For the first time since the National Hockey League has been on pause, there has been significant news reported regarding the New Jersey Devils. Pierre LeBrun reported on TSN’s Insider Trading that the Devils have already begun their search for a head coach. They have talked to a few people, including ex-Florida and ex-Las Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant. Here is what LeBrun said about the Devils:
Pierre LeBrun: The only team [The Devils] to do so at this point during the season pause, kind of intriguing. Gerard Gallant, according to our sources, interviewed last week by virtual manner, not face-to-face, by Tom Fitzgerald. Now, Tom Fitzgerald himself also has an interim tag, he’s still the interim GM for the Devils, Alain Nasreddine is the interim head coach and he is a legitimate candidate, he’ll be part of this process. Tom Fitzgerald has spoken to a few candidates, not just Gerard Gallant, over the last little while and why not? Use this time during the pause to start looking at next season.
I firmly agree with LeBrun that this is a great time for the Devils to prepare for the 2020-21 season. You may have seen other teams sign their prospects and free agents from major junior, college, and European leagues. The Devils have done none of that. Presumably with an interim general manager and an interim head coach, determining those roles take precedence. Now we have confirmation that the team is at least working to address them.
I am not huge fan of Alain Nasreddine being a legitimate candidate. I’ve written that the Devils were different but still quite bad during Nasreddine’s first 26 games as interim head coach compared with John Hynes’ 26 games as head coach in 2019-20. Those of you who read the month in review posts from January and February know that the team has been cratering in the run of play in 5-on-5 and the defense is, somehow, much worse than before. Gerard is not a fan either. Others have grown sour upon realizing that Mackenzie Blackwood was lifting the team on his massive back. I can understand interviewing him out of respect since he was the interim head coach after Hynes was fired. I think the Devils should look elsewhere.
To that end, I am very pleased that they reached out to Gallant. On a surface level, hiring Gallant would be a great move. Here is his record at Hockey-Reference. Gallant was behind the bench for Florida’s most recent playoff appearance in 2015-16, whereupon they also won the Atlantic Division. Gallant was the boss for Las Vegas improbable and magical Cup run in their first season of existence, following that up with another playoff appearance, and was well on their way to a third before getting dumped earlier this season. With his teams reaching the playoffs in three of the last six seasons, he brings a level of success not seen in the Devils staff.
He is also familiar with how today’s game is played and has demonstrated that he can put a successful team together. I have to do more research as to whether his teams were particularly good in 5-on-5 and/or on defense. However, the team’s 5-on-5 stats when Gallant was fired from the Golden Knights on January 15, 2020 were very, very good. Enough to make one wonder why exactly he was fired. Then, Las Vegas had the league’s second best expected goals for percentage of 54.84%, the league’s third best Corsi for percentage of 53.59%, and the fifth best high-danger chance for percentage of 53.73% per the 5-on-5 team stats at Natural Stat Trick. That is a very positive sign that Gallant knows what he is doing in 5-on-5, which is an area where the Devils desparately need help in. Sure, that was just from this past season and the Golden Knights are arguably more talented than, say, the Devils. It is still a mark in the man’s favor. It is also validation for those who really want him behind the bench at The Rock.
I am curious who the others are. Maybe that will be revealed in the future?
LeBrun also noted something that strikes my curiosity. He reported that Tom Fitzgerald, who is still the interim general manager of the team, was involved in the interviewing process. Is this a sign that Fitzgerald is going to be the full-time GM of the Devils? I want to say it is. Typically, a GM is at least involved in the decision of who will coach the team they put together. They will be directly working with each other on day-to-day roster decisions, analysis, and other hockey operation-related tasks. It is irregular that the team hires the coach first and then the GM. Just like it is irregular that an interim GM makes significant trades such as moving the captain Andy Greene and winger Blake Coleman ahead of the trade deadline. Based on my understanding of the situation, Fitzgerald’s involvement in coaching interviews and the trades made prior to the deadline would make much more sense if Fitzgerald ends up being the team’s general manager. On the one hand, this shows that ownership may be comfortable enough with Fitzgerald making significant decisions such that interim tag is just a tag at this point. On the other hand, if they really want him for the job, then they could have removed the interim tag and announced it by now. That he it has not been removed still shows a lack of commitment.
On the other, other hand (the first hand revisited?), there has not been any recent news on the front of the Devils looking at someone else as general manager either. Mike Gilles was interviewed back at the end of February. Unless I am missing something, that has been it in terms of public news about the GM search. If the Devils wanted Gilles, then they could have hired him, announced him, now and have him be involved in the current coaching search. I am not confident Gilles will be chosen given that it is nearly two months later and he has not been named.
All the same, I am pleased that the Devils organization is not entirely quiet with respect to management decisions. Whom they select for the general manager and head coach positions will be crucial to the team’s success in the short term. Perhaps even long term as well. They need to do their due diligence and make decisions that they are comfortable with while also offering a different path forward. The path that Ray Shero and John Hynes put the organization on was determined to be the wrong one by the powers that be. So they were fired. Now is the time for something different. We shall see what comes of these interviews and who the Devils decide to hire.
What is your take on this news? Would you want Gallant to be the head coach of the Devils? If not, who do you want the Devils to hire as head coach instead? Does this news make you feel more or less confident that Fitzgerald will be the GM? Do you want Fitzgerald to be the team’s general manager going forward? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this report by LeBrun in the comments. Thank you for reading.