Shocker: New Jersey Devils Hire Jacques LemaireJuly 13, 2009
After bringing back a ton of former Devils players last season, Lou Lamoriello is once again reaching for a blast from the past by hiring Jacques Lemaire as the team's new head coach.
Naturally, this move has shocked the entire sports world.
Actually, sarcasm aside, while Lemaire had been rumored to be getting the job at first, the prospect was called into question when Lou began taking his sweet time in hiring him; if the choice was so apparent, why wait?
But the speculation is over, and it's the guy we all thought it would be.
Naturally, this is going to provide for a great deal of debate among Devils fans. Like the rest of the offseason, this reeks of conservatism, as Lou goes for an old faithful candidate, rather than reaching out to bring in someone new (For the record, on the lack of offseason movement, I find it frustrating, but appreciate that Lou is not overpaying for undeserving players. I won't call the offseason a success, but Lou is navigating it smartly, and it's really the best we can do. The least of all evils, I guess.).
Devils fans will fall into one of a few camps.
Some will applaud the signing, noting Lemaire's track record, including his Stanley Cup with the Devils in 1995. Others will scream and cry that the team is taking a step back, giving up the progress they made under Brent Sutter. And still a third will continue to float out John MacLean's name, as he has once again been passed over as head coach.
Admittedly, I would have preferred a more Sutter-esque coach (minus the homesickness).
But who, exactly was out there?
There's Peter Laviollette, but while some Devils fan forums liked the guy, he was never a candidate for the job. There was John MacLean, but Lou has never given him a shot, and his stance hasn't changed.
Lemaire is, if nothing else, a safe choice.
He's a good, proven, successful head coach in the NHL, and has worked well with this franchise before. He also works very well with Brian Rolston, who clashed mightily with Sutter, and was actually happy to see him go. There is a very legitimate fear that the Devils will go back to the old ways of trapping, and that this method will not work in the "new" NHL. But he got some very good scoring out of Rolston and Marian Gaborik, so it's very possible that Lemaire has adapted to the new league, and will be fine.
As alluded to earlier, this move is similar to the other decisions made by Lou this offseason, and it is probably the least of all evils.
While Lemaire may not have been the most ideal choice, he was probably the best coach available. The Devils make the playoffs consistently, and Lemaire garners consistent success. The two will be a good match, but whether they are a great match is a different story altogether.
The big, but mostly overshadowed story here is MacLean, who was named the head coach of the Lowell Devils, while Mario Tremblay replaces him as an assistant coach. First of all, Tremblay is a very good assistant, so the move immediately helps the big-league club. But MacLean is also getting his first shot as a head coach, albeit on the minor-league level.
MacLean may very well be the best long-term option for the Devils, as he has been with the organization for a very long time, and not only knows the system, but has progressed with the team. He has plenty of NHL coaching experience, and will now get to show how he runs his own team.
Considering Lemaire's age, he may be a short-term option until someone better comes along.
And that someone better might very well be MacLean. When Lemaire's time is up in a few years, MacLean will finally get a very long look as a candidate to become the Devils' coach of the future.
Until then, Lou is looking for a safe, grizzled veteran to guide his roster, now full of young, unpredictable rookies. Lemaire will work very well with the current roster, and a new coach will be waiting in the wings to replace him.
Overall, it's very difficult to get excited over the hiring of Lemaire, but Lou wasn't looking for the most exciting coach, but the most effective. With Lemaire, the Devils will surely wind up in the same place they've landed for more than a decade: the playoffs.
Will they go further? That has yet to be seen.
I'm not crazy about Lemaire's age, as the team has had so many coaching changes since his initial departure, and long-term stability would be better. I also would have preferred to see a more Sutter-esque coach.
But Lemaire's defensive tendencies are overrated, and while his style is more defensive than Sutter's, he won't be going all the way back to the extreme defense of the neutral-zone trap. And if there has to be a coaching change in the near future, it will hopefully be a familiar, in-house candidate in MacLean.
Perhaps the biggest impact Lemaire will have will be on Rolston, who struggled under Sutter.
Sutter utterly misused Rolston, relegating him to the third and fourth lines, never allowing him to utilize his scoring ability. Lemaire has brought out the best in Rolston during their time together in Minnesota, and Rolston's return to prominence is imminent. The added scoring will be a huge boost in replacing Brian Gionta, who was lost to free agency.
Lemaire will be good for the Devils, and was probably the best available coach. But like the rest of this offseason, the sensible choice may not be the most dynamic.
In other news, The Devils have also hired longtime captain Scott Stevens as a special assignments coach.