While training camp is only a few weeks away, Rich Chere talked to incoming Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire today while he was at the Team Canada evaluation camp. In his report, Lemaire curiously reveals two important insights from how Lemaire will coach the team next season. The first has to do with an increasingly common question regarding the NHL's leader in wins, Martin Brodeur:
So what will Lemaire's plan be for Brodeur this season with the Devils? Will he finally give the veteran goalie, who is 37, more rest than in seasons past?
"As far as his work load, we'll have to see how he feels during the season," Lemaire said cautiously. "We'll have discussions about how many games he's going to play. Every two or three weeks we'll watch what he's doing. We'll sit down again and see how he feels."
I happen to think this is the best approach. As Marty has gotten older, the questions have increased as to what "the right" number of games Brodeur should start. I have stated, expect, and continue to believe that the only right number of starts is whatever Marty is able to play. For him, age is just a number. If he feels he can and he wants to start 70 games, I have no issue with that. A routine monitoring of fatigue that Lemaire is sensible and makes much more sense than setting some arbitrary number of starts for some reason I can't figure out.
As an aside, Lemaire is suggesting Brodeur as Canada's #1 goaltender in the 2010 Olympics. Good. I'll say it right now: if Canada wants to be popular, then they should start Luongo. If Canada wants the best chance to win the gold, then they should start Brodeur. If they don't go with the goaltender who has actually won something in his career - like a gold medal for instance - then may they crash out of the medal rounds for their hubris.
Lemaire also said Brian Rolston, who played both wing and center last season, will be a winger this season. He might use Patrik Elias at center.
"Rolie is a winger in my mind," Lemaire said. "I think they tried him at center last year, but in my mind Rolie is a winger and not a center.
"I know Patrik could be a real good center and I know he could be a real good winger because he's a guy that knows the game very well and he's good with the puck. He can skate and he has good moves and sees the ice well. A guy that has that can play center."
I completely agree with his opinion on Rolston (and could possibly replace Brian Gionta's production), I think keeping him at wing is the best option for him. Similarly, I couldn't disagree more his thinking for slotting Elias at center. Yes, Elias has excellent hockey sense. Yes, Elias is very mobile and solid on the puck. Yes, Elias can - and has - made difficult passes, threading needles as if they were big as barns. And I'll even throw in that Elias is more than pretty good at defense, as James Mirtle ranked him third in the league as a defensive forward back in April. (I'm a big Elias fan, can you tell?)
But I don't believe that he can play center and fully succeed, namely because of the faceoff dot. Faceoffs are important. It is a key responsibility of the center. The winner gives his team possession of the puck and can make the first move - be it clearing it out their own zone, beginning a break out, or setting up a scoring chance on offense. It's something that may be taken for granted at times, but the extra possession can an important factor within a game.
Elias, simply put, has not been good on faceoffs in his career. I took a look at Dainius Zubrus', Rolston's, and Elias' faceoff percentages back in July, and Elias was far and away the worst among the three. Furthermore, Elias' most productive seasons were at left wing; I'm not sure why it would make sense to move him away from a position where he has been very successful. OK, Elias at center could give the Devils four centers, it's still a very thin unit that could be dominated on faceoffs. Honestly, I wouldn't mind experimenting with this in training camp; but I really hope this isn't the plan for the whole season.
I also don't mind Lemaire revealing what it is that he thinks about the roster. Perhaps we'll learn more as the week of September 12th approaches. Please have your say about what Lemaire told Chere in the comments.