Lindy Ruff’s coaching staff will have at least one new person to the organization. Earlier this afternoon, the New Jersey Devils announced that Mark Recchi has been hired as an assistant coach. Recchi spent the last three seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins as an assistant coach. He was let go by the organization along with Sergei Gonchar and Jacques Martin as a result of the Penguins failing to make the actual Stanley Cup Playoffs last month. The Devils have picked him up.
The article at the Devils’ official website about the hire is up front about what Mark Recchi did as a coach with the Penguins. He was a part of Pittsburgh’s organization since 2014 as a developmental coach for three seasons. Recchi was promoted to an assistant behind the bench and was primarily responsible for Pittsburgh’s power play for the following three seasons up until this past August. The Devils went ahead and even found out how successful the power play was under Recchi for those three seasons. It was quite successful with the team converting 23.8% of their man advantage situations, the third most over the past few seasons. I can confirm this to be the case at NHL.com; they scored 166 goals out of 699. Only Winnipeg, Colorado, Boston, and Tampa Bay scored more power play goals in the past three seasons and Pittsburgh’s percentage of success was only behind Boston and Tampa Bay. It is fair to say that Pittsburgh had one of the best power plays in the NHL in recent memory.
Unfortunately, professional sports is very much a “what have you done for me lately” business and Pittsburgh’s power play was not one of the most successful. In 2019-20, the team’s success rate was around the league median at 19.9% with only 42 goals scored out of 211 situations. For a team that still has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the expectations were higher. And the league-median power play success contributed to a degree why Pittsburgh ended up in the qualifying round instead of a guaranteed playoff spot.
A deeper dive into the team power play rate stats at Natural Stat Trick further supports that the Pittsburgh power play was not all that impressive last season. By no means it was bad. It just was not a standout unit. On the positive side, the Penguins were a top-ten team in scoring chances per 60 minutes (54.29, 8th), high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (23.51, 6th), expected goals per 60 minutes (7.39, 3rd), and shooting percentage (14.38%, 10th). On the negative side, the Penguins were not close to the top ten at all in terms of shot attempts per 60 minutes (95.78, 14th), shots on net per 60 minutes (50.49, 21st), and actual goals per 60 minutes (7.26, 16th). That the Penguins managed to not reach their expected goal scoring rate while having one of the better team shooting percentages in the league suggests some issues with generating shots. This is supported by the team’s relatively low shot attempt and shot on net rate. While few doubt the prowess of Crosby and Malkin among other Penguins, these figures suggest that there were areas for improvement and Recchi was not able to make the appropriate adjustments to account for it as the season went on.
That all said, it could have been worse. The Penguins’ power play rate stats last season were better than the Devils in each stat except shots on net per 60 minutes. The Penguins’ power play success rate was better than the Devils’ last season too. While I do not expect Recchi to have the Devils firing pucks in just below 14.4% next season, I do expect he has some ideas and concepts that could help the Devils generate more offense. With more offense, there will be more scoring opportunities, and, hopefully, more goals from the power play. This is why I think this is a good hire provided that Recchi will be in charge of the power play in New Jersey.
There will be some adjustments for sure. The initial challenge will be whether Recchi can figure this out without having a Crosby or a Malkin to work with. He does have plenty of players who could potentially fit into his tactics for a power play. I would like to think that a coach can get something out of a man advantage with players like Kyle Palmieri, Nico Hischier, Nikita Gusev, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, P.K. Subban, Will Butcher, and Damon Severson. They are not perfect players but they have offensive skillsets that could shine man advantage situation. The Devils have plenty of puzzle pieces for a power play. It will be up to Recchi, presumably, to figure out how to put the puzzle pieces together.
The Recchi hire also comes with the benefit of having another experienced player on the bench. Few can rival Recchi in terms of games played in NHL history. The 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame winger played in an astounding 1,652 games - the sixth most all time; produced an amazing 1,522 points - the twelfth most all time; scored a remarkable 200 power play goals - the 19th most all time; and won three Stanley Cups. He was a player for 22 seasons and he has been a coach for the past six seasons. To call him a veteran is an understatement. This can be beneficial in guiding younger, fresher Devils as they progress through what could be a difficult 2020-21 season. As half of his coaching experience was as a development coach, I do hope he can provide some additional help in that regard for a Devils team that will have plenty of young and developing players on the roster in 2020-21. If Ruff was hired in part because he can work well with inexperienced players, then I could see that as another reason why Recchi got the job over others.
I think this is a good hire. Even with Pittsburgh’s power play issues, their power play still out-performed New Jersey. Past seasons were even better. He brings a wealth of experience both as a player and as a coach, which can be beneficial for a team in development - something else Recchi focused on in Pittsburgh as a coach.
We shall see if there are any more coaching hires made in the near future. There should be at least one as goaltending coach Roland Melanson is no longer a member of the organization. There are other parts of the staff to address. It remains to be seen whether Alain Nasreddine, Rick Kowalsky, and Mike Grier will be kept on staff and in what capacity. (Aside: The Devils Insiders noted that Esa Pirnes is on the staff directory at the team’s official website as a European Development Coach. What, exactly, he will do, I’m not sure.) All the same, the Recchi hire is the first one for Ruff building his new staff in New Jersey. I welcome Recchi to the Rock and wish him the best.
What do you think of the team hiring Mark Recchi? Do you want him to run the Devils power play? If so, what do you want to see from him? Who else should the Devils hire (or retain) as an assistant coach? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this hire in the comments. Thank you for reading.