October 24th, at home against the Washington Capitals. That is the last time the New Jersey Devils lost a hockey game. The loss brought the team to 3-3-0 on the season, not ideal, but on the heels of a three-game win streak, things appeared to be looking up despite the loss. Fast forward nearly three weeks and the team finds itself 11-3-0, riding an eight-game win streak heading into tonight’s matchup at home agains the Arizona Coyotes. The team’s recent play now has many believing the rebuilding Devils are finally back to the elite squad they were for much of the 1990’s and 2000’s and that has, in turn, made many wonder what the team’s plans are shaping up to be for the trading season. NJ.com’s Ryan Novozinsky sat down with Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald to discuss that topic and several others.
On making trades and the deadline itself, Fitzgerald said he’d like to see more and to evaluate where the team stands after 20 games and 40 games. The veteran executive added that he prefers to build his teams through the offseason rather than through the trade deadline. Still, Fitzgerald didn’t rule out the possibility of trading assets for rentals, but made clear that would have to be dependent on the team’s situation at the time. As Fitzgerald says, “[i]f I can make a hockey trade that improves our club, then yeah, I’ll explore that.”
- On star winger Jesper Bratt, who is currently signed to a one-year, $5.45MM contract that will leave him a RFA this offseason, Fitzgerald disagrees with the common labeling of the pact as a “prove it” deal. The GM explained that the negotiation this summer was challenging, but that both sides were interested in a long-term agreement. The one-year deal made sense, given a looming arbitration hearing that likely both sides wanted to avoid and perhaps still far apart in negotiations, an amicable agreement such as this one that gets the job done and allows negotiations to start up again this winter, would be a wise one for team and player. In fact, Fitzgerald reiterated his excitement to restart negotiations on a long-term deal come January. Through 14 games this season, Bratt has 18 points, a 105-point pace over 82 games.
- One topic Fitzgerald is hesitant to discuss is the contract status of head coach Lindy Ruff. During the dying minutes of New Jersey’s home opener loss to the Detroit Red Wings, fans at the Prudential Center began chanting for Fitzgerald to fire the coach, however that tone has of course changed. Still, Fitzgerald isn’t willing to make a move. The GM applauded the coach’s ability to have the team “explode offensively” just as his Dallas Stars teams were able to, but cautioned the eagerness to extend the veteran coach. Given the team’s rocky start, which came on the heels of two difficult seasons under Ruff, followed by an impressive stretch recently, it’s understandable why the organization would wait to make a decision on the future of their coach.
- Finally, Fitzgerald and Novozinsky discussed the playing time of prospects, namely forward Alexander Holtz and defenseman Kevin Bahl, who have played four and three games this year, respectively. Fitzgerald explained his reasoning for keeping the pair on the roster despite being able to send both to the AHL, where they could play more regularly, saying that he would like them to be able to adjust to the pace of the NHL game, which they can get in practice. In other words, Fitzgerald explained that he believes both are better off practicing regularly in the NHL than playing regularly in the AHL. The executive made clear that this decision was one made with the development of both players in mind.