Despite the 2010-2011 New Jersey Devils struggles in the first half of the season and their second half resurrection under his tutelage, head coach Jacques Lemaire is asking us to not pass any judgment about this season until the teams final six games are completed.
All but one of the remaining six games are against playoff teams. Lemaire seems to believe it’s the perfect litmus test for a team that has come a long way in a short time.
According to Devils beat writer Tom Gulitti, Lemaire ran Thursdays practice like these games mean something to him, even stopping play several times to correct poor positioning and instruct players on which pass to make.
“It’s been good,” Lemaire said of the second half. “We had a stretch there where we could have won. We didn’t. We played fine. We played good enough to win. We had our chance. We didn’t. This is what put us out of the playoffs. Maybe after that we had a period here and there that we weren’t happy (about), but we’ve got to keep playing hard to keep that (feeling). We tried. We missed. But we’ve go to keep going. Just play hard, show that everyone cares. That’s the main thing.”
Does this sound like somebody who has lost the passion for the game? Does this sound like a man that can’t handle the rigors of another season of coaching? Certainly not to me.
It’s still unknown if Lemaire plans to return next year. But, lately he has dropped a few hints that he may consider returning behind the bench. Even going as far as to say that if he does come back it will be in “New Jersey and nowhere else.”
Could these final six games be what Lemaire himself will base his decision to come back on? I think it’s very possible that in fact that’s exactly what he’s doing. He might actually be looking for the team to sell him on the benefits of returning for one more good run.
But, just in case the team can’t close the deal I have come up with my personal top 5 key selling points:
5. By helping a lost team find their way he proved that he is still among the best in the business at getting the most out of his players.
4. He was having fun. The usually stoic coach even started to crack jokes with the media during his press conferences.
3. The Devils have a ton of young players, especially on the blue line that could really benefit from the knowledge he posses.
2. He respects Lou Lamoriello and the organization and they respect him.
1. The players want him back. Especially Ilya Kovalchuk who made it cleared several times throughout the Devils run of success that without Lemaire that would of never happened.
“I think he’s really good,” Kovalchuk said of Lemaire. “He’s very experienced. He knows how to use guys to be successful. As soon as we started to stick to his game plan we started to win.”
When the Devils take the ice on Friday against the Philadelphia Flyers they need to show some pride and play with passion. Realistically, Lemaire could have given up on them and gone back into retirement. Now they need to return the favor and not give up on him. Ultimately, that could be just the thing to convince their coach that maybe one more year wouldn’t be so bad.