It took a month and 3 days for the Devils to have their next head coach, but it isn’t anything new for the club. They welcomed back former coach Jaques (pronounced Jock) Lemaire to the fold in hopes that Lemaire will have the similar success that he had when he led the Devils to the pinnacle of the hockey world in 1995 with a Stanley Cup championship. Lemaire had a record of 199-122-46 in five seasons as the head coach of the Devils. He was famous for implementing the neutral zone trap which gave teams fits in trying to produce any kind of offense. It was looked at with mixed thoughts, you either loved the trap or you hated it. The Devils were accused of ruining hockey and making it boring to watch. Well, I just say those are bitter losers for not having the kind of achievement the Devils have. You have to win in any way possible, right? That is what Lemaire believed in and it worked for them then. But now? Now may be the wrong time for Lemaire to stress defense first. The Devils made great strides toward offensive improvement. They were no longer amongst the lowest scoring teams in the league and it showed that we were better for it (record high in wins).
However, I am not saying I disagree with Lemaire coming back to Jersey. He is proven to be a winner and really can ignite a team when he first arrives on the scene. He had the Devils in the conference finals in his first season and within one goal of reaching the Cup Finals. In his second season he did his first season a one better and won it all. He was the Minnesota Wild’s first ever coach and had that team in the Western Conference Finals within three years of their inception. Also, before all of that he was the Montreal Canadians head coach and had them in the playoffs in every season he was there.
The fact of the matter with Lemaire is very clear. He is a two time Jack Adams award winner (coach of the year) and a proven coach in this league. He has been to Jersey before, knows it well and already has great relationships with some of the players. But Jacques has a serious decision to make and he needs to make it right now. Does he want to try and build on what the Devils showed they can do offensively last year or will he bring forth what he knows best, that being a strong defensive minded strategy. Personally, it is best for the Devils to strive to be even better on offense. They have always been defensively sound, but to be better offensively is vital to keeping up with these teams these days. With the moves the Canadians, Flyers and Rangers have made to be better; it is in the best interest of the Devils to build on what they started last year.
Granted, last year was very different form what we will see this year. The team roster is going to be considerably different but the most important thing is that the identity of the team remains. Marty, Zach, Langer and the defense are all remaining and that is enough for them to be successful again. What Lemaire will do with them is up to him. Would going back to being a defensively minded team be a bad thing? No, not necessarily, but when you have all these teams in the league doing what they can to improve overall and make each better, while we hope to improve from within, defense alone will not win us a championship. Back when Lemaire was here it was a different kind of league, now it is very much a scorer’s game. He only had one great scorer in his time in Minnesota, that being Marion Gaborik. Who knows, perhaps Lemaire wanted to change while the leagues rules changed to, but the lineup he had didn’t give him the best opportunity to be more offensive. With the Devils, he can do that, and I hope he does.
I believe there were better options out there for the Devils to go, but Lou always knows what is best for the Devils and I have to come to trust in everything he does. Lemaire has tremendous upside to him as a coach and as I stated earlier he is a familiar face for some. Marty knows him well, keep him happy and the team will undoubtedly win from it. I also have to believe that Jacques is coming here with a fire in his belly to win again. He only saw one really great season in Minnesota during his time there, so I believe he comes back with only one thing in mind, that being Lord Stanley.
Also, it is worth noting that the Devils assigned John MacLean as the Lowell head coach. MacLean was in contention to be the next Devils coach and had a good chance of getting it. However, I think the biggest thing in the way for Lou was the fact that MacLean has always just been an assistant, never actually being a head coach. With him in Lowell, he will get a chance to show what he can do. This ultimately means he is next in line to be the Devils next head coach, barring a completely terrible performance from his team.