New Jersey Devils Should Hire Meghan Duggan as Their Next Head Coach

With the list of potential New Jersey Devils head coaching candidates looking underwhelming, why not promote a trailblazing internal candidate to the job? Meghan Duggan would be a fresh perspective for a locker room that needs one.
Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 13
Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 13 / Harry How/GettyImages

What if I told you there was a New Jersey Devils coaching candidate who was an Olympic Gold Medalist, a seven-time IIHF World Champion, a former NCAA hockey coach, a player development executive, and a member of the NHL’s Player Inclusion Committee? Would you be interested in interviewing that candidate? 

Surely, the answer is surely yes.

Those qualifications belong to Meghan Duggan, the legendary US Women’s Hockey player and the current Director of Player Development for the New Jersey Devils. Before joining the Devils, she was the captain of the United States Woman Hockey team and an assistant coach on the Clarkson University women’s hockey team.

It’s unknown if Duggan would be interested in the head coaching role, one that would come with tremendous scrutiny in a tough media market. But if she is, the Devils would be foolish not to consider hiring her.

Duggan was hired as the Devils Director of Player Development in May 2021. At the time of the announcement, Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald showered Duggan with praise.

“Her successful track record as a teammate, leader, captain, and driver of initiatives will be a resource to all players in our organization," Fitzgerald said. "We look forward to her utilizing her perspective of the game, attention to detail, and creative thinking to help our players reach their potential."

Duggan served as the coach of one of the teams at this year’s PWHL Showcase at the NHL All-Star Game. Admittedly, this is not the highest coaching honor one can achieve, but it displays an interest in coaching and a desire to be a public-facing representative of the Devils organization.

The Devils need a fresh voice in the locker room to combat the stale, tired leadership of Lindy Ruff and, more recently, Travis Greene. They need a spark to reignite them heading into next season. Duggan would be a completely different type of voice from what the team has grown used to. 

Women have started to trailblaze a path toward NHL coaching positions over the past few seasons. Former Canadian national team player Jessica Campbell is a full-time assistant coach for the AHL's Coachella Valley Firebirds on head coach Dan Bylsma’s staff. Bylsma is another coach who has been floated as a potential replacement for Ruff. 

However, no woman has yet been hired by an NHL team as an assistant coach or head coach. So if the Devils were to hire Duggan in the role, she would be entering truly uncharted territory. 

That’s not to say she would be ill-equipped for the job. By being hired as the Devils’ Director of Player Development, Duggan has clearly been trusted by Devils management to contribute in a high-profile role. This role involves strong communication and management skills and direct interaction with players throughout the entire organization. The skills she has developed in that role run parallel to those needed to be a successful head coach.

Some critics of this idea will say, “She doesn’t have any coaching experience. Maybe she can be hired as an assistant and then considered as a head coach down the line.” 

This logic ignores that many of the current NHL coaches did not start as assistants for any NHL team before jumping straight to the NHL head coaching job. Jon Cooper was a head coach for the AHL Syracuse Crunch before being hired as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar came straight from the Columbus Blue Jackets AHL team.  And those are coaches with prior major professional head coaching experience. On the other hand, Martin St. Louis is a current NHL head coach who never had any coaching jobs in pro hockey before being hired. 

If legendary male hockey players like St. Louis and Patrick Roy in New York are able to cut the line for head coaching positions, why not legendary women hockey players?

At the very least, Duggan should be allowed to serve as an assistant coach for whoever the Devils hire as head coach. She would be an asset in the role and would bring the NHL one step closer to becoming the first of the United States male professional sports leagues to hire a woman as a head coach.