Devils’ offseason begins with assistant changes and more lotto luck

With another draft lottery in the books and decisions announced on the coaching staff, the Devils offseason now appears pretty much on hiatus until July for the most part. Things certainly began with a bang on both fronts though, starting with the Devils announcing that they were parting ways with assistants Alain Nasreddine and Mark Recchi, while showing no indication of making a change at the head coaching position despite the team’s worst record in thirty-five years. Honestly though I’ve gone back and forth on this, you could make a case for Lindy Ruff getting a third season with a new staff, especially given the COVID-compressed schedule in his first season and the goaltending dumpster fire of this season.

Maybe if Lindy was a career assistant with no track record of success before coming here, I’d be more on the fire the head coach bandwagon – but unless we hear about an extension he’s still going to be on a short leash regardless – given he signed a three-year contract initially. I don’t think there’ll be a change at this point though, and no I don’t buy the Barry Trotz pipe dream despite the fact GM Tom Fitzgerald was at one point the captain of his Nashville team. Both because I don’t see us giving a head coach as much say as Trotz will want, nor do I think Trotz would pick us over more potential win-now choices anyway…if he even wants to remain as a head coach, since some rumors have him wanting to try his hand in management.

Plus, whatever you think about Lindy, it was time for changes on the staff regardless. Recchi in particular was a disaster here – at least in terms of running a power play, after two seasons of underachieving with the Penguins’ PP. While Nasreddine is probably a decent NHL assistant, the fact is he’s been here under two staffs now with an interim head coach stint in between, and almost all of them in the midst of poor seasons aside from the 2017-18 playoff run. There was no way you could stick him on a third different staff if (when?) the Devils do make a change from Ruff down the road, and given his contract was up it may well have been a mutual decision to part ways. Hopefully the actual head coach has more input on this staff at least – maybe a promotion for ex-Sabre Chris Taylor? It also wouldn’t surprise me if Kevin Dineen got promoted to the NHL staff after a solid season down in Utica, assuming he doesn’t get an actual head job somewhere else.

After exit interviews and the staff announcements came the latest lotto drama yesterday. I admit I was kind of ambivalent about the lottery until then, in part because I’m just tired of it and in part because I figured we were due for some bad luck anyway, though a worst case would have had us only dropping to seven with just two drawings this year. Not to mention projected #1 overall Shane Wright plays center and would have been merely strengthening a strength after the breakouts of Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier this year, as well as the emergence of rookie Dawson Mercer at center/wing. Perhaps winding up #2 was actually a best-case scenario for the Devils in a way, given three of the main options at that pick are all at positions of need – either Slovakian power forward Juraj Slafkovsky or fellow Slovak blueliner Simon Nemec, as well as defenseman David Jiricek from the Czech Republic. My early pick based on nothing but feel is that the Devils will go with Slafkovsky given Fitz’s wish (as well as mine) to add a legit power forward with skill to a group of smaller, shiftier players up front. Any BPA from that group should do however. Either way, I doubt trading #2 overall would be on the table.

Despite my initial ambivalence, I admit that I was amused at once again drawing the long straw, especially when the top three for once also didn’t include another division rival. As it stood, it was Montreal who wound up with the top pick and deservedly so, given they finished with the worst record in the league – even after interim coach Martin St. Louis led them on a late-season surge after he got hired. It probably makes Gary Bettman and the suits at the NHL a little happier, given that the draft is actually in Montreal. For an added bonus, their fans won’t have to go anywhere after the inevitable drafting of Wright since Montreal also has Calgary’s first-rounder at least. I’m sure fans around the league were less happy that we wound up with yet another lotto win, just when the new rules limiting a team to win twice in five years started. This might not be our last season in the lotto, but hopefully it’s the last season where we have a realistic chance of winning one. It’d take one heck of a leap on paper to make up the thirty-seven points from our season total of 63 to the playoff cutoff line of 100, but in an ideal world next season we build a huge part of the bridge to clear that gap.

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