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New Jersey Devils 2016-17 Season Preview Part 6: Coaches & Management

In a period of transition, leadership is key. In this article we examine GM, Ray Shero; Head Coach, John Hynes; and the rest of the administration of the 2016-2017 Devils.

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When John asked me to do a Season Preview of the Coaches and Management, I wasn’t entirely sure what I could say about them, or if it was important. The more I thought about and researched it, the more relevant it seemed, however. This is a team in transition — the management and coaching is more important now than arguably any time in the franchises history.

The Devils enjoyed a stretch of success that most franchises have never seen when they made the playoffs 13 straight years and 19 times in 20 years (1990-2010) while collecting 3 Stanley Cups. Despite tremendous success, the Devils had 13 different coaches over those 20 years and held on to none of them longer than 5 years (Jacques Lemaire, 1994-1998). We were immune to the effects of coaching changes under the management of Hall of Fame GM, Lou Lamoriello. After an extended goodbye to the era of greatness that included many articles written by John and us saying farewells to Martin Brodeur, Lou, and even Doc, the time came last year, inarguably, to move on.

Lou was inducted into the HoF as a “Builder” in 2009. In 2013, 4 years later, another GM was inducted as a Builder named Fred Shero. His son, Ray is now tasked with the job of bringing this franchise back from of the abyss of 4 consecutive seasons ending at game #82. And that is where we start out preview. Before pressing on, if you’d like to browse our prior articles in this series see the links here:

General Manager: Ray Shero

It has to all start with Shero. [Almost] Everyone else in this list will have been here because of him. He was an Assistant GM in Ottawa and Nashville (for their entrance to the league) during which he did an impressive enough job to catch they eyes of the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2006 he was hired as GM to fix the franchise that had been reeling since the loss of Jaromir Jagr. In 2001, Jagr lead the league with 121 points (only Joe Thorton has scored that much in a season since). In 2002, Jagr was traded to the Capitals for three prospects whose names you wouldn’t know, because of friction with the coach, and possibly due to the franchise spotlighting Mario Lemieux. The Penguins then finished last in the division 4 consecutive years before hiring Shero and immediately returning to respectability.

Shero inherited Evgeni Malkin — drafted during the lockout — and lucked into “The Next One” — Sidney Crosby. He did, however, make moves to go and get Mark Recchi, Jarkko Ruutu and Mark Eaton which vaulted them into the playoffs that very season. A privilege they would enjoy for Shero’s entire tenure.

With the Devils, many have already lauded Shero’s savvy transactions. He acquired 30-goal-scorer and team point-leader, Kyle Palmieri, for a 2nd and 3rd rounder. He also used the trade deadline to manage to turn draft-busts Stefan Matteau and Eric Gelinas, along with PTO Lee Stempniak into a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round pick AND Devante Smith-Pelley who registered 13 points in 18 games with the Devils. And to bring it all together, there was the shot heard round the world when he convinced the Edmonton Oilers to part with All-Star winger, Taylor Hall, in exchange for Adam Larsson.

His reputation for getting steals in transactions that would be vetoed in fantasy leagues have earned him the respect of the community. Sometimes, his allegiance to his former Pittsburgh employees, though, has caught him some criticism. It worked out with Stemper, but guys like Warsofsky and Kennedy were unnecessary, and court is now in session for Beau Bennet and Ben Lovejoy. He clearly has very strong opinions on “his guys” for better or worse — evident nowhere more than the head coaching position.

Head Coach: John Hynes

Ray Shero hired him to be a coach in the Penguins AHL affiliate, Wilks-Barre/Scranton — the most punctuated AHL team in the league — in 2009 and promoted him to head coach in 2010. He already had a reputation for youth coaching, leading the USA-U18 team to 3 medals and coaching the USNTDP for 6 years. Hynes made the playoffs all 5 years for which he was head coach of Wilks-Barre and never had a winning percentage under 57.9%. This garnered him enough respect from Shero to hire him for the Devils head coaching vacancy last offseason. The move was generally well-accepted due to Hynes’s renown as a developer of talent seeming to be a good fit for what was rapidly becoming a young roster.

In John Hynes’s first interaction with the media, he said he and Shero had envisioned the Devils as becoming a team that is “fast, attacking, and supportive.” It was a phrase so ubiquitous, it made its way onto the teams 3D projection intro.

Many have disagreed as to if he is living up to that description — our possession stats were poor, our passing stats were below-average, and our shot totals were worst in the NHL by a significant margin. So it seems that last year we were neither fast, attacking, nor supportive. However, we are obviously in transition and it should take more than a year to get things going. I wrote an article on Hynes’ job security heading into this season. SPOILER ALERT: He’s safe. Although, the intentionally provocative title did garner me some pseudo-justifiable criticism in the comments section.

In any case, Hynes is not in a make-or-break year. He does need to show signs of offensive progress though after a huge signing in Taylor Hall which gives us a bona fide top-level NHL top 6 and a really encouraging 3rd line of Boucher, Zacha, and DSP — According to Alex. If we are the worst offensive team in the league again after those moves, I believe Hynes will begin to see some scrutiny.

Assistant Coaches

Geoff Ward - (Offense), Alain Nasreddine - (Defense), Ryane Clowe - (Something else?)

Chris Terreri - (Goaltending)

Along with Hynes, Shero hired Geoff Ward and Alain Nasreddine as assistant coaches. Alain Nasreddine is likely going to specialize on the defenders and the PK since he was a blueliner as a player. It should mirror the role he had last year and in Wilks-Barre when he was Hynes assistant in the AHL. The two have chemistry as they both came into the AHL and NHL together. But, they have a tremendous dearth of experience. Hynes hired Nasreddine to his first coaching job ever after having retired as a player in just 2010. Hynes is the youngest NHL coach. And they had a combined 0 years of NHL experience when they were hired last year.

Enter Geoff Ward. He will be the offensive-minded assistant coach — presumably working mostly with the forwards and on the powerplay. He brings the experience to the table. He was an assistant to the Bruins for 7 years which included their cup win in 2011. He was also the Oilers’ AHL Head Coach and worked with the NHL organization as well. He left he Bruins in 2014 to coach in Germany where he won coach of the year in a championship season that got him selected to be an assistant coach on Germany’s 2016 IIHF squad. He brings 22 years of experience, and the only NHL resume to the table.

Ryane Clowe will presumably be doing something as well. I couldn’t find a reliable source that would elaborate on his exact role will be, but he was hired in July, despite technically still being under contract as a player — he pulled a Pronger and retired without retiring in 2015. When asked what type of coach he’d be, he specifically mentioned that he is only a year removed from the game and that gives him a unique perspective. My best guess — and that’s all it is — is that he will be working with the forwards, helping Geoff Ward, who was never an actual hockey player at any professional level. But all that we have of Clowe is his history as a player before it was cut short by his dangerous bout with concussions. I wrote a short piece about that unfortunate development and here was an excerpt:

With the story from Tom Gulitti that we might get a Clowe update within the week -- which I personally expect to be a retirement -- I wanted to make sure that that news wouldn't be read without context or emotion. This was a very promising player who was a force in a fight, a talent on the powerplay, and a nightmare to play against. He was given the chance with the Devils to rekindle that flame and his effort was derailed be an extremely dangerous assault of concussions that now threatens his career. A retirement, though smart, and somewhat expected, is still a sad conclusion to the story of a true hockey player.

Chris Terreri is the goaltending coach. It’s his 14th year as a coach for the Devils after spending 12 years playing for us as Marty’s #1 backup including Cup seasons 1995 and 2000. You guys know just about everything you need to about CT at this point, but the one significant thing to notice about this, is that he is one of the very few holdovers from the Lou administration. He must be good if they held onto him while dropping many others including Scott Stevens and Adam Oates.

Ownership: Joshua Harris & David Blitzer

I can’t do the piece without at least mentioning the owners. When they bought the team in 2013, two things were evident:

First, they were saving the Devils from years of precarious financial standing. Fiscally speaking, this was an unparalleled success.

Second, the types of owners they would be was going to be met with extreme caution.

The reason for the second is that Harris and Blitzer had already owned a team — the Philadelphia 76ers. This franchise has been notable lately for only its shortcomings. Harris and Blitzer hired Sam Hinkie to be the GM. Harris and Blitzer saw what Hinkie did in his time with the Houston Rockets and wanted him to embrace analytics and use it to reshape the 76ers. Remember Jonah Hill from Moneyball? That’s Hinkie. Except he failed spectacularly. He was focused seemingly entirely on collecting assets at the expense of the teams competitiveness. He took a team that had made the playoffs 4 out of 5 years from ‘08 to ‘12 and plunged them into the abyss of the NBA — finishing the last three seasons with a combined record of 47-199 (19.1% winning percentage).

Harris and Blitzer have already acquired a reputation to be prioritizing profitability and that hasn’t been helped by the fact that the food at the arena is even more overpriced than it was originally, the ticket prices were raised (see John’s article and Alex’s), and they removed the more fan-friendly packages like the Pick ‘em Plan (see my article).

Your Thoughts

What do you guys think about the Coaches and Management for this year? Do you think Hynes has already proven himself, or do we need to see some offensive improvement this year before declaring him the coach of the future? Is Ray Shero really savvy, a Penguin-o-phile, or both? What is Ryane Clowe doing? Leave your thoughts below.