For the record, I'm not saying I don't like Jacques Lemaire or think he's a bad coach. Any coach that wins a Stanley Cup and has coached as long as he has is good enough in my book. I just think at this point and time Lemaire isn't the right coach the Devils need, especially if Lou is looking to hire someone long term. He would not be in my top five choices but is not my last. If it comes down to it though, I would accept his return behind the Devil's bench.
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Consider how much the game and the Devils have changed since Lemaire resigned in 1998. In the new NHL teams possessing speed, skill, and an offensive mindset prosper, which has been proven when you look at the last four teams that won the Stanley Cup. In order to win, stay effective, and go deep in the playoffs a team has to keep up with the game's fast pace and have putting the puck in the net their main priority rather than keeping it out of their own zone. Lemaire's infamous Neutral Zone Trap slows the pace of the team's game, makes them resort to "clutching and grabbing", and limits opportunities for offensive growth.
In the past eleven years, the only relics remaining from Lemaire's coaching days are Martin Brodeur, Brian Rolston, Jay Pandolfo, and Patrik Elias. It took the Devils almost a decade to relinquish themselves from the defensive mindset Lemaire established and start to learn how to win with a more offensive approach. Since Lemaire's departure, the Devils gained and lost several key assets. We all know who stands out in particular on that list. Most of the Devil's current roster has adapted to, or played most of their career in the new NHL, not to mention have probably gone through more coaches with the Devils alone than in their entire careers.
Offensively, the Devils proved a lot this season. They had their largest offensive output since the lockout and played with the most solid forward lineup in years. Zach Parise has become a proven 40-goal scorer and Patrik Elias truly redeemed himself. Along with Jamie Langenbrunner showing he can still score twenty goals a season and with a lot of promise in Travis Zajac and David Clarkson, it would not make sense to smother the potential of such players and revert back to old ways. Someone commented in a Star Ledger article that we have had no legitimate success playing a wide open offensive system. Perhaps they did not consider the Devils were introduced to such an open game play style less than one or two seasons ago and are just starting to benefit from it if this year was any indication.
To instill the trap on a team with promising offensive talent makes no sense as it is. The trap only seems to work when it is played by a team that has a solid defensive corps, a trait that has been absent from the Devils since the retirement of Scott Stevens and departure of Scott Niedermayer. During Lemaire's days as head coach, the Devils defense was laden with talents such as Stevens, Niedermayer, Daneyko, and Bruce Driver, just to mention a few. As it stands our top two defensemen are Paul Martin and Johnny Odyua, if he returns, both of whom are barely first pair material. During the nine years Lemaire coached the Minnesota Wild, they made the playoffs three times and advanced past the first round once when they reached the Western Conference Finals in 2003. While Minnesota has had respectable offensive and goaltending talents throughout the years, they never had an identifiable top defenseman, let alone a defense corps you can deem no better than mediocre. Having said that, the evidence stands that the trap being played by a team with a weak defense while holding back the potential of the offense is set up for failure.
The Devil's next coach is like their tenth coach in eleven seasons, something like that. Coincidentally, the "merry-go-round" started when Lemaire resigned, who holds the longest coaching tenure in Devils history. If Lamoriello is intent on hiring a long term coach, I do not think Lemaire is the right choice. He is going to turn sixty-four in a few months and has been coaching for sixteen seasons, more time than he spent playing in the NHL. A few months ago, Lemaire was considering retirement and now wants to coach all of a sudden. At sixty-four years of age and coming off nine-year tenure with a team, how long does Lou expect him to stay if he hires him?
The trap worked in the past but has not proved its worth in the new NHL. Even if Lemaire returned to the Devils, odds are the team as it stands lacks the necessities to exploit the trap's potency unless Lou improves the team's defense significantly this summer. With the Devils continuing to adapt to the new NHL and improving their offensive mentality, it would be senseless to bring back a coach whose time here might be no longer than Brent Sutter's tenure. It's time for the Devils to move on as a team and organization. Reverting to old ways with old faces will halt that intention.
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