Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Former Dictator

The Maple Leafs are putting together quite the all-star team when it comes to front office staff. Brendan Shanhan, Mike Babcock, Mark Hunter, and Lou Lamoriello are an impressive group already, but it seems that Lamoriello has a line on "retired" personnel as the Leafs hired for Devils bench boss Jacques Lemaire as a "special assignment coach". We'll get to that title in a minute, but adding the two-time Jack Adams Award winner as a part-time coach seems like a favor rather than an important front office move. There hasn't been a lot of elaboration on what special assignments the Leafs have planned, so what exactly is Lemaire's role if he's not calling the shots like he once did?

If there was one thing that Lemaire was known for in his playing Hall-of-Fame playing career, it was defensive hockey. With the Leafs having one of the worst defensive measures in a number of categories last season, I could see that being an assignment for him if it weren't for Mike Babcock who has proven time and again that he understands the defensive nuances of the game as well as anyone before him. While I can see Babcock and Lemaire collaborating on certain things, I can't see Babcock abandoning the systems that have made him successful.

Perhaps he'll be handed the defencemen who certainly can use a class or two on keeping the puck out of their own net and cutting down shots? I can see this being an assignment he could be given as the Maple Leafs' roster has a pile of retreads and three guys aged 30 or older including captain Dion Phaneuf. While Lemaire may not get a lot of extra speed out of this revamped Maple Leafs defence, he can certainly work on positioning, shot blocking, and angles - three areas where the Leafs were terrible in their own zone last season.

Another option for a "special assignment" could be one specific player in Nazem Kadri. Kadri has the skill to be an effective NHL centerman, but he lacks discipline when it comes to defensive assignments and a complete two-way game. Lemaire built a career out of being the best two-way centerman in the game as he put up 835 points in 853 career regular season games, and his focus on improving Kadri to be a modern-day version of himself could transform Kadri from pedestrian NHL centerman to dominant shut-down, two-way centerman. It won't happen overnight, but this is the kind of player that Babcock relishes in his lineup, and the challenges have been laid out for Kadri to make good on the contract that he just signed in the off-season.

If you're like me, though, you're probably wondering exactly a "special assignment coach" does for the majority of the season. It seems like a fairly sketchy title that the Maple Leafs are using to justify bringing on another high-priced front office member. "Obviously Jacques Lemaire has a wealth of experience," Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. "We had a great relationship from the 2010 Olympics and I've asked him to join our staff to help me and the rest of our coaches within the entire organization be the best they can be."

Does anyone expect to see him at Ricoh Centre working with the Marlies? Perhaps he'll fly down to Orlando and work with the Solar Bears while spending time with the rest of the vacationing Canadian snowbirds in Florida. While I can't officially say what Jacques Lemaire's capacity is with the Maple Leafs, he's one more piece of the all-star front office assembled by the Leafs.

If only the team on the ice resembled their front office.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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