John Hynes has Devils in the playoff hunt in his first season as head coach. (Photo: Getty Images)
NEWARK, N.J. --
The key word that New Jersey Devils forward Bobby Farnham
uses to describe first-year NHL coach John Hynes is preparation.
Farnham remembers being impressed with Hynes' ability to prepare and get the most out of his team when he played for him with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League. Nothing has changed since Farnham arrived in New Jersey on Oct. 26, after the Devils claimed him off waivers from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Hynes, Farnham said, is the same coach in the NHL as he was in the AHL, and the reason why the Devils are exceeding expectations this season are the same reasons why Hynes won at least 40 games and reached the Calder Cup Playoffs in each of his five seasons in Wilkes-Barre.
"The way he approaches every day is why he's successful, because he's very detailed in how we play with our structure," Farnham said. "He's very good expressing to us the identity we have to play with, and then tweaking certain things to each team that we play. He's always prepared. And he knows how to get the most out of the guys on his team."
Hynes, the youngest coach in the NHL at age 40, is getting a lot out of a team that wasn't expected to accomplish much this season. The Devils, even after their 1-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Monday, are in a Stanley Cup Playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 45 points.
Kyle Palmieri has already established a career high in goals with 17. He has 30 points, one shy of his career high. Lee Stempniak has 28 points in 40 games this season; he had 28 points in 71 games split between the Rangers and Winnipeg Jets last season.
Centers Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac, and defensemen John Moore and Damon Severson have thrived under Hynes. Farnham has too. He's one of the best examples of Hynes being able to get the most out of his players.
Known as primarily a fighter in the AHL, Farnham already has five goals and only 27 penalty minutes in 20 games with the Devils, putting him on pace for 14 goals and 90 penalty minutes in 65 games. He had seven goals and 226 penalty minutes in 62 games in the AHL last season.
"Even though we all have different roles, we play the same way," Farnham said. "That's one of the things with Hynes, he's done a great job of bringing that to this locker room, getting through to guys and getting the most out of everyone."
Hynes talked about how he has done it, what still needs to be done, who he still needs to get more out of, and why Farnham has been impressive in New Jersey in the following Q&A.
Here are Five Questions with … John Hynes:
We can always ask about expectations, and you can always say it's not about expectations, it's about the process. So tell me about the process. How has the process gone for this team and is it ahead of schedule?
"When we came in, one of the things we wanted to try to build was a culture that [general manager] Ray Shero, myself and the other coaches wanted to have in there. It was about what will our environment around the rink be like and what type of players and people do we want working here every day. That's gone really well. I think it's a tribute to the players that have been here and the players that have come here, the type of buy-in that they've had. They're the type of people and players we want in the organization. From that standpoint, it's gone really well. The second thing with our team was first we had to learn how to work the way we want to work, and then we had to learn to compete the way we want to compete. Sometimes you win and you lose with that, but that was our focus early, here's how we work and here's how we compete. Then it was more of an OK, here's what we want to learn to win with this group. Right now we've been able to do that. Those three foundations are in place. Now we're at a stage of being able to win consistently, have the same game every night and be able to do that over the course of 82 games. So from that standpoint, of that process, we feel like that's where we're at now and we've got to continue to build. We feel like we know what our identity is now as a team, and that's when you get to win as this group has. But consistently, can we bring that same game more often than not? Right now that's been a little inconsistent, so we're not there yet. We're not in that consistency stage of being the same group every single night."
What about for you; what has this transition been like to the NHL considering you're the youngest coach in the League, you never played in the league and until this season, you never coached in the League? What has it been like to go from the AHL to the NHL, adapting and trying to get to know this League?
"I've been surrounded with great management. When you are here for the first time in the League, to have Ray Shero and [assistant GM] Tom Fitzgerald, to have that relationship with them and guidance from them and the communication between those two guys, for me has been excellent and has really helped. When it goes through the coaching staff, with Geoff [Ward], Nas [Alain Nasreddine] and Chris Terreri, those are guys that are real solid in the ways that they work and the support and the advice. That group has been a huge benefit, the management and coaches. When it comes to the players, coming in not sure what to expect at this level every day, just the professionalism of our older players that have been here, I think that they're really good people, they want to win, they want to do the right things and they're willing to work. As a coach, it's been about the people I've had the opportunity to work with here that have been great. The transition into the league has been challenging. Every night you're going against excellent teams, you're going against excellent coaches, and a lot of it you're trying to learn the teams and coaches tendencies. Every night has been a real challenge, but it's been exciting and I think I've been able to get better through the process."
You come from Wilkes-Barre, which has become a breeding ground in the NHL for coaches -- Michel Therrien, Todd Richards, Dan Bylsma, yourself and now even Mike Sullivan. Why? What is it about that place that has helped produce top-quality coaches?
"It creates an environment for growth. Jeff Barrett and Greg Petorak, who run it, they're the CEO and CFO down there, they have a relationship with Pittsburgh, but those guys run it and they create a great environment down there. Pittsburgh has put some money into it. There is a beautiful practice facility that they take care of. Jason Botterill, in my experience there, was great to work with. Just the care that they put into finding the right type of players and wanting the environment to have a true combination of winning and development, and not putting one before the other, having a good balance, it is good for coaches to grow. It's not only coaches, it's equipment managers and trainers and strength coaches and video coaches. Everyone has had good resources to work with real quality people, and I think they do an excellent job of trying to help people move along."
One player I definitely wanted to ask you about was Eric Gelinas, because he obviously has this weapon, his shot, and great size. Anybody who sees him would think there would be a desire to get that shot coupled with his size in the game, to use those weapons whenever you can. But the rest of his game seems to be a mystery. Are you as coaches still trying to figure that out too, figure him out? Is that why he can't stay in the lineup?
"He's got size. He's got a shot. He has a lot of physical abilities. His shot is exceptional. But he's a young pro and it's not about just being one-dimensional at this point in his career. For us, we want to help him develop for our team and for him to be an everyday guy, and part of that is understanding the shot is just one component. His defensive responsibility needs to improve and he needs to use his size and physical ability to his advantage defensively. It's about understanding how to manage the game even when he's on the power play and there is pressure. It's about managing the game for the process of the game as opposed to just getting the shot. His shot is not going to go away. We know that. So we are trying to work with him and he's done a nice job of understanding to get back to that part these other pieces have to be better and that's going to help him continue to grow as a player and hopefully help his career down the road. You can't replace his size, and his shot is special. When someone has those elements, it'd be no different if a guy had speed and size, but it's the other part of his game that you want to be able to develop. Sometimes that takes a little bit longer for a defenseman than it does for forwards."
You knew Bobby Farnham before he got to New Jersey. You coached him in Wilkes-Barre. You knew he was a guy who could drop the gloves; everyone knew that. But did you expect his game to be where it is now? Did you envision that he'd be able to be a valuable presence in the offensive zone when he really had never been that?
"We didn't in that sense. But when he first came in to the American League, you could see his passion and that's how he made it, just through his 'compete.' It was off the charts. But eventually, once we got him on the team in Wilkes-Barre, when we got into the playoffs, he wasn't as valuable the first two years because that element [fighting] wasn't in the game and we didn't really play him. So we sat down and said, 'How can we expand his game?' We also asked, 'How is he going to become an NHL player?' It wasn't going to be through all of that [fighting]; it was channeling this passion for the game, this speed, and he had some skill, to make him a functional NHL player. Over the course of the last year and a half he did that. He got some games with Pittsburgh. He came back [to Wilkes-Barre] and we worked with him to get on the penalty kill, where you have to have reads and you can't just go. He did a good job of that. So when he did go on waivers, I think that was one of the things Ray had asked, 'Do you feel he's going to be able to make an impact?' As a coaching staff we did because of what we knew, because of our experience with him in the American League. He was developing and he kept proving at every challenge we gave him that he was able to answer, and that was going to be the same thing when he came here."