April 13, 2009

Lemaire Back To Montreal?

I noticed some of the hockey media and definitely the hockey blogosphere took a bit of a collective break this weekend. Perhaps it was the Easter holiday. More likely it was the last chance for a breather as the marathon Stanley Cup playoffs begin on Wednesday.

One of the more under-reported weekend stories was the resignation of Jacques Lemaire as coach in Minnesota.

True, there were some rumors of just such a move in the past couple of weeks, especially if the Wild did miss the playoffs. Considering how universally hailed Lemaire is as a top hockey coach, I am surprised more attention was not paid to this story.

Of course the rumors of his return to Montreal this summer have already begun as well.

Lemaire of course was once a Hall of Fame player with Les Canadiens back in the 1970s, winning 8 Stanley Cup championships. He was a great two way center, not a whole lot unlike a Bryan Trottier or Steve Yzerman. Based on his coaching philosphies you already knew he was a great defensive player. But, believe it or not, he also had a great offensive mind. After all, he often centered the top line in Montreal, a line that in it's heyday featured Guy Lafleur, one of the greatest offensive players of all time.

Lemaire, along with Ken Dryden, retired in 1979 and Montreal's Stanley Cup dynasty ended. After beginning his coaching career in Switzerland, he would return to Montreal briefly as head coach for 97 games in the early 1980s. With a record of 48-37-12, a divisional championship and 27 playoff games, going 15-12, in the two years.

Yet Lemaire's tenure as coach in Montreal would not be remembered for the successes. Lemaire clashed with former linemate Lafleur. "The Flower" was so unhappy actually retired
prematurely rather than subscribe to Lemaire's strict defensive theories.

Of course that did not sit well with Montreal fans and especially the media, who treat Lafleur like a god. The intense media spotlight did not agree with Lemaire, who resigned after the playoffs in 1985. In came Jean Perron, while Lemaire took a front office job for the next seven years.

Of course Lemaire did go back behind the bench in 1993 with the New Jersey Devils. He popularized the neutral zone trap, bringing New Jersey a Stanley Cup and hockey the "dead puck era." He coached there for five seasons. In 2000 he became the only coach in Minnesota Wild's eight year history.

Lemaire does not intend to leave the game, and very possibly will return behind the bench.

"I don't know what I'm going to do. I want to stay in the game, but I don't know what I'm going to do," he told the Associated Press.

When asked if he would consider coaching specifically in Montreal, Lemaire said "I won't start to mention any teams because I'm still under contract in a way," Lemaire said. "But I'll be looking for a job. I don't know what type. But I'll be looking."

The Montreal media will keep the notion of his return until the vacancy is filled one way or another.

Would Lemaire want to return? The scrutiny in Montreal has intensified over the past 25 years. Can Lemaire handle it now?

Would the Montreal Canadiens be interested in bringing him in? He's successful and a francophone, the two most important prerequisites for the job. With a potential grand remaking of the Habs this summer, Lemaire might be the perfect short term fix to keep the team competitive. More importantly, Lemaire could instantly create a new culture within the dressing room.

From the Habs stand point it makes good sense. From Lemaire's it might not.

1 comment:

Sean Zandberg said...

It makes sense to me. I'm sure he wants to be a higher-up though.