While Jacques Lemaire would not guarantee he would return as Wild coach after the team's 2-1 playoff loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, Doug Risebrough was confident Sunday that his former Montreal Canadiens teammate will be behind the bench next season.

"Jacques is under contract, and Jacques and I always sit down and talk about the team, talk about the lineup, talk about the coaches, talk about the future, and we'll do the same thing," said Risebrough, the Wild's president and general manager.

"Jacques still has great passion to coach, has a great passion for the game, and his family is enjoying watching him do all this. ... He's got an amazing energy level, an amazing focus and an experience that he's enjoying, so I can't see that changing."

Risebrough did also say that Lemaire, 62, is "at a certain age where he has to make his own decisions about what else he wants to do. ... [Coaching] occupies a lot of his time and a lot of his pleasure."

Looking back at the playoffs, Risebrough said he thought the key was Thursday's Game 5 at Xcel Energy Center, when -- with the series tied 2-2 -- the Wild outshot Colorado 40-17 but lost because of great goaltending by Jose Theodore.

"Playing as hard as we did and not getting the win was difficult," Risebrough said. "I think they tried last night. The energy wasn't there with some of our energy guys and, you know, it just was a close game, it was one goal."

Risebrough has been criticized for not making key additions at the trading deadline, while the Avalanche brought back Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg, stars from the team's two Stanley Cup championship seasons. They proved to be key additions, as did defenseman Ruslan Salei, also acquired at the deadline.

"They had some very unique situations. Adam Foote [who had been with the Blue Jackets] said he'd only be traded to one place, that was Colorado where he came from," Risebrough said. "They knew him, they gave up a big price to get him, but clearly he had told Columbus he was only going to one place, and the same thing with Forsberg.

"There's no doubt that both of those were big additions to them, but they were familiar to the team, and the players wanted to return there. So, I think that got them in the playoffs, and they were both factors in beating us, there's no doubt about that."

Free-agency problem

Now the big problem Risebrough is facing is deciding the fate of a number of unrestricted free agents, including key players such as Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra. He also has to think about Marian Gaborik, who will be an unrestricted free agent after next season.

The salary cap is a concern after the Wild signed players such as Mikko Koivu and Brent Burns to multiyear contracts. Risebrough said the Wild's payroll was in the top third in the league. "A lot of teams did not spend to the cap; we were one of them, but we were within $2 million," Risebrough said. "So, we were right there. I've heard a lot about our spending. Well, we spend actually more money than the Detroit Red Wings.

"We have a lot of free agents this year, and unrestricted, specifically, and as I've always said, I don't mind players playing in their unrestricted year because it gives you flexibility to do stuff in the offseason. Look, if there's that many players that are up, it brings you off the cap. ... I think we'll have to re-sign some of them. I'm hoping that we'll be able to do that, but again, you don't know what the numbers are going to be. And clearly we made big investments in both Koivu and Burns and there's still restricted free agents that we have to deal with.

"So, I feel good about what I'd say are the options the organization has. That's what has to play itself out. I know a lot of teams have spent money; they spent money in the future. Our cap is guaranteed, our players are guaranteed contracts, so a lot of teams can't make changes. It's challenging during the year to have players playing under unrestricted years with no contracts, but the reality of it is, it creates flexibility for the team going forward."


A year ago, Twins starting pitchers had an ERA of 4.33, one of the better ERAs in the American League. Well, despite the loss of Johan Santana and Carlos Silva, the Twins' starting ERA is an impressive 3.79. Yes, it is early and it's a long season, but none of the so-called experts, including me, expected Nick Blackburn to have a 2.49 ERA, Scott Baker 3.51 and Livan Hernandez 3.00. And Boof Bonser's ERA is at 4.70, but that was with one bad outing after three decent ones.

Chad Moeller was in the Twins minor league system for four years before getting a chance to be in the majors in 2000 as a reserve. Now Moeller is starting at catcher for the Yankees because of injuries to Jorge Posada and Jose Molina. The Yankees are the sixth major league team that Moeller has played for, joining the Twins, Arizona, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Former Twins utility player Casey Blake hit .306 against the Twins last year for Cleveland, and he went 3-for-10 in the three-game series at the Metrodome with a home run and three RBI.

On Pope Benedict XVI's visit to New York, he stopped at the Park East Synagogue, where the Wilf family worships. So Joseph Wilf, father of Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, got a chance to shake hands with the pope.

Tim Brewster continues his drive to get the "M" lettermen involved in the Gophers football program, staging a golf tournament Thursday at the university's Les Bolstad Golf Course. That will be followed by a barbecue for all former letterwinners at the Gophers football building that evening.

Former Gophers standout Phil Kessel now has three goals in the past two playoff games for the Boston Bruins after being a healthy scratch for three games in their playoff series against the Canadiens. Kessel scored two goals in Boston's 5-4 victory Saturday in Montreal that sent the series to a Game 7.

Mark Madsen, Greg Buckner, Antoine Walker and Michael Doleac played little for the Wolves at the end of the season. But Kevin McHale said their veteran influence was so important that he would like most of them back. Doleac is the only free agent of the group. He said he had not made up his mind to retire and might want to come back with the Wolves if he was wanted.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com.