COLUMBUS, Ohio – Jacques Lemaire is stepping down as coach of the Minnesota Wild after eight seasons behind the bench.
The 63-year-old coach, speaking after the Wild’s season-ending 6-3 victory over Columbus on Saturday night, was coy at first when asked about his future with the team.
Asked where he was on his decision, he grinned and said, “I’m in Columbus. Just finished the last game of the season.”
But he later said he had decided he was done with the Wild.
“There comes a time when you know it’s the right time to go. And I know this,” he said.
Lemaire took over the expansion Wild when they joined the NHL in 2000-01. He has a career record of 538-415-176 in 14 seasons with Montreal, New Jersey and Minnesota, leading the Devils to the 1995 Stanley Cup title.
Lemaire was 291-256-107 with the Wild, including winning records in his last six seasons. The Wild barely missed the playoffs this year for Lemaire, who played in 145 Stanley Cup playoff games – winning eight titles with Montreal – and coached in 112.
“I had a great time here,” he said. “I had eight great years.”
Injuries hindered his last Wild team. Standout forward Marian Gaborik only played 17 games, returning just in time to carry the offence with 13 goals and 10 assists during the stretch run.
But defenceman Brett Burns missed the last 19 games and fellow blue-liner Nick Schultz also missed key games because of a head injury. Leading goal-scorer Owen Nolan has missed 23 games.
The Wild finished the season with a record of 40-33-9 for 89 points, and were tantalizingly close to making the playoffs.
“I was really pleased in a way, being this close of making the playoffs,” Lemaire said after the victory over the Blue Jackets. “We tried a lot of players through the season. Some of them had great years, others not so good. In general, I think it was good for the whole team. The guys will learn from this.”
Even though the club won 40 games or more for the third year in a row, it was a wildly erratic season. The victory over Columbus was the team’s third in a row – the first time it had won that many consecutive games since Nov. 13-18.