Just after noon today, the New Jersey Devils released a short statement from their official website. They have announced that assistant coaches Alain Nasreddine and Mark Recchi will not return for the 2022-23 season. Here is the text of the statement:
The New Jersey Devils today announced that it has mutually agreed to part ways with Assistant Coach Alain Nasreddine, as his contract will not be renewed. Additionally, Assistant Coach Mark Recchi has been relieved of his duties. The announcement was made by Devils’ Executive Vice President/General Manager Tom Fitzgerald.
The wording in the headline is intentional. As Nasreddine was coming out of contract, not re-signing him is the equivalent to releasing him. As Recchi was just “relieved of his duties,” this means he was fired. Amanda Stein confirmed on Twitter that Recchi did have a season left on his contract with New Jersey.
The “evaluation” that Lindy Ruff referred to in his media session on Monday appears to be very much in process. And perhaps closer to its conclusion than we may think given these announcements.
Was it Deserved?
I bear no ill will to Nasreddine and Recchi as people. But this All About the Jersey where it is all about the Devils. From the perspective of the jobs they were responsible for, both Nasreddine and Recchi deserved the decision made by Tom Fitzgerald to not return to the team.
The case against Recchi is simple. He was in the charge of the power play. The power play was bad in 2021. The team’s success rate was a mere 14.2% (22 for 155) with 5 shorthanded goals allowed; the success rate ranked 28th out of 31 teams. The on-ice rates during power play situations were among the lowest in the NHL in 2021 per Natural Stat Trick. After public admittance from the staff that it needs to be better, the power play really did not get better in 2021-22. While the success rate for 2021-22 was higher at 15.6% (35 for 225), it still ranked 28th in the league. It also had the ignoble achievement of having the most shorthanded goals allowed with 14 - most of which were goals that significantly changed the games they were scored in. The on-ice rates during power play situations were again among the lowest in the NHL in 2021-22. At best, the power play stalled. At worst, it became worse in some respects. Either way, the power play cost the Devils points for the players and in the standings. Given that Recchi was responsible for this part of the game, there is no reason for him to return in this role.
The case against Nasreddine is a little more complicated. He was in charge of the penalty kill and had a say on the defensive side of the game. The penalty kill was largely a point of strength for the Devils, even amid some rather bad seasons. However, in 2021-22, the penalty kill was not bad - but not good enough to justify another season under Nasreddine. The switch away from the passive diamond to the more-effective wedge-plus-one was an excellent move that did improve matters in following months. Yet, the team finished just 14th in success rate at 80.2% (170 kills out of 212). The on-ice rates for the PK were quite good in some stats and undercut by goaltending. However, he was kept on due to past great penalty kill success and without that success, the need to keep him on diminished. Additionally, he had a hand to a defense that had some great on-ice rate stats but a closer look at how they performed in game situations showed some really big flaws. Since Ruff was hired, the team tended to overload the puck carrier in the defensive zone and/or flood to the side where the puck is. This left their weakside much more open, which led to plenty of those scoring chances and leading directly goals against. The decline of Ty Smith in his second season was akin to a canary in a coal mine. When Smith spoke to that Nasreddine did work with him in Sunday’s media session, that confirmed of a thought I have had over the season: whether Nasreddine was effective at developing defenders. With younger defensemen possibly pushing for roles for next season, I am not filled with confidence of Nasreddine showing them how to improve. To that end, I can understand and agree with the decision to not retain Nasreddine for more seasons.
What Does This Mean for the Rest of the Staff?
I am surprised that the Devils have announced these two and nothing else. This implies that assistant coaches Dave Rogalski (goaltending) and Chris Taylor could be safe. As would head coach Lindy Ruff. If Fitzgerald is “evaluating” the coaches, then the announcement to fire Recchi and release Nasreddine would suggest that his evaluation of the staff may be done. Why announce other changes to the staff separately?
Then again, that could still happen. There is certainly no rule against it. Assistants are certainly not hired at the same time either. Fitzgerald’s evaluation process may be person by person and decided to pull the trigger on those two now and will focus on the others later. The fact that Recchi was fired means that the idea that a coach has another year left on his contract does not mean they are completely safe for next season.
Personally, I think the Devils really need to consider at least relieving Rogalski of his duties. (I also do not know what Taylor actually does.) Yes, the Devils had 7 goaltenders over the course of the season. Yes, a few were injured - Bernier with his hip, Blackwood with his ankle - which impacted their performances. A few were fill-ins who were depth goaltenders in other organizations for a reason, such as Jon Gillies and Andrew Hammond. Two were total rookies in Akira Schmid and Nico Daws. Expecting great seasons from any of them was likely asking too much. But for all 7 to combine for one of the worst team save percentages in the NHL (88.11% in all situations, 31st in the NHL; 89.7% in 5-on-5 situations, 32nd in the NHL) suggests that the goaltending coach has not done a good job getting the goaltenders prepared and making adjustments throughout the season. Yes, Rogalski was not in the crease. If Recchi was fired for a really bad power play performance by the team, then should Rogalski also be held accountable for bad goaltending? I think so. I am concerned that since he was not announced along with Recchi and Nasreddine that he could be safe.
As for the bigger question - what is the fate of Lindy Ruff? - today’s announcement makes me think it is more likely he will return for the final season on his contract. That would make letting him speak at the final media session make some sense. Giving him new assistants for special teams and/or offense and defense can be seen as one last chance to show that Ruff is capable behind the bench to put a more successful roster on the ice, he just needed different assistants. The public endorsements from Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt, two core players on team, further support the idea of giving him one more chance. There is value to keeping them happy. For the sake of Ruff, Tom Fitzgerald, and the 2022-23 season, I hope this chance works out - assuming that is what is going to happen. For all we know, there are more announcements of changes behind the bench coming in the future.
It is a real possibility. Other coaches becoming available may change management’s mind. For example, if Vancouver does not retain Bruce Boudreau - which is a real possibility per Darren Dreger - then the Devils should surely go after him, right? Of course, that may mean a longer wait. But it is a long offseason. There is plenty of time right now to use. Fitzgerald, at least, did not sit on this decision for too long.
Related to that, the Devils will also need to replace Recchi and Nasreddine. I would expect that to happen later in this offseason, at least after confirming whether Ruff is coming back or not.
The Devils have decided to not bring back Alain Nasreddine and to fire Mark Recchi. What is your action to both decisions? Do you agree with both? One and not the other? Neither of them? What do you think the Devils will do with the rest of the coaching staff? Do these two moves make it more likely that the rest of the staff is safe, including Lindy Ruff? Or do you think more changes are coming? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about today’s announcement in the comments. Thank you for reading.