The John Hynes era came to an end on Tuesday afternoon, as the New Jersey Devils fired their head coach after a 9-13-4 start to the season. General manager Ray Shero named assistant coach Alain Nasreddine as head coach on an interim basis, but that doesn’t mean the search for a new coach won’t begin right away.
Hynes’ did not employ the fastest, most aggressive offensive approach as Devils’ head coach. So Shero’s list should have some candidates that will implement a system that fits the modern NHL. Here are a few targets who should interest him.
Potential Fits for the Devils
Nasreddine has been behind the Devils’ bench since Hynes’ hiring in 2015. He has plenty of familiarity with their underachieving roster. And as Hynes’ assistant, he was in charge of running a penalty kill that was one of the league’s best, even during the team’s worst struggles.
The Devils had taken up some pretty bad habits under Hynes this season. They’ve struggled to generate offense and have been a mess breaking out of the defensive zone. It’ll be a lot to ask of Nasreddine, but his success running the penalty kill gives some hope he can stabilize the situation. If he can make some tweaks to their style of play that leads to a faster offensive approach, Shero should at least consider him for the permanent job.
The Wilkes-Barre Penguins, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL affiliate, has become a factory for NHL head coaches. Former and current coaches that operated behind their bench include Michel Therrien, Mike Sullivan, John Hynes, Dan Bylsma, Todd Richards, and Todd Reirden (from ‘Searching for John Hynes’ replacement: Potential candidates to be the Devils’ next coach’ – The Athletic – 12/4/19). And Vellucci may be next up.
Even though 2019-20 is Vellucci’s first in Wilkes-Barre, he’s built an impressive résumé. He spent 13 seasons as the Plymouth Whalers’ head coach in the OHL, compiling 468-268-36-54 record. But he left after the 2013-14 season to take a job as the Carolina Hurricanes’ assistant general manager and director of player development.
After three seasons, Vellucci became the head coach of the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers. He compiled a 97-43-11 record as their head coach in two seasons, winning the Calder Cup in 2018-19. He left for the Wilkes-Barre job this past June and continues to have success there. He should be a hot coaching candidate this offseason, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Shero consider the 53-year-old Vellucci.
Maclean had been out of NHL coaching for a while until the Columbus Blue Jackets hired him as an assistant coach a couple of weeks ago. He was brought in to help a struggling power play and has worked wonders, as the Blue Jackets have converted on 36.4% of their power play opportunities since his hiring.
Maclean had a solid run as an NHL head coach, too. He won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top head coach when he was with the Ottawa Senators in 2013. And even though he was let go by them in 2014, the Senators had some of the league’s best underlying numbers under Maclean. They played at a fast pace and were able to create offense, which makes him an enticing option for the Devils.
It’s only a matter of time before Gronborg earns a gig in the NHL. He’s the current head coach of the ZSC Lions in the NLA (Switzerland) and has coached the Swedish national team at pretty much every level. He was also a candidate for the Buffalo Sabres’ opening before they settled on hiring Ralph Krueger.
Gronborg’s teams are known for playing a fast, attacking style of hockey, as he’s done with the ZSC Lions. That fits what the Devils need, but his contract status complicates matters. His deal runs through 2021, and his NHL-out clause doesn’t kick in until the 2020 season. So as great a fit as he is, it seems unlikely he’ll be the Devils’ next coach. But if there is a way to work things out, he should be high on Shero’s list.
Dan Bylsma Should Top the List
Bylsma seems like a pretty obvious choice to replace Hynes, given his past relationship with Shero. He was the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins for five full seasons and finished with less than 45 wins in just one of those — the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. And, of course, there was the Stanley Cup ring he earned as the Penguins’ interim head coach after Shero fired Therrien in 2009.
After a disappointing exit in the 2013-14 playoffs, the Penguins would go on to fire Bylsma. He found work a year later as the Buffalo Sabres’ head coach but was let go after just two seasons. He may have the left Sabres on a sour note, but that shouldn’t scare NHL teams from hiring him:
The visual above may be a bit confusing, but it’s pretty simple. It shows coaching impacts, with the top row being on offense and the bottom being on defense. The percentage for offense should be positive, while the defensive percentage should be negative. In every season, including ones with the Sabres, Bylsma had a positive coaching impact on offense and defense.
With the Devils’ struggles at both ends of the ice, it makes Bylsma a great fit to be their head coach. He’d have a solid, young core to work with in former first overall picks, Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. They also have a decent prospect pool and should have another high pick in a loaded 2020 draft class. And he’d be a safer bet than hiring a coach without previous NHL experience.
Shero Can’t Botch This Hire
It’s been a long time since the Devils have had consistent success. It also looks like it’s going to take at least another season for them to become playoff contenders. Bylsma’s general track record of success makes him an obvious fit, but Vellucci or Maclean would be worth taking a gamble on, too. And don’t rule out Nasreddine if he turns the Devils into an organized and competitive team.
There’ll also undoubtedly be other candidates not mentioned here that’ll come up in the rumor mill. If Shero picks the right person, it could help accelerate the Devils’ path to becoming consistent contenders again. And with one playoff appearance since their run to the Stanley Cup in 2012, they can’t end up with anything less.