On Tuesday afternoon, general manager Ray Shero made the announcement that John Hynes had been relieved of his coaching duties after the 7-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, a game Shero had difficulty describing when I asked him about it.
"We couldn't make a five-foot pass," Shero said.
So now what lays ahead for the Devils? Well, a 'clean slate' according to Shero.
"Everybody here has a clean slate," he said, "and they do, and nothing's predetermined, and you go back to the word opportunity," Shero said. "It's for the players to really embrace whatever role it is, and it's an internal competition, but to really start trusting each other."
"It's an opportunity for them and to find out kind of where we are here, where we're going to go," he continued, "because, you know, in terms of being where we are this season past Thanksgiving… no one has really got to the level we expect or they would probably expect so over the course of some time here, hopefully, that's going to happen and we really find out what we have here in terms of our players and where we're going to go."
Interim head coach, Alain Nasreddine is on board with the clean slate, aligned with his general manager's message.
"The best way to look at it is maybe a fresh start for everybody," Nas said. "This just happened. We're going to meet with some players. I think everyone in that room has been underachieving, so there's going to be opportunities, and to get opportunities, you've got to deserve it, earn your opportunity. That's not going to change. I think it's like that for every team in every sport. That's the bottom line. The type of coach I am, it's the same way. I've earned everything in life, and I expect players to do the same thing with their job and how they play."
Nasreddine was named interim head coach by Shero. For the Montreal native, the moment was bittersweet, excited to assume an NHL head coach role, but also processing the circumstances, having stood by Hynes on an AHL/NHL bench for the last 10 years.
After his first NHL game as an interim head coach, Nas called the experience nerve-wracking, but fun.
"It's nerve-wracking a bit and I did it preseason, but like I said before the game, it's nothing compared to that," he said. "There are two points at stake, so you try and stay focused. I felt fine, I felt great, especially when the team was playing the right way like they did the first 40 (minutes). In the third, losing that lead there was kind of a sour taste, but it's the first game.
With Nasreddine moving into a head coach position, the Devils brought in one of their pro scouts Peter Horacek to help assist on the bench. Seeing that Horacek joined the coaching staff just reminded me of how everyone in the organization is trying to pull in the same direction to help realign the team. Everyone is pitching in, in whatever way they can. Tom Fitzgerald did it earlier this season, and that 'next man up' mentality continues, even outside the scope of players, with Horacek's new assignment.
He brings to Nasreddine's coaching staff long-time experience in coaching, having done so as an assistant for the Nashville Predators, as interim head coach of the Florida Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 59-year-old has been a pro scout for the Devils since 2015.
What a week last week was for Jesper Boqvist. It hasn't been easy for the first-year player. He sat out a lot games in the first month of the season, but all that practice time, that focus is starting to really pay off. Against the Minnesota Wild, Boqvist scored his first NHL goal, a moment the Swede called "a dream come true" after the game.
I always appreciate Boqvist's raw honesty. Sometimes it comes out more away from the camera. That can happen with a lot of people, who just feel more comfortable when the light isn't on them. He's just a raw kid, enjoying his time with this club and figuring things out. He told me that as he got in his first few games, this league is far harder than he thought it was. In the corners in particular, the strength of the opponents, was something that surprised him, but not something he couldn't compete against.
On multiple occasions, he's admitted it's harder to score in "this league" than he thought it would be - but he's starting to get the hang of it. He got two in two games against the Wild and Canadiens.
Speaking of the young Swede, there are always moments in the locker room where I realize I'm one of the older ones in the Devils locker room on a daily basis, I'm just four years younger than Andy Greene, and 15 (!!) years older than Jack Hughes. The playfulness between the younger players is fun to watch, there's a lot of comraderies'. Say before the Devils game against the Sabres, I had just finished interviewing Boqvist, sitting next to him in the room was Nico Hischier who jokingly commented on our interview right after we had finished. That prompted us to conduct a fake interview between the two where they went back and forth making fun of one another. It's a good reminder of a couple of things: the really are kids and ultimately this is a game they play. Keeping it light in difficult times can be important, it creates cohesiveness instead of a divide.
Maybe one day I'll unearth that filmed fake interview. We'll see.
Another milestone alert this season: Andy Greene has taken over seventh all-time in games played for the franchise. Against Buffalo he tied Scott Neidermayer with 892, against Vegas he overtook Neidermayer with his 893rd game.
Not bad for a player that went undrafted.
The 37-year-old will need 41 more games to tie John MacLean for fifth place all-time among skaters and 64 more games to tie Scott Stevens for second place on the all-time list for defensemen.
On November 28 in Montreal, Mackenzie Blackwood added himself to the Devils records. His 44 saves in a 6-4 victory over the Canadiens is a record for a rookie goaltender in a victory. Martin Brodeur had 45, 46, 47 and 49 saves in his rookie season, but they all came in losses.
That game was unique one too. The New Jersey Devils in Montreal on (American) Thanksgiving. I have to denote the American part, only because in Canada, Thanksgiving comes in October. It had been 19 years since the Devils played on Thanksgiving Day.
It was a little strange also being the only game on the NHL schedule that day. But I guess it worked out. 44 saves for Blackwood, and a four-point night for Blake Coleman - a first in his career - on his birthday. We'll take it.
Devils prospect Ty Smith is off to Hockey Canada's selection camp for the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship. That camp begins December 9 through 12 in Oakville, Ontario.
Smith is one of 10 defensemen attending the camp and is considered one of the veterans of the group. Smith had three assists at last year's tournament where Canada finished 6th.
The 19-year-old Devils prospect has four goals and 12 assists for the WHL's Spokane Chiefs this season.
The 2020 world juniors will be in Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic.
Have you seen this video? Check out Devils prospect Nathan Bastian as he blocks three consecutive heavy point-shots. It's pretty impressive and likely hurt a lot!