The Toronto Maple Leafs have announced the hiring of Jacques Lemaire as Special Assignments Coach, adding a coaching legend to what’s now a star-studded Leafs brain trust full of Hall of Famers.
A two-time Jack Adams winner in his eighteen-year NHL coaching career (one with the Devils in ’93-94, one with the Minnesota Wild in 2002-03), Lemaire was reportedly waiting to hear back from Devils GM Ray Shero on whether or not the Devils want him back in the “special assignment coach” role he occupied in recent seasons.
In Tom Gulitti’s article, Lemaire expressed little surprise about Lou moving on from New Jersey to join the Leaf front office, citing the fact that Lamoriello had little say in hockey operations after the transition to the Ray Shero era under new ownership. Lemaire sounds like he’s thinking along the same lines as far as his future is concerned — Shero has no role for him, so he’ll move on to a new opportunity. With Lou gone, there was little tying him to the Devils organization anymore.
The connections to Toronto are resoundingly obvious. He won a Stanley Cup alongside Lamoriello in his five years coaching the Devils in the infamous trap style in the mid-90s — a controversial system that was soon copycatted throughout the league — and he also coached the goal-medal winning Team Canada as an assistant to Mike Babcock at the Olympics in 2010.
More recently, Lemaire also helped Canada to a gold medal in the 2010 Olympics as a member of Mike Babcock’s coaching staff. Lemaire and Ken Hitchcock provided the yin to Babcock’s and Lindy Ruff’s yang and the end result of those disparate and forceful voices worked out pretty well.
– ERIC DUHATSCHEK, Globe & Mail
After Lamoriello was hired, Babcock mentioned Lemaire as a “good friend” and someone he consulted with about the Lou hiring, suggesting the two are quite close.
Mike Babcock on Jacques Lemaire
Lou’s a good, good man and a good hockey man. I didn’t know Lou at all until ’03 when we played them and I was coaching Anaheim. We lost to Jersey in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Since that time, I’m not trying to say we’re best friends or anything like that, but we developed a healthy relationship and a respect. I got to be good friends with Jacques Lemaire, had Jacques on my 2010 Olympic staff. I used Jacques as a sounding board, talked to him a lot about Lou.
I’ve known Jacques a long time. He’s always been helpful any time I’ve asked him over the years. He’s a real quality man. I think being with him for as much time as I was last year you learn how much fun he has and what a good man he is to be around. We had some good laughs. He’s very passionate about the game. I think that’s passed on to his players.
The other thing about him, he knows what he wants. He instills confidence in people. He tells you where to go, where to stand and how to be successful. And because he’s had success, he oozes with confidence and then the players play with confidence.
According to Gulitti, in his semi-retired “special assignment role” for the New Jersey Devils, Lemaire would scout and consult with Lou Lamoriello, and remains one of his most trusted advisors.
Lemaire was basically a consultant/scout for Lamoriello. Don't know if he trusted anyone's opinion more. https://t.co/x6FEYWTxR5
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) August 13, 2015
Lemaire retired from coaching after replacing the fired John MacLean for the final 49 games of the 2010-11 season. Since then, he has worked for the Devils as a special assignment coach and, perhaps, Lamoriello’s most-trusted adviser.
Lemaire spends most of the season based at his home in Florida, but would come to New Jersey a few times during the year to watch the team. He’d also meet up with the Devils when they played at Tampa Bay and visit the organization’s AHL team in Albany.
The Leafs are envisioning the same kind of “eye in the sky” kind of role for Lemaire. According to Gulitti, he watched most Devils games on video and would travel to take in the odd game in person. The Lightning and Panthers are in the Leafs‘ division, and it’s a short flight up to Toronto from Florida. He will likely do some pre-scouting and serve as a sounding board for Babcock. A tactical mastermind like Lemaire may particularly be leaned on for systems advice, one imagines, as the Leafs try to turn around the ugly trend of sitting near the bottom of the League in possession, shots against, and goals against.
I wonder if Lemaire's Special Assignment Coach title fits into what I described as a pro scouting incorporating coaching and systems.
— Gus Katsaros🏒 (@KatsHockey) August 14, 2015
Need more info on what his duties will be, but if he's sitting up in boxes & not on the bench it seems more advanced scouting than coaching.
— Gus Katsaros🏒 (@KatsHockey) August 14, 2015
Undoubtedly, some will continue to question just how many cooks you can stuff into one kitchen, but Lemaire’s role doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as big as his name. Him and Babcock have a good history, Babcock will be able to confer with another great hockey mind for “outside the room” thoughts when needed, and Lemaire will only add (a boatload) more experience and expertise to a brain trust that was often criticized for being too green just a month ago.
In yesterday’s initial post we suggested this is likely as much Babcock’s idea as it is Lou Lamoriello’s, and the Leafs‘ news release seems to be confirming that:
Obviously Jacques Lemaire has a wealth of experience. We had a great relationship from the 2010 Olympics and I’ve asked him to join our staff to help me and the rest of our coaches within the entire organization be the best they can be.