Regardless of the eventual outcome of the 2019-2020 NHL season, this year will be a year the New Jersey Devils would like to bury deep in the back of any media guide.
Call it a rebuilding year, or a building year or even a terrible season from the beginning, the Devils have managed to sink to the bottom of the NHL feeding tank since the beginning of the season in October. It should be noted that there are many reasons to be optimistic for next year in Newark: the play of Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes and Mackenzie Blackwood alone show that the Devils have a chance to be a really good team and once all of the pieces of the puzzle are put together maybe, just maybe this team will live up to its potential.
As with any other type of sports organization, the team begins at the top and works its way down to the bottom and at the top is where the Devils seem to have the biggest problems.
The term “interim” seems to be a common title for front office and coaching staff members in the Devils organization these days. The current Devils general manager, Tom Fitzgerald, has “interim” in front of his GM title as he was elevated to that position upon the unceremonious firing of a long time NHL executive Ray Shero on January 12, 2020. Tom Fitzgerald has tried to keep this team moving forward and lately, it seems that the Devils are finally starting to make a move for the better, if not for this season than building momentum for next year. However, there is something that is tenuous at best and temporary at worst with the word interim before any organizational title.
Interim GM Tom Fitzgerald has no idea if he will be affiliated with the Devils in a matter of months let alone years from now and maybe that is why the Devils didn’t make waves during the recent NHL trade deadlines. Keep low and finish out the season as best as we can maybe the mantra floating around the Prudential Center right now.
Getting even closer to the ice is the next level of interim- as in interim head coach Alain Nasreddine. Nasreddine was elevated to the interim coaching job after the removal of John Hynes in the early part of last December. Remember, both Hynes and Nasreddine are old friends and have been coaching together since their AHL days and have moved up the NHL food chain to become head coaches- Hynes landed on his feet in Nashville a little over a month after being fired by the Devils and Nasreddine was promoted to replace Hynes as interim head coach. There is no doubt that both Hynes and Nasreddine are still friends and it was only a matter of time before Nasreddine landed a head coaching job somewhere. The question remains: should Nasreddine stay as the permanent head coach of the New Jersey Devils?
On the surface in terms of wins, goals scored, overtime wins and losses and other statistics that make up a hockey statistician’s purpose in life, there has been little difference between the two New Jersey head coaches this season. Both have found that life on the ice at the Prudential Center has been largely fruitless this current season except for some bright spots here and there (Hischier, Hughes & Blackwood bringing lots of sunshine to an otherwise dark season.) Hynes has been accused by many hockey pundits of coaching a “safe,” defensive style of hockey that tries to grind out games based on grit and hard physical play. This style of play is right up the alley for Alain Nasreddine, a former journeyman NHL blueliner. Once again, this style of play is great if it’s 1970 but in the era of NHL hockey in 2019-2020 fans want to see an exciting offensive play and lots of shots taken and goals scored.
In most sports, there’s an old saying that “defense wins championships” but to the front office of any team sport there’s another old adage: “offense sells tickets.”
Is there a reason to keep Alain Nasreddine around? With the blinding speed of NHL coach firings this season so far, there are plenty of qualified job candidates ready to submit their resumes to the Devils ownership. Coaches from Gerard Gallant to Bruce Boudreau to Peter Laviolette are all just a phone call away. Is there a particular reason to let Alain Nasreddine go after the end of this season? It depends upon whether or not the Devils ownership feels that Nasreddine has what it takes to turn the Devils fortunes around and lead them next year to a winning season and make a Stanley Cup playoff run.
With all of the uncertainty of our daily lives weighing heavily on our minds, maybe it is prudent to just keep Alain Nasreddine exactly the way he is with the Devils right now – their interim or temporary head coach. As a result of uncertainty and instability all around us let alone in professional hockey, maybe Alain Nasreddine needs another chance to lead the Devils and prove that he is a head coach on the rise.
With the NHL season hanging in the balance of the coronavirus and the global chaos it has wrought down up our society, maybe the New Jersey Devils need to just sit back and see what happens in the next few weeks and re-evaluate Alain Nasreddine’s future with the team down the road in calmer, more stable times.
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