*UPDATE 2* Lemaire made it official official in a press conference Monday morning. Video below.
*UPDATE* Lemaire made his leave official after the Wild's 6-3 win over Columbus, wrapping up the season. From the press conference after the game, per Russo: “I think it’s time for the players to get a new coach and myself look at other stuff.”
The game had concluded. Various Wild players were given pucks to throw into the crowd. All the other players had finished and gone back down the tunnel to the dressing room, still hanging onto the slight playoff hope that existed before the Anaheim-Dallas game concluded (ending with an Anaheim win and a Wild elimination.) But one player remained on the ice. Marian Gaborik, Wild original, sniper, and potential NHL superstar. He took his time; slowly skating around the rink, throwing pucks, waving to fans, all with a huge smile plastered across his face. Soaking up the love from the Team of 18,000 for possibly the last time.
The media scrum ensued. Head coach Jacques Lemaire stood behind his podium, in front of the bright blue background adorned with Wild and Xcel Energy Center logos. He addressed the media, talking about the great fans and the "special" effort from the team Friday night as his eyes shone and his throat tightened. He had already made his decision - the decision that he struggled with for so long last summer. He brushed off questioning reporters with jokes, "It's not a good thing that I tell you right now, because you might be depressed that I come back. Maybe you've seen enough of me." (Star Tribune.) Jacques Lemaire, fabled Montreal Canadien, lover of defense and the trap, only coach in the history of the Minnesota Wild, most likely will be saying goodbye.
Both Wild originals. Both well-known in the NHL. Both possibly leaving the team - one for another path or possible retirement, one for another town. And thus two separate legacies in Wild history would come to a close. Lemaire has coached this team since the beginning, building an identity and getting the most out of players. Gaborik has been the face of the franchise since the day he was the first draft pick in Wild history and, although his career in Minnesota has been marred with injuries and contract disputes, he's been extremely important to the team.
Only time will tell what will actually happen. Lemaire could continue coaching somewhere else, Gaborik could sign an extension to stay in Minnesota, but all signs point to both leaving. I could write about the love/hate relationship Wild fans have with both. I could write about what the team should do about their absence. I could write about how they represent the beginnings of the Wild organization, not the future. But instead, I want to take this post to thank both for everything they have done for the team, the fans, and Minnesota hockey. They helped build and shape a lowly 2000 expansion team and create memories that Wild fans will never forget (2003 playoff miracle run, anyone?)
So to Jacques Lemaire and Marian Gaborik: no matter what you decide to do, thank you.