On Friday afternoon, the New Jersey Devils announced at their official website another new face to team management: Tom Fitzgerald. He's been named the Assistant General Manager to Ray Shero. As the announcement states, Fitzgerald also came from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization and served under Shero in a similar capacity. Since Shero's hiring, this is the third major hiring of personnel that he has worked with previously in Pittsburgh. It is at this point that I have some questions about the decision.
My initial reaction was clear on Twitter: What does an assistant general manager even do? From the replies I got (and I thank all that I have received), it depends. Some take an active role with how the team is managed such as helping with making decisions or working with affiliates. Others are really there to just absorb information and be groomed for the main position in the future. It appears that Fitzgerald will be more active. Tom Gulitti had an interview with the new assistant GM at Fire & Ice. Here's what he had to say about what his job will be:
[Gulitti:] Will you have more responsibilities than in Pittsburgh? The Penguins have multiple assistant GMs. Will you be the lone assistant GM for the Devils?
[Fitzgerald:] "Yeah, it's just going to be me. Ray and I will go through it exactly, but I'll be more involved with Albany. It will be similar to what I did in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The exact role, we'll figure that out, but I've had my hands in four of five different cookie jars over the past eight years, whether it's being a sounding board for the coaches, helping evaluate what's going on in Albany, go out and find players from the outside, from the development side putting together a staff that is committed to spending time with the prospects and building relationships with them and developing a mentality and an attitude of what we want the Devils to be. That's all going to be part of it. So, I'm lucky. I get to do multiple things. I'll do some contracts, which I've done in (Pittsburgh). I'll continue that. So, yeah, I'm Ray's right-hand man."
This is where I find this hiring to be questionable. Over at PensBurgh, Hooks Orpik had this post about Fitzgerald was hired away. With Pittsburgh, his main role was in development. Per a referenced Lyle Kossis tweet, not many players were developed under his eye. A quick scan of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton rosters from 2009-10 through to 2014-15 does not reveal too many players that became anything more than depth players at best in Pittsburgh. The tone of Hooks Orpik's post, that reference, and the lack of comments over their decrying the loss of Fitzgerald point to the conclusion that he won't really be missed. That makes me wonder whether having Fitzgerald in a similar role in New Jersey would really work.
Was Albany much better in that regard? Sort of. It can be argued that Albany has not provided a ton of talent either in recent years. I suppose Keith Kinkaid would be the most recent. But there were a number of players who did play up there that weren't necessarily hindered like Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, and Jon Merrill for examples. You'll notice those aren't forwards, but that's also a function of how the team drafted. Still, if Fitzgerald didn't help matters much from a developmental standpoint in Pittsburgh, then what's going to be different this time? At least there won't be any changes to the head coaching position in Albany. Gulitti confirmed in a Tweet on Saturday that Shero stated Rick Kowalsky and Sergei Brylin will stay. Chris Lamoriello remains the GM in Albany, too. We'll see how long that lasts with Fitzgerald presumably overseeing the minor league team.
The other questionable aspect is that he's another Pittsburgh guy. While I understand that Shero is hiring people he knows and is comfortable with, the idea of getting new faces and ideas into the organization is dulled if they are from the same place. It's true that the Devils as they are now are different from Pittsburgh from recent years. There may be some lessons to learn from there, certainly. Yet, my concern is that Fitzgerald would just provide the same mindset of what they did in Pittsburgh, regardless of whether it was a good move or not. I'm not saying he's going to be a yes-man for Shero, but I would've preferred someone from a different organization, who will more likely provide a different perspective. Ideally one more familiar with the current state the Devils are in or with a better track record with development. The latter is especially crucial as the Devils will be relying on it to a point as they re-build the squad with talented players.
I get that it is natural for a manager in any sport to surround him or herself around with those he or she knows best. I just hope Shero is not so blind to the fact that the Devils are not likely going to follow Pittsburgh's path. Even if Shero decrees to crash and burn this season, that doesn't guarantee they'll get one of the best players in the world. Much less two of them. Plus some other talented players to use and move as needed. Therefore, I think that Shero should consider other candidates such that the background is not all uniform. That the acting message won't be "Let's try to do what was done before." The director of scouting position is certainly key for the Devils. I would be most unhappy if Shero goes back to his Penguin past for that.
Of course, this could be the sort of hiring that is ultimately inoffensive. That it does not mean much. And it could still work out well for the Devils, I just find this one by Shero to be more questionable than the others so far. All the same, I wish the best of luck to Tom Fitzgerald.
Now I want to know what you think about this hire? What do you expect Tom Fitzgerald to actually do? Are you pleased with another Penguin joining the staff? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this hire in the comments. Thank you for reading.