The actions of the Minnesota Wild's hockey operation have been less than impressive in recent years. President/GM Doug Risebrough and his lackeys have made conspicuous blunders in the draft, they have missed as often as they have hit in signing veterans, and they have been hapless in adding assistance for stretch drives.

Fortunately, the front office always has had coach Jacques Lemaire to bail it out, to prevent the Wild from attaining the ineptitude it might have deserved.

Years ago, the colorful Bum Phillips was asked to assess Bear Bryant as a football coach and said: "He could take his'n and beat your'n, or he could take your'n and beat his'n.''

Lou Nanne was asked late Saturday night to evaluate Lemaire as a coach. Without prompting, Minnesota's hockey man said: "Jacques had a unique talent for assessing the best method for his team to win the game.''

Which was Louie's way of saying, "He could take his'n and beat your'n, or he could take your'n and beat his'n.''

Back in June 2000, the Wild was an expansion franchise with huge ticket sales for the inaugural season in St. Paul, and an uncertain box-office future after that.

It was then that Risebrough announced he had hired Lemaire, his former teammate with the Montreal Canadiens, as the coach.

Lemaire had a reputation as the NHL's best game-day strategist from his days in Montreal and New Jersey. He provided immediate credibility to the Wild's on-ice product.

"The Wild was going to have a honeymoon period, no matter what happened that first season,'' Nanne said. "But what Jacques did, with his ability to prepare his team, was to give the Wild a chance to win every night ... especially at home.

"As a fan, it's a lot easier to show up at the arena when there's a chance your team will win. So, when you ask how much Jacques had had to do with eight seasons of sellouts ... I'd say he's had a whole lot to do with it.''

On Saturday night, the Wild finished the eighth of those seasons with a 6-3 victory in Columbus, Ohio. Lemaire's team had lost its chance at the playoffs a night earlier. Thus, you mark down this last one as a perfect example of Lemaire's coaching acumen:

Nothing to play for, the Wild's down 2-0 after a first period on the road, Jacques offers a few intermission suggestions, and his semi-talented team closes with its 40th victory in the 82-game season.

A few minutes after it was over, Lemaire called aside the Wild's beat writers and said this had been his final game as the team's coach.

Soon thereafter, Nanne was asked in a phone call what the Wild will be missing without Lemaire?

"Jacques is a tremendous tactician,'' Nanne said. "He's extremely perceptive in evaluating a player. He's a great judge of a guy's strength or weakness. That allows him to use each player in the situations where he has the best chance to succeed.

"He doesn't motivate by getting you fired up. He motivates by instilling confidence in his players that, if they do what he tells them to do, they are going to win.''

Lemaire's genius was most on display in the spring of 2003, when he took a young star in Marian Gaborik and basically a ragtag collection of veterans to the Western Conference finals.

The Wild came back from 3-1 down to defeat Colorado and Vancouver, two teams with superior talent.

"What he did in those first two rounds, he got his players to wrap them so tight defensively, that Colorado and Vancouver got frustrated, and it caused them to lose patience,'' Nanne said.

The comebacks in those two series were so draining that when the Wild ran into another team with a tight defensive wrap, it lost to Anaheim in four games.

Lemaire's Wild had not won a playoff series since then. The front office was more interested in maximizing profits than trying to win in the post-lockout season of 2005-06.

The Wild was a contender again the next two seasons. Risebrough did nothing to bring in reinforcements for the stretch drives and it showed in first-round losses.

This season, with Gaborik injured, Lemaire needed help more than ever to reach the postseason and the front office did nothing.

Now, the Wild's No. 1 asset when it came to putting a competitive product on the ice has decided eight seasons is enough, and Risebrough and his big brains will be judged on their actual merits.

They all could be in trouble.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. preusse@startribune.com