For the 17th time in franchise history, the Devils will have a different person behind the bench when they start the 2015-16 NHL season. John Hynes, the former head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins – AHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins – will be the man in New Jersey next year.
Hynes, 40 years-old, will be the youngest head coach in the league when the puck drops for the first time next year. He has never coached in the NHL before, but did go 231-126-10-17 in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton over five seasons. His Baby Pens also qualified for the AHL playoffs in each of those five years. This past season, they made it as far as the semifinals in the Eastern Conference (after sweeping the Syracuse Crunch in three straight), where they were eliminated by the Manchester Monarchs in five games in the Calder Cup postseason. While coaching in the AHL, Hynes’ team had the best record in the league in 2010-11, the year he won the Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award as AHL coach of the year (on a side note, current Devils GM Ray Shero’s father, Fred, won this same award in 1969-70 as coach of the Buffalo Bisons).
Shero told NHL.com and the Devils’ website that “I had a very short list to start with, I talked to a number of different coaches about philosophies. Not about the Devils job in particular. … I did not offer this job to anyone other than John Hynes.” Rich Chere of NJ.com and the Star-Ledger mentioned that that “list is believed to” have included “Guy Boucher, Dan Bylsma, Todd Reirden and Phil Housley, but Hynes seemed to be the choice from the very beginning.” NHL.com had mentioned a report as recently as Sunday, May 30, that Housley, the former Devils defenseman and current Nashville Predators’ assistant, was the frontrunner for the job.
A major question brought up by this hiring is: what kind of coach is Hynes? What kind of philosophy does he bring behind the bench? We do know that he worked with the United States National Team Development Program for “parts of nine seasons as a coach” according to NHL.com. In that time, he got to have a hand in the development of such players as Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk of the Maple Leafs, Ryan Kesler of the Ducks, Zach Parise of the Wild and Devils goalie Cory Schneider. In Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the team was known for its defense-first mentality, keeping in mind that Pittsburgh did not have much offensive talent to give to their AHL team due to picking lower in the draft most of his time there. According to Chere, Shero “defined the Devils’ identity” as fast, attacking and supportive and, as Shero and Hynes are certainly on the same page (this was 100% Shero’s hire, not Lou Lamoriello’s – Chere even points out that, while Lou was in the room at the press conference, he was not on the dias introducing the coach), it seems that this is where Hynes will take New Jersey.
Another question that arises with this hiring is what will happen to former Devils’ co-coaches Adam Oates and Scott Stevens? The answer, according to Chere is that they will not be on the staff. Hynes is apt to bring his assistant from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Alain Nasreddine, with him. As pointed out by Chere and most fans of the team, the loss of Stevens is not a good development. The Hockey Hall of Famer worked exclusively with the defense last year after Lamoriello hired Oates to coach the forwards, took his place behind the bench and also brought back Stevens, who had spent some time with the team under Peter DeBoer. Stevens did a fantastic job in helping bring about New Jersey’s young defense corps, Adam Larsson in particular. Having that kind of defensive knowledge behind the bench could only be a plus for the Devils, but it seems that GM Shero wants to start fresh with his own guys and Stevens would not fit this plan. Another point is that losing Stevens could alienate a part of the fanbase. Stevens is, of course, a major part of the Devils history and letting him walk might not make a lot of fans happy. Especially following the announcement that Martin Brodeur would not be coming back to work in the team’s front office and was allowed to remain with the St. Louis Blues. Chere does point out that Devils goaltending coach Chris Terreri will most likely be coming back.
Overall, I think most Devils fans will be (and should be) pleased with this hire. Hynes is not a retread of a guy who got fired elsewhere and simply moved to another location on the NHL map via the coaching carrousel. New blood is a good way to get the team moving into the future and a way for the Devils to develop further as a team. They are getting a coach who, as Shero pointed out at his press conference, has had success at every level he has coached at “and we are fully confident in what he will bring to the Devils organization.”
Shero knew the man he wanted for the job. He and Hynes have had a working relationship going back to their Pittsburgh days and he knows what Hynes brings to the table. Fans have to put faith in the fact that the two men know each other and can work well together. This will give stability, as when the going gets rough, Shero’s first reaction will not be to change coaches.
Things are not going to change overnight, however. Just because the team made a new hire does not mean they will be a Stanley Cup contender next season, necessarily. There are still some parts that need fixing, the forwards in particular. The team has a great core in its solid goaltending and its defense with a good balance of youth and veteran leadership. Although the Devils might be a few years from contending and the 2015-16 season might be another without playoffs for New Jersey’s fans, we should not lose sight that what the Devils are doing here is building for the future and that future looks bright as of today.