Mackenzie Blackwood

Nasreddine looking forward as Devils’ coaching search continues

The Devils know that if they NHL resumes play later this summer, they will not be part of the 24-team fun.

Sitting 13 points out of the last Eastern Conference wild card spot, New Jersey had very slim hopes they would be part of any season resumption that didn’t include playing out the remaining regular season schedule. Now they can look towards the 2020-21 season … whenever that will take place.

As the franchise looks forward, there are still two big decisions that need to be made: Who will be the full-time general manager and head coach?

Both Tom Fitzgerald and Alain Nasreddine have had “interim” in front of their titles since the in-season dismissals of Ray Shero and John Hynes. As the off-season begins, both remain in those roles as candidate conversations have continued.

“Right now it’s status quo,” said Nasreddine during a Tuesday media Zoom call. “I haven’t heard anything.”

“The organization’s been fantastic to me,” Fitzgerald said last month. “They allow me to be the general manager of this team, and that’s all I’m doing. Whether it has an intern tag on it or not, I wouldn’t be doing the job any differently, that’s for sure.”

Mike Gillis reportedly interviewed for the GM job in February.

The coaching search

In the head coach role, the Devils have been speaking to different candidates about the position. According to Pierre LeBrun, a list of 8-10 names has been narrowed down to four. Names like John Stevens, Peter Laviolette and Gerard Gallant have come up, but it’s unknown who made the final cut. Rikard Gronborg is another name that was discussed. The ZSC Lions coach confirmed he did have conversations but will honor the final year of his contract in Switzerland.

LeBrun added that the search, for now, is on pause.

After a forgettable start to the season, the second half saw some positive signs, like Mackenzie Blackwood in goal, and Nikita Gusev, Pavel Zacha, and Nico Hischier taking steps forward. There’s a potential to add three 2020 first-round picks to a burgeoning prospect pool, which will add to Nasreddine’s enthusiasm for his group, especially if he ends up getting the job.

“I think we’re very close [to being a playoff team],” he said. “I think at least competitive enough to be battling for a playoff spot … I’d say next year, for sure. You look at the progress of some of the young guys in the last two months of the season, and it’s very promising.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NBCSN’s Hockey Happy Hour schedule: June 1-4

NBC Sports

NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour features original shows, films and documentaries this week on NBCSN, headlined by Center of Attention: The Unreal Life of Derek Sanderson, The Joe: Joe Louis Arena Documentary and 2020 All-Star All Access.

Beginning Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET, NBC Sports will present two episodes of NHL’s Who Wore It Best? on NBCSN. The episodes will feature analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp taking part in debates over the best players to wear certain jersey numbers in NHL history.

NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban continues Monday at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Hosted by the Devils defenseman, the show features fans answering a trio of hockey trivia questions from their homes, along with appearances from NHL players and celebrities, for the chance to win NHL prizes. NBC Sports’ Pierre McGuire will join the show, as well as Hockey Hall of Famer and six-time Stanley Cup champion Bryan Trottier, Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood and NHL referee Wes McCauley.

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Monday, June 1 – NBCSN
• NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban (Episode 8) – 5 p.m. ET
• The Joe: Joe Louis Arena Documentary – 5:30 p.m. ET

Tuesday, June 2 – NBCSN
• NHL’s Who Wore It Best? (Episode 2) – 5 p.m. ET
• NHL’s Who Wore It Best? (Episode 3) – 5:30 p.m. ET
• Distanced Training: Ready to Get Back in the Game – 6 p.m. ET
• Unveiled: Smashfest – 6:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday, June 3 – NBCSN
• #HockeyAtHome: He Skates, She Skates – 4 p.m. ET
• Our Line Starts – 4:30 p.m. ET
• Fort Neverlose – 5 p.m. ET

Thursday, June 4 – NBCSN
• 2020 All-Star All Access – 5 p.m. ET
• Center of Attention: The Unreal Life of Derek Sanderson – 6 p.m. ET

MONDAY, 6/1

NHL HAT TRICK TRIVIA HOSTED BY P.K. SUBBAN : NBC Sports’ ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will join the eighth episode of NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban. The show features fans answering a trio of hockey trivia questions from their homes, along with appearances from NHL players and celebrities, for the chance to win NHL prizes. Additional guests on the episode include Hockey Hall of Famer and six-time Stanley Cup champion Bryan Trottier, Devils goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood and NHL referee Wes McCauley.

THE JOE: JOE LOUIS ARENA DOCUMENTARY: The film highlights the construction of the arena and a number of the significant moments that took place there over the years, including the team’s Stanley Cup-clinching win in 1997 that ended a 42-year championship drought. The Joe includes interviews with former captain and current GM Steve Yzerman, as well as late Red Wings legends Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay.

TUESDAY, 6/2

NHL’S WHO WORE IT BEST?: NHL’s Who Wore It Best? will feature hockey writers, broadcasters and insiders debating the best players to wear each jersey number in NHL history. The five-part series will air on NBCSN every Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET. The second episode features NBC Sports analyst Keith Jones, who takes part in debating the following jersey numbers: 55, 40, 34, 32 and 31. The third episode features NBC Sports analyst Patrick Sharp, who takes part in debating the following jersey numbers: 28, 27, 26, 25 and 21.

DISTANCED TRAINING: READY TO GET BACK IN THE GAME: NBC Sports’ Jac Collinsworth hosts a digital series, Distanced Training: Ready to Get Back in the Game, which showcases the home workouts and mental training of some of the world’s top professional, collegiate, and Olympic athletes. This 30-minute special from the digital series includes interview clips with:

• Sabres forward Jack Eichel
• Predators forward Matt Duchene
• 2018 Olympic women’s hockey team gold-medalist Kendall Coyne Schofield
• Panthers forward Noel Acciari
• Devils forward Joey Anderson and brother Mikey Anderson, a defenseman on the Kings
• Capitals defenseman Brenden Dillon

UNVEILED: SMASHFEST: Former NHL player Dominic Moore hosts a 30-minute program with special guests Brad Marchand of the Bruins and Mitch Marner of the Maple Leafs who work with a world-renowned street artist to design custom ping pong tables for charity.

WEDNESDAY, 6/3

#HOCKEYATHOME: HE SKATES, SHE SKATES: NBC Sports’ Kathryn Tappen co-hosts a 30-minute program that features three sets of NHL players and their family members who play the sport professionally or collegiately. The pairings are:

• Avalanche forward J.T. Compher and sister Jesse Compher, who plays for Boston University
• Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse and cousin Sarah Nurse, who plays professionally and for Team Canada
• Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson and wife Emily Pfalzer Matheson, who plays professionally and for Team USA

OUR LINE STARTS: The latest episode of NBC Sports’ weekly NHL podcast will be presented at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The show is hosted by Liam McHugh alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp, who analyze the league’s Return to Play format and potential matchups in the Qualifying Round.

FORT NEVERLOSE: Titled after the nickname of the Nassau Coliseum, this one-hour special examines the Islanders’ history and memorable moments on the ice in the storied arena.

THURSDAY, 6/4

2020 ALL-STAR ALL ACCESS: This behind-the-scenes special, narrated by actor Jon Hamm, looks at the 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend, which took place in St. Louis, Mo. in January. The program includes exclusive audio content from mic’d players and features on numerous All-Stars throughout the entire weekend, including the fan fest, skills competition and the three-on-three All-Star Game.

CENTER OF ATTENTION: THE UNREAL LIFE OF DEREK SANDERSON: This one-hour documentary chronicles NHL star and two-time Stanley Cup champion Derek Sanderson’s remarkable life on and off the ice. The film, narrated by actor John Slattery, features interviews with eight Hockey Hall of Famers, including Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito.

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.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Best rentals; Who will Hawks have in goal next season?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Senators have passed a critical point in their rebuild. (TSN)

• Which recently acquired rentals will make the biggest impact with their new team? (The Hockey News)

• Kim Davis is pushing the NHL into diverse territory. (ESPN)

• Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, who is the best team in the league? (NHL.com)

• Here’s six Boston Bruins that will be under the microscope between now and the end of the season. (WEEI)

• Can Mackenzie Blackwood beat Martin Brodeur’s franchise record for wins by a rookie? (All About the Jersey)

• The Flyers’ penalty kill is already elite and it’s about to get a whole lot better. (Broad Street Hockey)

• Who will the Chicago Blackhawks use between the pipes next season? (NBC Sports Chicago)

• The Golden Knights have had six different players score in their debut this season. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• Former Predators head coach Peter Laviolette has a new coaching gig. (On the Forecheck)

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.