In keeping with the week’s theme of coaching, I wanted to take a look at potential goaltending coaches for the New Jersey Devils. The team recently parted ways with Roland Melanson who was their goaltending coach the past three seasons. It’s hard to judge a goaltending coach from an outsider’s perspective since we don’t get to see how they work on a day to day basis with the goaltenders. It should be noted that Mackenzie Blackwood did breakthrough as a NHL goaltender under Melanson’s watch so that is certainly a positive takeaway from his time in New Jersey. This post will try to introduce a variety of options for this open spot by taking a look at their backgrounds and what they have accomplished.
The Devils organization has had a lot of changes recently with Tom Fitzgerald becoming the general manager and Lindy Ruff the head coach. Naturally, Ruff may want to bring some of his own people in or perhaps Melanson wanted another challenge. Ruff has already added to his coaching staff by bringing over Mark Recchi as an assistant coach after he was let go by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ruff has kept Alain Nasreddine on his staff as an assistant coach so it seems he is open to working with options from within the organization too. That could be good news for Scott Clemmensen who has been a goaltending development coach with the Devils organization since 2015. The Devils need to get this hire right considering Mackenzie Blackwood’s potential and the fact that they need to start winning again at the NHL level. There’s also prospects like Gilles Senn, Cole Brady, or Akira Schmid who could theoretically play under this hire someday.
I’m going to first take a look at the coach that I think is the favorite for the job. Then we’ll move on to see who previously worked under Lindy Ruff. Then we’ll wrap it up with some other coaches to consider from around the hockey world. Now, onto the the potential options.
New Jersey Devils fans are well aware of who Scott Clemmensen is but here is a quick refresher. He was selected in the 8th round of the 1997 NHL Draft by New Jersey and spent 8 years of his professional career in the organization across 3 stints from 2001 to 2015. He spent his career between being a backup at the NHL level to an AHL goaltender as organizational depth for the Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Florida Panthers. What stands out most about his Devils career is when he filled in for an injured Martin Brodeur during the 2008-09 season. He ended up playing 40 games that year with a 25-13-1 record, 2.39 GAA, .917 SV%, 56.4 Quality Start%, 90 GA%-, and 10.14 GSAA. (GA%- is goals allowed % relative to the rest of the league where 100 is average, lower than 100 is better, higher than 100 is worse. GSAA is Goals Saved Above Average compared to a league average goaltender). He finished his career with 351 games played between the NHL and AHL (includes playoffs) so he certainly has quite a bit of experience at the professional level.
Clemmensen retired after spending the majority of the 2014-15 season with the Albany Devils. He immediately joined the New Jersey Devils as a goaltending development coach. He has been responsible for overseeing the development of the Devils goaltenders from keeping tabs on prospects outside of the professional ranks to having an active role with the Devils AHL goaltenders.
Notable prospects that have played under his eye for the Albany/Binghamton Devils include Mackenzie Blackwood, Scott Wedgewood, Ken Appleby, Gilles Senn, Cam Johnson, and Evan Cormier. Out of this group, Blackwood has developed into a NHL goaltender and looks to be a key part of the Devils future. That isn’t surprising considering his prospect stock has always been a lot higher than any of the other goaltenders in that group. Wedgewood has mostly remained at the AHL level but did see some NHL action after being coached by Clemmensen. Appleby hasn’t had much success at the AHL level and has been mostly playing well at the ECHL level. Same story with Johnson. Senn has only spent the 2019-20 season under Clemmensen’s watch in Binghamton but was doing well in the second half of the season after a rough start which could mean whatever he and Clemmensen were working on was showing results. Cormier hasn’t had success at all but after his junior career ended it was clear he wasn’t a NHL prospect. Still, Clemmensen kept in touch with Cormier after the Devils opted not to sign him and when an injury crisis hit in the 2018-19 season, Clemmensen was able to recommend him to Tom Fitzgerald since the Devils were desperate. This show’s me that Clemmensen has the personality to connect with players, even when things are tough for them, and the passion to share his knowledge and experience.
I think Clemmensen is most likely to get the Devils goaltending coach job since he’s been involved with the organization as a coach for the past 5 seasons. He’s familiar with Tom Fitzgerald who was the Devils AHL GM since 2015-16. He’s familiar with Mackenzie Blackwood who the Devils will need to rely on in 2020 and beyond. He’s also familiar with potential callups like Gilles Senn and prospects that are some years away, should they make it, such as Cole Brady or Akira Schmid. Finally, with over 350 professional games played and 5 seasons as a coach under his belt, the time seems right for Clemmensen to make the jump to a goaltending coach role at the NHL level.
Ruff’s Goaltending Coaches
Lindy Ruff was the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres from 1997 to 2013. During that time he only worked with two goaltending coaches. The first goaltending coach was Mitch Korn during the 1997-98 season. Korn actually predated Ruff as he joined the Sabres for the goaltending coach job ahead of the 1990-91 season. In Ruff’s one season with Korn, it’s notable that the great Dominik Hasek won his 4th Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender as well as his 2nd Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player to his team. Korn would move on to the Nashville Predators after that one season with Ruff, serving as their goaltending coach from 1998 to 2014. He would spend 2014 to 2018 with Capitals, serving as goaltending coach for three seasons and Director of Goaltending in his final season. He moved over to the New York Islanders with Barry Trotz ahead of the 2018-19 season where he still serves as Director of Goaltending, so we can cross him off the list of potential options.
Jim Corsi was the second and final goaltending coach that Ruff had on his staff in Buffalo. Corsi was with the Sabres from 1998 to 2014. During his time with the Sabres, Dominik Hasek won the Vezina Trophy for a 5th and 6th time in 1998-99 and 2000-01 respectively. Hasek also captured the William M. Jennings Trophy for the 2nd time as he played at least 25 games (he played 67) and was on the team with the fewest goals allowed in 2000-01. Hasek played in 166 regular season games under Corsi from 1998 to 2001 with a 2.04 GA, .927 SV%, 77 GA%-, and 99 GSAA. Now Hasek is an all-time great but it seems like Corsi at least knew how to keep getting the best out of him. I should also note that Ryan Miller broke through under Corsi’s watch and won a Vezina Trophy in 2009-10. Under Corsi, Miller played in 540 regular season games from 2002 to 2014 with a 2.58 GAA, .916 SV%, 60.3 Quality Start%, 94 GA%-, and 94.7 GSAA.
Corsi was with the St. Louis Blues from 2014 until being replaced by Martin Brodeur and Ty Conklin in February of 2017. Corsi would spend the 2017-18 season as an assistant coach for Concordia University in Canada. Since 2018 he has served as a part time goaltending coach for Concordia while mainly serving as a goaltending development coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Could Lindy Ruff and the Devils try to approach the Blue Jackets about talking to Corsi about the Devils vacancy? I suppose that is possible, but I haven’t seen anything that would indicate that the Blue Jackets or Corsi would want to part ways. With that said, I would cross him off the list of potential options for right now.
Lindy Ruff coached the Dallas Stars from 2013 to 2017. Like his stint in Buffalo, Ruff only had two different goaltending coaches on his staff. The first one was Mike Valley. He predated Ruff with the Stars as he was joined the team to be the goaltending coach in ahead of the 2009-10 season. During Ruff’s tenure, Valley served as goaltending coach for the two seasons before moving into the Director of Goaltending Development role from 2015 to 2017. Lindy Ruff coached the Dallas Stars from 2013 to 2017. Like his stint in Buffalo, Ruff only had two different goaltending coaches on his staff. The first one was Mike Valley. He predated Ruff with the Stars as he was joined the team to be the goaltending coach in ahead of the 2009-10 season. During Ruff’s tenure, Valley served as goaltending coach for the two seasons before moving into the Director of Goaltending Development role from 2015 to 2017. Valley’s time in Dallas coincided with the arrival of Kari Lehtonen who had a solid, slightly above average run with the Atlanta Thrashers from 2003 to 2009. It seems that Valley’s work with Lehtonen was fruitful over his first 5 seasons in Dallas as Lehtonen appeared in 241 regular season games with a 2.49 GAA, .918 SV%, 57.6 Quality Start%, 94 GA%-, and 35.2 GSAA. Those seasons covered Lehtonen’s age 26 to 30 seasons from 2009 to 2014. He would start to regress after that from 2015 to 2018 in 204 regular season games with a 2.81 GAA, .905 SV%, and 51.6 Quality Start% during his age 31 to 34 seasons. How much of that drop in performance was due to anything Valley did or just age catching up to Lehtonen is up to interpretation from afar.
According to his Elite Prospects profile, Valley is only 44 years old and hasn’t worked for any team directly since his time with the Stars. A quick search reveals the intro to this article by In Goal Magazine. It seems that Valley has been quite active in the hockey world, co-authoring three books on goaltending, founding and selling three hockey companies, as well as being involved in numerous hockey training and education companies. I’m curious as to what his relationship with Ruff was like. If it was positive then maybe Ruff would want to try to bring him to New Jersey, though just looking at what Valley has been up to lately suggests he’s enjoying his various working projects. I’d put him in the longshot category for the Devils vacancy.
Jeff Reese was Ruff’s final goaltending coach in Dallas, handling the final two seasons after Valley was promoted. He didn’t get much out of the duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi as they were both below average from 2015 to 2017. The arrival of Ben Bishop in 2017-18, despite him entering his 30’s, has helped the Stars produce better results in goal. Bishop has played in 143 regular season games for Dallas with a 2.33 GAA, .923 SV%, 61.2 Quality Start%, 86 GA%-, and 51.6 GSAA which has actually been an improvemnt over his previous career stops. Whatever Reese has done with him has been working for the most part. Anton Khudobin has also seen his results in Dallas improve compared to previous career stops despite also being on the wrong side of 30. In 71 regular season games he has a 2.42 GAA, .926 SV%, 66.7 Quality Start%, 82 GA%-, and 2.57 GSAA, Of course, Khudobin has also been a key part of Dallas’ ongoing playoff run. I can’t see Reese leaving Dallas anytime soon with the job he has done recently.
As noted in the above sections, I think Clemmensen is the favorite for the job and that a reunion for Ruff and a previous goaltending coach is unlikely due to their current employment situations. The below list of names are the other options that I think could be on the Devils radar for this vacancy.
I’m putting Jon Elkin on this list as he is Blackwood’s primary offseason coach and the two have been working together since Blackwood was 14 years old. As this article in The Athletic noted, Elkin has a history of working with NHL goaltenders including Mike Smith, Peter Budaj, and Andrew Raycroft. Elkin has also been a goaltending coach in the NHL, serving in that role for the Calgary Flames from 1999 to 2002 and for the Arizona Coyotes from 2015 to 2018. Inbetween the Flames and Coyotes he was a goaltending coach for the Peterborough Petes (2009-10) and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (2013-14) in the OHL. Elkin has spent the past 2 seasons as the goaltending coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. Notable goaltenders he has worked with at the NHL level include Grant Fuhr, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Mike Vernon, and Mike Smith. I’m not sure if he would want to leave Toronto or if the Maple Leafs would let the Devils interview him, but I think he’s certainly a possibility.
While on the subject of coaches that have worked with Blackwood before, I should note that I didn’t put Colin Zulianello on this list. He is from Thunder Bay, Ontario like Blackwood and they two have worked together in the offseason. Zulianello most recently was the goaltending coach for the Calgary Flames AHL affiliate, the Stockton Heat from 2016 to 2019 but left after 3 seasons to return to Thunder Bay with his family. I get the impression he is content to stay there are a goaltending coach for Lakehead University and train clients privately.
The next name on my list is Bob Mason who brings a whealth of experience to the table. After 18 seasons with the Minnesota Wild the team opted to not renew his contract. He was a goaltending consultant from 2002 to 2005 before switching to the goaltending coach role from 2005 to 2020. Prior to that he has goaltending coaching experience with the University of Minnesota, Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep, and the Atlanta Thrashers. He has also played goaltender at a high level representing the USA in the 1984 Winter Olympics and playing for 150 NHL games (regular season and playoffs) across stints with the Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks, Quebec Nordiques, and Vancouver Canucks. To say Mason has seen a lot of hockey in his life would be an understatement. A highlight of his time in Minnesota was the 2006-07 season when Manny Fernandez and Niklas Backstrom split time fairly equally as they won the Jennings Trophy.
When researching Mason, I did come across this article form Zone Coverage that suggests hiring Mason wouldn’t be a great idea. The author notes that Mason struggled to help the Wild’s goaltending situation in recent seasons and wasn’t able to help the team develop any of their drafted goaltenders into being a long term solution. After reading that article, I’m less inclined to want to see Mason under consideration for the Devils job.
I didn’t plan to put Mike Bales on this list as he just finished his first season as goaltending coach with the Buffalo Sabres. However, it was reported last Thursday by Lance Lysowski of The Buffalo News (expanding on a TSN report) that the Sabres coaching staff declined a second voluntary pay reduction. I don’t know what that means for his future in Buffalo, but I suppose their is a chance that Bales and the Sabres may part ways.
Bales was a goaltender with very limited action in the NHL for the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators in his career. He later moved overseas to play a season for one season in the United Kingdom, one season in Sweden, and seven seasons in Germany. After retiring he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins where he was a development coach from 2011 to 2013 and then the goaltending coach from 2013 to 2017. He was a part of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 Stanley Cup Champion teams in Pittsburgh. Under his watch, Matt Murray emerged as a #1 and had two of the best seasons of his career which led to him passing Marc-Andre Fleury on the depth chart. Under Bales, Murray played 62 regular season games with a 2.32 GAA, .925 SV%, and 60.0 Quality Start%. In the playoffs under Bales where Murray won 2 Stanley Cups, he played 32 games with a .928 SV% and 8.72 GSAA. I know that isn’t a large sample size but it seems that Murray’s game has slipped since Bales left. In 137 regular season games after Bales, Murray has a 2.82 GAA, .909 SV%, and 48.1 Quality Start%. In 19 playoff games after Bales, Murray has a .908 SV% and -2.95 GSAA.
Bales moved on to be the goaltending coach for the Carolina Hurricanes from 2017 to 2019. He wasn’t able to get much out of an aging Cam Ward in 2017-18 nor a declining Scott Darling. He did fare a bit better with Petr Mrazek in 2018-19 but Bales opted to resign at the end of the season. It will be interesting to see how the situation in Buffalo unfolds. Bales could be a longshot candidate for the Devils job.
Another name that I think could pop up is Dave Prior, the original Director of Goaltending and goaltending coach in Vegas, who is in an unsettled situation. Prior is a big supporter of Marc-Andre Fleury and the trade for Robin Lehner had consequences for him. As Greg Wyshynski of ESPN reported a few weeks ago:
Even stranger: Director of goaltending Dave Prior, an original Knight, was relieved of his duties within 48 hours after the Lehner trade, despite DeBoer saying Prior was still with the organization and “going to based out of Ontario.” Prior told SinBin.Vegas, “They weren’t truthful when they said I returned to Ontario and continued to do my duties, as I was told I’m relieved of my NHL coaching duties and I can go back home and would no longer be doing anything for the team.”
Prior is another potential candidate with a lot of experience under his belt. He was a goaltending coach for the Winnipeg Jets (1990 to 1992), San Jose Sharks (1992-93), Detroit Red Wings (1993-94), Dallas Stars (1996-97), and the Washington Capitals (1998 to 2013) as well as some time with the German national team in the 90’s. Olaf Kolzig emerged under his coaching for Washington from 1997 to 2008, appearing in 640 regular season games with a 2.67 GAA, .908 SV%, 99 GA%-, and 23.9 GSAA. Before Prior, Kolzig played in 71 regular season games from 1990 to 1997 with a 2.99 GAA, .891 SV%, 101 GA%-, and -1.8 GSAA. It’s also notable that he helped Kolzig win the Vezina Trophy in 1999-00 when Kolzig played in 73 games with a 2.24 GAA, .917 SV%, 87 GA%-, and 24.11 GSAA. Kolzig’s numbers under Prior are also a lot better (97 GA%-, 49.2 GSAA) if you take out his final season with the Capitals in 2007-08. Regardless, I think Prior, should he be available, could be worth a look given his experience working with some really talented goaltenders.
Finally, we get to Scott Murray who may or may not be available this offseason. The Washington Capitals fired their head coach Todd Reirden and have said that the fate of his assistant coaches would be determined by their new coach. Murray is young by coaching standards at just 42 years old and worked his way up through junior hockey in Sudbury in the late 00’s. He was goaltending coach for the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL from 2009 to 2013. He joined the Washington Capitals AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, from 2013 to 2017 before being promoted and spending the last 3 seasons with the Capitals. Murray was a part of their 2017-18 Stanley Cup Championship. It is worth noting that Braden Holtby’s play has declined during Murray’s stint in Washington, though I think that has more to do with Holtby’s age as those were his age 28 to 30 seasons. It’s interesting to see that the back up goalie has changed every season that Murray has been in Washington. Philipp Grubauer had the most success in 2017-18, Pheonix Copley had a tough year in 2018-19, and Ilya Samsonov did well as a 22 year old in 2019-20. It’s worht noting that Grubaeuer spent two seasons developing under Murray in Hershey. Regardless, Murray could emerge as an interesting option should Washington part ways with him.
Who do you want to be the next goaltending coach of the New Jersey Devils? How would you rate these options? Are there any names not on my list that you think should be here? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!