Tom Jones' 2 cents

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Lemaire to the Lightning?

27

April

Lemaire One couldn't help but to start connecting the dots when New Jersey Devils coach Jacques Lemaire announced his retirement Monday.

Hmm, Lemaire makes his offseason home in Sarasota. Lemaire is tight with Doug Risebrough. The two worked together when Lemaire coached the Minnesota Wild and Risebrough was the general manager. Risebrough is a candidate to become the Lightning's next general manager because Jac Sperling, former CEO of the Wild when Lemaire and Risebrough was there, is assisting new Lightning owner Jeff Vinik in putting together a front office. So ... let's throw this in a blender: Sperling and Risebrough and Lemaire and the Lightning and Sarasota. Mix it all together and ... could Lemaire become the next Lightning coach?

Don't count on it. Lemaire has retired and un-retired a couple of times, but this time his retirement seems permanent. He said Monday, "It's the end of the line. I'll be 65 (in September). It's just time.''

I can see Lightning fans now getting the shakes at even the thought of Lemaire becoming the Lightning coach based on Lemaire's reputation, which really isn't that close to reality. Those who haven't followed Lemaire closely talk about his "neutral-zone trap'' and 'boring defensive hockey'' and really don't fully grasp how Lemaire coaches. I covered Lemaire for three years in Minnesota and Lemaire told me on many occasions that he is just as happy winning games 7-6 as he is 1-0. But he never had teams talented enough to win games 7-6. So, Lemaire figured, it's better to win 1-0 than lose 7-6.

It's true Lemaire demands that his players are responsible defensively, but he doesn't handcuff his players or stifle them offensively. Most of his teams tended to play defense-first hockey because those teams were not overly skilled offensively. Players with skill are given freedom. This season, New Jersey's Zach Parise had 82 points in 81 games. Ilya Kovalchuk played 27 games under Lemaire after being traded from Atlanta and had 27 points -- a point a game. Kovalchuk, known for his free-wheeling style, called Lemaire "one of the best coaches'' he ever played for.

This year, Lemaire had an average offense, a mediocre defense and an aging-by-the-minute goalie in Martin Brodeur and still guided the Devils to a No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Devils' flaws were then exposed in the first round of the playoffs, where they were upset by the Flyers in a mere five games. Still, Lemaire will go down as one of the best coaches ever and, perhaps, its greatest teacher.

Anyway, relax Lemaire-haters, Lemaire will not be the Lightning's next coach. But it's not a stretch to see him as a consultant for the Lightning, especially if Risebrough is the general manager. And anytime you can add to your organization a man who has his name on the Stanley Cup 11 times, it's a very good thing.

[Last modified: Monday, June 14, 2010 3:44pm]

    

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