Devils News & Rumors: Mukhamadullin, Recchi, Ruff & More

Around midday yesterday, the New Jersey Devils announced that assistant coaches Alain Nasreddine and Mark Recchi would not be returning to the team for the 2022-23 season. Recchi was relieved of his duties, while Nasreddine and the Devils agreed to mutually part ways by not renewing his contract, which was expiring this offseason. 

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In other news, P.K. Subban is the Devils’ nominee for the King Clancy Trophy, which is given to “the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” Plus, will Lindy Ruff return as head coach for 2022-23? And finally, it appears prospect Shakir Mukhamadullin is making his way to North America. Let’s catch up on it all in this edition of Devils news and rumors. 

Devils Make Changes to Coaching Staff

Given how the Devils’ season went, there were going to be changes to their coaching staff one way or another. While there could be more, Nasreddine (defense, penalty kill) and Recchi (forwards, power play) are at least one step in what will be a revamping of the team’s setup behind the bench. 

Let’s start with the man advantage. Given how much the Devils’ power play struggled under Recchi’s watch over the last two seasons, it seemed like a change was coming. In 2021-22, it finished ranked 28th in the NHL with a success rate of just 15.63 percent. That was only a slight improvement over 2020-21 when it scored on just 14.19 percent of its opportunities. 

There’s a reason the Devils haven’t had much power-play success over the last two seasons. It’s because they haven’t been able to generate shots and chances at a level to have even an average man advantage. Since the start of 2020-21, they’ve averaged the third-least amount of shot attempts and expected goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-4. The only teams who have been worse are the Arizona Coyotes and Detroit Red Wings (shot attempts) and Columbus Blue Jackets and Coyotes (xG). Micah Blake McCurdy of Hockey Viz tweeted out heatmaps of the Devils’ power play under Recchi, and it wasn’t pretty: 

If you’re confused by what you’re seeing, let’s go over it. The more yellow, orange, and red you see on the heatmap, the more potent the power play is. The more blue, purple, and dark purple, the less it generates. You’ll also notice the minus-19 and minus-23 percent next to xGF/60. That means the Devils’ power play was 19 and 23 percent below league average in generating expected goals in each of the last two seasons. That’s obviously not good enough, so it’s clear they needed a change. It might be a bit before they make a hire, but the man advantage should have a much different look in 2022-23. 

As for Nasreddine, he’s not a bad coach by any stretch. His penalty kills generally ranked in the top half of the NHL during his seven-year tenure in New Jersey. But sometimes, it’s just time for new ideas. Whether he wants to be an NHL assistant or possibly an AHL head coach, he shouldn’t have trouble finding a job with another organization this offseason. 

Subban Nominated for King Clancy

It should come as no surprise that Subban received a nomination for the King Clancy Award for the third time in his career. Since his time with the Montreal Canadiens, he’s been one of the most charitable players in the NHL. While in New Jersey, he’s been part of Blueline Buddies, which looks to bridge the gap between law enforcement and underserved children, per the release linked at the start of this article.

P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While the team didn’t have much success over the last three years with Subban on their roster, it’s no fault of his. He’s always been a class act off the ice regardless; his long Instagram post praising the Devils as a first-class organization says as much. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent come July 13 when free agency opens, and it doesn’t appear likely he’ll return to the Devils, at least at the moment. But he made his mark off the ice as he has during all his NHL stops, so it’d be nice to see him win the King Clancy Trophy for the first time in his career because he deserves it.

Is Ruff Returning?

General manager Tom Fitzgerald held a media availability this morning. One topic that came up was the future of Ruff and whether he’d return as head coach for 2022-23, but Fitzgerald seemed non-committal, saying everyone — including himself — is still under evaluation. 

Related: Devils Goaltending & Coaching Among Offseason Needs

Though Fitzgerald did say he’s under evaluation himself, I would be surprised if ownership decided to move on from him anytime soon. As for Ruff, that’s about as non-commital an answer as Fitzgerald could have said. There’s still time to decide on Ruff, and there should be plenty of coaching candidates available if Fitzgerald decides for an entirely new look behind the bench. But the question is, should Ruff return as head coach? 

As I’ve mentioned before, a coach is only as good as his goaltending, and the Devils’ had a team save percentage of .881 this season. No coach, not even Mike Sullivan or Jon Cooper, can win with that kind of goaltending. There is an argument to retain Ruff on that merit. But at the same time, you can’t ignore the Devils have only 46 wins over the last two seasons.

However, even if Fitzgerald looks to move on from Ruff as head coach, it sure seems like Ruff could join the Devils’ front office in some capacity based on this quote: 

Devils players made it known that they’re quite fond of Ruff during their exit interviews, specifically Jack Hughes. Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier and Hughes all took significant jumps under Ruff, while players like Yegor Sharangovich and Jesper Boqvist look like solid complementary players. Perhaps Ruff could join the front office in a player personnel/development role while having input in other decisions alongside Fitzgerald. That’ll be something to watch as the next few weeks of the offseason progress. 

Mukhamadullin Heading to North America

Aside from his comments on Ruff, Fitzgerald also announced that Mukhamadullin is making his way over from Russia and will be joining the Utica Comets for their AHL playoff run that begins this week. 

Mukhamadullin finished this season with seven points in 34 games for Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the KHL. After Luke Hughes, who’s heading to the World Championships with Team USA, he’s arguably the team’s best defensive prospect. At 6-foot-4, 194 pounds, Mukhamadullin offers an intriguing skillset that includes high-end potential in transition and moving the puck. There are questions about his defensive game, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the AHL. 

We’ll see how many games Mukhamadullin plays for the Comets now, but any time getting used to living in the states and playing on North American ice should be beneficial ahead of the 2022-23 season when he could be in a full-time role in the AHL with the Comets. 

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