As promised, here is the extended version of my conversation Wednesday with Jacques Lemaire, who is preparing to begin his second stint as head coach of the Devils. Rookies report for training camp on Sept. 8. The veterans begin on Sept. 12.
As I mentioned Wednesday, Lemaire is in Montreal. He'll arrive in Calgary on Aug. 23 for the Canadian Olympic team's orientation camp (Aug. 24 to Aug. 27). Lemaire will serve as an assistant coach on that Canadian Olympic team. Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur will also be at that camp.
Q: It’s been 16 years since you began your first tenure with the Devils in 1993. Are things a lot different now?
Lemaire: “When I went there (the first time), it was a place that we had good times, we had great success, we had a lot of fun, and a team that was growing and doing well. It will be fun to go back.”
Q: The Devils lost in the first round of the playoffs the last two seasons despite having regular season success. In watching film of the team, can you tell if there was something missing?
Lemaire: “It’s hard from the outside. When I looked at the tapes, I felt that the guys really played hard. They were unlucky on certain things. In the playoffs, teams are pretty much equal. It doesn’t take much for a team to go ahead of the other one. A little more confidence, a little more this, a little more that can make it. You look at Detroit and Pittsburgh. I feel that Detroit had a better team than Pittsburgh on paper, but the way Pittsburgh played as a team and the confidence they had, that’s what made them win. They were lucky on a few shots, a few saves, a few goals. But that’s part of it. Confidence will make you do that. It’s a little bit like when (the Devils) won in 1995. Our confidence was so high. That’s why we kept going. We believed we could do it. But this is hard to get for a team. When you get in the playoffs, to get at that level of play is hard. It’s really tough. You look at the good teams and they don’t repeat (as champions) as much as they used to because teams are so equal now.”
Q: There appear to be some openings for young players on the team. How familiar are you with the organization’s young players and do you foresee any of them making the team in training camp?
Lemaire: “I’m not familiar with them, but it doesn’t take long and training camp will do it to see how a young kid can play. I feel there are always one or two kids that really stand out at the camp. What we usually do is give the opportunity to play, meaning play them with good players, play them in the exhibition games to see how far this kid can go. Some years, who knows? You get a young kid that comes in and maybe scores 20 goals for you. This is definitely what I’m looking for, to have a kid that comes out really good at camp and go on and play him and give him ice time, so he feels good about himself.”
Q: The rookies report for training camp on Sept. 8, will you be watching that camp closely so you can get to know the organization’s young players?
Lemaire: “Definitely. As soon as I get there, I will be looking at the kids and seeing how they play, how they practice and that will give me the first idea. But the thing is, when you play with the big boys, it’s always a different game. But it’s good to see.”
Q: You watched some film before you were hired (on July 13). Have you watched more since then to learn more about your veteran players?
Lemaire: “I have about 10 tapes. I looked at 10 different games just to see who plays with who and how the team was playing in general, more how the team played in general. I felt that (former coach Brent) Sutter did a very good job with the team and they were playing really well as a team.
Q: Have you spoken to team captain Jamie Langenbrunner or any of the other players?
Lemaire: No, I didn’t talk to Jamie. The only guy that I talked to was Shanny (Brendan Shanahan). I just met Martin Brodeur at a golf outing. But, I talked to Shanahan.
Q: Was sitting down with Brendan before the team signed him last week as important to you as it was to him?
Lemaire: “You always want to get to know the player, especially when he gets to a certain age (40). I think it’s really important to have a certain type of player and I feel that Shanny is like that. He’s a good team player and I think that he still can score. He’s always been a scorer (656 career goals). He still can score goals. As I mentioned to him, I’ll give him the opportunity to let him do what he has to do to be successful and he told me that’s all that he wants. He wants the coach to have confidence in him and give him the ice time so he can prove that he can be better than other guys. So, it’s great.”
Q: One of Brent Sutter’s first moves two years ago was to strip Patrick Elias of the captaincy. You used to rotate your captain in Minnesota. Do you plan to do the same here or will Jamie Langenbrunner remain the captain?
Lemaire: “I talked a little bit to Lou about it and Jamie will stay as the captain. I’ve heard a lot of great things about him, the great leadership that he has, the work ethic that he has. I think he has all the tools to be a captain. On the other hand, when the team has success and is stable and they have their own captain, I don’t see it proper to change the way they’re doing things. (In Minnesota), we were starting in the league (as an expansion team) and the players were young and rotating the captain was a good idea because the team wasn’t established. Now that it’s been eight years that they’ve had a team, probably they will name a player captain. In Jersey, it’s totally different. It’s been established for a long time. You have players who are leaders and (provide) great leadership. I’m sure that Jamie is one. Anyway, I heard a lot of great things about him.”
Q: Will you make an effort to sit down with Langenbrunner and some other players when you arrive in New Jersey following the Canadian Olympic camp (Aug. 24 to Aug. 27 in Calgary)?
Lemaire: “As soon as I get there and I see him, we’ll sit down and chat. I want to sit down with a lot of players, sit down and chat with them and see how they see the team.”
Q: Brian Rolston had three consecutive 30-goal seasons playing left wing for you in Minnesota, but struggled last year with the Devils playing mostly center. Is he a wing or a center?
Lemaire: “Rollie is a winger in my estimation. He’s a winger because he’s got a good shot, he’s got good speed and he can use his best assets to his advantage on the wing. A centerman has so much to do and when you’re a shooter, if you play at center you don’t have the chance to shoot that puck. You don’t get the puck as much. You do in your own zone. You do in the neutral zone. But, as soon as the attack comes on, it’s more the winger that gets it. That’s why I feel that Rollie is a better winger than a center.”
Q: Zach Parise and Patrik Elias are also left wings. Can Rolston play right wing?
Lemaire: “I think a good player can play any side.”
Q: If Rolston is a wing, does that mean you need another center?
Lemaire: “We will be looking for a center. When I talked to Lou about it, he says there’s a few kids that will be there and have good potential. So, these kids will be fighting for spots, which is good.”
Q: Is 19-year-old center Patrice Cormier (who has a year of junior eligibility remaining) a guy that has a chance to make the team?
Lemaire: “We’ll be looking at him. He’s among the kids that we will look at to get a spot on the team.”
Q: Does having younger players add energy to a team?
Lemaire: “I do like it. It brings energy. It brings life to your team, as long as the kids have good potential. If they have good potential, it’s just great for a team that is stable.”
Q: Are you comfortable with either Yann Danis or rookie Jeff Frazee handling the backup goalie job?
Lemaire: “Frankly, I don’t know the backup that much. So, I’ll use training camp to look at him.”