I was about 60% of my way into an article titled “The Anatomy of the Spiral” which included my usual 10% pretty pictures and graphs, 20% numbers and charts, and 70% rampant musings. Then, midday yesterday, we got news that John Hynes had been fired and I deleted it all.
I could have just slightly reworded things and rearranged the writing to fit it into an article that would be entirely topical by focusing more on John, but still not force me to re-do a day or two of writing. I decided against this out of realization that there was something better to do with this week’s article.
This fanbase has exhibited about as much hate towards John as I’ve ever seen in sports. On social media beat writers’ every tweet were harassed with “fire Hynes” requests, or reprimands for lack of “accountability” — as if the beat reporters have anything to do with the team’s performance. Fans have booed their players so much that a Hart trophy winner had to ask them to stop. And, in my section on Saturday, Rangers fans and Devils fans alike jeered Hynes at the home rink. While I understand and share the frustration with the Devils circumstante, as well as the need for change, I want it to be clear that at least one fan that is grateful for what he tried to do here, and one who recognizes that it wasn’t an easy gig.
Hynes came into a situation with not only very little talent on the roster, but also almost none in the pipeline. The Devils were set up about as bad as a franchise could be. And still, in only three years, he coached them to a playoff appearance. He did this, by the way, with two goalies who are now BOTH in the AHL. That’s not to mention the fact that he got two separate rookies in the Calder conversation, made Miles Wood a 19-goal-scorer, and received Jack Adams consideration for his efforts. This was a year and a half ago.
Last year, the Devils were ravaged by injury which forced us to be sellers at the deadline — a result I think very few blamed Hynes for at the time. This situation precipitated the trading of two of their biggest lockerroom leaders (Lovejoy and Boyle) at the deadline. By mid-November of this year the Devils lost another one when they sent struggling Cory Schneider, deservedly, down to the AHL. At this point, Hynes was at the helm of a team that was, despite strong underlying metrics, not seeing results on the scoresheet, loaded with talent, and lacking in leadership. Compounding the issue, the roster that had to withstand this has several players brand new to the system, and new to John (Hughes, Gusev, Simmonds, Subban, Boqvist, Tennyson, and Hayden).
Sometimes, culture can breed winning, but very often winning breeds culture. With no results, no leaders, and a lockerroom full of strangers, life was harder than many realize on the Devils and on John Hynes. I can see the eyes rolling from my room where I’m writing this ... “But Hynes is to blame for the results!” I’ve written plenty about how the Devils were not as bad as you think, but I’ll send one final volley in that direction.
Even as I write this — after being outscored 11-1 in the past two games (BUF, NYR) — the Devils are 11th in the NHL in all-situation expected goal ratio (xGF%), but, miraculously, 30th in actual GF%. How does this happen? Some if it can be due to information not contained in xG like pre-shot movement. But research has shown that public data includes a majority of the most predictive information on goals so it’s highly unlikely that gap is explainable entirely by poor/biased data. The biggest discrepancy is on the defensive end where the Devils have been 6th stingiest in expected goals allowed per hour (2.52) and yet, somehow, 2nd worst in actual goals allowed (3.57). That’s over a goal per game (1.05) explainable either largely or entirely by goaltending — the largest such underachievement in the NHL by a signifciant margin (Minnesota 2nd with 0.76).
This isn’t a new phenomenon, and it didn’t sneak up on the Devils. I’ve called goaltending the X-factor in our season previews 3 years running because it’s been such a wild card, pointed out Cory would be a liability in the Summer of 2017, and identified the concern in the future of the position as whole as far back as February 2018. Alas, at the most important position in the game, nothing has been done.
Rachel Doerrie is the Director of Advanced Performance for the York University Lions, Co-host to the Staff & Graph Podcast, and a contributor to Elite Prospects’s EPRinkside. But, before all of that, she was an analyst in the Devils’ front office. When I asked her opinion on this matter she did not mince words.
“John fell victim to goaltending. When it was dependable (2018 run) he was lauded for the Jack Adams. When it was horrendous, it was all his fault. It amazes me that the goaltending was this inconsistent for years and nothing was ever done about it. While he may be partially to blame, he is absolutely not fully to blame for the situation the Devils are in.”
- Rachel Doerrie (Devils Analyst, Player Information/Video, 2017-2019)
Overcoming goaltending this detrimental is difficult. Overcoming it without leaders in the lockerroom is moreso. Overcoming it with no leaders, and a lockerroom full of rookies and strangers is damn near impossible.
This is all not to say Hynes should not have been relieved of his duties. I’ve been his staunchest supporter on this blog, and even I recognized that change likely needed to happen. The players, had clearly — warranted or not — reached the point of no return in this system. It’s clear that they didn’t believe in their ability to succeed in the status quo environment, and Hynes is not without blame in allowing it to get to that point.
His clock struck midnight here, he had to be removed, but even so he has my utmost respect. Not just for what he did, but how he did it. And I’m not the only one...
Best of luck to John Hynes, who was class personified as #NJDevils coach and helped me tremendously while I covered that team. He'll land on his feet.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) December 3, 2019
I'd like to say I have nothing but the utmost respect for John Hynes, his ability as a hockey coach, and who he is as person off the ice. He was always approachable, candid w/ remarks, & always looking to get the maximum effort out of players and coaches. Want to wish him luck.— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) December 3, 2019
I enjoyed covering the Devils with John Hynes as coach. More often than not, he was detailed in his responses to questions. I learned - and had some of my own thoughts confirmed - quite a bit away from the scrums in one-on-one chats with John. He’s an A+ coach & will be fine.— Leo Scaglione Jr. (@LeoScaglioneJr) December 3, 2019
Late in his Hart Trophy winning season, Taylor Hall made a point of saying that he had never experienced as superior a level of coaching as he had received from John Hynes and his staff.— Steve Cangialosi (@CangyManMSG) December 3, 2019
On John Hynes - the coach and more importantly, the person: pic.twitter.com/3lR2iQoazO— Rachel Doerrie (@racheldoerrie) December 3, 2019
And there’s more where those came from. Hunt down what the players had to say about him as well — they always talk about how all of them were responsible for the situation they’re in and how it fell on the “leaders in the room” that the team had gotten to this point. Watch what Andy Greene says in his postgame interview for a good indication of how much the players (especially the vets) respect him, and know this falls on them for not executing. Taylor Hall, in particular, gives a share of his MVP credit Hynes, and is confident he’ll be back in the NHL sooner rather than later.
This article comes at a time in which the NHL has met a reckoning with its culture. Some may say it started with the somewhat controversial firing of Don Cherry. It’s seen ripples as recent as Bill Peters fired for directing racial slurs towards ex-player Akim Aliu and Marc Crawford being put on leave for reports of physically abusing his players. And, perhaps the most widely reported, are the harrowing stories players tell about fired Leafs coach, Mike Babcock. In fact, Ex-Devil Mark Fraser was quoted in the linked piece as saying “95% of players can’t say a good thing about him.”
In speaking with members of the media who interacted with John Hynes after every game, and people who have worked within the organization, I’ve yet to hear someone say a bad thing about John Hynes as a man. He is kind, thoughtful, and transparent. In a sport currently desperate for strong positive role models, Hynes was one over his entire 5-year tenure with the Devils. He deserved far more than the results he got, and he deserved far more than to be booed out of the Rock in his final home game. So in what will likely be my last piece ever about him, I just wanted to be the canary in the coal mine to say:
Thank you, John Hynes.