It's been a good ride for Jacques Lemaire and the Minnesota Wild, a very good ride. Competitive teams from day one, the thrilling ride to the Conference Finals in 2003 and the past 2 seasons of playoff appearances illustrate this point. Lemaire has been the only coach the Wild has had and it has become an extension of the coach on the ice. But the game has changed, my friends. The game is no longer ruled by the great defensive teams of the late 1990's; it's a faster game now, one that is dominated by speed and skill. So as much as it pains me to say this, it's time for Lemaire to go.
Before I get questioned about my Minnesota hockey passion let me give a quick resume. I was a die-hard North Star fan starting in the 6th grade when they made their run to the finals against Bossy and the Islanders. I was there watching them when they made another unlikely run in 1991 against Mario and the Pens. And when they left for Dallas I was devastated. Then the Wild came back and I have been there from Day 1, supportive of Lemaire and the team. But even the most devoted fans of the team cannot stand back and watch this team get run into the ground.
It's not as simple as "the game has passed Lemaire by." Yes, with the new rules he needed to make some changes to his style, and he's partially done that. Risebrough went out and signed players that would benefit from the higher scoring, players like Pavol Demitra and Mark Parrish. What did Lemaire do with them? He turned them into defensive shells of what they were capable of. Even pure goal scorers like Marian Gaborik are being held back. The players that thrive in his system are those who think defense first, and if we happen to get an odd man rush we'll take it. Unfortunately that isn't how you succeed these days.
Great coaches adapt. Look at Bill Belicheck in New England. Bring in Randy Moss and become pass-happy. Have ordinary receivers and run the ball. Lemaire has his system, call it what you want, and he has never strayed from that path. A successful coach takes a look at the type of players that are on his team and develops a system from that, not vice-versa. Dennis Green got ripped to shreds here because of his "system;" why isn't Lemaire getting the same treatment?
Lemaire's honeymoon has gone on way too long. No one criticizes the guy, he's hockey royalty. But even great coaches fall from grace. Lemaire's time with this team should conclude for the betterment of this team and its young players. Great coaches adapt, and Lemaire has not, it's that simple. He hasn't adapted and has now risked the future of the franchise I love with all of my heart. (*)
(*) And yes, I think this post effectively ruins my chances of being invited to watch a practice anytime soon.