Yesterday, the Devils announced that they had signed head coach John Hynes to a multi-year extension. The news was met with a mixture of surprise, criticism, approval, and accepting shrugs around the Devils’ fanbase. It was not immediately clear what term “multi-year” indicated, but the moral of the story is that Ray Shero and the Devils seem to be committed to Hynes being the coach through the end of this season and beyond. The timing was certainly interesting, given how the previous two months of Devils hockey have gone (bad, for those not up to speed) and the fact that the Devils started their game the previous night in Dallas by getting outshot 27-2 over the first 30 minutes or so. Hynes, of course, guided the Devils back to the postseason for the first time in six seasons last spring, but he is also currently working on his third playoff miss in four seasons as head coach. So what is there to make of this move by the Devils?
Ray Shero, for better or worse, seems committed to the long game in New Jersey. This past summer, when he couldn’t land some of the big fish in the free agent pond, he decided it was best to sit tight and see what he has within the organization. This lack of movement over the summer has drawn some significant criticism, especially as the Devils have sunk to the bottom of the standings, but Shero seems to have a plan, and clearly (at least for now) John Hynes is a part of it. In the team announcement, Shero had this to say about Hynes:
“John’s leadership has been instrumental in building both culture and systems that are focused on the development of our players,” said Shero. “He has cultivated a group of veteran leaders, while helping our young players develop and gain experience. John is to be commended for the progress the team has made under his direction and this commitment shows that we are confident in the role he will play in our future success.”
The quote is pretty boiler plate GM-speak, but Shero does put a lot of emphasis on development there. There are criticisms to lob Hynes’ way in certain areas, but he is certainly willing to give his young players a chance to sink or swim, and has put a lot of emphasis on working to build a stable base for the team through its youth. Shero and the Devils are indicating that they remain in the building process for this team and they feel Hynes is a part of that process.
While the roster Hynes has been given this season is not a finished product by any means, there have certainly been a lot of eyebrow-raising performances from the Devils over the first three months of the season. Good teams have blown the Devils out regularly with aplomb and there have certainly been some nights where the team appeared to be lost and going through the motions. Perhaps its just growing pains for a team that significantly exceeded expectations last season, but the 12 three-plus goal losses — tied with the Oilers for fourth-most behind the Kings, Flyers, and Senators — for the Devils this season have a way of fostering some bad feelings (in Hynes’ defense they also have 10 wins of that variety — tied for seventh-most in the league). The Devils are currently 15-17-7, putting them 24th in the league and just a couple points from the bottom. It’s been an endlessly frustrating year in New Jersey, and while the goaltending implosion has had a lot to do with that, the team has looked badly out of sorts on a lot of nights. In short, the reasoning behind the extension cannot be because there’s so much to love about what the team has looked like on the ice in 2018-19.
So why else would the Devils look to extend a coach in the midst of a season like this? Personally, I think the big driving factor is a desire for stability. Ray Shero is a much different type of general manager than his predecessor, Lou Lamoriello. Lou valued a lot of things, he was a bit more volatile as a GM and stability at the head coaching position was not one of the things he much cared for. I also think the Devils were in a pretty unique position when Shero arrived compared to the previous two decades. The Devils had been in “win-now” mode for about 20 years prior to Shero’s arrival, but Shero was tasked with basically tearing the whole thing down an trying to build a new perennial winner. Your mileage may vary on whether John Hynes is the right man to carry the Devils over the finish line, but it’s clear that Shero feels he is the right guy while the team is building.
The other part of the whole “stability” equation is a point that many fans have brought up and it wears #9 in red and black. Yes, Taylor Hall arrived from a situation in Edmonton where the coaches would typically show up, have a couple losing seasons, and then get fired. In his six seasons with the Oilers, Hall had five (!) different head coaches. It’s understandable that after being in that situation, Hall would value a little bit of stability in terms of who is running the team, and Hall and Hynes reportedly have a very good relationship of mutual trust and respect. This isn’t to say the team should be basing their coaching decisions on keeping specific players happy, but if Hynes sticking around makes Hall staying put in New Jersey more likely, that has to be a point in his favor if you’re the GM.
Overall, my feeling on the extension is that the timing feels a bit off, but it is at least defensible when taking a holistic view of things. My confidence that Hynes is a coach that can take this team the distance has certainly been shaken this season. There have been far too many no-shows by the team the first half of this season and the team seems to have some major issues with their structure on the ice at times. On the other hand, goaltending has had a big hand in shaping the perception of the team this season and this roster is far from a powerhouse on paper. I think the nod to stability is probably a good thing and can appreciate Ray Shero’s deliberate approach to the rebuild. Plus, while a mutli-year extension is certainly a big vote of confidence on paper, we also know that coaching contracts in the NHL will rarely stop a team from pulling the trigger on a firing if it comes to that. Overall, barring a really brutal second half, I am fine with the extension. The team has a ton of important things to address this summer and eliminating a coaching search on top of that probably isn’t a bad thing.