NEWARK, N.J. -- After six years without a Stanley Cup, the New Jersey Devils are handing over the team to the coach who led them to their first NHL title.
Jacques Lemaire, who coached the Devils for five seasons in the mid 1990s and led them to the Cup in 1995, is New Jersey's coach again. He was hired on Monday, some five weeks after Brent Sutter resigned and eventually took over as coach of the Calgary Flames.
"I never thought I would be back," the 63-year-old Lemaire said in a conference call. "I said at that time when I was leaving after five years, and it was five great years, I wanted to cherish this for the rest of my life and the rest of my career, but I never thought one day I would come back."
The deal reunites Lemaire with general manager and president Lou Lamoriello and goaltender Martin Brodeur, the combination that turned that Devils from a contender to a champion in 1995.
"Jacques Lemaire is one of the most respected coaches in the game," Lamoriello said. "He is a teacher and a communicator, and knows what it takes to have success."
The Devils also won Stanley Cups in 2000 and 2003, but they have not come close in recent years. They were eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs the past two seasons under Sutter.
This season's ouster was stunning as New Jersey gave up two late goals in Game 7 of their series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
"You look at the team last year, they were solid defensively, and offensively," Lemaire said of the team that won a franchise-record 51 games this past season. "That's the goal I want to have ... and to do as well as we can in the playoffs."
Contract terms were not disclosed but Lemaire said he intends to coach at least two seasons.
Lemaire recently resigned as coach of the Minnesota Wild. He took over the expansion franchise in 2000 and led them to the playoffs three times. However, the injury-plagued Wild missed the playoffs this past season and Lemaire stepped down, saying he had taken them as far as he could.
"Last year, right after the season, I never did close the door on coaching," Lemaire said. "I just said that my time in Minnesota is over and it's time to go on and do something else," Lemaire said.
Watching the playoffs convinced Lemaire he still wanted to coach.
"I've heard a lot of ex-coaches say often that it is really hard to get out of this because we love the game and it is exciting and it's fun," Lemaire said. "Well, that's what I got watching the playoffs."
Lemaire first talked with Lamoriello about the vacant job before the NHL draft in mid June and the two hammered out an agreement this past weekend.
"When you've been coaching for 15 years, when you look at a team, you want to have a chance to win the Cup, there is no doubt about that," Lemaire said. "Especially in my situation, this would be a great thing to have a chance. Don't forget there are 30 teams saying the same thing. I want a chance to be part of this and if there is a chance I would love to get another one."
Lemaire has won 11 Stanley Cups as a player, coach and executive. He has a career coaching record of 538-415-176 in 14 seasons with Montreal, New Jersey and Minnesota.
Lamoriello also announced that Mario Tremblay, who spent the past nine seasons as an assistant coach in Minnesota with Lemaire, will join the Devils' coaching staff. The team also retained assistant coach Tommy Albelin and goaltending coach Jacques Caron. Former Devils great Scott Stevens will also take a more active coaching role both with the team and their AHL affiliate, Lamoriello said.
In giving the job to Lemaire, Lamoriello passed over assistant coach John MacLean again. He was the leading contender when Sutter got the job two years ago.
"There is no question as to John MacLean's knowledge of the game," said Lamoriello. "This is the next step in his bright coaching career."