Opinion: It’s Time to Hold Tom Fitzgerald Accountable for Devils’ Struggles

Tom Fitzgerald, General Manager and President of Hockey Operations for the New Jersey Devils
Photo: Getty Images

Going into the 2023 offseason, the New Jersey Devils went from a rebuilding team into a contending team. They now have championship aspirations and a core of young, talented players locked up for many years to come. There was a lot of excitement going into the 23/24 campaign that the Devils would take another step forward. Fast forward to today, and this season has been nothing short of a major disappointment. There’s a lot of blame to go around, but one name that needs to be talked about more is the team’s general manager, Tom Fitzgerald.

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Fitzgerald has made a lot of good moves to get New Jersey to the position that they were in heading into this season. He’s made smart trades to bring in guys like Jonas Siegenthaler, John Marino, and Timo Meier. He’s signed and locked up the likes of Dougie Hamilton, Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt. He’s taken an organization that was lacking in youth and interest and turned them into one of the most exciting and talented teams in the NHL. However, there are mistakes or lack of moves that have hindered the team from progressing more.

The most glaring and obvious mistake by Fitzgerald was not addressing the goaltending positions either during or after the offseason. It looked like a match made in hockey heaven when the Devils were reportedly rumored to go after Winnipeg Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck, but nothing materialized, and the netminder signed a long-term extension not too long after the rumors died out. There have been other potential options that Fitzgerald has looked into like Jacob Markström, Juuse Saros, John Gibson, Elvis Merzlikins, and even Jake Allen. No trade has happened for any of them and now the Devils are currently riding a trio of Nico Daws, Akira Schmid, and Vitek Vanecek. Despite Daws’ recent good play, the goaltending overall is a mess and has been a major factor in this season’s demise.

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The next mistake was not adding more of a veteran presence on the blue line. The Devils currently are starting three defensemen under the age of 24, and two of them are rookies (Luke Hughes and Šimon Nemec). Losing guys like Damon Severson and Ryan Graves forced the team to play more inexperienced defensemen, and it’s not fully worked out. Sure, Hughes and Nemec have looked good at times, with the latter being more consistent, but the lack of shutdown defensive defensemen have hurt this team and is part of the problem of the Devils starting slow in games. Giving up the first goal in more than 70% of your games shows the struggles they’ve had on defense.

Last but certainly not least is keeping Lindy Ruff as the team’s head coach. Since being hired back in 2020, many fans and others were skeptical of the hire and looking at things now, it’s very understandable and reasonable that Ruff needs to go. Despite last season’s major success, the team has regressed a bunch and a major part of the struggles lie squarely on the man behind the bench. While there have been major injuries and other issues, the team is at its healthiest in quite some time, and the team is still struggling. Ruff’s constant lineup changes, shunting guys like Meier, Tyler Toffoli, and Alexander Holtz to bottom-six roles, and zero changes to the power play have driven any who support the team nuts.

It’s gotten so bad that fans are once again chanting, “Fi-re Lindy” during games. It’s obvious that Ruff’s shelf life in New Jersey is coming to an end. If the Devils don’t have a successful West Coast road trip, it’s possible that Ruff could be let go by the end of it. This team is too talented to be underperforming offensively this much. They potted six goals on the Flyers at the Stadium Series. In the last four games since then, the Devils have scored eight while giving up 18. The Devils need a new voice and philosophy that will put this team in the best possible position to succeed.

There’s certainly that needs to fall on the players as well as Ruff, but at the end of the day, Fitzgerald has taken a major part as well in the blame by not doing much to help the team improve. He can no longer just sit idly while his team falls further and further out of playoff contention. It may be too late this year, but he needs to do something, anything, to light a fire and give his team a chance to turn things around. If not, then those, “Fi-re Lindy”, chants could change to, “Fi-re Fitzy.”

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