This morning, the New Jersey Devils completed one of their offseason needs: an assistant coach. The team hired Andrew Brunette as an associate coach to fill in what was Mark Recchi’s responsibilities. The vacancy left by Alain Nasreddine’s departure is now filled in. The Devils announced this morning that they hired Ryan McGill to be an assistant coach for this upcoming season.
McGill is a very experienced coach. According to his Elite Prospects staff profile, McGill went into coaching at the junior level first with the Edmonton Ice of the WHL. After becoming a head coach in the 1997-98 season and continuing through 2001-02, he became a head coach in the AHL. First with Hartford for three seasons, two with Omaha, and two with Quad City. The previous two teams were Calgary affiliated franchises, and so the NHL Flames gave him a shot at an assistant coach in 2009-10 and 2010-11. That did not work out as well as McGill returned to major junior hockey as Kootenay’s head coach for three seasons (and Canada’s WJC coach in 2013) and two seasons as Owen Sound’s head coach in the OHL. When Las Vegas joined the league, he was named an assistant as part of Gerard Gallant’s inaugural staff. He was a Golden Knight up through last season. Now he joins New Jersey in the middle of his third decade of coaching.
Ryan Novozinsky’s article about the hire at NJ.com, which is limited to subscribers, has the important detail that McGill was primarily in charge of the defense in Las Vegas. It is fair to presume he will do the same in New Jersey. Therefore, he is Nasreddine’s replacement. To credit Novozinsky, he listed three possible candidates for an assistant coaching job yesterday at NJ.com and McGill was one of them. After his article on McGill being hired went up, Novozinsky tweeted out that the Devils may not be done with assistant coaching hires. We shall see whether that means Sergei Brylin is getting promoted or if someone else is coming in.
This leads to the obvious question: Is McGill any good? We can look at how Las Vegas has done defensively for the last five seasons.
For 5-on-5 situations, Natural Stat Trick is the place to visit. In 2017-18, they finished in the upper-half in the league in CA/60 and SA/60 with a top-ten xGA/60 of 2.36. In 2018-19, they were even better with a top-five rate in CA/60, a top-ten rate in SA/60, and a top-five xGA/60 of 2.24. In 2019-20 (and amid a head coaching change), Las Vegas was still very good at limiting opposition’s offense in 5-on-5 with the league’s third best CA/60, second best SA/60, and seventh best xGA/60 of 2.21. The pandemic-shortened 2021 season was not as kind defensively as the team finished 13th in CA/60, 5th in SA/60, and 20th (!) in xGA/60 with 2.34. McGill’s last season with the organization ended a bit better; 16th in CA/60, 7th in SA/60, and 15th in xGA/60 with 2.44. The last two seasons were not so kind from the perspective of the expected goals model. They peaked in 2018-19 and 2019-20 with arguably one of the best defenses in the NHL. Yet, the Knights were consistently at least a league-median team in 5-on-5 hockey when it came to limiting the opposition’s offense.
The penalty kill over the first five seasons of G-Knights hockey ranged from quite good to not-so-impressive in terms of success rate at NHL.com. However, no one season sticks out as particularly awful. That 77.4% success rate last season was 21st out of 32 teams and not excessively far from the league median of 79.5%.
Between those two along with the knowledge that McGill worked for two different head coaches, two different GMs, and a heap of player changes over the five seasons, I think it is fair to conclude that he knows what he is doing. Even their worst seasons were not so bad in 5-on-5 or shorthanded situations. And when it all came together, Las Vegas was a strong defensive team. It remains to be seen how the skaters take to McGill’s systems on defense (especially the defensemen); and how well his systems mesh with what Lindy Ruff wants to do. Still, I have to think this is a very good hire based on the results he had in Las Vegas. The additional experience at the major junior and minor league levels are pluses to go with his past NHL experience.
On paper, it appears to me the Devils upgraded their coaching staff by replacing Recchi and Nasreddine with Brunette and McGill. I believe that the Devils were held back last season in part by the coaching staff and their tactical shortcomings. I am hoping that will not be the case in 2022-23. Ruff’s staff is better than it was last season. Now we will need to see if Ruff can put it all together as the head coach for a more successful team.
That is my take on this hire. Now I want to know yours. Are you pleased with the Devils hiring Ryan McGill? Do you think he did a good job in Las Vegas? Do you think the Devils are set behind the bench for 2022-23, or do you think there will be further changes? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Ryan McGill and this hire in the comments. Thank you for reading.