Caught In A Trap: The New Jersey Devils Welcome Back Jacques Lemaire

Michael Ielpi@ielpiCorrespondent IJuly 14, 2009

ST. PAUL, MN - 2007:  Jacques Lemaire of the Minnesota Wild poses for his 2007 NHL headshot at photo day in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Getty Images)

An old friend of the Devils' fans know has stopped by to say hello and to coach his old team.

Today, the New Jersey Devils brought back former coach Jacques Lemaire to be the head coach again. This comes after the team was caught by surprise with Brent Sutter quitting on the team in June.

The team went through the entry draft and the first week of free agency without a head coach.

As a Devils fan, I have mixed emotions on this.

I have always liked Lemaire as a coach; what he did for this franchise can never be forgotten.

Lemaire took this team from mediocrity to glory.  In one season, Lemaire took a team that had never finished with more than 87 points in franchise history to a team with 106 points in 1993-94. That year, the Devils came within one goal of the Stanley Cup Finals and would have likely beaten the Vancouver Canucks that season for the Cup.

The following season, the Devils went all the way and captured the Stanley Cup in a surprising sweep over Lemaire's former coach, Scotty Bowman and the Detroit Red Wings.

However, I can't forget the disappointments after 1995, when the Devils came nowhere close to a conference final. In 1996, the Devils became the first team to fail to make the playoffs after winning the Stanley Cup in over twenty years.

The Devils came back and won their first two Atlantic Division titles in 1997 and 1998. But, the regular season success was quickly forgotten as the Devils were bounced by the Rangers in five games in the 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals.

In 1998, the Devils became one of those embarrassing statistics by being one of only a handful of No. 1 seeds to fall to a No. 8 seed in the opening round of the playoffs. The Devils lost to the Senators in six games.

The Devils won 27 playoff games in Lemaire's first two years, but only won seven games in his final three seasons with the club.

Jacques Lemaire was fired after the 1998 season. He signed on with the expansion Minnesota Wild in their 2000 inaugural season.

It took Lemaire only three seasons to get the Wild into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In 2003, the Wild won a back-to-back seven game series to reach the Western Conference Finals, where they were swept by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Ironically, the Mighty Ducks would fall to the Devils in the Finals that season.

The Wild would make the playoffs three times in Lemaire's final five seasons with the team, but failed to win a playoff series.

Just like in his final seasons in New Jersey, Lemaire's team would win the division and lose in the first round.

His press conferences were usually pretty funny and he will hardly ever place blame on himself. It is pretty comical to watch.

Three reasons I like the Lemaire hiring:

  1. Lemaire will stress defense which has been this team's Achilles heel since Scott Stevens retired in 2004.
  2. Familiarity with the five current Devils who played for Lemaire in the 90's. They are Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias, Jay Pandolfo, and Brian Rolston. Rolston also played for Lemaire in Minnesota.
  3. I highly doubt he will just walk away from this team like Brent Sutter did. Also, I think Devils' President Lou Lamoriello will give Lemaire his space.

Three reasons I do not like the hiring

  1. Is Lemaire's trap style of play still effective in a more open NHL? Can he change as the team has?
  2. The current Devil team has its best players up front and does not have great defensemen like Stevens and Niedermayer that you can rely on to keep men and pucks away from the steady Brodeur.
  3. Lemaire's teams have only been out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in the last nine seasons. The Devils have not won more than five playoff games in a season since 2003.

One question that may not have an answer

Will we ever know why John MacLean keeps getting passed up for the job?

Over the last couple of years, Lou Lamoriello seems to be waxing poetic from 1995. He signed two of the members from that team last year in Bobby Holik and Brian Rolston. Holik retired after a very poor season in 2009 and Rolston's numbers were the worst of his career.

The Devils best forward, Zach Parise, was 10-years old when the Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1995.

Let's hope Lemaire has a little bit more success in his return to New Jersey, but I think most Devil fans have suspicious minds on the move. And as Elvis said, "We can't build our dreams on suspicious minds."

Welcome back to the Devils trap; you can't walk out.