This morning, the New Jersey Devils announced that they have hired two more coaches for the team. Chris Taylor has been hired as an assistant coach, joining Mark Recchi and Alain Nasreddine in that role. Dave Rogalski has been hired as the goaltending coach. As Mike Grier declined to return and the team let Rick Kowaslky and Roland Melanson go, these two hires appear to complete the open positions for the coaching staff.
With the hire of Taylor, there is a connection with head coach Lindy Ruff. Taylor played for Ruff for the last four seasons of his NHL career from 1999 to 2004 in Buffalo. He did not play a lot for Ruff as he made 90 appearances over four seasons for the Sabres and played bottom-six minutes. While his 2003-04 season with Buffalo was his last in the NHL, Taylor continued to play hockey all the way to 2011 with four seasons with Rochester and three seasons in Germany. Since hanging up his skates, Taylor went right behind the bench for Rochester. Per EliteProspects, he started as a development coach and then held an assistant coaching position for the next four seasons in Rochester. He broke away to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for one season and then Taylor returned to the Americans as their head coach for the 2017-18. That lasted for three seasons. He was successful as he bossed the Americans to their first playoff appearance in three seasons in 2017-18, repeated it in 2018-19 with an improved record (37 wins in 2017-18, 46 in 2018-19), and were on track for a third appearance before the AHL shut down their season. Taylor did serve as an interim assistant coach for Buffalo for two months last season prior to the pandemic forcing the league to pause, so he has had a taste of the NHL as an assistant. However, he was fired along with a lot of other Sabres personnel in June. Now he will have a full-time job in the NHL in New Jersey. While Ruff may be familiar with Taylor, this is a coach who has paid his dues through the minors and has nearly a decade of coaching experience.
As far as I can tell, there is no such connection for Rogalski. His pathway to this job was quite different from Taylor’s. Rogalski never played professional hockey. Per EliteProspects, the furthest he went was playing goaltender for St. Mary’s in Division III. He did move into coaching in 2010 as a goaltending coach for St. Cloud State University. He stayed with the Huskies in that role, often as a volunteer, for six seasons. After a season with the USHL’s Sioux Falls as a goalie coach, he was hired for his first pro hockey job with St. Louis. Rogalski has been with the Blues for the last three seasons as a development coach. He did focus on the goaltenders, assisting the likes of Jordan Binnington, Jake Allen, Carter Hutton, and Chad Johnson (St. Louis goalies of the last three seasons) while also scouting out goalies. As made clear by the Devils’ release, his work with Binnington was especially noteworthy. Presumably it was a factor in New Jersey bringing him on to be the full-time goaltending coach for the Devils. If true, then hopefully he can take the lessons learned in St. Louis and have them applied to Mackenzie Blackwood and Corey Crawford to get them to excel.
Rogalski’s task is clear. It remains to be seen how exactly Taylor will fit in as an assistant. Recchi’s experience was with forwards and the power play. Nasreddine’s experience was with defensemen and the penalty kill. Rogalski will focus on the goaltenders. Ruff will certainly be involved as he spoke greatly about being involved with young players, of which there are many on the Devils. It could be that he will support the other coaches with their tasks. He could be their “eye in the sky,” relaying what he is seeing from the press box down to the coaches on the bench. He could be also directly involved with players as he was seen as a player’s coach in Rochester. (Aside: I learned that bit from Steve at Die by the Blade, who was bewildered at the house-cleaning Buffalo did in June.) It is common for NHL teams to have at least three assistants so I am not suggesting his hire is not necessary. I am just unsure what he will be doing on the Devils. That will be up to Ruff to decide either way.
Again, with the hiring of Taylor and Rogalski, the Devils’ bench should be complete for the upcoming season. Provided they do what is expected, I think they will be fine hires. I wish them the best of luck in New Jersey.
I do not anticipate other moves made with respect to team personnel other than ones that are more behind the scenes, such as renewing scout’s contracts and the like. As we wait to see else the Devils do in this offseason, I would like to know your reaction to these hires. Are you pleased that the Devils hired Taylor and Rogalski? Do you think they should have gone after other coaches and, if so, who? What do you expect the Devils’ coaching staff to accomplish in 2020-21? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about these two hires and the Devils’ coaches in the comments. Thank you for reading.