NEWARK, NJ – John Hynes is the first New Jersey Devils coach since 1984 that wasn’t hired by Lou Lamoriello.
You know, the year "Ghostbusters" was released. The one with the dudes.
The 40-year-old former Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins coach was GM Ray Shero’s first hire after he took over the Devils' GM gig from Lamoriello this year, having previously hired Hynes as an AHL coach when he running the Penguins.
Hynes wasn’t hired by Lou, but he had the kinds of bloodlines that would have made him Lou-approved: Born in Rhode Island; a graduate of Boston University; an NCAA assistant coach; and a head coach in the USA Hockey developmental program from 2002-09, helping that program to churn out a considerable amount of talent in the last decade.
“There’s been a lot more pride in guys wanting to wear the USA jersey,” said Hynes.
There’s a lot of pride in the Devils’ jersey as well, or least there used to be: New Jersey has missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons and three straight years. Last season’s team was the breaking point: an underwhelming pastiche of overripe veterans and young players that weren’t there yet, coached by a three-headed monster of Lamoriello, Adam Oates and Scott Stevens.
Now it’s Hynes that’ll run the bench, facilitating a rebuild back to the level of excellence typically associated with the team for two decades.
We spoke with Hynes at Devils development camp last week. Our last question was about meat. Enjoy!
Q. When Ray Shero was fired by the Penguins, did you get a sense that wherever he ended up, you’d be in the mix as the head coach?
HYNES: At times, It does go through your mind. A lot of the business is relationships and trust factors. So I thought that if he did become a general manager again, there might be an opportunity with a different organization. And it worked out.
And then he tells you that you’re his only choice.
Yeah, no pressure. [Laughs]
What are the challenges in making the AHL to NHL jump?
Anytime you go from league to league, it’s your responsibility as coach to do your research on the players and understand where they are as people. So it’s really trying to understand your team.
The biggest difference is that in the American Hockey League, the players are at different points of their careers. The pressures are different. So you have to understand that mentality.
You want to do your strong research on the league, on the conference and the division. Understanding the style of play. But other than that, it comes down to having a good staff and doing what you’ve done to get you to this point.
It’s obviously a different situation than when Dan Bylsma took over the Penguins, making the leap from the AHL to a team coming off a Cup Final loss. Does it make it easier to transition to the NHL, for you, with a younger team that might be more receptive?
It comes down to the character of the team. For me, it’s not so much it’s a young team or a rebuilding team, it’s more the quality guys that you have.
When you look at the New Jersey Devils organization – they guys that they have, how they’ve drafted – character is a word that comes in. So it’s more about that than the age and experience.
There’s another thing that’s synonymous with the Devils, and that’s a certain style of hockey. Let’s call it “defensive.” Now, your system has been called up-tempo and offensive, yet goalie Cory Schneider said you’re a defensive coach. So what are you? What the hell are we looking at out there this season?
[Laughs] Well, attacking is really two things. We want to be an attacking team offensively, but the word “attacking” doesn’t just mean scoring goals. It means defensively, you’re quick. You’re eliminating time and space. When you have an attack mentality, it is about going to the other team’s net and pressuring them. But we don’t want to be passive defensively.
As coaches, it’s not whether an offensive coach or a defensive coach. The game is transitional. We want to be a team that takes pride in how we play on both sides of the puck. When we don’t have the puck, we want to have some responsibility and structure.
You know Jon Cooper a bit from the U.S. development program; is that way the Tampa Bay Lightning play the template?
Jon’s a good coach. We coached against each other in the American Hockey League. It’s similar to that. He’s not labeled an offensive or defensive guy, he’s labeled a good hockey coach. That’s because his team plays well on both sides of the puck.
Does having Cory Schneider enable you to be more aggressive on the other end of the ice?
Having Cory in net is the start of giving you the opportunity to win games. But when we attack, we don’t want to be reckless. We know we have a very good goalie. But we want to give him lots of support and not have to just rely on him to win games.
You have a few veterans on the team. Patrik Elias had a down year last year, and he’s 39 years old. What do you see his role being on the team next season?
We’re going to look for Patrik to be one of our leaders, one of our best players. Be in camp in excellent shape. He’s got the experience, he’s a winner. We’re looking for him to be one of our best players. That’s the expectation for him.
There’s always speculation what a team should be, based on roster or cap hits or recent history. What’s your expectation for what the Devils will be in 2015-16? Do you approach this as a transitionary year?
We approach it as we want to give ourselves a chance to win every game. You don’t have an opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup unless you do the job in the regular season. So having a great camp, getting off to a good start, getting our systems and team chemistry in place. Making ourselves an extremely difficult team to play against.
Do you feel you need to play the kids more because it’ll benefit you more in your second year?
[Deep breath] We’re going to play the guys that play the right way. We’re going to play the guys that give is the best chance to win every night. And we’re going to play the guys that do it the right way every night.
Are you an analytics guy?
To a point. Analytics are a piece of the puzzle in today’s game. And if used in the right way, and not overused or totally relied upon, it’s a key piece of the puzzle. We haven’t done a lot of it in the American League, because we don’t have access to it. But I know that it’s important here. We have a good staff for it. A lot of the time it gives you a different perspective.
Why didn’t you have access to them in the AHL?
The League. Time on ice could be different in every building you go into.
You’re going to have a distinct advantage coming into this season: You’ve actually coached the 3-on-3 overtime! How do you think it’s going to play out?
It’s obviously going to be exciting. These are the best players in the world, in open ice.
The thing about the 3-on-3 vs. the 4-on-4 is that the margin for error is so limited, because there’s so few players on the ice. You can play your three best players, or three fastest players, or three forwards on the ice at the same time. So there’s a little bit of method to it in having your best guys on the ice, and there’s a little bit of strategy to it in that you understand how you want to play. If there’s one breakdown, it’s an odd-man rush the other way.
I think we’re all a little nervous that Ken Hitchcock’s going to get his hands on it and the Blues are going to, like, just stop playing.
[Laughs] Just sit in front of the goal?
Did that ever happen in the AHL?
No. Some coaches could go with one offensive player and two defensive defensemen, and wait for a breakdown. It depends on the type of personnel you have.
What was your lineup?
In Wilkes-Barre, we had a strong defensive corps. So we’d go with one forward. Or at times with three defensemen. We had some pretty talented players. It depends on where the faceoff was.
Finally, here’s the most New Jersey question I can ask: Pork Roll or Taylor Ham?
No matter how you answer the question, half the fan base will disagree.
But ... what is it, though?
It’s a meat product. It’s almost like Canadian Bacon. But it’s not. Half the state calls it Taylor Ham. Half the state calls it Pork Roll.
If you’ve never eaten it, you get a mulligan.
No, I haven't, that’s why I wasn’t sure. I’ll be sure to have it before camp, how about that?
It's a deal.
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