Jacques Lemaire took the term “breakup day” to heart yesterday.
The first of what should be myriad personnel replacements came as the Devils’ coach shockingly announced his retirement. Lemaire will remain with the organization in a yet-to-be-determined capacity.
“It’s tough to leave what you like aside, but it’s a decision that I made,” Lemaire said.
Lemaire retires with a career regular season coaching record of 588-441-184, including a 48-27-7 mark this season, which ended last week in the team’s third straight first-round playoff exit. The two-time Jack Adams Award winner for coach of the year led the Devils to their first Stanley Cup in 1995.
The Devils’ head coaching position has been one of instability. Dating back to 2000, Larry Robinson and Lou Lamoriello, the current general manager, have held the job twice; Robbie Ftorek, Kevin Constantine, Pat Burns, Claude Julien, Brent Sutter and Lemaire once each.
“I think with Brent, he said he was homesick and missed home,” David Clarkson said. “We had no idea (that Lemaire was contemplating retirement). No one in here could have told you it was going to happen.”
“I feel like I’ve been here five years and have had six, seven coaches. You kind of get used to it,” added Zach Parise. “This is more surprising. Kind of felt that Brent was going to leave with how long it was taking. I think we’re a lot more surprised that Jacques left.”
During the second half of the season, Lemaire often raised concerns about his team’s consistency. Following a 1-0 shutout of the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 12, the Devils were 32-11-1. They went 16-16-6 in their final 38 games and were summarily dispatched by the seventh-seeded Flyers in five games. Still, the Devils’ second-half inconsistency was not the reason Lemaire decided to retire. It was a decision that he had been contemplating since the end of last season.
“Nothing at all. Nothing at all. It started my last year in Minnesota. I was starting to think about retirement,” Lemaire said, while repeatedly praising the Devils organization. “The year went really well. It’s not the team. It’s not the lack of result we had in the playoffs. I just find that it’s the end of the line. I’ll be 65. It’s just time.”
Lemaire admitted he became emotional when informing the assistant coaches, and had to have Lamoriello break the news to players.
“He did come into the room when I spoke with the players. It was just a difficult thing because Jacques is a players’ coach. These are tough things. I don’t know of anyone I have more respect for in this game than him,” expounded Lamoriello. “He did speak to players. He just couldn’t talk…he couldn’t go further.”
As the franchise’s transformative summer begins, Lamoriello now has to begin a coaching search along with determining which players return. There are candidates within the organization to replace Lemaire, specifically John MacLean at AHL Lowell.
Lamoriello bristled when asked about the search for a new coach.
“There hasn’t been a thought about anything,” Lamoriello said. “I have no thought process on anything at this moment.”
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