Monday, March 7, 2011

Jacques Lemaire should be Coach of the Year Decade

Jacques Lemaire had won 588 regular season games and one Stanley as a NHL coach prior to this season. That placed in 7th in career coaching wins.

Lemaire announced his retirement as a head coach in the NHL on April 26, 2010. However, on December 23, 2010, after New Jersey Devils Head Coach John MacLean was fired after only 33 games, Lemaire came out of retirement to coach once again for the New Jersey Devils.

The Devils were 9-22-2 under MacLean - dead last in the NHL. A perennial contender in the Eastern Conference, the Devils were expected to be among the leaders again this season after re signing all-star forward Ilya Kovalchuk to a 15-year, $100-million US contract in the off-season.

The desperate Devils turned once again to Lemaire. He spent three weeks tinkering with this wreck of a team. On January 8 they were just 10-29-2 and 27 points out of the playoffs. Then suddenly the Devils went on a 20-2-2 streak that caught just about everyone by surprise. In fact New Jersey is now just 3 points behind the Maple Leafs, 8 points out of the playoffs and coming on strong. Now the Devils won't make the playoffs but no one could have predicted at Christmas that they could return from the dead altogether.

Over the past 24 games, the Devils have given up more than two goals just twice. Kovalchuk had eight goals when Lemaire took over December 23. Now he has 24 goals, including nine goals in his last 13. Classic Lemaire defensive-style hockey. And he has done it without top forward Zach Parise and future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur.

For those who never want to give credit to coaches when teams win (anyone could have won with that lineup) try to explain this run of success. Coaches make a difference. Lemaire has to be Coach of the Year. When he finally retires after this season, he shouldn't have to wait too long to get his ticket to the Hall of Fame. He serves it.

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