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It started with the hiring of 40-year old John Hynes, who became the youngest head coach in the NHL upon joining the New Jersey Devils on June 2. It was perceived as an uncharacteristic move to the Devils faithful, who are more accustomed to seeing the same coaches- or at least different coaches that implement the same playing systems that adhere to the “philosophy” the organization has always abided by throughout the illustrious Lou Lamoriello era.
Serving as assistants to Hynes will be Alain Nasreddine (39) and Geoff Ward (53). Both coaches have considerable experience with stints in the NHL, AHL, and leagues overseas. It was anticipated that Nasreddine would follow Hynes to New Jersey after serving as his assistant for the past five seasons in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. This coaching change provides a much-needed breath of fresh air for the Devils.
Ward is the most tenured out of the two with over twenty years of coaching experience. He was head coach for four and a half seasons between the Kitchener Rangers and Guelph Storm in the OHL, where he went 152-123-28-5. He coached the Hamilton Bulldogs to a Calder Cup Finals appearance in 2003 and coached the Toronto/Edmonton Roadrunners between 2003 and 2005, attaining an 83-80-13-19 record. After a brief stint with the DEL’s Iserlohn Roosters in 2006-2007 (24-24-4), Ward returned to North America and served as Claude Julien’s assistant for seven seasons, helping the Bruins to a Stanley Cup and two more Cup Finals appearances before going back to Germany. He spent last season as head coach of Adler Mannheim, winning the league championship and coach of the year award.
Nasreddine does not have the plethora of previous experience that Ward does, however he has still achieved a lot in his five years of coaching under Hynes. While handling the defense with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the team managed to allow the fewest goals in the league for four out of the five seasons that Nasreddine ran the defense. Many talented young defensemen came through the ranks as well under Nasreddine’s watch. With the young defensemen that the Devils currently have, there is a lot of reasons to be optimistic about how the young guns will progress.
While it is believed that Nasreddine will be running the defense, Ward could provide a lot of assurance for how the Devils young defense will be handled. Over the seven seasons he spent in Boston, noteworthy blue liners like Mark Stuart, Johnny Boychuk, Torey Krug, and Dougie Hamilton broke into the league and established themselves as some of hockey’s most desired defensemen. Considering how Boston has fared way better than the Devils in the regular season and playoffs during that span, the ripening defense that Ward and the rest of the coaching staff have at their disposal should be in good hands.
Chris Terreri is expected to return next season as goaltending coach and has had conversations with Hynes in recent weeks. Considering how goaltending has been the only consistent bright spot for the Devils over the years, it’s hard to consider this a contestable decision if/when it comes to fruition. Terreri was the goaltending coach for the recent Devils goaltenders, including Martin Brodeur, Johan Hedberg, Cory Schneider, and Keith Kinkaid. Goaltending is the only thing the Devils do not need to worry about, and as such, it would be wise if Terreri continued to hold the reigns in that department.
There was immediate backlash amongst the Devils’ faithful upon finding out former assistant/co-coach Scott Stevens won’t be part of next season’s coaching staff. Stevens was lauded for the influence he had on Adam Larsson’s midseason turnaround when he and Adam Oates succeeded Peter DeBoer back in December. However, there is some debate as to whether Larsson’s progress was a result of Stevens’ coaching or if it was just the departure of DeBoer.
Dating as far back as Lemaire’s second head coaching stint in New Jersey (six years and four coaching changes ago), Lamoriello and whoever his head coach was had habitually recycled the same cast of assistants. Names like Adam Oates, Scott Stevens, Jacques Caron, Chris Terreri, Larry Robinson, and Tommy Albelein have appeared and reappeared, sometimes going into a new season with a different role on the coaching staff. It was not until Peter DeBoer’s tenure in New Jersey that we started to see some fresh faces get incorporated into the mix. Assistants like Matt Shaw, Dave Barr, and Mike Foligno made appearances behind the Devils bench, but weren’t able to help DeBoer orchestrate a postseason return.
While the Devils have gone with three or four assistants in the past, it appears as if Hynes will only carry these two with him going into the season. The longtime coaching formula Lamoriello has gone with over the years worked at one time; between bringing back the same faces over the years when the game changed while the organization’s general approach on how to the play game stayed relatively stagnant, and the Devils’ misfortunes over the past three seasons, the structural and personal changes that occurred to the coaching staff should be welcomed with open arms.
The Devils can very well enter the season with two of the youngest coaches in the league. With the newly installed coaching staff comprised of components from two of the league’s elite teams, they will have a firmer grasp on how to operate more efficiently in the modernized NHL. With Shero at the helm, they should be able to implement a fresh coaching perspective without being forcibly influenced by the overdone traditional philosophies that were strictly implemented during the years Lamoriello presided as general manager.