The Devils have had an unfortunate opening to their season. Now winless in four games, a season that had so much promise coming in is off to the most inauspicious of starts. With lots of new faces in the fold, some time to gel was to be expected for this team, but much of the play in these opening four games goes far beyond any bumpy start the fanbase might have expected. With these rough losses, there has been a growing cacophony of calls among the fanbase for head coach John Hynes to be shown the door.
The m.o. of this management group has not been one of rash decisions, though. Ray Shero has spent the past few years slowly trying to build the team into a contender and it's clear that he and the ownership group have been on board with John Hynes' coaching vision to this point. Hynes was brought in based on his background as a developmental coach and through the first several years of his tenure, it was clear that that is what the Devils needed. Even now, the Devils have plenty of players just breaking into the league who could use a coach who is more development-oriented. There comes a time when a team has to stop building and start having been built, though. With the moves of this past summer, the Devils had seemingly reached that threshold. At some point, if you feel a team has enough talent, results need to be taken into account. So far, the results have not been good, to say the least.
Coaching can be difficult to evaluate sometimes. When teams are having trouble, coaches will often get the blame, but only some of the time will they deserve it. Bad luck, bad goaltending, and the like can sabotage teams performing perfectly well at times. The problem for John Hynes in this young season, though, is that this team has looked very far from well-coached, and it is extremely difficult to argue otherwise. Two utterly listless efforts in Buffalo and Philadelphia followed up a blown 4-goal lead on opening night. The team finally looked like something approaching a professional hockey team again last night in a shootout loss to Edmonton, but in general, things have looked very bad for a team with elevated expectations coming into the season, and with the team's sloppy and disjointed play, I don't see how to absolve the coaching staff of responsibility.
The million dollar question though, is how long to you give a team and coaching staff to figure it out? A week — even a self-evidently awful one — is a miniscule sample to make sweeping judgements in, especially in a sport like hockey where randomness is abundant. If you act too quickly, there's a chance you will only hurt things based on a blip (in this case, less than 5% of a season). There is some theoretical point where that sample becomes large enough to make a determination, though. If a team looks lost on the ice, the longer you wait could be the difference between being able to dig out of a hole or not.
The comparable I raised on Wednesday night on the AAtJ Twitter account was the 2010 John MacLean Devils. That team had high expectations on opening night, with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise headlining a lineup that felt poised to maybe make a run at something big. After two goals by that top line in the opening ten minutes of the season, everyone was hyped up. Then the team blew that lead, lost in a shootout and imploded thereafter, finishing up John MacLean's short tenure with a dismal 9-22-2 record when he was fired right before Christmas. That team would make a furious second half run with Jacques Lemaire at the helm, but fall short of a playoff comeback, as the hole that had been dug was just too deep. As one person replied to me on Twitter Wednesday, though, Jacques Lemaire ain't walking through that door.
In can be argued that if Lou's typically famously itchy trigger finger had acted a little bit faster, that season might have been salvaged. How do you know when to act, though? When does a dip or a lull transfer to a full-blown crisis in need of an upending of the status quo? Ask five different people and you might get five different answers.
In this team's case, I think it's too soon for a change. I recognize and agree the first week has been unacceptable, but as many have pointed out, this is a team with many new faces and one week does not make a season (just ask the 2018-19 Devils). I also don't think this is a situation where you need to wait some set amount of time for the team to figure it out, though. If the types of efforts we saw against Buffalo and Philadelphia remain commonplace in the coming weeks, I'd have no issue with the axe falling before the calendar flips to November. If the team still struggles to get results, but the games approximate something closer to last night's Oilers game, I think you have to give more leash to the staff. Either way, even with improved efforts, if this team is far out of the playoff picture by the start of December, I think Ray Shero needs to consider moving in a different direction. I'll buy the argument that this team may only be good enough to hover around the playoff bubble. Another bottom-ten finish, or a campaign trending in that direction past the quarter-season mark should be unacceptable, though. So while I think John Hynes does deserve a little time to figure things out with this squad, I also think things on the ice must improve quickly to survive in the short term and the team must not get buried in the standings for him to get past December.
What are your thoughts on the coaching situation? Many have been vocal about removing Hynes but others to seem to share my feeling that at least a little more slack needs to be given. Sound off with your thoughts below and throw in a suggestion of some potential candidates for replacing him if you show him the door now. Hopefully, the Devils rip off ten straight wins and this conversation is moot in a few weeks.