Former New Jersey Devils goaltender Kevin Weekes has become an insider with a gimmick: reports from various locations in short clips on social media. This morning, right before the noon start to free agency, Weekes was backstage at a studio stating that Andrew Brunette is joining the New Jersey Devils coaching staff with a three year contract.
This is a significant signing up there with any player signed or moved today. Brunette was the interim head coach for the Florida Panthers; he was an assistant to the now disgraced Joel Quenneville. The 2021-22 Panthers under Brunette went on to go 51-18-6 to set a franchise record best season by 19 points. Florida won the President’s Trophy. Brunette was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year. Florida won its first playoff series in 26 years with Brunette’s leadership. All looked great for Brunette as a head coach.
However, Florida being swept by Tampa Bay clearly made Panthers management think of going in a different direction behind the bench. Florida opted to let Brunette go and hire Paul Maurice as head coach. Even if the thinking is that he was in over his head in the Lightning series, he had the Panthers excel in 2021-22 when things could have fallen apart when Quenneville was rightfully deposed. Further, Brunette is an experienced assistant coach. He served as Quenneville’s assistant for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons in addition to the seven games before being given the interim tag last season. Brunette was an assistant in Minnesota for two seasons back in 2014-15 and 2015-16. I personally think Brunette should have been given the job full time in Sunrise. Florida’s error appears to be New Jersey’s gain.
Brunette should satisfy two needs. The first is the obvious gap behind the bench for assistant coaches. The Devils fired Mark Recchi and let go of Alain Nasreddine after last season. They needed to be replaced. Brunette fills one of those two gaps. His past includes coaching the power play, so I would think he fits in the gap left by Recchi. Brunette would almost have to try to come up with a less effective power play than the statuesque system Recchi committed the Devils to performing.
The second is not as obvious and perhaps more cynical. If you believe that head coach Lindy Ruff is on borrowed time and needs to provide results as soon as possible to keep his job, then it would be wise to have a replacement ready to go. Brunette is absolutely in a position to do so. Again, I think he demonstrated he can handle the position with the 51 wins the Panthers put up under him in the season and the franchise’s first playoff series win in decades. He did so under surprising circumstances, too. If there is someone who needs to step in for a fired coach, then this is the best guy out there to do it at the moment. Additionally, Ruff is in the final year of his contract. Even if things do go well for the Devils - and I really want them to - there is a possibility Ruff moves on or takes a different role. Brunette would be right there to take over.
I’m really pleased with this news. I sincerely believe that coaching was one of the reasons why the Devils missed the playoffs by over 30 points last season. It’s one thing to have talent, but talent can rarely overcome an inefficient or ineffective game plan. Brunette is an absolute upgrade to what they had on the bench last season. Short of a massive free agent signing, this news may be the best of what is to come today for the New Jersey Devils. Even if all he ultimately does is make the power play more than mildly threatening once in a while.
What do you make of the Devils signing Andrew Brunette? What do you expect from him joining the staff? Do you believe this makes the Devils better for next season? Please leave your answers and reactions in the comments. Thank you for reading.