SBNation NHL FanPulse voters were recently asked to vote for which head coaches would be fired first in the 2019-20 season. This is rather timely as there has been no shortage of discontent among multiple fanbases with the bosses behind their respective benches. The New Jersey Devils fans are no different.
New Jersey Devils fans have especially soured on John Hynes. The awful start to the season, the blown leads, the lack of offense despite the addition of talent, the special teams struggles, and the reality that well-structured and well-coached teams regularly eat their lunch. Many Devils fans expected the team to compete for a playoff spot and they are currently mired near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Is it all on John Hynes? No. But some of it absolutely is. The expected goals model suggests that the team is playing better than it may seem, but it is just that: a theoretical model based on historical data. It is not good when that is one of the few metrics the team is not poor in. It rings a little hollow to claim things are actually better than you think for a 7-9-4 team sitting just ahead of Detroit in the conference standings. The coach has a hand in that. The perception of many fans would agree with some fans being rather vocal about it.
Whether you are at the extreme where every other sentence you utter about the Devils mentions how bad Hynes and how he should be fired or you are more moderate and just think that he is not good but it is not the end of the world if he is fired or not, you all can rest easy that you are not alone. The SBN NHL FanPulse voters consist of fans of all kinds of teams voting on polls that are for league-wide questions. For the question of Which of the five coaches will be fired first, Hynes was one of the five choices between the team’s record and his longevity (this is his fifth season with New Jersey). In the FanPulse vote, he finished second with 26.26% of voters thinking he would get the axe first.
Of course, as I am writing this in the evening, I can tell you that this question now has a real-life answer: Mike Babcock. Babcock was fired by Toronto late in the afternoon. Sheldon Keefe, the head coach of their AHL affiliate, will take over for a Leafs squad that sits at 9-10-4 in their first 22 games. The team that expected to challenge for at least a guaranteed playoff spot in the Atlantic is currently on the outside of the wild card picture. For those who want a Leaf-based reaction to the news, check out Katya Knappe’s post at Pension Plan Puppets. The 12.78% of the voters who picked Babcock in the FanPulse poll can now feel a little more pride as they turned out to be right.
This also means that John Hynes has outlasted Mike Babcock. I am sure everyone expected that.
This is not to say the other four choices do not have merit. Similar to Hynes, Peter DeBoer and Jon Cooper are head coaches who have been with San Jose and Tampa Bay, respectively, for quite sometime and have overseen some really bad starts to their season. In the case of San Jose, the team just saw a six-game winning streak end. This 6-1-0 run from them in their last seven games placed them third from last in the Western Conference. This is not at all where you want to be if you are perennial playoff team like San Jose. In the case of Tampa Bay, they are actually behind Toronto in the standings if you can believe it. In 2018-19, Tampa crushed just about everyone in the regular season and easily won the President’s Trophy. To see them at 9-7-2 and sixth in the Atlantic at the moment is shocking. Yes, they have games in hand but their margin for further failure is short if they want to get back to a playoff spot. To that end, I can understand why the question would focus on them.
Also similar to Hynes, Bruce Boudreau and Minnesota did not make the playoffs last season. It is questionable whether one could believe that had a realistic shot at the postseason. With one point more than only Los Angeles in the West, Minnesota is almost in need-a-miracle-run mode to get back in the playoff picture. To that end, I can see why he was nominated and why he won the vote by a plurality. Altogether, a case can be made for each of these five coaches to be given a pink slip. It just so happened that the Toronto organization made Mike Babcock the true answer to the question this afternoon.
As a final topic generated from this FanPulse, let us briefly consider the new question for the Devils. Should the Devils fire Hynes if they can hire Babcock?
This is not at all a guarantee. Toronto made Babcock a very rich man to be their coach and he still has plenty of years left on his deal. Babcock is in control of his situation; he can get paid to not coach or he can seek out employment elsewhere on his own terms. The latter means that if he is not interested in taking over for a New Jersey team that needs a massive turnaround as soon as possible, then he does not have to. As other teams move on from their coaching staffs, Babcock will not be hurting for work.
For the sake of the question, let us assume that Babcock would be interested. I am not entirely sure it will do a lot. I can agree that whatever Hynes is saying and doing is not really connecting. At least, it certainly does not look that way based on their performances, xGF% aside. A new voice may be what the team needs. Babcock is also known for being an uncompromising head coach. That may provide initial gains and it tempting to have a coach that might light a fire under some butts given that the team does not always do so when things go awry or they wilt in a winnable situation. However, that style can lead to issues later down the line - which may put the Devils back at square one - and there are no initial gains, then everyone is more miserable. It could be argued that Babcock is overrated in that his Detroit teams had Hall of Famers on it and he did not have to do much. Then again, is that not one of the major criticisms of Hynes? He has Hall, Palmieri, Hischier, Hughes, Zacha, Coleman, Simmonds, Subban, Severson, Vatanen, and Butcher and somehow, someway the team has one of the least prolific offenses in the NHL. (Yes, even by the expected goals model: 32.3 xGF at 5v5 is the second lowest in the NHL per Natural Stat Trick. They are sixth lowest for all situations at 50.3 xGF.) Even if Babcock is more hands-off than he is given credit for, it is clear that Hynes’ hands have not provided the necessary touch to get the Devils to where they want to be.
This is a lot to say that I do not think the Devils should dump Hynes immediately and spend a ton of money to get Babcock to Newark. But I would not hate a move like this one and Babcock is likely a better answer to the question “Who’s going to be the coach if Hynes is fired?” than the other possibilities.
Anyway, those are the results of the recent SBN NHL FanPulse poll. Again, it was a timely question with a real answer provided today. I like that it is not only Devils fans who think Hynes could be on his way out soon and I think the other four choices were valid ones. Given the news, it was also a good segue to discuss that. To that end, I want to know what you think of the FanPulse results and your reaction to Babcock’s firing. Do you want the Devils to fire Hynes to hire Babcock? If so, why? If not, why not? Please leave your answers in the comments. Thank you for reading.
And if you want to be able to vote on these polls, then please feel free to sign up today and have your say at this link.