Lemaire, who has led the Wild since their inaugural season in 2000, was in the final year of his deal. Terms of the new contract were not disclosed.
After the Wild spent millions on free agents Mark Parrish, Keith Carney and Kim Johnsson, signed star Marian Gaborik to a contract extension and traded for Pavol Demitra, Lemaire said he had no hesitation about wanting to stay with the franchise he helped build.
“It’s a big change in the way I feel as a coach. I’m even more excited than I was the first year here,” the 61-year-old Lemaire said. “I love to see them play. … Their ability makes it a lot easier for me.”
The Wild gained respect in their first five seasons in the league thanks in large part to Lemaire’s hardworking style. The team is 164-168-81 in five-plus NHL seasons and made a stunning run to the Western Conference finals in the 2003 playoffs.
But fans grew restless after the team missed the playoffs last season coming out of the lockout. It seems as though Lemaire was also growing restless.
He spoke with general manager Doug Risebrough in the summer about signing an extension, but when asked Wednesday if he would have stayed in Minnesota had the Wild not added all of that talent and leadership, Lemaire hesitated.
“That is a good question, and I don’t know what to think about it,” Lemaire said in his thick French-Canadian accent. “It was time for the organization to move up.”
The investment is paying off early this season. The Wild are 3-0 for the first time in franchise history, exhibiting a strong combination of scoring, tough defence and, as usual, solid goaltending.
The hard-to-please Lemaire showered praise on his players during his press conference, clearly impressed with the way they play the game and the skills they possess.
“It’s fun to watch,” he said. “It’s exciting. It’s fun for a coach when they see players who have the ability to do things on the ice.”
He said when he was first hired to coach the expansion franchise, he never dreamed he would be here this long.
“Not at all,” Lemaire said. “I didn’t know I would enjoy it as much as I do right now after six, seven years here.”
Risebrough praised Lemaire’s leadership and teaching skills in a news release issued by the team.
“Jacques is the right person for this job,” Risebrough said. “A statement as true today as it was the day he was hired.”
His players seem to agree.
“He’s a smart coach,” Demitra said. “He knows what he’s talking about. We can learn a lot from him. We have so much respect for what he’s done in the past.”
Lemaire won eight Stanley Cup titles as a player with the Montreal Canadiens and coached the New Jersey Devils to the championship in 1995.
“It’s good for the organization and for the team,” said forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard, a member of the Wild for four seasons. “Jacques is a really good coach. He knows how to win.”
Many think he’ll be winning a lot more this year, and Lemaire didn’t shy away from those expectations.
“We’ve worked hard to get to this point,” Lemaire said. “In the near future, we’ll see exactly where this team is going to go, and I want to be a part of it.”