As the NHL has unfolded its plans for a postseason tournament to decide the 2020 Stanley Cup winner, seven teams will be left out of the “dance” including the New Jersey Devils.
For the Devils, the end of the season back in February and March was too little, too late. The 2019-20 regular season has officially ended and for the Devils, it was marred with disappointment. However, next season looks to be a turning point for the Devils organization and it remains to be seen what the team ownership will do in bringing changes to the organization’s leadership.
The term “interim” has hung over the top two leaders in the Devils organization for most of the season and “interim” leadership usually does not bring stability to a sports team. In the case of the Devils, the interim leadership of Tom Fitzgerald as general manager and Alain Nasreddine as head coach gave Devils fans a sense that the 2019-20 season was a waste of a year, and fans should just hold their breath and wait for the next season. Sports franchises who write off a season early on are rarely stable organizations and fan bases will find it harder and harder to support a team that gives up before a season is half over. Combined with the Covid-19 pandemic that has given us a new sense of “normal” including a full shutdown of all sports in North America, the Devils need to just move forward and plan out an attack to make next year a successful season.
The first area that the Devils ownership will no doubt look at is the general manager position.
Has Tom Fitzgerald done enough to remove the “interim” label to his job description?
With young players such as Blackwood, Hischier, and Hughes in place, the future of the Devils does look bright and a playoff run does seem plausible for next season. Maybe Tom Fitzgerald deserves another season at the GM and makes his position permanent. There are moving parts inside the Devils organization that show a glimmer of future success and Tom Fitzgerald seems to have made an honest effort to get things done and keep this organization moving forward despite so many setbacks.
The real question behind the future of the Devils looking into the 2020-21 season is who will be at the helm of this team come next training camp?
There are viable head-coaching candidates waiting to come in and take over the Devils and its a reasonable assumption that the owner is looking at these candidates as well.
Laviolette has a strong track record of taking three different teams to the Stanley Cup finals and winning once. Laviolette was fired by the Nashville Predators in January and was replaced by John Hynes who had just been fired as head coach of the Devils.
Laviolette brings a 637-425-24-123 impressive record as a head coach but Laviolette is primarily a defensive-minded coach-something the Devils definitely don’t need at this time.
The current interim head coach certainly will at least be interviewed for the permanent position but has Nasreddine done enough to take the interim part off of his title? Since he was brought in to lead the Devils in December, Nasreddine chalked up a 19-16-8 record which isn’t horrible but nothing inspiring either.
Part of the Devils’ success during Nasreddine’s tenure is due to the hot goaltending of Mackenzie Blackwood (and Cory Schneider’s resurgence helps as well) with a .911 save percentage since December and an even better .921 save percentage when playing five on five. The lackluster season cannot solely rest of the shoulders of an interim head coach but Nasreddine has shown that maybe now is not the right time for him in Newark.
If Nasreddine doesn’t get hired to continue coaching the Devils, he will no doubt find somewhere else to coach and he certainly is a future head coach-somewhere.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Gallant isn’t the front runner to become the next head coach of the Devils. Despite being fired by the Golden Knights this year, Gallant took a first-year expansion team and took them to the Stanley Cup finals. That alone speaks volumes to Gallant’s success overall as a head coach. Gallant’s 214-140-45 record as a head coach means he knows how to win and he’s regarded as a “players coach” meaning he has respect in the locker room.
Yes, he was fired at mid-season by Vegas but let’s face it, the 2019-20 season won’t go do as the “Year of the Coaches” in any hockey history books. Gerard Gallant is a talented head coach and could very well be a great fit for a rebuilding program such as the Devils.
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