Time for a change
On Monday, Jacques Lemaire got the chance to do what every good coach ought to get the chance to do. He left on his own terms.
Lemaire, until Monday, was the only coach the Minnesota Wild have ever had.
Now, there will obviously be another. In discussing his fate, the 63-year old Lemaire said he isn't done coaching, but it was simply time for him to leave.
This columnist has had issues with the style Lemaire utilized with his players - certainly justified for an expansion team. But with better skill players coming into the mix in subsequent years, it's a style that held back the team from realizing its potential.
Credit Lemaire for playing the game the way he felt it should be played. The problem for the National Hockey League (NHL) was that after he coached New Jersey to a Stanley Cup, too many other copycat coaches played the same style.
The result nearly ruined the NHL. The neutral-zone trap and left-wing lock became a standard part of hockey parlance and the game degenerated into a morass of 1-0, 1-1 and 2-1 games.
That was Lemaire's style. Unfortunately, the Wild never really seemed to excel at it - which, in the end, was the whole problem with Lemaire.
In eight years, Lemaire's teams made it to the playoffs three times, and only one team - the 2002-03 conference finalists - ever won a playoff series.
Despite amassing 40 wins in each of the last three seasons and winning overall records in each of the last five, Minnesota missed the playoffs in three of the last five years. There comes a point where you have to question approach, and the playoffs are a pretty good benchmark as to when that needs to happen.
Upper management, particularly general manager Doug Risebrough, has come under justifiable criticism in recent years for not landing the kind of impact player who would complement Marian Gaborik and turn the team into a real Cup contender. Now, though, it appears Gaborik is all but gone as well. This means the Wild have a chance to reinvent themselves.
The farm system hasn't produced much in the way of impact players in recent seasons. High profile free agents have largely shied away from Minnesota, though veteran Owen Nolan did make a significant impact this season when he wasn't injured.
The way it was being done was moderately successful, but moderate success doesn't reach the upper echelon of the NHL and it doesn't win Stanley Cups.
There are too many elite teams in the league at present for the current system and approach to make sense.
The Wild boast, also justifiably, that their fan base is as good as any team's in hockey. They've sold out every home game in franchise history and the Xcel Energy Center is a palace of the game. If for no other reason than to satisfy the "Team of 18,000," the Wild should try a different approach.
The time has come for that approach to at least be considered. Lemaire did a good job as head coach - not a great job, mind you, but a good one - and he has seen the writing on the wall.
He leaves with dignity, class, and a pretty good hockey resume with which to find his next job. It's time for the Wild to grow - and now they have the opportunity to do it.