Three key items on the New Jersey Devils' off-season to-do list
GM Tom Fitzgerald figures to be a busy man this summer. Let's take a look at the biggest decisions he has to make.
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New Jersey Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald has a lot to figure out this off-season. A lot.
The Devils have put together just one half decent season in 10 years. While the fruits of sucking are now more evident than at any point during this stretch of misery, I think it is fair to say the patience of ownership – and the fans – is wearing very, very thin.
It is imperative that the ship gets steered in the right direction next season. Properly handling these three issues could go a long way towards doing so.
Figure out the coaching staff
This is the first – and arguably most important – item on the plate of Tom Fitzgerald. That may feel like an exaggeration but, as we saw with the power play, it doesn’t much matter what pieces you have in place if they can’t be properly utilized.
We’ll start with Lindy Ruff. On one hand, he was brought in to be the horse for the course as the team looked to ascend up the standings. That hasn’t happened.
The Devils won 46 games over two seasons with Ruff in charge. That’s more than only the Seattle Kraken - a team that has played one year.
He has ruffled some feathers (no pun intended) along the way, running Mackenzie Blackwood into the ground while fighting through injuries, routinely starting an inexperienced kid (Nico Daws) in both legs of back-to-back after back-to-back, over utilizing players like Mikey McLeod, and publicly calling out others when they didn’t necessarily deserve it. There is no shortage of ammo to justify moving on.
The flip side of all that: Ruff coaches a high-pace system that plays into the hands of the team’s young stars like Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt. The Devils generally posted strong 5v5 metrics despite a revolving door of players coming in and out of the lineup, and Ruff had a healthy, reliable goaltending tandem for *checks notes* zero games thus far.
While I personally have reservations about Ruff staying put, I don’t think keeping him would be egregious. The caveat to that is making necessary changes around him; like with the power play coach.
I hate calling for people’s heads. It’s not nice for the person under fire, nor their family members. But this is a results driven business and New Jersey’s power play has been complete and utter garbage for two years.
Forget scoring goals; how about generating some shots, chances, and putting pressure on your opponents? The Devils haven’t done that with any consistency at all.
Here is how they fared in key categories of 5v4 play from 2020-22:
Shots on goal/60 —> 42.19 (32nd)
Expected goals/60 —> 5.38 (30th)
Actual goals/60 —> 5.38 (29th)
Goals against/60 —> 1.76 (32nd)
Net goals/60 —> 3.62 (31st)
We’re looking at some truly miserable numbers and I’m not sure they do justice for how out of sorts the Devils have been almost every time over the boards.
Some fun facts to go with the ineptitude:
a) Dougie Hamilton, normally one of the most efficient PP producers among defensemen, ranked 55/63 in points per 60 this season.
b) Of the 116 forwards to net at least five power play goals this season, Jack Hughes (7) was the only Devil to crack the list.
That’s fine, though. How could you expect the likes of Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, or Yegor Sharangovich to score as often on the PP as a broken down Sean Monahan, a well past peak Corey Perry, an injury prone Robby Fabbri, or stellar depth pieces like Kyle Okposo and Alex Chiasson? You can’t, of course.
It’s clear some form of changes to the coaching staff need to be made. Who stays, and who goes, will play a large role in deciding the fate of next year’s team.
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