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With Lottery Win, Pressure is Amplified for Coach and GM

What a difference winning the lottery can do for a franchise! There can be no denying that the excitement level of the Devils’ fan base has increased significantly since last Saturday. However, let’s also remember that because of that lottery win, the pressure and expectations for Ray Shero and John Hynes have increased.

2015 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Before last Saturday night around 8pm, the New Jersey Devils were not in a very good position. They were in mired in a rebuild that seemed like it could take many years, and there was little hope for improvement next year. Sure there were some positives to look at, like the growth of potential young stars like Michael McLeod, Steven Santini and others, but they alone were not going to make this team into a playoff contender. It was going to take watching some ineffective hockey for quite a while before things got better. An Edmonton or Buffalo-like stretch of futility seemed sadly feasible.

Then, the unthinkable happened and that 8.5% chance actually hit. With it, the fortunes of the franchise have definitively improved. While the 6th or 7th pick or wherever they would have drafted would have still yielded a quality prospect (I mean heck, McLeod was taken 12th overall last year and look at him now), having the top overall pick will almost certainly garner a much better player, one that will instantly slot into the big club’s top 9. It could potentially shorten the rebuild, maybe not by a huge amount, but perhaps by a year, maybe 2 years if the player taken becomes a perennial all-star by year two or three.

It is just amazing what some good luck can do to the outlook of the franchise. And there certainly should be a more positive outlook by the fan base, there is no doubt there. However, with that positive outlook comes added pressure on those who need to make sure that the new talent leads to success for this organization. Specifically, John Hynes and Ray Shero now have more of a spotlight on them than they did before. If they do not produce on this luck and turn it into gold, both of them are in trouble.

First, let’s discuss John Hynes. In the awards post we did a few weeks back, I wrote that I thought his hot seat meter was probably around 6 out of 10. He was given poor talent to work with and was clearly coaching a rebuilding team, but nonetheless there was plenty of reasons to expect the 2016-17 Devils to improve over the year prior. However, not only did they not improve, but they got worse. The rebuild came to a complete halt, and some blame for that has to be put on Hynes. The team was a shell of itself by the all-star break and was downright pathetic afterwards. This was great for the purposes of winning the lottery, no one is arguing that, but the on ice product was simply ugly.

If the Devils did not win the lottery, I would have said that the team would’ve needed to improve a decent amount next year for Hynes to get back into good graces. If he coached another Devils’ squad to a bottom 5 finish, he would be fired. He needed to take whatever talent was given to him and do something with it. I’m not saying a playoff berth, but perhaps bring the team to competency, an area they were not at for most of last season. Now, with the first overall pick who will almost assuredly be suiting up for New Jersey at the start of the year, I would say that he needs to do at least that. The team that will be in front of him come October should be a little bit better than we would have otherwise expected, so expectations for what he can do with the squad should rise. Again, I am not thinking playoffs, but I am certainly thinking nowhere near the basement of the Eastern Conference. If the Devils are even just flirting with the bottom of the Conference or even the bottom of the division, there has to be a clear discussion about his job status come next April.

Next, this pick now brings considerable added pressure to Ray Shero as well. In the NFL, everyone always talks about how when a GM takes a quarterback high in the first round, he has tied his fate to that one specific player. So after the draft that just took place in Philly, there is no doubt that Chicago Bears’ GM Ryan Pace is inextricably linked to 2nd overall pick and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. If Trubisky is a bust, Pace will quickly find himself out of a job. Well, we can transfer that onto Ray Shero now as well. He has the first overall pick, the only one that the Devils have ever had since moving to the Garden State. If he messes up on this pick, and it is clear in a few years that whoever is taken is not going to turn into an all-star caliber player, Shero will most likely kiss his job goodbye. This pick needs to be a hit. Whoever is taken, whether it is Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier, they need to become successful in New Jersey. This is especially after so many years of just plain old terrible drafting by the Devils organization. The pressure has not only been amplified for Hynes, but for Shero as well.

So while the outlook for this organization has certainly improved, it brings with it some serious added pressure and expectations for both the head coach and the GM. In New Jersey it has been commonplace to see coaches come and go rather frequently, but the GM never changes. But this is a new era that this franchise is in, and both head coach and GM are currently now facing more pressure than they were 8 days ago. I don’t want to advocate for someone to lose their job, and I don’t plan to at any point in the future, but it may come to a point where either or both of these men are back on the job market thanks to this pick. If the pick is a bad one, Shero could be gone in a few years. And almost regardless of how the pick does this season, if the team on the ice this year does not markedly improve, Hynes could be out of a position as well.

Both of them are lucky to a degree: New Jersey does not bring with it a huge press pool and major expectations. This is not Montreal, Toronto, or even Manhattan. However, there can be no denying that the pressure to make this work has now increased. For Hynes, dividends need to be seen this season, and for Shero, whoever he takes first overall has to be a success in the red and black. There are no two ways around it. Their jobs depend on it.