The New Jersey Devils fired coach John Hynes after a disastrous start to the season.
The Devils are 9-14-4, and their 22 points are second-fewest in the NHL.
"The start to the season was not what anyone anticipated," Devils general manager Ray Shero said prior to faceoff at Prudential Center. "I think that set a lot of things back. We lost games in every way imaginable it seemed."
Assistant Alain Nasreddine was named interim coach while Peter Horachek, a pro scout with the team, joined the staff as an assistant. Horachek was briefly an interim coach with the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs. They join existing assistants Rick Kowalsky, Mike Grier and goaltending coach Roland Melanson.
Hynes, who was hired in 2015, finished with a 150-159-45 record. The team made the playoffs once in his previous four seasons behind the bench. He ranks second in team history in games coached, wins and points (345).
"John played an integral role in the development of this team in establishing a foundation for our future and we are grateful for his commitment, passion and unmatched work ethic," Shero said in a statement prior to his media availability. "John is a respected leader, developer of talent and friend, which makes this decision difficult."
The Devils entered the season with high stakes. They drafted center Jack Hughes first overall in June. They acquired defenseman P.K. Subban and forwards Nikita Gusev and Wayne Simmonds. They had a healthy Taylor Hall after the star winger was restricted to 33 games due to injury in 2018-19. Hall is in the final year of his contract with the Devils ahead of unrestricted free agency.
But the season has been calamitous. Before Tuesday, the Devils were 30th in defense (3.62 goals against per game) and 29th in offense (2.50 goals per game). Their .882 team save percentage ranked 29th.
"There's something that was not going right, that's for sure," Shero said. "Our teams are very well prepared, but it comes down to execution. You saw the game last night, we couldn't complete a five-foot pass."
Hynes was removed after the team's worst two-game stretch of the season: a 4-0 defeat to the rival Rangers on home ice Saturday, followed Monday by a 7-1 blowout loss at the Sabres that sealed Shero's decision. The Sabres built a 3-0 lead against the Devils before New Jersey had registered its first shot on goal.
"The Buffalo game was," Shero said with a deep sigh, "I'm not even sure how to describe it."
Nasreddine played for six NHL organizations during his 15-year professional career: the Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins. On Aug. 20, 2010, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League (AHL) named Nasreddine their assistant coach after he had previously served as captain. On June 17, 2015, Nasreddine was named an assistant in New Jersey.
Asked about Nasreddine's potential to move beyond the interim tag, Shero stayed in the moment, but said he will clearly assess everything after the season.
"There's lots of time left in the season. We'll have a list that we'll compile," Shero said. "But in the short term, for sure, I want to see Nas get a feel for our team and our players. My job is to do the best thing for the team."
Regardless of who was behind the bench, Tuesday's game was like so many for New Jersey this season. The Devils let a 2-1 lead slip in the third period, allowing three consecutive goals to Vegas' Jonathan Marchessault. New Jersey has now lost three straight and four of five.
"There's a lot of emotion," Hall said. "But you try to put that aside and go play hockey."
Nasreddine, addressing the media after Shero and less than two hours before his debut, spoke emotionally about Hynes, but also optimistically about what he and the team have in front of them.
"A lot goes through your mind. You can't help but think about John," he said. "These are not great circumstances.
"Everyone in that room is disappointed, and everyone in that room feels responsible."
Shero was asked about the timing of the move, given the Devils were in the midst of a road-home, back-to-back set of games. But the loss at Buffalo spoke volumes.
"After last night," he said, "it wasn't fair to John, it wasn't fair to us."
The Devils will host the Blackhawks on Friday before heading out on a four-game road trip.
"What I told the team, and what I told Nas, is there is an opportunity," Shero said. "It's a big challenge, but it's certainly one that he will embrace. It's a big opportunity for him and for our players."
"The type of coach I am, I've earned everything in life," he said, "and I expect them all to think the same."