December 5, 2019 • NEW JERSEY DEVILS NEWS & CLIPS
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The Devils will face-off against the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night at 7:00 PM ET at Prudential Center, and Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena in the clubs eighth of 16 sets of back-to-back play.
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- Why Devils’ Ray Shero decided to fire coach John Hynes
by Chris Ryan, NJ Advanced Media
The Devils were run out of KeyBank Center in Buffalo in a 7-1 defeat. The general manager could only sum it up in one simple way.
“We couldn’t make a five-foot pass,” Shero said.
That game ultimately proved to be the tipping point for Shero and the front office in the decision to fire head head coach John Hynes on Tuesday and make assistant coach Alain Nasreddine the interim head coach.
Even with the Devils set to play against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night, Shero gave his recommendation to Devils managing partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer, and the team made the coaching change within the small window between games. Shero said it wouldn’t have been fair to Hynes to let him coach that game before making the change.
Following an offseason where the Devils pushed many of their chips into the middle of the table by adding P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds and Nikita Gusev, on top of drafting Jack Hughes No. 1 overall, the team failed to live up to even the lowest of expectations over the first two months of 2019-20.
“The start of the season, which obviously was 0-4-2, is not what anybody anticipated,” Shero said. “And I think that set a lot of things back. Obviously your head’s spinning and we cost ourselves games. We lost in every way imaginable it seemed.”
Over their next 18 games, the Devils went 9-7-2, which, on the surface, represented a decent turnaround. Had the Devils began the season with that record instead of the losing streak, things might be drastically different today.
But the Devils still had a big deficit in the standings to erase, and even with the wins starting to come, it was difficult to see any real traction being built. The Devils would win one or two games, only to follow it up with another loss or two.
“Even after wins, it’s hard to get over that start. It really was,” Shero said. “And if you had started the season 9-7-2, OK. But I think the expectations for some reason kind of set us back, and the way we lost those games early was really disappointing.”
In a typical season, its inevitable for some players to underperform their individual expectations, while others exceed their standards. Through 27 games, Shero said it was hard to point to any individual over-performing their capabilities.
While Devils assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald spent more than five weeks this season as a temporary assistant coach under Hynes following the team’s 0-4-2 start, Shero never had any intention of putting him back behind the bench following the coaching change.
So the Devils will see what Nasreddine can do for the team in the short term. With 55 games still left in the regular season, Shero wants to see what can be salvaged from the season.
“Everybody here has a clean slate. And they do, and nothing’s predetermined, and you go back to the word opportunity,” Shero said. “It’s for the players to really embrace whatever role it is, and it’s an internal competition, but to really start trusting each other.”
- NJ Devils coaching search: Who could replace John Hynes?
By Abbey Mastracco, NHL writer
NEWARK — Winning solves a lot of problems. But the New Jersey Devils haven’t been winning a whole of games this season and the problems that were bubbling up under the surface caused an eruption which led to the dismissal of coach John Hynes.
Alain Nasreddine, Hynes’ longtime assistant, was named the interim coach and general manager Ray Shero is inclined to give Nasreddine a chance to prove himself as an NHL head coach. But it won’t be smooth sailing the rest of the way through for the Nasreddine or Shero.
As we’ve now figured out, the New Jersey roster isn’t as loaded with high-end talent as it appeared to be on paper before the season began. While Jack Hughes, Jesper Boqvist and Nikita Gusev have certainly improved, there are plenty of players who have underperformed this season.
“I think they’re better than this, but we’ll have to see,” Shero said. “Usually it’s five, six guys that are having down years or three guys are doing great, other guys are going pretty good. It’s hard to see after 20 some games here that we’ve had that from anybody.”
But for right now, any coach is going to have to work with what’s there because the only drastic moves that may be taken are the ones that would have top players headed out of town in favor of prospects.
Shero said he has a list of coaches he always keeps for when various needs to be filled and he’ll start making inquiries as the season progresses. Shero has only hired one coach as a general manager, and that coach was Hynes. Dan Byslma was already on staff in Pittsburgh when Shero, then the GM of the Penguins, dismissed Michel Therrien. But his mentor was David Poile, the general manager of the Nashville Predators, and Poile, like Shero, prefers familiarity when making coaching hires.
Poile handpicked Barry Trotz for the expansion Predators after having worked with him in the Washington Capitals organization. Trotz was a scout and then coached the American Hockey League affiliate in Baltimore.
Sound familiar? Well, it should, because this was a similar path taken by Hynes, who coached Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when Shero was the GM of the Penguins. All of this leads me to believe that Shero will go with someone he is familiar with and someone he has worked within some capacity in the past.
Here’s a quick list of candidates, with Nasreddine at the top.
The 44-year-old Montreal native is very familiar with Shero, having worked with Hynes since 2010. A former defenseman, Nasreddine has helped develop talent like New Jersey’s Will Butcher and Pittsburgh’s Brian Dumoulin. But the penalty kill has been his calling card. It was solid in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and it’s been a top-10 penalty kill for the last few years.
If Tuesday’s game, a 4-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, was a preview of what we’ll get with Nasdreddine, then we can expect defensemen jumping into the rush and the Devils using their skating more to generate offense.
He’s easy-going nature makes him well-liked by the current team.
“I don’t think he ever has bad days,” Taylor Hall said. “It’s easy for him to smile. I wouldn’t say he’s carefree, but kind of happy-go-lucky. He wanted us to play as fast as we could. Not to turn the puck over or play loose, but he wanted us to play fast and use our instincts a bit more than we have.”
Earlier this season, Elias told The Record and USA Today Sports New Jersey that he is looking to see if there are NHL opportunities available to him next year. He wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to be an NHL coach or not so Hynes invited him to work with the team last year. Elias now comes back from the Czech Republic periodically to work as a special assistant developing some of the players on the NHL roster. The former Devils’ great has commitments with the Czech national team but those are done after the IIHF World Junior Championships.
It’s tough for an organization to hire former players. Fans go south on players they once loved and if it’s not the fans it’s the front office. Bridges are burnt (for reference, see the Mets and the recent Edgardo Alfonzo fallout, or even the Scott Stevens debacle in 2015). But still, Elias knows this team and if he wants an NHL job, this would be a good fit.
Shero and Bylsma could reunite to see if they can recapture the magic from the Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup run. He’s currently on Jeff Blashill’s bench in Detroit but things aren’t exactly running smoothly there either. The Red Wings are also in the midst of a rebuild so should the Devils ride out the season with Nasreddine, Bylsma could be available when it’s over.
He’s a veteran coach and he’s available now. Hitchcock was a friend and colleague of Shero’s father Ray, a former NHL coach, and his no-nonsense approach may be what the team needs right now. But the old-school Hitchcock doesn’t quite fit with the trend of hiring younger, more analytically-minded coaches. Maybe he’s a steadying presence as a stop-gap, but it doesn’t feel like a long-term fit.
Why isn’t Mike Babcock on this list?
If you have to ask, you may be stuck in time.
Babcock, Bill Peters, Marc Crawford and members of the Sutter family have come under fire for some controversial coaching methods as of late. A few weeks ago, Babcock may have headlined this list, but hockey is suddenly dealing with a reckoning of sorts and it all starts with the coaches.
Several members of the old guard are nuclear right now. Is winning at all costs worth it? Is it worth sacrificing the future of hockey players? Has it ever been? They aren’t just hockey robots, they are human beings.
A new head coach is nice and all and the message may be different, but before the club moves on with new personnel it will need to figure out the underlying question of the present: Who exactly are the New Jersey Devils?
- How the Devils’ Season Went Wrong
by Dave Caldwell, NY Times
NEWARK — Ray Shero had been the Devils’ general manager for less than a month when he announced in June 2015 that John Hynes would be his head coach. Hynes was 40 and had no N.H.L. head-coaching experience, but he’d worked for Shero in Pittsburgh.
Shero and Hynes became the front men for a franchise that had won the Stanley Cup three times between 1995 and 2003 and wanted badly to be elite again. But in their first four seasons, the Devils made the playoffs only once, in 2018.
Then they won the draft lottery for the No. 1 overall draft pick for the second time in three years and added a premier defenseman. This season would finally be their time.
Fortified by the rookie center Jack Hughes and defenseman P.K. Subban, this season’s Devils team would be not just good; it would be fun and entertaining, a hot ticket. Goaltender Cory Schneider and forward Taylor Hall, the league’s most valuable player in 2018, appeared healthy after struggling with injuries the previous season.
Over the course of two dreadful months, though, it became obvious that something was terribly wrong. With the Devils (9-14-4) in 15th place in the 16-team Eastern Conference, Shero fired Hynes, his running mate, on Tuesday. The Devils would start over, again.
“I’m happy I hired him, and I think he did an incredible job to pushing us to where we were going,” Shero said before the Devils lost to the Vegas Golden Knights, 4-3. “Then, all of a sudden, the roller coaster started coming back down a bit. To get over that hump, the change needed to be made, and then we’ll see where we’ll go.”
For now, Alain Nasreddine, who had been an assistant under Hynes since 2010 when they were at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, will be the interim coach. When Shero called him Tuesday to tell him the news, Nasreddine thought he might also be getting fired.
“When you get that phone call, you don’t know what to expect,” said Nasreddine, 44, who played in 74 N.H.L. games as a defenseman. “You expect the worst.”
Their first game under Nasreddine was much like most of the first 26 games under Hynes: The Devils took a lead into the third period only to see Vegas score three straight goals, all by Jonathan Marchessault, pleasing the surprising number of Golden Knights fans in the meager crowd of 12,831.
“I think we came out really good,” said the center Nico Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017, “but in the third period, we got scored on and it feels like, ‘Not again.’ It shouldn’t be like that.”
Goalie Cory Schneider is now in the minor leagues after struggling this season.Credit…Jason Franson/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press
A night earlier, the Devils surrendered five first-period goals in a 7-1 loss on the road to the Buffalo Sabres, and last Saturday, the archrival Rangers clubbed the Devils at home, 4-0, wiping out any equilibrium they’d gained from a stretch in which they went 9-7-2.
“Everybody had higher expectations, but collectively as a group, our team, I don’t think there’s any one player who’s performing even at the level, let alone above, that we expect, or maybe they expect,” Shero said.
The Devils lost their first six games of the season, including a 6-4 loss on Oct. 14 to the Florida Panthers in which Schneider, their $6 million goalie, was shredded for five straight goals. He played only two more games before he was sent to their Binghamton farm club.
Hall, who played in only 33 games last season before having knee surgery, has scored only four goals this season. Because he is an unrestricted free agent after this season, Hall could become trade bait if the Devils continue to sag.
“I had literally no idea that a coaching change could be coming. I haven’t exactly been prowling social media lately,” said Hall, who added, “I just think it’s a new opportunity for everybody in here.”
The firing of Hynes stung Hall. He’d also underperformed after the Devils acquired him from Edmonton in a blockbuster trade in June 2016. After that 20-goal season, Shero asked Hall if he wanted to be traded. The next season, Hall scored 39 goals and led the Devils to the playoffs. He won the Hart Trophy, as the league’s most valuable player.
“I don’t talk about it a lot, but I have a pretty cool trophy at home that I think he had a part in and certainly helped me get to that,” Hall said, referring to Hynes.
Subban, projected as a top-line stopper and power-play asset, has only two goals and a poor minus-12 rating. Forward Kyle Palmieri is the only Devils player with 10 goals. Hischier has five goals and Hughes has four. The Devils are 28th out of 31 N.H.L. teams in goals per game.
“Coming into the season, you had a lot of promise, a lot of expectations,” said Palmieri, a New Jersey native who joined the team in 2015. “My time in Jersey hasn’t come with a ton of expectations, as far as what we were expected to achieve.”
There is time. On Dec. 3, 2018, the St. Louis Blues were 9-13-3 and had fired Coach Mike Yeo. His replacement, Craig Berube, led the Blues to the Stanley Cup, becoming only the second interim coach to do so. The first was the Devils’ Larry Robinson in 2000.
“I just think the season has been a yo-yo,” said the veteran defenseman Andy Greene, who is the Devils’ captain. “It’s been up and down. Good for a game or two, then bad. No real consistency, no real sustained momentum.”
Playing to about 90 percent capacity at home, the Devils are 27th in the league in attendance, down one spot from a year ago. Their next home game, against the Chicago Blackhawks, should draw a good crowd, only because Chicago fans will be mixed in.
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- Why Taylor Hall is a big enough talent to be worth a long-term contract gamble
by Jonathan Willis, The Athletic
Taylor Hall is the top player slated for unrestricted free agency this coming NHL offseason.
At 28, he’s young for the open market. Hall won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2018 and has put up 22 points in 27 games despite an impressive array of obstacles in New Jersey, including a low personal shooting percentage and an inept Devils power play. He’s the best player out there, and the team that signs him can bank on at least a few good years before any decline begins.
Hall is also highly likely to be traded before the end of the season. As Pierre LeBrun reported over the weekend, the Devils are listening to trade offers. Given that they’re well out of the playoffs, just fired their coach and a contract extension has not been signed, the dots aren’t hard to connect. The question has become not if Hall will be traded, but when he is moved will it be as a pure rental or as a trade-and-extend situation a la Mark Stone last season.
The risk of an extension is the same as with any other big-name free-agent signing. Hockey players peak in their early to mid-20s. A player in Hall’s position can command big money over the maximum term, meaning that his eventual home is likely to be paying him to at least age 35.
Most players are out of the league by that age. According to a study done at Hockey Graphs by the folks behind Evolving Hockey, the average 35-year-old is worth one win less than he was at 23, and given that the majority of NHL players aren’t a full win better than a replacement-level substitute, that spells doom. The curve seems to be even sharper for forwards than defensemen.
However, Hall isn’t most players. In his Hart year, Evolving Hockey’s model rated him as being worth 26 goals or five full wins more than the average replacement-level player. That was peak value; over most of his prime Hall was worth between 1.5 and 2.7 wins above replacement. If he ages like the average forward, he should still be an NHL player at 35.
There’s a difference, however, between being an NHL player and being worth a massive free-agent contract. In Hall’s case, teams will have to balance what he brings over the life of his coming contract against the total dollars spent, to say nothing of the assets expended to acquire him. That’s where it’s helpful to have direct comparables.
Unfortunately, we’re limited by data. Basic data like time on ice only goes back to 1999, and the information that goes into calculating WAR and GAR only goes back as far as 2007. If we want to find players who compare to Hall, we’re stuck using more basic numbers, like points-per-game.
If we look at Hall’s production between the ages of 25 and 28 (using such a large sample so as to smooth out the peaks and valleys in individual seasons) and then look for wingers who scored at between 85 and 115 percent of Hall’s clip, we come up with a list of 21 comparables who have now reached their age-35 season.
They range from Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa at the top end to Patrik Elias and Rick Nash at the low end. The group median is 0.95 points-per-game over the platform period, which is a touch lower than Hall’s 0.99 points-per-game, but close enough for these purposes.
Next season will be Hall’s age-29 campaign. The chart shows the median points-per-game number for the group (including players who dropped out of the league) over the seven years from age-29 to age-35:
The median player the first two seasons came in at 0.86 points per game, a 71-point pace over a full season. In the modern NHL that is excellent first-line production. That number dropped to the equivalent of 63 points over an 82-game season at age 31 and 32 and bottomed out at 56 points at age 33 before rebounding slightly at age 34 and 35.
Overall the median outcome for the group was a first-line player for the first half of the contract who transitioned into a second-line player in its back half.
In terms of total value over those seven years, that median player is one we have modern numbers for: Minnesota’s Zach Parise. Parise was one half of the Wild’s 2012 free agent splurge, which saw him and defenceman Ryan Suter signed to identical 13-year, $98-million contracts. If he’d been signed to a seven-year pact at the same age Hall will be this summer, this would be the final season on his deal. He’s still a productive NHL player.
Since we have WAR for the relevant period, it’s worth noting how closely Parise’s platform years match Hall’s. Parise’s peak (4.8 WAR) was slightly lower than Hall’s, but in most years he fell into the same range. His WAR over the years, which would be covered by Hall’s UFA contract rather nicely, matches the scoring data we have. Three times he’s put up first-line numbers, three times he’s been either a second-liner or just below and he’s had one bad year mixed in for good measure. Given the way this matches up with the scoring data, we may say that a team signing Hall should expect to get a first-line forward half the time, a second-year forward half the time and probably a bit of time lost to injury, too.
It’s also worth looking at the extreme outcomes, for good and bad, to get a fair view of the risk.
The best-case scenario is very good. Marian Hossa had 30 goals and finished fifth in Selke voting at 35. Alexei Kovalev had 84 points at 34 and got Hart votes; he followed it up with 65 points the next year. Patrik Elias led this set of 21 in age-35 scoring, with 78 points. Between them, those three represent the top, middle and bottom of our sample group, so Hall landing in this range is a real possibility.
At the other end of the spectrum, five of our sample players were outside the NHL at 35, though only KHL-bound Alexander Semin was gone before the age of 34. Injuries were significant factors in nearly all the early exits, from Nash to Martin Havlat to Heatley, who between them also neatly encompasses the bottom, middle and top of our sample group.
As worst-case scenarios go, long-term injured reserve isn’t an awful one. As the league has demonstrated time and again, teams can often trade these contracts, and even when the deals are untradeable, they’re typically survivable. In that respect, a Marian Gaborik-like career tail, where injuries reduce effectiveness but don’t quite drive the player out of the league, might actually be worse than outright collapse.
The Gaborik scenario is a rare one, though. Typically a high-end forward in the Hall bracket either provides something useful over this age range or crashes and burns completely. That distinguishes Hall from the UFA class of 2016, where teams around the league went hard after a bunch of second-line forwards: not only are those players easier to find internally than someone like Hall, but when they lose a step they can find themselves fighting just to stay in the league, as opposed to slotting in on a second line.
There’s some chance Hall’s still a first-line player at 35 and some chance he’s on injured reserve; imagine those as rolling a one or six on a six-sided die. The likeliest outcome sees him as a useful second-line forward; imagine that as a roll of any number between two and five.
When we think of the really awful free-agent contracts over the last few years, most of them weren’t players of Hall’s caliber. The place where teams get into trouble is signing expensive secondary guys. Not only do they not offer high value at the front end of their deals, but they also tend not to have the ability to play a top-six role after losing a step.
There is another factor: the league’s traditional reluctance to squeeze its middle class in the name of paying star players. Artemi Panarin cashed-in big in free agency last year, earning $11.6-million annually from the Rangers; incredibly that contract is pretty much on-par with the $11.5-million Jaromir Jagr was paid in 2002-03. Revenues have climbed dramatically, but the biggest gains have been made by the NHL’s middle and lower classes, with the marquee talent only now beginning to regain lost ground.
As strange as it sounds, swinging big in free agency can be a smaller risk than going after lesser targets. Even as the league gets younger, sometimes the high-end players are worth gambling on into their 30s, and Hall appears to be such a player.