reach out is what enticed Lemaire about this new opportunity.
“That's what made me really excited, because Mike called me and Lou called me that same day and I feel that through the two calls, I said I think I can be working with them and bring something to the table,” said Lemaire.
So what is a special assignment coach?
It’s a title that is almost exclusive to the umbrella of Lou Lamoriello.
In New Jersey, Pat Burns services as a special assignment coach in 2004 after he was diagnosed with cancer and resigned as head coach. He held that position for years until his passing.
Scott Stevens served as a special assignments coach, where he worked with some of the younger defenceman on the team until he was promoted to assistant coach.
Jacques Lemaire most recently held this title with New Jersey before joining Lamoriello in Toronto.
“What I do is I look at the team, I bring suggestions on players, I bring suggestions on everything I see,” said Lemaire. “It's like you're involved with the team the whole time and sometimes you're missing certain things. Looking from the outside, not having that constant pressure, I think I can help quite a bit.”
It’s basically another set of eyes that can be brought in for input without the daily rigors that come from coaching the team. It’s an external set of eyes that is employed by team. A scout for your own team and personnel. It’s the old adage that you may be too close to something that you can’t quite see it.
The ability to add expertise to management is something Lamoriello did well in New Jersey. He’s able to flex that now by adding Toronto’s first special assignment coach.
Expect to see Lemaire help both the Leafs and Marlies solidify their defensive responsibilities. It’s in that aspect, where Lemaire will be utilized to the maximum.
If someone is deemed worthy enough, don’t be surprised if Lamoriello adds more special assignment coaches down the road. If Toronto can bolster their staff with someone who brings something unique to the staff, Toronto has shown no shyness in exploring it.