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Examining the Return of the New Jersey Devils Assistant Coaches

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With yesterday’s news that New Jersey Devils Head Coach Lindy Ruff intends to bring back all of his assistants, we look at the good and bad parts of this decision.

New Jersey Devils v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Another failed New Jersey Devils season has come and gone, and with the team not even getting a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup again, it’s time to begin looking toward next season. While there’s still plenty of events to come after the playoffs end and the league still has decisions to makes about 2021-22, at least one thing has (at least seemingly) been settled for our Devils.

Yes, for those of you who had not seen it yesterday, you are reading that correctly. The same coaching staff that just led the Devils to the fourth worst record in the league will return. The reactions from fans were...well pretty much what you would expect them to be. Most fans are not happy that Head Coach Lindy Ruff will bring back both Alain Nasreddine and Mark Recchi as assistants. I was initially one of those fans as well, but after mulling over the news a bit, I’ve softened my stance a bit.

Mark Recchi Deserves a Second Season

Okay, this may not be a popular section here, but I think can understand Ruff’s reasoning here. With all factors from this season considered, one more season of Recchi behind the bench with a chance to prove himself couldn’t hurt. While every NHL team was at the mercy of a condensed, shortened season, not every team was also adjusting to a number of coaches changing as the Devils were. The lack of practices (and preseason) along with the injuries to key players really didn’t allow the power play any time to gel or work on their shortcomings.

Now that’s not to say Recchi should be off the hook; if anything he’s on the “one more chance or you’re out” short leash. This is still the professionals playing at the highest level in the world, and no one should know this better than someone who played in the league long enough to amass 1533 points in 1652 games. I think 2021-22 is really going to be a make or break for Recchi and his system; the anemic power play results can only be tolerated for so long, especially as attendance capacity at The Rock trends back toward full.

One other reason to keep Recchi on board? He’s becoming a “sounding board” for Jack Hughes. Keeping Recchi around (at least for one more campaign) probably helps to keep him happy, which considering the hope is that he takes a leap forward next year, can’t hurt.

Alain Nasreddine Needs to Go

On the other hand, Ruff’s decision to keep the defensive assistant coach is baffling. Now I know I’ve been hard on Nas in the past, but today I look at this from a purely objective standpoint. Nasreddine has been with the Devils since the 2015-16 season; he has been the assistant coach on defense for two different head coaches, and also spent a portion of one season as interim head coach. Alain has had six seasons to come up with something that works, and while he had some success with the penalty kill at points, the last few seasons have just not been good enough.

It’s fair to point out the Nasreddine hasn’t exactly had the most talented groups to work with. At the same time, he hasn’t ever maximized what he had to work with by adjusting his system to fit the strengths of the players he had. This season’s defense group was, on paper, stronger than the past few seasons (not even factoring in the bounce back that P.K. Subban had) and you could make the argument that the results were somehow worse than ever.

Six seasons of diminishing returns should be more than enough; I know Lindy Ruff has said Nas is safe, but I think it’s the wrong decision...and unless the defense gets a big overhaul this offseason, I think 2021-22 will prove that this was the wrong decision.

Other Coaches

The Devils official website lists Rick Kowalsky and Chris Taylor as assistants as well. I cannot find anywhere what their duties are, and they seem to have lesser roles, as they are not mentioned nearly as often as Recchi and Nas are. Seeing as they are more than likely at least helping with practices and skills work (which for the former there were very few of), they can have at least one more go.

Dave Rogalski is technically listed as the goaltending coach, rather than an assistant, but he’s not escaping my wrath either. With the step back that MacKenzie Blackwood took this season, I would keep him on alert like Recchi. It’s possible that with Covid-19 and the increased workload over a short period of time, Blackwood just wore down quickly, especially given his hot start. If the Devils believe Blackwood to be their guy for the foreseeable future, and he struggles again in 2021-22, then looking for a new goaltending coach might be the cure for what ails.

Your Take

What are your thoughts after hearing that the entire Devils coaching staff will return; are you as dissatisfied as many of the initial reactors were? Do you believe any of the coaches are worth keeping around? Anyone you have on high alert? Leave any and all comments about the team’s coaching conundrum below and thanks as always for reading!