New Jersey Devils fans were particularly critical of Recchi via social media, claiming he ruined their power-play with his coaching. How true is that?
During that 2019-20 NHL season (prior to hiring Recchi), the Devils finished 21st in the league with a power-play that scored at a clip of 17.9%. They were led up front by Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac, Blake Coleman, and Pavel Zacha. Their top scoring defenseman that season? Damon Severson, who was just acquired by the Blue Jackets this summer. He’s a second pairing guy. Really, they were devoid of much top-end talent in New Jersey that season. Their best players were mostly pretty young.
Recchi was hired the next fall and joined a Devils team that hoped to be on the upswing. They added some key young pieces to their roster in 1st overall pick Jack Hughes, and talented Belarussian Yegor Sharangovich. But Hischier played just 21 of their 57 games, Palmieri just 34, Bratt just 46, Zajac just 33 – and gone was Blake Coleman. Their power-play dropped to 15.1%, 28th in the NHL.
In his second and final year in New Jersey, the 2021-22 Devils remained 28th in the NHL, with a power-play scoring at 15.6%. They had better health in guys like Hischier and Bratt, but Jack Hughes played in only 49 games that season – still finishing third on the team in scoring. That tells you a lot about the lineup they were icing that season. Their top eight scorers had just one player that was over the age of 26. They were a really young team that was still trying to find their way, and without a true #1 defenseman.
Fast forward to this most recent season, and the Devils emerged as one of the top teams in the NHL. What changed, aside from Recchi being fired? Well, Dougie Hamilton stayed healthy and he scored 74 points from the back end, so they had a true #1 defenseman all season. They also added Ondrej Palat, and got greater contributions from veterans like Tomas Tatar and Erik Haula. Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier emerged as one of the best 1-2 center combinations in the game. At least part of this is due to their adding solid leadership around them – particularly to the middle-six of their forward group.
Their power-play did improve, finishing 13th in the NHL with a 21.9% conversion rate. How much of that was a direct result of coaching, will have to wait and be seen. But, when you’re getting greater production from the middle of your lineup, it leads to overall improvement from the team. Recchi’s back-to-back 28th overall units were in between a 21st overall power-play, and a 13th overall power-play. The Devils definitely had better units without him, but their lineup is vastly better now, than it was two years ago.
If you break it all down, Mark Recchi has been an assistant coach in the NHL for a total of 5 seasons. In those seasons, his teams ranked 1st, 5th, 16th, and 28th twice. At least a good part of his struggles behind the unit in New Jersey was due to having a really young team without a true #1 defenseman. In Pittsburgh, his lone outlying season was in a year marked by injuries.
In conclusion, I’m really in wait and see mode here. The Jacket power-play finished 26th in the NHL last season, scoring on 18.3% of their opportunities. The year before? 24th, at 18.6%. We’re used to having one of the worst power-plays in the league, so even a minor improvement here would be helpful. If nothing else, I’m confident that the talent the Jackets have should at least score some goals consistently. With or without the man advantage.
Adding experience behind the bench seemed important, and I don’t see much downside to bringing in a guy like Mark Recchi. He’s been a winner throughout his playing career, and some of his coaching career. If he can bring some accountability and grit to the bench, he’ll be a welcomed addition here.