Alain Nasreddine

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.

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.”

PHT Morning Skate: Devante Smith-Pelly sees how COVID-19 disrupts KHL

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.

• Devante Smith-Pelly experienced quite the coronavirus-related disruption. As a member of Beijing-based KHL team Kunlun, he’s had quite the couple of months. William Douglas continued his great “Color of Hockey” feature for NHL.com by looking at Smith-Pelly’s journey, including “the road trip became a 35-day odyssey that contributed to Kunlun spending 58 of the last 67 days of the season outside of Beijing.” Wow.

Looking forward, DSP hopes to return to the NHL in the future. (NHL.com)

• Penguins GM Jim Rutherford discussed the team’s contingency plans for various scenarios, and how the organization is communicating during the pause. Stories like these can also be fun when you find out a little bit more about the person involved. In Rutherford’s case, he said that he also really misses baseball. While watching decades-old Pirates games brings Rutherford some joy, it’s not the same as new games live. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

• If play resumes, there are a lot of potential hiccups, including the loathed rust. But Avalanche GM Joe Sakic sees the benefits of rest, too: namely, players getting healthier. (Mile High-Sticking)

• What if the NHL allows teams compliance or “amnesty” buyouts, what with the cap ceiling possibly staying flat or even shrinking? Blue Seat Blogs takes an interesting look at hypothetical buyouts for the Rangers. The choices range from obvious (Marc Staal, Brendan Smith) to tricky but logical (Henrik Lundqvist) to a bold mulligan in Jacob Trouba. Fascinating. (Blue Seat)

• Plenty of teams should consider adding a big, talented, right-handed defenseman like Dustin Byfuglien if he isn’t simply going to retire. Here’s a look at how such a setup might work with the Coyotes. By Five for Howling’s parameters, I’m not sure if that would be the right fit for Big Buffy. (Five for Howling)

• The Senators hired Anthony LeBlanc as their new president of business operations. You may remember LeBlanc from his lengthy run as co-owner of the Coyotes. LeBlanc seems to be a busy fellow, as he’s also trying to bring a CFL team to the Halifax area. (Ottawa Sun)

• As someone who misses the brief-but-brilliant days where the Dallas Stars were aggressive and fun with Tyler Seguin on the roster, it’s nice to see other observers asking for the team to change their style from the current, very defensive-minded leaning. Could such a plan require an outside-the-box (and outside of North America) coaching hire? (Defending Big D)

• The Devils face tough decisions, including on two “interims” (GM Tom Fitzgerald and head coach Alain Nasreddine). They also must figure out what to do with Cory Schneider. Would a buyout or trade make sense, or should they just see what he can accomplish in 2020-21? (NJ.com)

• Meghan Chayka helped organize Zoom sessions cheekily titled “Hockey (Analytics) Night in Canada.” Read more about it at Sportsnet. (Sportsnet)

• Rotoworld held a mock draft for the 2020-21 season. Check out the results, along with interesting insight from Ryan Dadoun, who has frequently contributed to PHT. (Rotoworld)

• Travis Yost takes “All-Decade Teams” a step further. Rather than merely picking a handful of players from around the league, Yost targets selections for each NHL squad. While that’s a more expansive effort, it will provide people with an opportunity to argue about picks. That’s what is really important, right? (TSN) Sznajder

• Corey Sznajder provided a very detailed breakdown of a memorable 1996 Game 7 between the Blues and Red Wings. This stuff goes much deeper than that iconic Steve Yzerman goal, as you’ll quickly realize. (The Energy Line)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL on NBCSN: Predators face Hynes’ old team, the Devils

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

John Hynes and the Predators visit Hynes’ old team, the Devils, for the first time since Hynes took over in Nashville.

The whole thing figures to be awkward for … most involved. That includes the players, and coaches, as Devils interim coach Alain Nasreddine noted to NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti that he’s coaching against his mentor on Thursday.

“It’s definitely weird, even coming in in a situation like this where it’s a whole new staff, whole new players,” Hynes said. “Usually when you get a job, you bring someone you know or you interview a bunch of guys before you do it. Here, you kind of just jump in and you just start working together right away. It’s been fantastic.”

Predators, Devils since Hynes change

Frankly, coaching changes haven’t altered the Devils’ or Predators’ paths all that much, in the grand scheme of things.

The Devils have been about as expected, going 9-13-4 since Nasreddine replaced Hynes. In some ways, that’s a respectable improvement. Ultimately, it’s really all about building for the future amid a lost season for New Jersey, anyway.

While Hynes describes the experience of taking over the Predators as fantastic, the results have left a lot to be desired.

The “meh” start can be seen most clearly in Nashville’s 4-4-0 record in eight games under Hynes.

Of course, you can only tell so much from a win-loss record, particularly over such a small sample size. Unfortunately, deeper dives don’t inspire a ton of confidence.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

The Predators felt stale under Peter Laviolette, yet many of their underlying numbers shined, as you can see at Natural Stat Trick. By almost all standards, those numbers have declined under Hynes. In particular, the Predators have slipped in the area of controlling high-danger chances. They’ve only generated 46.77 percent of such chances in eight games under Hynes, the eighth-worst mark in the NHL. The Predators were a top-10 team in that area during Laviolette’s final run.

Ultimately, goaltending doomed Laviolette in Nashville. To some extent, the same thing happened with Hynes in New Jersey. If the Predators want to turn things around, they have to hope that Hynes finds answers where he failed to before.

Maybe it will all really start to turn around where Hynes’ first coaching job ended?

Kenny Albert and Joe Micheletti will call the action at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Kathryn Tappen will anchor studio coverage on Thursday alongside Anson Carter.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Goalapalooza: Offense coming from everywhere around NHL

Alain Nasreddine has watched New York Rangers defensemen go to the front of the net and hang out below the goal line.

It wasn’t like this back in his playing days.

Nasreddine scored one goal in 74 NHL games as a defenseman from 1998-2008. Now, the interim New Jersey Devils coach sees a league in which defensemen are expected to score – and they are delivering.

Goals are coming from everywhere this season: lacrosse-style from Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Forsberg, a ton from the blue line and even one from Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne. A total of 661 different players have scored at least once this season, a testament to balanced attacks around the league.

”You want a five-man offense,” Nasreddine said. ”The way the game is played right now, you need a five-man offense with D-men joining, whether that’s off the rush or in the offensive zone.”

There are an average of 6.12 goals per game so far this season, the second straight year that number has surpassed six and just the third time in the past 23 seasons. The top four goal scorers are all forwards 24 or younger; more impressively, 200 defensemen have combined to put up 727 goals.

Washington’s John Carlson is on pace to be the NHL’s first 100-point defenseman since Brian Leetch in 1991-92. But he’s just the leader of the pack as the style of play in the league moves more and more toward getting defensemen involved in the offense.

”Nowadays, everybody activates the D,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. ”I don’t think there’s a team that doesn’t try to get their D to join the rush. You can’t just have your top two defensemen (be) offensive guys. You have to have everybody participate.”

Look no further than the Nashville Predators for a prime example of that. Even after trading P.K. Subban, Nashville’s blue line can still pile up the goals and has combined for 29 through 48 games.

”Teams want their defensemen to jump up, want their defensemen in the play,” Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. ”Every team has kind of that fourth guy in the rush all the time, and even in the O-zone, teams are moving. I think that’s just kind of the way the game is now.”

The game is trending that direction so much that Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour tells his team, ”You score off the rush and you score on the power play.”

Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said odd-man rushes with defensemen are ”the best opportunities to score” and that, combined with the talent of young defensemen like Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen, Colorado’s Cale Makar and Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin, has been responsible for much more offense from the back end.

”You look at the young guys coming in: Heiskanen, Makar, some of these really young guys, and they come in and they’re contributing right away,” Slavin said. ”I think some teams are driven by their defense, and when their defensemen are going, that’s when the team’s playing really well. Some of those teams have those offensive defensemen that are expected to put up big numbers.”

Josi, whose 14 goals sit one off the league lead among defensemen, is a perennial Norris Trophy contender in part because of how much emphasis he puts on defense. But he’s also the prototypical modern-day blue liner in that he can do it all.

”You’re a defenseman and your primary job is to defend well,” Josi said. ”But if you’re on the power play, if you consider yourself a two-way defenseman, yeah, you want to produce offensively, too.”

Nasreddine points out that teams like the Rangers – who lead the NHL in defensemen scoring – and the Capitals often let their defensemen go to the front of the net or even below the goal line. That used to be a no-no except for some of hockey’s best who could handle those responsibilities. Now it’s just part of what coaches expect, and it’s changing who’s playing the position.

”That’s why you’re seeing more mobile defensemen, skating defensemen, because most coaches want those defensemen to be involved in the offense,” Nasreddine said. ”It’s been going for a while now, but you see it more and more.”

LIGHTNING STRIKING

Not long ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning sat outside a playoff position in the Eastern Conference. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the top regular-season team and getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round last season, it was fair to worry about the Lightning not putting as much value in the 82-game grind this time.

Tampa Bay is 12-2-1 since just before Christmas and now trails Atlantic Division-leading Boston by just seven points with two extra games left to play.

”We don’t think about the future or think about the past,” Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said. ”If you’re going to think about your future, you’ll miss your present so that’s our philosophy for right now.”