As of 4:17 PM ET and before the New Jersey Devils will host the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the team announced a coaching change. John Hynes has been fired as head coach of the Devils. Assistant coach Alain Nasreddine will take over as an interim head coach. Scout Peter Horachek has been reassigned as an assistant coach.
This is a short and quick reaction to this news (I have more at the end now) and it can be summed up in one word: finally. The Devils are heading into this game with Vegas after their worst game of the season, a 1-7 humiliating loss in Buffalo. That was on the heels of being embarrassed by Our Hated Rivals, 0-4, at home on Saturday. Those losses further kept the Devils next to last in the Eastern Conference standings. Any hope of contending with a playoff spot is just about requiring a miracle. This is after an active offseason by Ray Shero and after a terrible 2018-19 campaign. The goal was to be better than that. They have not been under Hynes. Therefore, this firing was deserved.
If anything, it may have been too late. Shero could have made this call on October 31 and been just as justified. While the team went 7-7-1 in November, several underlying stats and some occasionally fantastic outings from the goalies suggest that record was flattering to the Devils. The Devils added Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Nikita Gusev, and a healthy Taylor Hall to a burgeoning roster. That they are one of the least effective offensive teams in the NHL is an indictment of the staff. The defensive miscues such as zone exit issues and breakouts add to that. No, Hynes was not failing to make saves and plays, but he and his assistants were not adjusting or making corrections. Add plenty of losses against opponents who played the night before while the Devils were off, and preparation was also lacking. Again, this all could have been stated in October. A firing then could have possibly salvaged this season. I fear this firing is a sign that that isn't going to happen, so Shero is cutting ties now.
It may also be why Nasreddine is the interim head coach. While there are arguments that the Devils defensively are not that bad, not much of Nasreddine's time as an assistant in New Jersey suggests he should be the head coach. Yes, the penalty kill was great in some seasons (and there were some very good against-rate stats in November). That is befitting for an assistant coach. Short of Nasreddine getting the team to play far better than they have been this season, he will likely just be there until the next head coach comes in. And that may wait until next season when more and better head coaches are available.
I cannot tell you who should be the next Devils head coach yet. I can tell you that Ray Shero better get his next hire right. He may not get another chance unless the Devils improve and quickly. Just as Hynes was in his fifth season, so is Shero. This is his team, his roster, his organization. Where the team is now also reflects badly on him. Josh Harris and David Blitzer have been publicly quiet but that does not mean they are not aware of what is going on. More seasons outside of the playoffs will make it more likely New Jersey will need a new GM. But I do not think we are there yet.
I have more thoughts and I will add to this post later this evening. In the meantime, I want to know what you think of this news. What was your reaction when Hynes was fired? Do you agree that he deserved to be fired? Does it matter if Nasreddine is the interim coach or not? Will the Devils hire a new head coach this season or will it happen in the 2020 offseason? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Hynes being fired. To quote the now-ex Devil coach, it is what it is. Thank you for reading.
Update: Rather than making a new post and re-stating some of the points already made in this post, I figure on adding to my thoughts instead.
Credit Where Credit is Due: The news initially came from Chris Ryan of NJ.com, who reported from a source that Hynes would be fired and Nasreddine would be the interim head coach. About 17 minutes later, he would turn out to be right. For once, one of the New Jersey beat reporters broke major news about the Devils. Credit to Ryan for this one.
What Can We Expect in the Short Term?: Hopefully a whole lot of motivation. What tends to happen after a coach that is seemingly well-liked by his players is that the players will say how they let him down and how it is their fault and so forth. On the ice, they would play with more intensity and focus. Partially to show the new boss what they can do. Partially to show management what their value is to the team - or to another team. Partially out of professional pride; that they meant it that they let their coach down and now they need to demonstrate that they are as bad as they were prior to the coach being fired. Whatever the case is, do not be surprised if there is a bit of bounce back from the Devils in the short term. (And this also applies to the other assistants. For your job’s sake, Rick Kowalsky, fix the power play.)
This appeared to be the case against Vegas. The team played with a lot more vim, vigor, as well as the vague recognition that their jobs could be on the line. Nasreddine may not be the ideal head coach or the ideal interim head coach. But he is different and by the move being made at all, Shero has put the team on notice. For at least this one game, the team understands that.
What Can We Expect in the Long Term for This Season?: Not much. Nasreddine has never been a head coach and he was Hynes’ assistant for ten years. Nasreddine may have a different personality and could differ in terms of communication and rapport with the players. I would not expect him to have a vastly different philosophy when it comes to hockey tactics and how he views the players, though. I think the Devils may need that.
Also, the reality is that the motivation from the firing will eventually fade. For the first couple weeks, everyone from the players and staff has a reason to impress. Once things settle down and the roster is not under upheaval, normalcy will return. Hopefully the team will be playing better than they did under Hynes, but unless they get hot and have extra incentive to keep it going, I would not expect a permanent improvement. At this point in the season, does that matter? In my view, not really. 2019-20 is just about shot and firing Hynes was a big sign of that.
As much as I see this firing as a sign that the season may be lost, a clearer sign may have been the Tweet from Pierre LeBrun that the Devils are listening to offers for Hall. The offseason was meant to bring in more talent to make the Devils more competitive in Hall’s eyes. Hall wanted more talent and Shero agreed. Hall apparently likes Hynes and so Hynes was the boss. Hall apparently was pleased with the offseason. Now look at where they are. The Devils are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Hall is a near-lock to be dealt, the issue is really about when it will happen, for what, and to whom. And most fans, I think, have already accepted this. If/when that happens, do not be shocked if others are also dealt. And that will really mean that the Devils are playing for 2020-21.
That is why I think the Devils will look for a head coach, who will probably want their own staff, in the 2020 offseason instead of hiring one now. Nasreddine will likely stay as an interim head coach and that will be that.
So Does it Matter to You if Nasreddine is the Interim Head Coach?: To me, not really. Again, I think there is not much in 2019-20 for the Devils to really play for. To you, maybe it does matter. I respect your opinion if you disagree.
The Devils did have other options. I am glad they did not pick Kowalsky. I do not think Roland Melanson or Mike Grier were options. Tom Fitzgerald has been angling for a GM job so I can understand if he did not want to be an interim head coach. Among their scouts, they did promote Horachek. I wonder if they asked Claude Noel to do it since he was a former head coach. But I do not know if they did. At the end of the day, I highly doubt Nasreddine will get the job full time so if they just need a familiar face behind the bench before management finds someone else to pay to do it full time, then so be it.
Will the Devils Still Have to Pay Hynes?: Pierre LeBrun confirmed on Twitter that they do. Hynes has one more season on his contract.
In retrospect, the decision to give Hynes a two-season contract extension in January 2019 was a baffling one then and a regrettable one now. It would have been one thing to do it in the 2018 offseason after the team made their first playoff appearance under Shero’s reign as general manager. To do so in the middle of a season where the Devils were out of playoff contention by Christmas 2018 was nonsensical. This was a decision, I think, Shero would reconsider if he had a chance to do it all over again.
Will Hynes Get a Job Somewhere Else?: Probably. Unless some horror story about he treated a Devil or a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin comes out, his reputation is positive. I could see a team thinking he could do better in a non-rebuilding environment for four seasons prior to it.
Was Hynes a Good Coach?: It is hard to say since he joined the Devils as Shero was tearing down and re-building the team. As well as 2017-18 went, the following 2018-19 and the first 26 games of 2019-20 showed that, no, Hynes really was not that good. Sure, the Devils tried to be stingy and they (kind of) were. But in a league that was becoming more about offense and as the team added more offensively talented players, Hynes and his staff could not put the puzzle pieces together for a successful unit. He does not have a job today in a season where the Devils were, on paper, more talented than any team he had before. Was it a good situation for Hynes? No. Did he make it a better one? No.
When Would You Have Fired Hynes?: October 31. After that horrid October where the team fell flat on their face, I would pulled the proverbial trigger and get the team’s act together ahead of a busy November.