The Devils had been using their extended offseason to conduct a thorough search simultaneously for their new head coach and GM. In the end, they’ve decided to change the coach and keep the team as the team announced in a pair of press releases that they have hired Lindy Ruff as their new head coach and removed the interim title from Tom Fitzgerald who now is their full-time general manager.
Managing partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer released the following statement about Fitzgerald’s promotion to the full-time role:
When Tom took over the role of GM in January, we were committed to moving the organization in a new direction. Having gone through the process of interviewing various candidates, including Tom, and reviewing his work in the interim, we feel that he is the best fit for the New Jersey Devils moving forward. Our decision was solidified by his ability to stabilize the organization, get solid returns at the trade deadline, make impressive plans for player development and hire a new coach in Lindy Ruff. We are very optimistic about our future and know we have great deal of talent, both on and off the ice. Together, we are excited to start a new chapter and are committed to becoming a consistent contender, which our fans deserve.
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald said the following regarding his decision to hire Ruff:
We are proud and excited to have Lindy Ruff join our organization as Head Coach. He is one of the most successful and respected coaches in the NHL, not only today, but in League history. His personality, experience, knowledge, work-ethic and focus will provide a calm presence in our locker room. He is the right coach at the right time for our organization. Lindy has a proven track record of getting the absolute best out of his players across the board- stars, role players and everyone in between. His teaching ability, and communication skills will be well-suited for our team, especially our young, developing players. Throughout his career, his teams have been greater than the sum of their parts. I look forward to working together with Lindy as the organization moves forward.
Ruff takes over from Alain Nasreddine who had previously held the interim title behind the bench. Unlike Nasdreddine, who was a first-time bench boss in the NHL, Ruff comes to the team with plenty of experience. He spent parts of 15 seasons as the head coach of the Sabres from 1997-18 through 2013-14 before being replaced by Ron Rolston mid-season, a move that has sparked a flurry of coaching turnover in that organization since then. Ruff didn’t wait too long before getting another job though as in 2013, as he was named the head coach of the Stars, a role he held for four seasons.
Since being let go from Dallas in 2017, the 60-year-old has served as an assistant coach with the Rangers, a division rival of New Jersey so he’ll have some familiarity with the Devils. While it was first thought that Ruff would finish up his contract with New York as they’re set to participate in the play-in round against Carolina, that will not be the case. Instead, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports (Twitter link) that Gord Murphy, the associate coach at AHL Hartford, will join New York for their run and that Ruff’s departure is immediate.
Beyond Ruff and Nasreddine, three other veteran coaches were in consideration for the position. Peter Laviolette, John Stevens, and Gerard Gallant were believed to be the other finalists.
As for Fitzgerald, it is hard to argue that the former player and veteran executive did not deserve the official GM role. A former Assistant GM for the Pittsburgh Penguins who has spent the past five years in the same role with the Devils, Fitzgerald was bumped to interim GM for New Jersey back in January went the team surprisingly parted ways with Ray Shero. In the weeks following, leading up to the trade deadline, Fitzgerald dealt impending free agents Sami Vatanen, Andy Greene, and Wayne Simmonds in separate deals for second-, fourth-, and fifth-round draft picks and prospect Janne Kuokkanen and in his biggest move landed prized prospect Nolan Foote and a 2020 first-round pick for forward Blake Coleman. Fitzgerald maximized the value of his expendable assets and showed he is a worthy deal-maker.
Whether Fitzgerald finds the same success with his first coaching hire however remains to be seen. There will be some that are critical of his choice to recycle Ruff, especially with the caliber of available coaches on the market, but judgement should be reserved until the product can be seen on the ice. Fortunately, Ruff, Fitzgerald, and company have a long offseason ahead of them and should be well-prepared by the time next season rolls around.
Kevin Weekes of the NHL Network was the first to report (via Twitter) the Ruff hiring and Fitzgerald’s promotion to the full-time role.
Zach Leach also contributed to this post.