John Hynes’ New Jersey Devils: Looking at the new system’s success


The New Jersey Devils are 12 games into the season, and already you can tell that the team will continue to follow its old philosophy: rely on sound defense and goaltending to succeed.

Last year, the Devils struggled mightily on offense and were not defensive stalwarts, either. Jersey’s Team finished with one of its worst records in decades. Even worse, neither the veteran-laden offense nor the potential-filled defense got the job done. Gone went Pete DeBoer and the three-headed coach. In came John Hynes.

Unless you lived under a rock, you knew that Hynes preached a “fast, attacking, and supportive” system. Upon hearing this, many clamored, insisting that this would compromise the Devils’ defensive prowess in exchange for moderate improvement in the scoring department. In actuality, how has this system addressed the Devils’ scoring woes? Has it hurt the defense’s development in any way.

Team Offense

Possibly the most overhyped attribute of the Devils, the offense is still facing plenty of difficulties. People like to think that the team’s long-standing offensive woes have disappeared, as if Hynes’ system and Lee Stempniak were able to transform one of the league’s worst in all goal-scoring categories into some sort of juggernaut that can pick up points at whim. That is certainly not the case.

The 2014-15 squad scored 2.15 goals on 24.5 shots per game (twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth, respectively). This year’s version of the Devils, through 11 games, score at a 2.36 goals on 25.7 shots per game rate, good for twenty-first and twenty-ninth in the league, respectively. Over an 82 game season, that difference translates into 17 more goals.

On the surface, it appears that this year’s offense is going to fare way better than last year. But that’s not necessarily true. What we really need to look at is the team’s goal-scoring ability at 5-on-5, because that is the most indicative of a system at work. Powerplay numbers can fluctuate so much from year to year due to myriad factors and likewise should not be looked at here.

Looking solely at the 5-on-5 stats it is clear there exists a significant jump in offense, but not in the way most think. The Devils scored 1.75 goals with about 24.4 shots per 60 minutes last year. Those numbers were both bottom-three in the NHL.

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This year, that number has gone down by one-third, and now lies at 1.17 goals per 60 minutes. That difference is enormous, account for 48 less goals scored at even strength over a full 82 games. Shots per 60 stayed constant at 24.4. Most importantly, the Devils have a truly horrendous 5-on-5 shooting percentage at 4.78%, compared to a less absurd 7.20% last season.

Long story short, the Devils offense has significantly worsened at even strength. Why is that? Can you blame the system, the personnel, the coaching, or rotten luck? I think low shooting percentages are mostly to blame, but there are some other factors about which I will go in greater depth later this week when I write about the Devils’ bottom-six forwards.

Team Defense

Let me skip the surface stats: the Devils are still mightily struggling, overall, on defense, but most of that is due to the team’s weak penalty kill. Ignoring special teams (again, because they are too volatile to factor in), the Devils went from 1.89 goals on 28.8 shots per 60 (second and fourteenth, respectively). Now, they are only allowing 1.40 goals on 22.3 shots per 60, good for third and first in the league.

Lo, the Devils defense has improved considerably. New Jersey has returned to the days of low-event hockey, which is good for the fans of the 1-0 or 2-1 contests rather than some of the high-scoring defensively barren results we see on a nightly basis around the league.

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Is it possible that John Hynes’ new system is conducive to defensive success? I don’t know about that. I will say that one of Hynes’ tendencies, whether intentional or not, is efficient in the short run but not at all a suitable long-term strategy. Specifically, Hynes relies on specialization to divide starts among the defensemen.

Adam Larsson and Andy Greene are talented on both ends of the ice yet they rank second and third in the entire NHL (out of all defensemen) in terms of defensive zone starts, respectively. They never have any opportunity to produce offense at even strength.

On the flip side, Damon Severson, David Schlemko, John Moore, and Eric Gelinas all rank in the top-10 in offensive zone starts (among defensemen). Hynes shelters the bottom-four defensemen and squeezes the most that he can out of the Greene-Larsson pairing. As a result, we have seen a highly talented defense that rarely concedes goals. In the long run, leaving Greene and Larsson to fend for themselves in the defensive zone will hurt the play of both blue-liners. In addition, never asking Severson, Merrill, or Gelinas to play solid two-way hockey will harm their long-term development.


The Devils offense led by John Hynes is far worse than it was last year under DeBoer and the three-headed monster. Blame that on an incredibly low shooting percentage, not so much the system. The defense has vastly improved but only because of Hynes’ over-reliance on the top pairing to stop chances near the goal. In the long run, those numbers will start to drop, but your guess is as good as mine in terms of where they will finish.

The offense is no better than it was before. The defense is better than before. I bet those conclusions were not what most expected from the Hynes regime.