With the recent Covid-19 pause during the NHL break for the New Jersey Devils certainly need to take their time in searching for the right coaches. From a source with knowledge of the coaching situation in New Jersey that there are already a few names mentioned being John Tortorella, Claude Julien, Rikard Gronborg, and Kevin Dineen. To be quite clear this would be General Manager, Tom Fitzgerald’s biggest key decision since firing John Hynes after his predecessor (Ray Shero) failed to do so, and had Alain Nasreddine as an interim before Lindy Ruff.
At the time I disagreed with Lindy Ruff being named head coach because a younger coach with veteran experience that has gotten the most out of his own players with the Panthers and the Golden Knights was Gerard Gallant. To prove a point if you listen to the crossover podcast with Trey Matthews of The Locked On Devils Podcast and my podcast Heads Up Hockey Trey said having Lindy Ruff under a short-term deal was “1 foot in the door and 1 foot out the door.” I said my piece saying “We have the ingredients we just need the right chef.” This analogy I used is to basically say we need a coach who isn’t halfway retired and is still on the fence about coaching. But we need a younger coach with a new approach that really isn’t a recycled coach.
Speaking of that description there was an article from Swisshockeynews.ch translated into English from German per Andreas Haas the paragraph summons everything up from July 1, 2020 “The contract includes an NHL out clause for the 2022-23 season, which is valid until December 31st (New Year’s Eve), 2021. Gronborg’s original contract would have run through the 2020-21 season.”
To put this into context if Tom Fitzgerald is going for an outside the box type of coach from the NLA’s Zurich Lions club it sounds like Mr. Fitzgerald will have to negotiate not only with Mr. Gronborg but also agree to that deadline to have The Zurich Lions agree to exercise that out clause in favour of arriving to coach in New Jersey. The Devils have shown Rikard interest in hiring his services for a head coaching job in the NHL but Zurich denied him permission to leave.
What Gronborg would bring the New Jersey Devils is a European and outsider perspective that could help improve the outcome of both the offence and defence. When you watch highlights of Gronborg’s teams in Zurich that they don’t quit. They make clean crisp passes on the power play and time shots just right on the power play. However, if the Devils are able to bring in Rikard Gronborg it would be interesting to see if he brings in his own guys whether it is from his time coaching the Swedish National teams he has won gold, silver, and bronze medals or even a blend of NLA and NHL coaches he would ask Tom Fitzgerald to consider looking to hire.
Claude Julien & John Tortorella
Claude Julien would be another coach similar to Lindy Ruff and John Tortorella in age both being “recycled coaches” but It remains to be seen if any of these coaches would consider coaching in New Jersey. Tortorella certainly knows from his time as an opposing coach bringing that fiery and in your face old school hockey Don Cherry mentality. The question about Tortorella is “how would he manage being around Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Dougie Hamilton with a short fuse?” That’s a cause of concern I have if I were in Fitzgerald’s shoes.
Claude Julien would be a really good fallback plan if Gronborg and Tortorella aren’t chosen in the process for head coaching. Claude has won the Stanley Cup back with the 2011 Stanley Cup Boston Bruins where they won in Vancouver with Tim Thomas in the net. Julien historically has been above 500 in winning percentage at .614% in 10 seasons, and he has coached Dougie Hamilton when he was in Boston.
The month of December will be one where the coaching system should be reset, and then after that Tom Fitzgerald will try and get the most out of his players. The Devils are currently 8 points out on a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and have 52 games on hand. March 21st is the NHL Trade Deadline so this is the month the team needs to act with under two-thirds of the season remaining.
The Utica Comets are already clicking on all cylinders at the AHL level and have been producing great results in the AHL for the Devils prospects to develop winning habits. It would not be wise to throw Dineen into a head coaching job due to the fact he already has chemistry going in the Devils farm system and helping bring the NHL coaching experience to a level of players that will need to learn a system that will eventually fit a high standard of hockey in NJ with a new bench boss. In the near future, Dineen would be an ideal candidate for an assistant coach who can help improve a team’s offence and communicate with players better.
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