Yuck; that’s just one word that can be used to effectively summarize the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils season so far. When we look back on this season after it’s completed, the reaction will probably be much of the same. Despite the talent influx, despite players in contract years, and despite players getting healthy from last season, the team has still stunk to high heaven.
There’s a number of player decisions that will be made as the season continues on as I discussed last week. Between pending unrestricted free agents and players who have worn out their welcome, the 2020-21 Devils could look very different than the current team. General Manager Ray Shero certainly can’t be happy with how badly this roster he has constructed is under-performing. While there were still question marks and some issues for this team, I don’t think anyone saw them performing this poorly.
The first big move of the season came just a few days ago when John Hynes was (finally) removed as head coach of the team. I was not thrilled with Alain Nasreddine being named the interim, as I know many other fans weren’t. There’s been a large criticism of him not being able to maximize the defense’s potential, and if he is unable to do that, then there’s no faith that he can maximize the entire roster’s potential. At the same time, how often are good coaches available in the middle of a season? Originally after Mike Babcock’s firing, I saw some fans who would rather have him, but after all the negative press he and a few others have been receiving, I think most fans are happy there wasn’t a knee-jerk hiring/firing.
I do also think that Shero is going to clean house this summer in terms of the coaching staff. I don’t think anyone sees Nasreddine as a solution; Rick Kowalsky hasn’t exactly had the offense and/or power play firing on all cylinders since joining the coaching staff. Mike Grier has spent less time on the team’s staff than others, but I could see him being shown the door along with the rest. Roland Melanson should definitely be sent packing, as I haven’t seen any goaltender on this team improve since he has been a part of the organization.
Aside from one season with one playoff appearance (a first round exit as we all know), I don’t think the coaching staff has done anything of note. I can’t think of many players if any (possibly Blake Coleman?) who grew their game under this staff. Which players have learned to play a system other than “skate around somewhat aimlessly, have multiple people converge on the same player and leave someone open for a great chance” under this regime? It’s not as if the Devils don’t have speedy players, it’s not as if they don’t have talented players; it’s that the system isn’t maximizing what they have, and that to me, falls on coaching.
Who will be the next permanent head coach of Jersey’s Team? Who knows. There’s still over 50 games left this season; there could be other coaches that wind up getting the ax as the postseason comes closer. There could be some let go after a champion has been crowned. The personnel will change as well: Taylor Hall is all but certain to be gone, with Wayne Simmonds, Sami Vatanen and Andy Greene all probably not coming back as unrestricted free agents.
The building of the Devils’ future will continue next season with Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Jesper Boqvist, Damon Severson, Will Butcher, Ty Smith, and MacKenzie Blackwood as the youth movement. Travis Zajac has one more year on his deal and will continue to be the veteran presence along with P.K Subban. Kyle Palmieri, Blake Coleman and Nikita Gusev will all be pending UFAs next season, and it will be interesting to see what the Devils choose to do with all three. The club will also be adding another high draft pick; view that as favorably (more talent) or unfavorably (due to the poor season) as you will.
With so much change all but guaranteed with personnel, it only makes sense for the Devils to make sweeping changes to the coaching staff this summer. The crop of young players has stagnated under the current regime, and if the Devils want to be more successful in the future, it’s time to sweep out all of the coaches that will only be known for garnering the team it’s only two (three after this season?) #1 overall draft choices in their existence.
Do you believe the Devils should all of their current coaches packing at year’s end? Do you see them doing it sooner? Which pending UFAs do you think are likely to be retained going into the next couple of season? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!