Kyle Palmieri

Devils interim coach Alain Nasreddine on pause in NHL season

New Jersey Devils interim coach Alain Nasreddine is focusing on a having his team ready to play should the NHL resume games after a pause caused by coronavirus pandemic rather than whether he will have a job next season.

Speaking in conference call Wednesday, Nasreddine said he is aware of reports that Devils interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald has interviewed candidates for the team’s head coaching job.

The Devils have not commented on the report.

”To be honest, we’re still in the (20)19-20 season,” Nasreddine said. ”As far as I know, I was the head coach on March 12th, you know, and I’m the head coach of the New Jersey Devils. Now, I’ve heard what’s going on with interviews and stuff like that. But to be honest, I’m just focused on this season.”

The 44-year-old Nasreddine has a 19-16-8 record since replacing John Hynes on Dec. 3. The Devils were 9-13-4 under Hynes and they have played much of the season with one of the NHL’s youngest teams.

Nasreddine didn’t expect to become a head coach this season and he admitted his anxiety increased when he was elevated to the top job. He said it’s one thing to be an assistant coach for almost a decade and offer advice. Everything changes when you suddenly have to make the final decision and not every decision turns out right.

Nasreddine had taken pride in his work ethic and his preparedness.

”I really grew,” he said. ”You know, I mean, three months felt like a year, but I felt like I got experience 10 years worth and I felt really comfortable in the end. You know, I feel like and I know it’s only a 40 or 50 games, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I’m ready.”

While the NHL has not announced plans, Nasreddine said he has heard the rumors if the league does resume play. It would be a 2-to-3 week training camp and the season might extend into June and July.

Whether that happens, we’ll see.

Nasreddine said he talks with Fitzgerald a couple of times a week and has contact with his players. He talks to goaltender Cory Schneider and forward Kyle Palmieri more because they are the team’s union player representatives.

”Right now, I consider if we come back, almost be another new year,” Nasreddine said. ”We’re gonna have a training camp. We have time to make some adjustments. Well, there are a few tweaks, a few things we’re going to look at. And I think that will give us the perfect opportunity to work on them, whether it’s seven games, 13 teams, whatever that is. So we’re definitely going to look to to make some improvements.”

Nasreddine said he has not done player evaluations for the season, saying that’s something that will happen once the season ends.

While he called the pandemic horrible, Nasreddine said the time off has given him more time with family than he has had in years. They eat together every day and he laughs about watching his children learn on-line.

”You know, I declare myself the school principal here at home,” he said. ”Well, they didn’t like that too much. But we had a structure. We had a schedule in place. It’s been going real well with the school, with them. And then you have to know we’ll all get a little workout. Well, we’ll be active. So we have a routine that’s worked really well.”

Players, fans get creative to raise funds in hockey minors

More than a month after the ECHL canceled the rest of its season, minor league hockey players are still hoping to get some financial help.

A relief fund set up by the league and Professional Hockey Players Association has $270,000 so far, about a third of the total goal. PHPA executive director Larry Landon estimates $850,000 is needed to cover paychecks from three lost weeks of the season. He hopes money can be sent to players beginning next week.

”We’ve got to get it out to the players that truly do need it as fast as we can,” Landon said. ”It’ll be a huge undertaking to get there, but if we can get them what they lost in the regular season, at least it helps them.”

With something of a shortfall and concerns growing about starting next season, players, fans and teams are starting to get creative. One fan has raised $7,000 by auctioning off memorabilia, and South Carolina goaltender Parker Milner hopes a quarantine concert brings awareness to the situation as well as some extra funds.

Longtime Toledo Walleye fan Dennis Seymour hopes to raise a total of $10,000 for the ECHL-PHPA COVID-19 Relief Fund and already bought a couple of $5 tickets for the Pregame Skate Quarantine Concert that will be live-streamed Saturday night. The effort is being spearheaded by Milner and Boston College teammate Brian Dumoulin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, with possible appearances from retired goaltender Mike McKenna, Kyle Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils and Kevin Hayes of the Philadelphia Flyers.

While the NHL and other pro sports leagues are considering returning without fans, that kind of business model doesn’t work for minor league hockey. Landon said he’s lost sleep worrying about the future.

”If there’s no group gatherings, how are we playing?” Landon said. ”Your sponsors aren’t going to be sponsors if there’s no people in the stands. You need people in the stands.”

The immediate concern is trying to pay players for lost wages, but the uncertainty is unsettling among those who make an average of $700-$725 a week. Milner hoped Saturday’s concert is just the start of publicizing what players are up against.

”Hopefully other guys will keep coming up with some stuff, but just finding cool ways to continue to talk about it,” Milner said. ”Smaller little events like this or somebody just throwing in $10. I think down the line a lot of those smaller investments, especially as the summer progresses, will be the thing that really fuels this thing.”

What is the Devils’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the New Jersey Devils.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

With Taylor Hall and Blake Coleman now playing elsewhere, the Devils’ long-term outlook is in the hands of recent No. 1 overall picks Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier.

The Devils thought so highly of Hischier’s development — and potential — that they signed him to a seven-year, $50 million contract that pretty much makes him the new face of the franchise. While his offensive numbers may not be eye-popping, there is a lot to be said for a 21-year-old forward that’s already established himself as a 55-60 point player while also playing a complete two-way game.

Hughes is the player that has the big-time offensive upside.

Beyond those two, Kyle Palmieri and Nikita Gusev are very productive top-six wingers and would make an impact on any contending team. The problem, though, is that both players are unrestricted free agents after next season, and while the Devils should have the salary cap space to retain them if they wanted to, it is worth wondering if such a long-term investment would be wise, especially when it comes to Palmieri who will be 31 years old when his next contract begins.

P.K. Subban has the biggest salary cap hit on the roster, carrying a $9 million salary for each of the next two seasons.

Damon Severson and Will Butcher are also signed long-term on the blue line.

Goaltending was a question mark at the start of the season, but MacKenzie Blackwood has had a very promising start to his career (.916 save percentage in his first two years, well above the league average) and is still only 23 years old.

Long-Term Needs

When you have missed the playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons and been one of the league’s worst teams over the past two seasons there are obviously a lot of long-term needs.

Goaltending has been the big Achilles Heel recently due to Cory Schneider‘s decline, but Blackwood has shown a ton of promise and provided some optimism that he could be the long-term solution. But they still lack depth behind him in the short-and long-term.

The addition of Subban was supposed to give them a top-pairing, No. 1 defenseman to lead their blue line, but he will be 31 next season, is in the middle of the worst season of his career, and has almost certainly already played his best hockey. They not only need depth on their blue line, they need somebody to be a difference-maker.

Will Butcher is an underrated player while Ty Smith has a ton of potential, but there are more questions than answers when it comes to the long-term outlook of the blue line.

The other big need is that they need Hughes to be the superstar, franchise player they hope he can be.

Long-Term Strengths

You can not win in the NHL or compete for the Stanley Cup without impact players. The best place to get impact players is at the top of the draft. Fortunately for the Devils they have two of the past three No. 1 overall picks playing for them.

They may not be superstars quite yet, but Hischier is on track to being an outstanding player while Hughes is still only 19 years old and full of potential. Do not even think about writing him off just because he struggled at times as an 18-year-old.

Along with those two, the Devils are looking at the possibility of having three first-round picks in the 2020 class, including their own lottery pick. The other two picks are conditional as a result of the Taylor Hall trade (Arizona) and Blake Coleman trade (Tampa Bay, which sent Vancouver’s pick to New Jersey). The Arizona pick is top-three protected, while the pick from the Coleman trade will move to 2021 if the Canucks miss the playoffs this season. Still, those are a lot of quality assets — and potentially another very high pick — to add to the Hischier and Hughes core.

The Devils also have very few long-term commitments at the moment and as a result have a ton of salary cap space to work with. That could help with the potential re-signings of Palmieri and/or Gusev, as well as adding pieces around their new young core Hischier, Hughes, Butcher, and Blackwood.

More:
Looking at the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils
Devils biggest surprises and disappointments so far 

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

New Jersey Devils: Biggest surprises and disappointments so far

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the New Jersey Devils .

P.K. Subban‘s tough season

The addition of Subban (via trade with the Nashville Predators) was one of the highlights of the Devils’ offseason. He is a big name, a superstar player, and even if he was starting to hit the downside of his career he was still an impact player as recently as last season.

Add in the fact he fit a huge need (a top-pairing defender) and that Devils gave up almost nothing of significance to get him, it seemed like a no-brainer move.

It just did not work out.

At least not for this season.

In his first year with the Devils Subban struggled through what is certainly the worst single-season performance of his career. Everything across the board for him is not only down, but is also pretty much at a career-low for him. A lot of things backfired for the Devils this season and did not go as planned, and Subban’s year is at the top of that list.

He is still signed for two more seasons at a salary cap hit of $9 million per season.

Nikita Gusev was exactly what they hoped he would be

This was the one big offseason move that worked as they hoped it would.

The Devils acquired Gusev as a restricted free agent from the Vegas Golden Knights and hoped he could provide some much-needed skill and production to their forward group. And he has.

At the time of the NHL’s pause Gusev is the Devils’ second-leading scorer (just one point back of Kyle Palmieri) and has already proven to be an outstanding playmaker.

Of the 334 forwards that have logged at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time this season, Gusev is 20th in the league in assists per 60 minutes (1.66) and sixth in the league in primary assists per 60 minutes (1.32). He has not only been the Devils’ best playmaker this season, he has been one of the best playmakers in the entire league. He only cost a couple of mid-round draft picks to acquire and has a very manageable $4.5 million salary cap hit through next season.

The end of the very brief Taylor Hall era

There were a lot of reasons for optimism this season for the Devils, from the drafting of Jack Hughes with the top pick, to the offseason additions of Subban, Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds. But one of the biggest reasons was the hopeful return of a healthy Taylor Hall.

Two years ago he was the league MVP and helped single-handedly carry the Devils to a playoff spot.

A year ago his season was decimated by injury, limiting him to just 33 games and the Devils just didn’t have the depth to overcome that.

Getting him back, plus all of the offseason additions, seemed as if it could have helped fix that.

It didn’t.

The Devils didn’t do enough to solve their goaltending issues, Subban had a down year, Hughes struggled through some rookie growing pains, and the team itself just wasn’t anywhere near as good as it was expected to be. Their dismal start — driven by an inability to hold onto multi-goal leads early in the year — put them in a position where they had to make a decision on Hall. From the very beginning of the season there was uncertainty about his future with the team given his contract status as an unrestricted free agent after this season. The decision was eventually made to trade him to Arizona in December, igniting an in-season fire sale that also saw Andy Greene, Blake Coleman, and Simmonds all be sent elsewhere.

Hall ended up spending three-and-a-half years in New Jersey, and while he lived up to expectations the Devils were never able to consistently build something around him.

Cory Schneider‘s strong finish

It is not much, but it is worth at least mentioning the way Schneider returned to the Devils’ lineup in February and put together what was probably his best four-game stretch in years.

At his peak Schneider was one of the NHL’s best goalies and one of the most overlooked top-tier players. But things had started to fall apart for him the past couple of years.

The way he finished the season after returning to the lineup was a brief reminder of what he once was and a small bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Devils.

More:
Looking at the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils
What is the Devils’ long-term outlook?

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Looking at the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

New Jersey Devils

Record: 28-29-12 (69 games), eighth in the Metropolitan Division, 14th in the Eastern Conference
Leading Scorer: Kyle Palmieri — 45 points (25 goals and 20 assists)

In-Season Transactions:

• Acquired Louis Domingue from the Tampa Bay Lightning for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2021
• Traded Taylor Hall and Blake Speers to the Arizona Coyotes for Nate Schnarr, Nick Merkley, Kevin Bahl, a conditional 2020 first-round pick and a conditional 2021 third-round pick
• Acquired Nolan Foote and a 2020 first-round pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning for Blake Coleman
• Traded Andy Greene to the New York Islanders for David Quenneville and a 2021 second-round pick
• Acquired Zane McIntyre from the Vancouver Canucks for Louis Domingue
• Traded Wayne Simmonds to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2021 conditional fifth-round pick
• Acquired Janne Kuokkanen, Fredrik Claesson and a 2020 conditional fourth-round pick from the Carolina Hurricanes for Sami Vatanen

Season Overview: 

Even though they missed the playoffs last season, there were moderately high expectations surrounding the Devils heading into this year. After all, they still had Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Nico Hischier and they were adding Jack Hughes in the NHL Draft. Former general manager Ray Shero also made a splash when he acquired P.K. Subban from Nashville for next to nothing.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, the Devils flopped this season. Subban looks like a shell of his former self. Hughes showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, but he didn’t appear to be ready for the NHL. Overall, it just didn’t work.

Shero was allowed to make the Hall trade with Arizona in December, but he ended up getting fired later on in the year. Yes, they were on track to miss the playoffs in back-to-back years, but something clearly happened behind the scenes with the organization and their general manager.

In fairness to interim GM Tom Fitzgerald, he did a remarkably good draft leading up the trade deadline. He was able to acquire some youth and some more draft capital. Whether or not he gets the job on a full-time basis remains to be seen.

But whoever the next GM is will have to determine how much longer this rebuild needs to go. The Devils have been lucky to win two draft lotteries over the last few years, but it doesn’t look like they selected franchise players with those picks. No disrespect to Hischier and Hughes, as they’ll both be really effective players for a long time. But they aren’t Sidney Crosby, Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon, Steven Stamkos or Connor McDavid.

Highlight of the Season: 

Mackenzie Blackwood‘s improvement throughout the season has to be the highlight of the year for the Devils. He was terrific in February, as he posted a 6-0-1 record with a 1.27 goals-against-average and a .967 save percentage (he gave up nine goals in seven games).

More:
Devils’ biggest surprises and disappointments so far 
What is the Devils’ long-term outlook?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.