Devils Need Coaching Change After Nightmare Start

Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, the New Jersey Devils outdid themselves yesterday afternoon at the Prudential Center. After building a 4-1 lead in the second period, the Florida Panthers fought back and scored five unanswered goals to win the game in regulation. It was the second time in six games they’ve blown a 4-1 lead, with the first coming against the Winnipeg Jets on opening night. 

John Hynes, New Jersey Devils
John Hynes’ tenure may be over after the Devils’ debacle against the Panthers (Photo by Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

It was a downright embarrassing performance from the Devils, as they showed no resiliency in the face of adversity. Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes to the Devils’ problems. And yesterday’s result is a sign of more troubling issues that could have been the final nail in the coffin on head coach John Hynes’ tenure. 

Devils’ Disaster Versus Panthers

In what looked like a near carbon copy of the Devils’ regular-season opener, the team managed to blow another three-goal lead. But there were some glaring differences in how they looked yesterday. 

Unlike their game against the Jets, the Devils got demolished by the Panthers at five-on-five. The Devils finished their game against the Jets with a 44-42 shot attempt advantage but were out-attempted 46-26 by the Panthers and had just four shot attempts in the third period. 

That’s what’s most troubling about how the Devils played yesterday. They gave up two goals towards the end of the second period but still maintained a 4-3 lead heading into the second intermission, which gave them a chance to regroup. Instead, they gave up a goal less than a minute into the third period, and there’d be no looking back for the Panthers. They outscored the Devils 3-0, out-attempted them 14-4, and out-chanced them 7-1 through the rest of the game.

This hasn’t been a one-game problem for the Devils, either. Here’s where their Corsi for percentage (CF%), expected goals for percentage (xGF%), scoring chances for percentage (SCF%), and high-danger chances for percentage (HDCF%) rank in the NHL after last night: 

  • CF%: 45.88% (25th)
  • xGF%: 46.78% (26th)
  • SCF%: 44.59 (25th)
  • HDCF: 48.68% (23rd)

Their shot rates have never been great under Hynes, but they’ve sunk to new lows to start this season, as they’re a bottom-ten team in every category. And that may be a sign of more systemic issues that have finally caught up to them in what is his fifth season as their head coach.

Related: Panthers Rally from 3 Goals Down, Beat Devils 6-4

Another thing that can’t be shrugged off is the Devils’ sloppy play in the defensive and neutral zones. Time and time again, they’ve made careless turnovers that have put them in a tough spot, and they’ve been getting consistently burned on the scoreboard. The blame falls on the players for this, too. But the coaches haven’t shown an ability to fix some of these mistakes, especially on breakout passes and zone exits.

If Hynes Goes, Who Replaces Him?

That’s one of the difficult tasks of firing a coach just six games into the season. There aren’t a lot of candidates readily available, so general manager Ray Shero has to make sure he has someone in place. Here are a few potential candidates:

Dan Bylsma

If you search Bylsma’s name and the Devils on Twitter, you’re going to get a lot of hits. He seems to be the popular choice to succeed Hynes among fans, and his past success with Shero makes him an ideal candidate. With that said, hiring him won’t be that easy, as he’s an assistant on Jeff Blashill’s staff with the Detroit Red Wings. 

Dan Bylsma
Dan Bylsma would be a top choice for the Devils as a new head coach. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

If Shero isn’t able to get him out of Detroit before season’s end, he should be on top of the Devils’ list for new head coaches come next year. He’s one of the few coaches in the NHL who’s had a positive impact on both offense and defense. And given the makeup of the Devils’ roster and their skilled forwards, he’d be the right person for the job.

Mark Dennehy

If the Devils are looking to go the interim route, promoting Dennehy, who’s the Binghamton Devils’ head coach, could be an option. It’s his second season as their AHL affiliate’s head coach, and he spent the previous 13 years behind Merrimack University’s (NCAA) bench. It also helps he’s familiar with the organization’s philosophy and style of hockey they’re looking to play, which could make the transition easier.

Paul Maclean

He would be a bit of a darkhorse candidate to replace Hynes. Maclean hasn’t been an NHL head coach since 2014-15 when he was let go by the Ottawa Senators. He landed on his feet as an assistant under Bruce Boudreau in Anaheim but didn’t have his contract renewed by the Ducks in 2017 (he’s been unemployed since).

Related: Devils’ John Hynes Squarely on the Hot Seat

Although Maclean was let go by the Senators, their five-on-five shot rates under him were quite impressive — they had a 53.62 CF% (5th in the NHL) in 2012-13 and 52.37 CF% (8th in the NHL) in 2013-14. And did I mention he won Jack Adams award in 2013 as the NHL’s top head coach? The long layoff is a concern, but that’s why there’s the interim tag. He’s available, and if he’s interested in returning to coaching, Shero should give him plenty of consideration. 

Shero Must Take Devils’ Future Into Account

After drafting Jack Hughes with the first pick at the Entry Draft in June, the Devils need to think about their long-term plans. His development — along with Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and the rest of their prospects — will determine what the team looks like in three to five years from now. If Shero doesn’t think Hynes is the right person to develop those players, then they have to cut ties.

New Jersey Devils Jack Hughes
The New Jersey Devils’ future hinges on Jack Hughes’ development. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Shero also needs to consider Taylor Hall, who could be an unrestricted free agent in July, and his situation. A bad start to the season may not change how he feels about the team, but if it drags out over a couple of months, that will change. The Devils are a much better team with him on the ice, so losing him would not end well. 

The bottom line is the NHL, like any pro sports league, is results-driven. And the Devils have not gotten a positive result in any game yet. Hynes has done good things for the organization, but sometimes a change is needed. A coach’s message can begin to wear off when the losses start piling up, especially when they’ve had the first overall pick two of the last three years. A fresh set of ideas would be welcomed by a Devils’ team that needs it not only for this season but in the years to come.

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