The New Jersey Devils are reeling.
After a promising off-season that saw the additions of star blue-liner P.K. Subban, 2019 first-overall pick Jack Hughes and the return of former league MVP Taylor Hall, the Devils find themselves closer to boosting Hall’s lottery luck than sending him back to the post-season.
A paltry 9-14-4 record through the first quarter of the season prompted a coaching change Tuesday, with GM Ray Shero relieving John Hynes of his duties and tabbing Alain Nasreddine as the club’s interim head coach.
Speaking to the media Tuesday, Shero didn’t mince his words when asked about the club’s performance thus far.
“Everybody had higher expectations but it’s just collectively as a group, I don’t think there’s any one player that is performing even at the level — let alone above — that we’d expect, or maybe they expect. That’s the thing that’s disappointing,” Shero said.
Asked to identify the moment he knew a change was needed, Shero had plenty to choose from. The start of the season, the ensuing slide, the back-to-back tough losses over the past week to the New York Rangers (a 4-0 shutout) and Buffalo Sabres (a 7-1 drubbing).
“I think the start to the season, which obviously was 0-4-2, was not what anybody anticipated. And I think that set a lot of things back. Obviously you’re head’s spinning — and we cost ourselves games, we lost in every way imaginable, it seemed,” Shero said.
“And then, you know … after the Montreal game (a 6-4 win) we were 9-7-2 and I think (had a) .556 winning percentage, but it still was like a win was followed by a bad loss, or we had maybe a two-game winning streak and then a bad (game).
“I think obviously the Rangers game was not good and the Buffalo game was … I’m not even sure how to describe it.”
Shero seemed near exasperated discussing the club’s lacklustre play in 2019-20, which has seen only one player on the roster (Hall) top even 20 points so far.
“You know, I don’t think I’m sitting here saying something that’s not true. I think they’re better than this. But we’ll have to see,” the GM said. “Usually it’s, you know, five-six guys that are having down years, or three guys are doing great, other guys are doing pretty good.
“It’s hard to see after 20-some games here that we’ve had that from anybody. So, it’s a big challenge.”
The Devils brass aren’t necessarily expecting interim head coach Nasreddine to walk in and right the ship, however. Changes to the style of play may come, but the onus is on those wearing the logo on their chest to turn this 2019-20 campaign around.
Asked why Nasreddine is the right coach to get the most out of these players, Shero said simply: “We’ll see. Again, like, I think the players gotta get some more out of themselves. It’s not up to a coach — like with anything, systematically, I’m sure there will be some tweaks as we go along. But this is a challenge for the players.”
More important than which system is put in place is how the players work within it, according to the veteran manager.
“Our teams were very well-prepared, and I know that. But it goes down to execution. I mean, some of you saw the game last night. We can’t make a five-foot pass.”
That being said, Shero said he doesn’t level the blame at Hynes, who’s worked with Shero dating back to the GM’s days in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
“I have a lot of respect for John Hynes. I really do,” Shero said.
“And I think he did a great job here — I’m happy I hired him and I think he did an incredible job pushing us. We were going and then all of a sudden, like a roller-coaster, just started coming back down a bit.
“To get over that hump, I think the change needed to be made.”