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Q&A: Shero on new assistants, NHL Draft

by Staff Writer / New Jersey Devils

Ray Shero added two assistants to John Hynes's staff this week. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Devils on Wednesday named Geoff Ward and Alain Nasreddine to the coaching staff under head coach John Hynes. Devils general manager Ray Shero spoke to about the additions and looked ahead to next week’s NHL Draft in Sunrise, Florida, where the club is set to pick sixth overall.

What are your thoughts on your new assistant coaches?

Shero: "I think the dynamic’s really good. Starting with Alain Nasreddine, the familiarity with John [Hynes], that’s a big factor. When I was in Pittsburgh, Alain was a player up and down [in the AHL] and played a long time. The guy that we hired as an assistant coach in Wilkes-Barre brought a lot of playing experience, a lot of passion, a lot of enthusiasm for the game. Five years later he has the passion and enthusiasm, but he’s now a coach. That’s a very important aspect of it in terms of where he’s developed as a coach the last five years and with John it’s a really good fit.

"With those guys there’s familiarity, but then going with a Geoff Ward [there's] that experience factor that we’re kind of looking for and John really believed was important. I really like the fact that, while he’s very familiar with Nas, he’s not in terms of, he and Geoff don’t really know each other very much. It’s more of [Ward's] experiences and all the due diligence and some of the things I’ve heard about Geoff, who I didn’t know, except of course when he was in Boston and just who he was. I like that in the fact that different ideas, different experiences between the three guys is going to be a really good dynamic, and that’s a challenge that I think any coach is looking for – to be challenged with new ideas. I was excited looking in that direction: John with someone like Geoff that with his experience and his success, having won a Cup in Boston [in 2011], going to the Finals [in 2013], coaching some real top-end players and [having] head coaching experience as well throughout his career. It's a really nice blend of what we were trying to accomplish moving forward."

Geoff worked with the power play in Boston. Are there elements of that system, using four forwards for example, that might be brought to New Jersey?

Shero: "I think those are all the ideas that they’ll talk about. In terms of the exact roles, I’ll let John define exactly what those are going to be. I give the example of: Good coaches are good coaches. The way John has been, if someone’s in charge of the power play or the penalty kill, they oversee it, but John as a head coach is responsible for it. In terms of Geoff’s role when he was in Boston, he certainly had success there. Tony Granato, assistant coach [in Pittsburgh], he was on the PK and working with the forwards. When he went to Detroit last year with Mike Babcock, Mike says 'OK, you’re going to work with the D. Can you do it?' From talking to Mike, it was fantastic, because Tony’s a teacher, he’s a coach and good coaches can teach. It’s going to shake out that way. [Ward and Nasreddine] have experience doing it, but good coaches can do a lot of different things. The skill set and the experience factor I think is real good and I’m looking forward to it."

So their roles won't necessarily be defined that way?

Shero: "I think John will certainly define their roles, but let’s say Geoff Ward’s on the power play and all the ideas he’s got, that’s fantastic. But I think the head coach is responsible for the power play, the head coach is responsible for the PK. At the end, they’re all part of the same group. They’re all part of New Jersey and the coaching staff and the ideas that we implement to get better. Four forwards? Five forwards? I don’t know what Geoff’s got in mind, but he’s got some really good ideas and experiences. That’s what we found from talking to a lot of different people and recommendations. I appreciate both these guys coming for the opportunity and the challenge."

Was Nasreddine’s experience working with the defense in Wilkes-Barre a consideration in bringing him in?

Shero: "Yes, in terms of the penalty killing and working with the D. I see the job [former Pittsburgh assistant] Todd Reirden has done in Washington with those D there, I see the job Todd did when we brought him up from Wilkes-Barre [in 2010] and what he did with the defenseman [in Pittsburgh], could be a Paul Martin, could be a Kris Letang, could be Matt Niskanen and how he had an impact on their careers. I think that’s good. And I see Nas in the same boat. Nas actually has more experience than Todd at the time, but they’re good coaches and teachers. They’re passionate and they really want to make a difference. That’s the challenge any time you add to your staff. Nas has upside to his career, which I think is really good, but the three of them will have different experiences, make for a good challenge and hopefully for a good staff."

Where do members of last year’s coaching staff stand?

Shero: "This is the coaching staff right now with Geoff and with Nas. I'm sitting down with Chris Terreri. I’m not looking outside of this organization on the goalie coach. I’m just focused on Chris at this point. John, I met with him [Tuesday], I’m going to meet with him over the next couple of days so hopefully things go well in that area in terms of Chris. … I’m not looking outside this organization at this point at all. Hopefully that works out for both of us.

"With Scott [Stevens], I talked to him before I went over to Europe [for the world championship] about the head coaching position here. Obviously we went in a different direction, which he was aware of at the time. Before I was going to name John [as head coach], John interviewed and met with Scott for a while and I think they had really good discussions about philosophies and about coaching and I think John is better for the conversation and so is Scott. The decision with Alain Nasreddine and Geoff Ward is not about Scott Stevens at all. It’s more about these other guys or, with Nas, the familiarity that happens quite a bit in sports or business.

"In terms of Tommy Albelin, I talked to him [Tuesday] for a while that we’re going in a different direction in terms of our NHL staff. He’s got different experiences and he spent a lot of time in Albany, so [it's a question of] ‘Is that something you’re interested in again?’ I’ll have another follow-up conversation with him maybe this weekend or next week. He brings experience and [Albany head coach] Rick Kowalsky was in [Tuesday] just to find out what I’m like and what John’s like and what his experiences are.

"Mike Foligno, I have to follow up with him, as well, on where he wants to go with his career. Whether he’s going to be a part of the Devils at some point next year remains to be seen, or in terms of what his aspirations are now that we’ve got an NHL staff. All those things will resolve or work themselves out over the next little bit of time here.

"Adam [Oates] really is interested in being a head coach. I had some really good conversations with Adam, really interesting. I’m better for having had those conversations; hopefully he is to a certain extent. You never know what happens down the road."

What comes next for the Albany staff?

Shero: "Rick, Tommy, I know Sergei Brylin’s in that mix, David Cunniff – those are just things that we need to get to. I’ve talked to Rick, we spent time with him, Tommy, Sergei, just to see if we have the right mix or they have the right mix and make those decisions. It’s not a red flag either way on anybody. It’s making sure the right decision is made. I’m not going to force or rush anything. Now we’ve made decisions [on the NHL staff], we’ve got the Draft coming up. We’re giving a heads up on what we’re thinking and most importantly [finding out] what they’re thinking. It’s not just a one-way street."

How have preparations for the Draft have been going?

Shero: "I think it’s been really good. [Director of Scouting] David Conte’s been here for three days and we’ll finish up today, but we’ll have more conversations this weekend and again in Florida when we’re down there. Some of it started in Buffalo at the Combine with the scouting staff. It’s just the more information I get from other managers around the League as far as what they’re thinking, even could be trade-wise; right now we’re focused on [selecting] sixth. That’s where we are right now and, fortunately, having two pretty good picks [36, 41] in the second round. It’s important with all teams, as we know, hopefully finding someone after that. I think that’s a challenge for every team. We’re spending time on that as well, but as far as final decisions or calls as to moving up or down, you can have all the ideas you want, other teams can, but it’s usually going to take place on the floor or after a pick. You have to be prepared for that, so that’s what we’re working on."

Is your philosophy to address the team's biggest need or take the best player available?

Shero: "It’s got to be best player, I think, especially when you’re picking this high. There’s other parts of the Draft that you’re going off the list, and saying ‘Listen this is the time we’re going to take a goalie.’ Yeah, there are certain times when we are taking something; where a team [might say] ‘We took three forwards last year, we’re in the fourth round, two guys are relatively even, let’s take a defenseman.’ Or in the seventh round, 'There’s a guy going to junior or there’s a guy that is going to college potentially for four years.' You’re kind of balancing that, but in the mid to late rounds, you’re looking for that upside, some sort of special player, if you can. If you can find that one person, all the better, because you’re going to strike out on some for sure. Everybody wants that Patric Hornqvist story or Jamie Benn story in the fifth round, Daniel Alfredsson in the sixth round, Pekka Rinne in the eighth round – they don’t have eight rounds anymore – but everyone’s looking for something like that."

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