After parting ways with one of the last remaining remnants of their glory years, the New Jersey Devils are ready to begin a new phase.
That era begins Friday night at the Prudential Center, where the Devils host the Winnipeg Jets in coach John Hynes’ debut.
A third straight playoff absence triggered few major personnel changes but one significant one to the Devils’ front office, with longtime president and general manager Lou Lamoriello resigning in July to become Toronto’s GM.
Lamoriello had ceded his GM duties to Ray Shero, the architect of Pittsburgh’s 2009 Stanley Cup champion team, two months prior. Among Shero’s first moves was hiring the 40-year-old Hynes, who twice took the Penguins’ American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to two Calder Cup finals during a five-year tenure as head coach.
Hynes joins a franchise that reached the playoffs 20 times over a 22-year span, highlighted by three Stanley Cup championships and two finals appearances, under Lamoriello before its present drought.
A lack of offensive punch was the primary culprit to last season’s seventh-place finish in the Metropolitan Division. New Jersey (32-36-14) scored 181 goals, exceeding only the league’s two worst teams in Arizona and Buffalo, during a campaign in which Lamoriello shared coaching duties with Scott Stevens and Adam Oates over the final 46 games. Veteran Mike Cammalleri (27 goals) was the only player with more than 16.
”It’s certainly an area of concern for us,” said center Adam Henrique, who led the Devils with 43 points. "We have to find a way to score more. It’s a big focus. With all the changes we’ve made, we’re geared up to play more offensively. Everyone has gotten better."
Lamoriello’s departure leaves stalwart Patrik Elias as the lone member left from New Jersey’s last championship team of 2002-03, though the 39-year-old forward is sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury.
The Jets began a season-opening four-game road trip impressively on Thursday, recording a 6-2 win over Boston to maintain momentum from a 10-3-1 finish to last season that earned them a surprise wild-card entry in the Western Conference playoffs.
Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Drew Stafford all scored in the second period to erase a 1-0 deficit, and Winnipeg struck for three in the final 14:43 to halt a 13-game losing streak in Boston.
”We got off the plane and off the bus and started to skate incrementally better and better. And a pretty darn good team after that," coach Paul Maurice said.
Nic Petan added a goal in his first NHL game and Alexander Burmistrov had a goal and an assist in his Jets’ return. The 2010 eighth overall pick spent the past two seasons playing in his native Russia after a three-year run with the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise.
Ondrej Pavelec stopped 29 shots but will likely give way Friday to Michael Hutchinson, who went 21-10-5 with a 2.39 goals-against average as a rookie last season.
Hutchinson made 22 saves in a 3-1 win home win over the Devils Nov. 18, which moved the Jets to 5-0-2 in their last seven against New Jersey. They’ve registered a point in four straight (2-0-2) visits to the Prudential Center.
Cory Schneider owns a 1.98 GAA in four meetings with Winnipeg and had 24 saves in a 2-1 shootout home win Oct. 30.