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New Jersey Devils 2018-19 Season Preview Part 5: Coaches & Management

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The Devils big management pieces have all been the pillars of the rebuild and remain in place to capitalize on last years progress. There are a couple new pieces around them though that will hope to take us to the next level.

2017 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

This is the 5th installment of the 2018-19 Season Preview. It is dedicated to coaches and management. There has been quite a bit of consistency in this group so much of this piece could just be taken from last year. But with the context of this past seasons success, there is a decidedly different flavor to the information.

Here I’ll give you a synopsis and a few quick opinions on the management, ownership, and coaching staff, starting with the man with the plan, the GM, Ray Shero.

General Manager: Ray Shero

In last year’s edition of this section, I summarized Shero’s moves since being Devils GM. I’ll copy it here, with additions from the past year.

  1. Traded a 2015 2nd (Ryan Gropp) and 3rd (Rem Pitlick) round pick for Kyle Palmieri — eventually signed to a 5-year deal in 2016.
  2. 2015 Draft Class (Zacha, Blackwood, Speers, White, Seney)
  3. Signed John Moore to a 3-year deal
  4. Signed and flipped Lee Stempniak for a 2016 4th rounder (Evan Cormier) and a 2017 2nd rounder (used to trade for Mirco Mueller)
  5. 2016 Draft Class (McLeod, Bastian, Anderson, Gignac, Maltsev, Cormier, Rykov, Bratt, Davies)
  6. Traded Adam Larsson to Edmonton for Taylor Hall
  7. Signed Ben Lovejoy to a 3-year deal
  8. Claimed Stefan Noesen (re-signed in move #19) and PA Parenteau off waivers. Parenteau eventually traded for 6th rounder (traded down to get Zaitsev and Hellickson).
  9. Traded 2017 2nd (Mario Ferraro) and 4th (Brandon Crawley) rounders for Mirco Mueller.
  10. 2017 Draft Class (Hischier, Boqvist, Zetterlund, Walsh, Popugaev, Senn, Studenic, Talvitie, Chainey, Zaitsev, Hellickson)
  11. Bought out Devante Smith-Pelly and Michael Cammalleri.
  12. Traded 2018 2nd (Martin Fehervary) and 3rd (Linus Karlsson) rounders to Washington for Marcus Johansson.
  13. Signed Will Butcher
  14. Re-signed Damon Severson to a 6-year deal
  15. Adam Henrique and Joseph Blandisi are traded to acquire Sami Vatanen and a conditional pick that has become the Ducks 2019 3rd rounder after Henrique’s re-signing.
  16. 2018 Trade deadline:
    Traded defensive prospect, Yegor Rykov, and a 2nd rounder (Jonathan Tychonick) for Michael Grabner, and traded JD Dudek’s rights and a 3rd rounder for Pat Maroon — both would move on in free agency.
  17. 2018 Draft Class (Smith, Bernard, Schmid, Sharangovich, Hoelscher, Pakkila)
  18. Re-signed Blake Coleman (3-years), Stefan Noesen (1-year), Steve Santini (3-years), and Miles Wood (4-years)
  19. Claimed Jean-Sebastien Dea off waivers

This list is not exhaustive, but it is most of the things that seem important. Most of his moves are viewed pretty well — his trades have landed us our #1 forward (Hall for Larsson) and our #1 defender (Vatanen for Henrique). He also traded for Palmieri and Johansson, and drafted Zacha, Hischier, and Bratt — so he’s responsible for our entire presumed top 6.

I personally had some gripes about his moves last year — I thought giving up 2 picks and a good defensive prospect for two veteran rental forwards was a questionable move for a franchise that still needs to fill the pipeline — especially on the defensive end. Maroon was very good, Grabner was very not, I’d guess we’d be in a similar spot at the end of the year had those trades not occurred.

All-in-all, it’s pretty difficult to gripe with anything Shero has done. Over the course of 4 seasons, he tore down a trainwreck of a roster, installed a new philosophy around new pillars that are all still in place, and brought the Devils back to the postseason. Who knows what the future will hold, but for now, in Ray we trust.

Head Coach: John Hynes

Last year, I said of Hynes:

“Last year I said the Devils needed to get better on offense or Hynes would start to catch some heat. They did not. Yet he has not. However, being wrong has never really stopped me from saying things in the past so I’ll try it one more time. If our offense does not improve, John Hynes will be on the hot seat. “

The Devils rose to 14th in the NHL in goals scored, although were still just 21st in even-strength goals. Sometimes, the GM deserves credit for striking gold, other times, the coach is simply getting more out of players than we expected. Squeezing what he did out of Blake Coleman, Stefan Noesen, Brian Gibbons, etc. is definitely to credit for some of the success of the team. Many within the team have lauded his ability to create a positive environment We return almost the entire roster that attended a team-building trip at West Point last year that was well-received, and the philosophy continues this year, opening the season on a Europe road trip (check their instagrams for pics — here’s Hall’s).

As a talent developer, it seems pretty clear that Hynes is doing well. Outside of Zacha, there aren’t many young players that have made it to the NHL team that are either not developing or are doing so more slowly than desired. As I’ve said multiple times, he is the perfect coach to get a young team to grow. After being exposed in the first round of the playoffs, it remains to be seen if he is the right coach to take the next step. That said, he’ll certainly be given plenty of leash to attempt to get us there.

The one area for which Hynes has caught some ire from those of us here at AAtJ and elsewhere is in lineup decisions — particularly defensive deployment. The impact of Butcher’s exceptional season was somewhat muted by the refusal to play him anything more than a sheltered, 3rd line role. John Moore was an offensive defenceman that couldn’t pass, and had very little analytically redeeming features, yet played 20 minutes a game. Meanwhile, Damon Severson was one of the best puck-movers on the team, and when he wasn’t inexplicably getting healthy-scratched, he was getting mired in a pairing with the aforementioned Moore.

This year, we’ll see if his deployment finally pays off and gets the most out of the potential of guys like Butcher, Severson, and Mueller.

Assistant Coaches:

Rick Kowalsky (offense, replaces Geoff Ward), Alain Nasreddine (defense), Roland Melanson (goaltending), Mike Grier (whatever Ryane Clowe’s job was)

Rick Kowalsky will be the offensive coach. After spending 8 years in the organization, and winning AHL coach of the year with Albany in 2016, Kowalsky has gotten the call up to the big club. Normally the person with this position is tagged with the responsibility of, among other things, running the powerplay. He inherits a unit that was top 10 in the NHL in PP% last season and will look to continue that success. Kowalsky’s predecessor, Geoff Ward, was occasionally criticized by some (your’s truly included) for lacking creativity on the powerplay and featuring PP1 units with the likes of Boyle, Stafford, and Zajac, as opposed to finding a way to benefit off the obviously electric offensive talent of guys like Nico Hischier and Miles Wood. Ward’s strategy at times seemed to be to have as little in the way of Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri as possible to let them do what they do. In the preseason, Kowalsky has adopted the 1-3-1 scheme and seems to plan on installing much of the same philosophy. He’ll hope to build on last year’s success.

Alain Nasreddine is the defensive coach, a position normally assessed by PK efficiency. I can’t say enough good things about how the PK looked last year. An absurdly aggressive unit, I don’t think we ever quite got the credit we deserved for how difficult it was to play against us in that situation. According to Corsica, the Devils had a xGF% of 18.9 — 1st in the NHL by a substantial margin. This figure was buoyed by having the most offensively intimidating PK in the NHL — we led the leauge with 1.73 xGF/60 and 2nd was Edmonton all the way down at 1.33. Nasreddine’s deployment of Coleman and Gibbons especially, but also guys like Bratt, Zacha, and Grabner, made the Devils PK into an offensive weapon. Coleman and Gibbons scored 6 goals and drew 9 penalties on the PK last year. With Gibbons gone, Nas will need to find a way to replace that tenacity using either new acquisition, Jean-Sebastien Dea, or a returning player like Noesen.

I never figured out what Ryane Clowe did. As a result, I have no clue what Mike Grier’s job will be. Based on who they were as players — power forward wingers often clearing 100 in both shots and hits — my best guess is that this position is “Grit Consultant.” I will assume so unless I receive evidence to the contrary.

Roland Melanson is the goaltending coach. He was Cory’s coach when he was with the Canucks and Andrew Gross’s write-up covers most of the important stuff there. He took over for Chris Terreri who had been with the Devils in some capacity for 16 years. Early in the season, it looked like Rollie had gotten Schneider back to his dominant form — then the injury derailed his season more or less. After getting a really impressive stretch from Kinkaid, and pretty solid postseason play from Schneider, I think early reviews are positive for Melanson. We’ll have a better idea this year if Cory comes back from injury and is able to regain his early play from last season.

Ownership: Joshua Harris and David Blitzer

According to Forbes, the Devils are the 21st highest valued team in the NHL and climbing (hasn’t been updated since November 2017). The ownership group has brought a lot to the table in the last few years. I wrote in August that everyone should be a Devils fan and part of the reason is the product they put together for gameday atmosphere. I’ll copy what I said there here:

“There has been a concerted effort over the last decade, and even moreso in the last few years, to make Devils games a fun night out. Getting to games has never been easier with the stadium a 10-minute walk from Penn Station. Once there you walk up to a Championship Plaza which, on multiple occasions over the year has yard games, performances, and liquid courage among the pre-game festivities. Then you enter Prudential Center which, to be fair, has made some controversial concessions decisions recently, but is also home to a 3D projection display on the ice and the largest indoor scoreboard in the world. Ownership has also made a point to give fans other reasons to come to games by having 15 theme nights which were mostly successful (I go to Star Wars night every year). It’s unsurprising that fans seem to thoroughly enjoy their visits to The Rock, rating 4th out of 68 major market teams and highest among NHL teams in fan experience by J.D. Power Rankings.”

When I heard that the guys who own the 76ers would be taking over for the Devils a few years ago, I had obvious concerns. Now, the 76ers are probably the 2nd or 3rd best team in the Eastern Conference, and the Devils are back in the postseason. Combine that with how enjoyable they’ve made the games, and I have little to complain about.

Your Thoughts

What do you guys think about the Coaches and Management for this year? What do you expect to see from each? Do you have as favorable an opinion of Shero/ownership as I’ve presented here? What do you want from the new additions Kowalsky and Grier? Do you expect more moves from Shero, or different deployment from Hynes? Leave your thoughts below, and thanks as always for reading!