I have to again give Stephen credit to start my piece today, not only for the idea that I’m branching off of, but also for subjecting himself to essentially reliving the New Jersey Devils disappointing season so far to make his assessments. There was one that stood out to me more than the other though, which was the idea that maybe the Devils should pull the plug on the Ty Smith experiment. Now, I will be fair in stating that the section ended by saying it could be too soon to make that move and that Smith could turn things around.
While I was a huge fan of the Smith selection back in 2018, I can understand fans who have soured on him. As Stephen’s article section yesterday pointed out, Smith has regressed offensively this campaign while also posting terrible underlying numbers. Some games have seen him play well, and he looks as though he’s about to turn the corner, but instead he’ll then turn in his worst performance of the season (or close to it) the very next game. Considering that Smith has spent some time with basically every right-handed defender on the roster with pretty similar results, which signifies that he’s the problem...or is he?
Now, to look at every angle briefly here let’s start with partners Smith has seen regularly; maybe the problem is defenders such as Damon Severson or P.K. Subban being paired with Smith. After all, neither one of those players is renowned for being a shut down defender, right? While P.K. certainly hasn’t been an ideal partner for Smith, he hasn’t made him look worse either. Ditto that for Severson, and I’ll go as far as saying Sevs/Smith can work, as last season showed. However, it isn’t clicking so far, and Damon has looked good with Jonas Siegenthaler, so I can understand the change.
Speaking of change, Ryan Graves entering Covid protocol enabled for another change; Smith next to Dougie Hamilton. Surely the Devils prized free agency pickup, their top defender could help Ty to turn his season around? Well, perhaps that possibility could still exist after the current schedule break, but as to this point, that pairing also was not effective. The pedestrian play of Smith’s continued, even next to a defender whose point totals last season had him in discussions for the Norris Trophy, while his underlying numbers pointed to him being a legit #1. But even Hamilton at times has looked pedestrian himself this season...which leads me to what I believe the actual issue is...and stop me if you’ve heard this one before...
Yesterday, Stephen pointed out that Lindy Ruff could be out of a job come the 2022-23 season; he also made specific mention of Mark Recchi being on the chopping block due to the ineptitude of the team’s power play this season. No specific mention of Alain Nasreddine was made, but I’m going to come here and squarely toss some blame his way...again. Aside from the success he was getting on the penalty kill during his first few seasons under John Hynes (which I’m more than willing to attribute that to the personnel rather than coaching) Nasreddine has never had a defensive system in place that has maximized the talent he has to work with. I’m even willing to cut the guy a break, because there were a couple of lean years in there, but with this season featuring the most competent group that the Devils have had on the back end in years, when do we start looking at Nas as the reason our defenders struggle?
I’m willing to acknowledge that maybe Smith won’t put it together at the NHL level; for the team’s future I’m choosing to believe right now that he will. I can also acknowledge the imperfections in the game of a defender like Severson. But when you stick Dougie freaking Hamilton into the mix and the needle isn’t moving, maybe it’s time to look at the guy who is drawing up the plays and designing the systems rather than the people on the ice. Nasreddine additionally has been around the longest out of any coach on this team, and yet in almost his entire time here, the team hasn’t made a tangible improvement.
I don’t think firing Nasreddine will suddenly right the sinking 2021-22 New Jersey Devil ship...but it would be a step in alleviating issues. Because if you bring in a new coach, and the group the team has is able to produce better results, then you know you fixed one of the issues. If they don’t, well then some personnel need to be upgraded upon yet again. I think this is the more logical first step, rather than giving up on a sophomore NHL defender who has had two season impacted in some way, shape or form by Covid-19.
Now to hear from you, the reader of this article; do you think the right move for the Devils is to give up on Ty Smith? Do you think perhaps Alain Nasreddine should go instead? Do you think I’m being too hard on Nasreddine and not putting enough onus on Smith for his play? Do you see Smith as expendable due to other players in the Devils system? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!