By Jamie MacDonald | Minnesota WildST. PAUL, Minn.
-- Ending all speculation, though it seems at least some of that was unnecessary, Jacques Lemaire released a statement Saturday morning to say that he would return to the Wild for 2008-09.
In the very loosest sense of the term, Lemaire retires
at the end of each season. It should come as no surprise, then, that after his team's first-round ouster in the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs he retired once again, to Palmetto, Fla., on Florida's West Coast.
As always at the end of a long season, he thought about the previous campaign, the long hours, the stress of trying to help a group of players from different backgrounds and demographics and generations play at their very best as a team. He thought about the task of doing it all over again, too.
And, on Saturday, he made it clear, via a simple statement, he was more than ready for a return.
"When you are younger, it's a lot easier to make a decision," the statement read. "At the end of the year, I said I wanted to ask questions of Doug [Risebrough]. I wanted to make sure my boss is happy with the work I am doing and with the way I manage the team. This is what we talked about in our meetings. I am reassured of my work and I want to coach again.
"My satisfaction behind the bench is getting the team to play the best it can, individually and as a group," the statement continued. "Success will come with that."
Later in the day, via conference call, the only head coach the Wild has ever known betrayed no great desire to leave in the first place.
"After the meetings I had with Doug lately, I do really feel comfortable and I do really feel excited to come back and coach."
It has been less than a month since the Wild fell in its Western Conference Quarterfinals series to Colorado, which topped Minnesota in Game 5 back on April 19, resulting in a subdued plane ride back to the Twin Cities in the wee hours following that difficult calendar day.
The day began with a morning skate that didn't sit wonderfully with the coach as his team faced elimination. A closed-door meeting followed and seemed to raise Lemaire’s spirits before the team returned to the rink for what wound up being the final game of the 2007-08 season.
It was a campaign dotted throughout with ups and downs, from the highs of an excellent start and individual achievements ranging from players setting seasonal franchise records in points for defensemen (Brent Burns), assists (Pierre-Marc Bouchard
), goals (Marian Gaborik), and his own 500th career win, to the frustration of a stretch that saw a one-time substantial lead evaporate almost overnight.
"We were not playing as a team," Lemaire said from his home away from home Saturday. "That really affected me because I feel that my forte is to get them to play as a team. Because the fact we were not, I was frustrated because I felt, also, that I'm not doing my job. This is my job, to get them to play good, and to make my boss happy [with] the way his team is playing also. And I didn't have that satisfaction."
And maybe that's how the door was caught a little more open than it normally is when it came time for him to decide whether return.
"I just wanted to talk to Doug and see what he thinks of this, and I had a good response."
Lemaire said the discussions that followed were among the most fruitful of his tenure with the Wild.
"I came out and I felt really good and ready to go back at it," said Lemaire.
Theirs is a unique coach-GM relationship, originating during the success and tradition of the "To you from failing hands ..." Canadiens of the 1970s and further forged during their collaboration in Minnesota.
"I feel secure, and, feeling secure, you know, makes me do the right things," Lemaire said. "I want to work with the GM that I know, that knows me ... because I want to work together. I go back and I want to know what he thinks of me. I want to know if he's satisfied. I want to know what I can improve. In the tough times, I want to know what he thinks -- you know, giving me ideas, giving me feedback on what he sees. I've always been like that. This is why I want to work with a guy I know."
Overall, the Wild went 44-28-10 (25-11-5 at home) last season, winning its first Northwest Division title, and fans continued to fill one of the best arenas in North America. In the process, the team worked with a group of veterans that meshed well with a developing young core of talented players such as Mikko Koivu
, Burns, Bouchard and James Sheppard.
"We had a great view this year of our youngsters, how they grew, how they played this year, how they progressed," Lemaire said. "We need more of that."
Lemaire, named the Wild's first-ever head coach on June 19, 2000, has played a significant role in making the Wild one of the more successful expansion stories in professional sports, and has seen the franchise through a number of personnel changes.
That is likely to continue through this offseason, too. For anyone who thought that a guy nearing his mid-60s was put off by the idea that change is one of the few constants, however, Lemaire instead seems energized by it.
"Every year, there will be changes, and, you know, it's great to work with that, great to get that puzzle, put every piece together and try to make that team as good as possible," he said. "It's always a good challenge."QUOTE SHEET
On where the franchise stands: "Our goal is always to be better and better every year and try to work with the kids, get them to play as top players in the league, All that, it's been growing, but you still want more."
On beginning his vacation too early: "I would like to not be here, and be at Xcel [Energy Center] and coaching at this time. I felt this year we had the best team since the start of the team in the NHL. Not that we didn't do well, but I'm expecting always more."
On the thought of Minnesota being his last coaching stop: "I don't think I'll coach somewhere else. I've been very happy here."
On : "We brought a team on the ice and we gave a show every year. We were competitive every year. And we were progressing, which is great. And that's what you want. If you don't progress, then somebody else has to come and do the job. It's that simple."
On Brent Burns' progress: "[Brent] Burns, if he elevates his game another 10-15 percent, he'll be among the top defensemen in the league. We need that, and he has the potential to do it."
On signing Marian Gaborik: "That will be Doug. I'm coaching Marian."
On a stable coaching staff: "I'm very happy with the guys. We've been working a long time. We don't have the same idea all the time, which is great. We have great discussions. I'm very, very pleased."
On the Wild's play: "I thought we would give a pretty good run this year, and, you know, when we started and saw how the guys were playing, you're confident. Feeling like this, it's good because you're positive and you feel like you have a chance. It's great to work in this environment."
On whether he wants another ring: "What do you think?"