The NHL season is only a few weeks old, and most teams are still trying to find their rhythm. The New Jersey Devils are one of those clubs, sitting at the bottom of the Metro Division after earning two points in the first six games of the season. It’s still early days, but head coach John Hynes’ seat could start getting toasty if things don’t turn around soon.
While the team’s on-ice performances have certainly been poor, there’s also a longer-term issue at play. Hynes may have to take the ax for the greater good.
The New Jersey Devils’ exciting offseason
Despite a disappointing 2018-19 campaign, the New Jersey Devils had an extremely promising offseason. It all started by winning the draft lottery; the team would use that first overall pick to select Jack Hughes.
New Jersey didn’t sit on their laurels, however, and kept adding to their roster. They acquired defenseman P.K. Subban for peanuts, picked up veteran forward Wayne Simmonds to park himself in front of the net on the power play, and stole the promising Nikita Gusev away from Las Vegas. Those signings, combined with some new additions to their analytics department, looked like moves in the right direction.
Despite all of that promise, however, the start to the season has been anything but reassuring.
An early-season slump
The Devils might have talent on their roster, but it hasn’t come together on the ice. The team is still yet to win a game this season and, perhaps more troublingly, hasn’t looked even looked good for more than a few shifts at a time.
Through their opening six games, the Devils have been a weak possession team. They’re generating a league-worst 45.9 shot attempts per game and have looked generally sloppy in the defensive zone, seemingly unable to play with a lead. Their power play unit, despite having a wealth of talent, seems to be in disarray and is yet to score a goal.
While it’s never easy to split the blame between players and coaches, at least some of the team’s struggles have to fall on Hynes’ shoulders. He was handed an improved roster but hasn’t gotten anything out of it so far. When talented players are struggling with structural issues, eyes have to turn towards the coach.
Taylor Hall’s looming free agency
Ordinarily, a slow start to the season wouldn’t be a major concern. For the New Jersey Devils, however, there’s an additional factor making every game extra important: Taylor Hall.
Hall, a former first overall pick, was acquired by the Devils in a trade during the summer of 2016. He posted a solid, if unremarkable, first campaign, but blew up during his second season in New Jersey. He recorded 93 points in 73 games, taking home the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP.
Hall missed most of last season with a knee injury but has returned to action this season. He’s in the last year of his contract, however, and could leave the Garden State for greener pastures. The underlying tone to the Devils’ offseason was building a roster capable of convincing the winger to stay in New Jersey. If the team is out of contention by Christmas, it’s hard to imagine him resigning.
What comes next for the Devils?
Since Lou Lamoriello has moved across the Hudson River, the Devils are unlikely to make any snap judgments. Owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer have shown patience with their other team, the Philadelphia 76ers, and general manager Ray Shero has historically played the long game.
“I think a lot of people are starting to wonder how patient are the Devils going to be with Taylor Hall who is, of course, the big fish in the free agent pond at the end of the year,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said on Hockey Night in Canada. “I think the answer is this is way too soon to start asking.”
At some point, however, the rubber will meet the road. The Devils certainly have a talented roster, but talent alone doesn’t win games. If the team keeps struggling, or if Taylor Hall starts to doubt the franchise’s trajectory, John Hynes’ seat will start to heat up.