The brave, new world of New Jersey Devils Hockey moved into Act Two with the naming of John Hynes as head coach.
“I’m both very excited and honored to be head coach of this organization,” Hynes said for openers on Tuesday afternoon at The Rock. “I understand that the Devils are about character, leadership as well as strong and quality people.”
Slowly, but relentlessly new general manager Ray Shero is putting his stamp on what surely is the New Devils Era, Part Two,
If Part One was anointing Shero as the Newark Hockey Boss, and Part Two is the designation of Hynes as the Bench Boss, then still more curtains will be raised.
Who, for example, will be Hynes’ assistants? Will either Adam Oates or Scott Stevens be included in the mix — especially Stevens to work with the defense.
What about the goalie coach; will Chris Terreri be back?
For now, the answers have been deflected but, for sure, they will soon be addressed as the new high command continues to unfold.
Meanwhile, other elements were obvious at the formal Hynes announcement on Tuesday afternoon at Prudential Center.
Along with President Lou Lamoriello, players such as Adam Henrique, Stephen Gionta, Dainius Zubrus and Jon Merrill were significant onlookers.
And don’t for a second believe that Lou was excluded from the selection process.
Although Lamoriello has stepped slightly aside, there is a Lou-John link.
Hynes is a Rhode Islander like Lou and, as a member of the Boston University alumni, the rookie coach comes from the collegiate ranks that Lou so respects.
That said, Hynes — with input from Lou — was clearly Shero’s man.
Their chemistry dates back to Ray’s tenure as Pittsburgh Penguins general manager with Hynes as head coach of the Pens’ AHL farm team in Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton.
“I didn’t offer this job to any other person than John Hynes,” Shero insisted. “I had a very short list to start with and I talked to a number of coaches about philosophies.
“It was about the identity we want to establish and John is going to encompass these things moving forward.”
Hynes, 40, becomes the youngest active coach in the NHL; second is another Shero hire and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton alumnus– ex-Penguin and now Buffalo’s Dan Bylsma at 44.
Shero asserted that he had no qualms about picking someone with no NHL coaching experience. Based on Hynes’ splendid record in the AHL, it reminded many of all that AHL graduate Jon Cooper has done with Tampa Bay now in the Stanley Cup Final.
With that in mind, Hynes was queried about his coaching style. He wasted no time pointing out that it would be similar to what he orchestrated in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“The important thing,” said Hynes, “is the identity of the team; something our players will understand clearly. That includes how we want to play.
“To be a very competitive team, there must be a belief in how you play and there should be a clear understanding of what we want to do.”
Those who have worked with Hynes describe him as tough and demanding, but fair.
“It’s about establishing a real strong foundation in two areas,” Hynes said. “The locker room environment–having the players excited to come to the rink everyday…and culture is extremely important for me–the communication with the players and [forming] those relationships.”
In Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Hynes was notorious for not tolerating “floaters” and praised for getting the most out of the talent available. For example, he wants his forwards to know that backchecking “is not optional.”
Shero: “Having known John, I thought that some day he would be a real, good [NHL] coach. Moving forward, the Devils will be fast, attacking and supportive.
“I don’t mean skating around the ice fast; although that’s part of it. Fast hockey is practice fast, think fast, execute fast, move the puck quickly. That’s fast hockey.
“Attacking is being aggressive both offensively and defensively; not giving the opposition a lot of room. That’s an identity. Attacking is not just thinking about scoring goals. It’s also a mindset defensively and I share that with John.”
Hynes stressed the importance of those three words: “fast”, “attack”, and “support.”
“I want to continue to build on our vision of how we want to play, and then from there, clearly understand the three words we talked about today,” Hynes said. “And continue to build [on] that over the course of the year.”
Not only Hynes but Lamoriello always preached the defensive side to blend with the offense.
The GM revealed that he had “great conversations” with Oates and Stevens but would not say whether either of the associate coaches from this past season would be back.
“I see a lot of opportunity [for hirings] and it could be players, coaches added to the roster and staff members. It’s all exciting.”
If some observers believe there is some gamble in signing a coach who is the youngest in the league, Shero — who has been here before having called up Bylsma at just 38 — dismissed that as a worrisome issue.
“No matter what a coach’s age may be,” he pointed out, “it’s about earning the respect of the players. That means being a leader, communicator and one who has the ability to teach, discipline and inspire people.
“What is important in this case is that John has all of these attributes.”
SEVEN REASONS WHY HYNES IS AN EXCELLENT HIRE FOR THE DEVILS:
1. The organization is not opting for retreads.
2. Shero knows Hynes better than anyone.
3. The GM is a smart cookie and wouldn’t gamble on someone without knowing his attributes and how they will work with the current roster.
4. Hynes is a tough-love, no-nonsense leader who will root out any malingerers faster than you can say “Loafer.”
5. Since this is a new era, a new face must complement the other — Shero.
6. Like any new coach — and general manager — it’s understood that they will bring in insightful types who they respect and with whom they have chemistry. This goes along with the New Era, Parts One and Two.
7. Like Jon Cooper — now so successful in Tampa Bay — Hynes has paid his dues and is ideally ready for his NHL debut.