The New Jersey Devils beat the Boston Bruins 3-2 on Sunday afternoon, putting an end to a down and up season that saw them go 10-29-2 in the first half, but surge and then go 28-10-3 in the second half to finish 38-39-5 for the year.
The biggest ingredient and contributor to the dramatic turnaround was easily a change at Head Coach, where the great Jacques Lemaire took over for troubled rookie John MacLean. Lemaire essentially took a team with zero confidence and little success and turned them into a team that grew confident and began to learn how to win. They started the second half of the season with a 23-3-2 run in their first 28 games.
After today's game, Jacques Lemaire announced he was resigning and returning again to retirement for the third straight offseason. Now that the Devils' players have restored confidence in their ability and some of their youngsters have developed their talents, what stands to happen going forward?
The Devils now find themselves at a major crossroads this off season, as GM Lou Lamoriello's next coach could build upon the surge by Lemaire or could take a giant leap back towards the struggles of MacLean's tenure. After all, despite the great run, the Devils still finished out of the playoffs for the first time since the 1995-96 season.
At age 66, it is hardly a surprise that Lemaire chose retirement. However, for the fans and players, specifically Ilya Kovalchuk, it definitely is a big disappointment to see Lemaire retire. He isn't the type of coach that is normally readily available and out there for the taking, so it will be a big challenge to obtain a good replacement and nearly impossible to find an equivalent replacement.
The Devils and Lou Lamoriello will now seek a new head coach for the third straight offseason and fifth time in six years. If you can believe it, this coaching decision may be the most important one in recent history. They find themselves in exactly the same position as last year, trying to replace a coaching legend like Lemaire. It obviously didn't work well the last time, so they will be hard pressed to correct the error this time around.
Lamoriello will have to find and determine the best candidate for the job, and it will likely be under major scrutiny, as the Devils look to get themselves back to the winning their players and fans have grown accustomed to over the years. Clearly the choice of MacLean last season did not work out in the Devils' favor, and it's now been eight years since the Devils have been at the top of the sport with a Stanley Cup Championship.
Just who might that new head coach be? That's a very good question. I will take a look at possible candidates in my next installment, but for now, it's a day to reflect on the greatness that was Jacques Lemaire as a Head Coach, and to wonder if the Devils will be able to recover in the long offseason and next season to follow. Remember, Lou Lamoriello is known for the unexpected candidate (a la Jacques Lemaire, Pat Burns or Brent Sutter), so it'll be tough to think like Lou, but we'll give it our best shot.
One side note from today's game, I would like to mention is that I appreciated the players acknowledging the fans after the game. It was a tough year for the players and fans alike, but it's the first time I can remember the players saluting the fans like that, and I hope it isn't the last time something like that is done, I just hope not to see it need to be done in a regular season game anytime soon, meaning I hope to not see a repeat of missing the playoffs.
It was also pretty wild with the block of Quebec Nordiques fans that were on hand I'd guess it was about 2,000 strong, and they were heard often, giving the game a little extra atmosphere, with many blue wigs and jerseys throughout the Prudential Center. I wish them luck in their mission as they try to get the NHL back into Quebec I definitely enjoyed their presence, they were a very fun group.
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