Now that the NHL’s coaching carousel has come to a stop with the hiring of John Hynes in New Jersey, it might be instructive to pay attention to the talent search that is going on to replace him in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Whoever lands that plum gig is sure to follow Hynes to the NHL before long.
Guiding the Penguins AHL affiliate has become a springboard to the big leagues. Each of the four men who have stood behind that bench during the past 10 seasons are now in The Show.
Todd Richards, who was there from 2006-08, led the Baby Pens to the AHL Eastern Division title in 2008. From there it was one year as an assistant with the Sharks and then on to his first NHL head coaching gig with the Blue Jackets.
Richards was replaced by Dan Bylsma, who spent only 54 games with the club before being promoted at midseason to replace another former Baby Pens coach, Michel Therrien, behind the bench in Pittsburgh. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup that season.
Todd Reirden stepped in for Bylsma in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and spent a year and a half in the minors before being promoted to an assistant’s role with the big club. He joined the Capitals as an assistant to Barry Trotz last fall, earning accolades for the team’s defensive turnaround. He was considered as an option in New Jersey and will likely be among the first names to emerge the next time an NHL head coaching position opens up.
Now Hynes, who took over for Reirden at the start of the 2010-11 AHL season, is set to make the jump. And by all accounts, he’s up to the challenge.
“Good hockey man. Well respected. Has a solid track record developing young players,” one scout told SI.com via text message. “He'll be a great fit for the Devils.”
Hynes, in fact, might be the perfect fit. His structure begins and ends with a commitment to defense. The results are undeniable: In four of the past five seasons, including 2014-15, his goaltenders claimed the Hap Holmes Award, an honor given in recognition of posting the lowest team goals-against average. Six different netminders got their names on the trophy during that span, which tells you it’s the system, not the player, that is getting the job done.
The Baby Pens also allowed the second-fewest shots of any team last season. Cory Schneider, who faced a whopping 30.7 per game with the Devils last season, has to like the sound of that.
Hynes didn’t always have top talent to work with in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton—typically he was handed a collection of mid-tier prospects and AHL lifers—but he managed to squeeze every last drop out of his teams. Although there were no championships for the Baby Pens, he advanced to the conference finals twice. That’s a solid return on the team’s investment, and another indicator that he could make the most of a Devils team that ranks among the bottom-third of the league in terms of skill. “He knows how to take lemons and make lemonade,” the scout said.
Hynes also has a knack with younger players. He spent six seasons as a head coach with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program–definitely a check mark for Team USA stalwarts Lou Lamoriello and Ray Shero—helping to shepherd players like Patrick Kane on the path to NHL stardom. “Coach Hynes was awesome to me,” Kane told USA Hockey Magazine. “He was very hard on me, but at the same time, he tried to get the best out of me.”
Hynes may be just a kid, relatively speaking—at 40, he’ll be the youngest coach in the league next season—but experience like that will earn him some cachet with New Jersey’s prospects and it bodes well for the development of Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas.
Looks like a strong move for the Devils.
The numbers game
• The Lightning are the first NHL expansion team to face four Original Six clubs in the same playoff year.
• Original Six teams have met in the Stanley Cup finals only once since 1979: In 2013 when the Blackhawks bested the Bruins in six games. During the ’70s there were six Original Six finals, with the Canadiens playing in five of them.
• Seven teams (Flames, Predators, Islanders, Senators, Canucks, Capitals, Jets) made the 2015 playoffs after not qualifying last season, the biggest year-to-year change in NHL history. Previously, the largest turnover was six teams (most recently in 2009-10) and there has been a postseason mix of at least five new clubs in eight of the past 10 seasons.
• Love this: NPR takes a look at the Stanley Cup finals through the eyes of the national anthem singers.
• Marek Zidlicky is “100% committed to playing in the NHL next season.” But that doesn't mean he’ll stay in Detroit.
• This is great: a ”where are they now” look at the 1975 Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers.
• Keith Olbermann says hockey players need to get over Bobby Damned Baun Syndrome. Yeah, that’s not gonna happen, buddy.
• Could Henrik Lundqvist end up like New York Knicks legend Patrick Ewing? He will if the Rangers don’t find him a worthy wingman.
• Shane Doan threw out the first pitch at a Diamondbacks game. Hey, at least he didn't bounce it.
• Jason Mackey compared the current Pittsburgh Penguins to Stanley Cup finalists Tampa Bay and Chicago. Not surprisingly, the Pens didn’t fare well.
• Make the call. You know you want to.