Editor’s Note: The following piece is based purely off speculation, and only represents the writer’s opinion, and not the entire Devils Army Blog staff.
While the New Jersey Devils are preparing for their second playoff game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, their cross-rival rivals, the New York Rangers, are about to begin searching for their next head coach. Just hours after completing their final game of the season— a 5-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, Alain Vigneault was relieved of his duties after five seasons behind the Rangers bench. He, along with many other key members of his coaching staff were dismissed by general manager Jeff Gorton, who was quoted saying he’s looking for a “fresh start” in that department. That could result in anything from an experienced fresh face (like a Dave Tippett or Dan Bylsma), or a younger and/or rookie head coach (similar to the Devils hiring of Hynes).
So what does this mean for the Devils?
If Gorton decides to go with the latter option (which I think he will), he could look across the river for a potential candidate— Devils Assistant Coach, Geoff Ward. Currently in his third season with New Jersey, Ward has been in charge of the offense and power play (which finished 9th and 10th in 2016 and 2018, respectively). Ward certainly played a role in the Devils’ offensive turnaround this year, despite having relatively limited resources to work with for parts of the season.
What’s more impressive about Ward (and could make him a suitable candidate) is his extensive coaching résumé. Prior to his three seasons in New Jersey, Ward served as an assistant coach with the Boston Bruins for seven seasons (2007-2014). During that time, he won a Stanley Cup in 2011, and made another run to the Finals in 2013. Ward reportedly considered for the Calgary Flames head coaching job in the spring of 2016, which shows his credentials haven’t gone unnoticed.
Like Ward, Gorton also has ties to the Bruins organization, where he worked for 15 years, spending eight of them as Assistant General Manager (1999-2007). Gorton (like most general managers) has shown he won’t shy away from making deals with former teams, as evidenced by his pair of trades with the Bruins this past trade deadline.
Aside from the haul he got from trading Rick Nash and Nick Holden to the Bruins, Gorton has brought in players with Boston ties like Paul Carey and Jimmy Vesey. While they weren’t in the Bruins organization at the same time (Gorton left after the 2006-2007 season, Ward was brought in 2007-2008), their mutual ties could be enough to warrant speculation that Ward may be someone on Gorton’s radar.
Ward would come in as a rookie head coach with a decade’s worth of experience behind the bench. At 56 years of age, Ward isn’t the youngest candidate Gorton will probably consider, but his prior experience could still make him someone ideal to develop as a head coach with a young rebuilding team. During Ward’s time in Boston, he helped develop star-caliber forwards (many drafted by Gorton in his brief stint as Bruins General Manager in 2006) like David Krejci, Milan Lucic, along with current core players like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
He’s certainly been impactful in the current development of Devils rookie forwards, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, along with the huge steps taken by younger players like Miles Wood, Stefan Noesen, and Blake Coleman, whose depth scoring helped get New Jersey into the playoffs.
While it would be unfortunate to see Ward go (especially across the river), you couldn’t blame him for jumping on an opportunity to further advance his career. Right now, Ward is focused on getting the Devils on track in their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which I’m sure teams with head coaching vacancies like the New York Rangers are monitoring.