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The New Jersey Devils have all but officially been in off-season mode for more than two and a half months now.
They still haven’t hired a head coach (or GM, although I think Tom Fitzgerald has a good shot at sticking around). They haven’t even announced that they’re going to move on from Alain Nasreddine.
That’s because he is still in the mix as one of four or five coaches the Devils are eying, according to Elliotte Friedman’s latest edition of 31 Thoughts
10. As for the coaching search, word is the Devils are eyeing at least four candidates. I believe that includes incumbent Alain Nasreddine, along with Gerard Gallant, Peter Laviolette and John Stevens. There may be one more. The wrinkle here is that Fitzgerald did the initial interviews, and will any of them want him as their boss should they be choice? It’s also possible ownership will want a conversation before any decision is made. It’s a unique time to try and hire someone.
• Nasreddine seems like somewhat of a player’s coach. He has also historically coached an above average-to-high-end penalty killing unit. That’s the good news. The Devils’ team defense was even worse with him behind the bench, though, and the offense wasn’t nearly good enough to make up for it. If not for four months of all-world goaltending from Mackenzie Blackwood, the Nasreddine-coached Devils likely would have been strong contenders for 30th place (nobody was touching Detroit). He seems like a good guy but I don’t think he is the answer. He’s lowest on the totem pole for me.
• I think I speak for everyone when I say Gerard Gallant would be an A-level hire for the Devils. He had a solid run in Florida, enjoyed great success in Vegas, and his teams play a very modern game. They’re fast, aggressive on the forecheck, and generally fun to watch whether they win or lose. He’s definitely the top option for me of the rumored candidates.
• Peter Laviolette is a good coach for a veteran team close to winning. He’s more of an in your face bench boss than you generally see these days. Laviolette is good at riling up his players and getting the extra 10% from them. He does tend to over utilize gritty, hard-working forwards, though. His style also seems to have a shorter shelf life. If the Devils were well into their cycle, I’d be fine with Laviolette. Unless there’s a new version of him, I don’t think he is the right guy for the Devils. Could they use some more personality and physicality? Sure. But I’m not sure Lavioette screaming about playing with more jam is going to maximize what you get from Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, and Nikita Gusev. It’s just not the way they’re built.
• John Stevens is the coaching equivalent of going to a quality restaurant and getting the $15 burger combo. It’s pretty good. It does the job; you’re no longer hungry. That said, it was nothing special and you were hardly wow’d by it. A few hours later you probably end up regretting your purchase and wish you spent the extra chunk of change for a high-end meal. You were cheap and picked something you liked instead of something you loved. I think that’s what the Devils would be doing if they hired Stevens over Gallant.
• Lastly, I pray Bruce Boudreau is the “one more.” He probably isn’t. But I hope he is. People will point to his playoff success, or lack thereof, but I think his struggles have more to do with running into a hot goaltender and/or poor puck luck than anything else. Crazy things can happen in seven game segments. You know when they can’t? When you miss the playoffs, something the Devils have gotten quite familiar with. Say what you want about Boudreau but he has gotten his teams – be it in Washington, Anaheim or Minnesota – to the dance time after time after time after time.
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