Jay Leach Could Be Answer to New Jersey Devils' Coaching Vacancy

The New Jersey Devils moved on from Lindy Ruff. Jay Leach should be at the top of their list for coaching candidates.

Providence Bruins v Laval Rocket
Providence Bruins v Laval Rocket / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

The New Jersey Devils announced they fired head coach Lindy Ruff late Monday evening. While many are excited and relieved, the immediate next question in most fans' minds is: Who is going to be the next coach?

There are several options. From giving Jay Woodcroft a second chance to praying for Kyle Dubas to fire Mike Sullivan, the Devils should have the most attractive head coach opening. A name that should be on the top of Tom Fitzgerald's list is one that is quite familiar to Devils fans: Jay Leach

Jay Leach is a 44-year-old former NHL defenseman who played for a variety of teams throughout his career, including both the New Jersey Devils and the Albany Devils, the latter of which he served captain for. He played his last professional season in 2012-13 and started his coaching career in 2014-15 with Adler Mannheim in Germany. In 2015, Leach joined Mike Sullivan's staff in Pittsburgh's AHL affiliate. He was promoted to interim head coach when Sullivan joined the NHL. In that offseason, Leach was hired in Providence as head coach and remained there for five years. He maintained an average points percentage of 63.4% across those five years. While he had regular-season success, he could not translate it to the postseason, as he only made the conference finals once. When the Kraken joined the NHL, Leach was hired to be Dave Hakstol's assistant coach and took charge of the defense.

While Leach's exact contribution to the Seattle defense is unknown, it certainly seems like he positively influences the group. Vince Dunn and Adam Larsson have shined in the system, while rookie Ryker Evans has seamlessly fit in. In fact, among defensive pairs with over 100 minutes played together, the Dumoulin-Evans pair ranks first in xGA.

When looking at the team's underlying numbers, it's even more impressive. In Seattle's inaugural season, they were ranked 11th in xGA. That ranking has only improved, climbing to 7th and 4th in 2022-23 and 2023-24, respectively. While Seattle has stagnated offensively, their defensive numbers have remained strong, allowing the group to maintain playoff hopes.

Vince Dunn, Brandon Tanev, Adam Larsson
Calgary Flames v Seattle Kraken / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

An important thing to consider is the Boston Coaching Tree, as pointed out by Jason MacIsaac on Twitter. Similar to the Shanahan or McVay trees, hockey also has coaching families. The Boston Tree is known for stringent, focused defensive play emphasizing getting pucks on the net. Leach's playing days at Providence College in association with his coaching days with the Providence Bruins brandish him with this style of hockey. It is one that is fun to watch not only as fans but also translates to winning hockey, as seen with the Bruins over the years.

The Devils have primarily been a rush-based team since Ruff took over. Last year, they could maintain puck superiority and create chances at will. This year that puck domination is gone, and all that is left is transitional hockey that leads to great chances against. Coupled with two rookie defensemen playing big minutes and poor goaltending, it's been a rough year. Adding some defensive security will allow the Devils to conquer the puck differently. Leach may also be able to unlock the cycle game as well, which is a neccesity in the playoffs where time and space are limited. Leach could be the coach that takes them to the next level - to be a true contender.

Stats from MoneyPuck