Earlier today, the New Jersey Devils made it official. Tom Fitzgerald is now the team’s general manager (and executive vice president) and Lindy Ruff is the team’s head coach. Thanks to Kevin Weekes for breaking that news first. The team held a video press conference earlier this afternoon, which was streamed on Youtube. Here are the highlights from that conference:
- Matt Loughlin hosted the press conference. Attendees: Tom Fitzgerald, Lindy Ruff, David Blitzer.
- Blitzer gave a statement on the behalf of himself and Josh Harris. He calls working with Fitzgerald for 4.5 years as an assistant GM and the last six months as interim as a “fantastic experience.” Blitzer is excited about the organization with the “young players, cap space, and prospects” they have. He is excited about the future. With Ruff, Blitzer highlighted “his success over the last 25 years, how well he communicates, and how he developed young players.”
- Loughlin then introduces Fitzgerald to the call.
- Fitzgerald is extremely excited about this. He did not dream about being a GM when he was a player, but after his playing career, he chose a path for management. He thanks Ray Shero for helping him down that path. Fitzgerald stated that his job really started on January 13 and the interim tag did not impact how he was seen or how his job went. He thanks the other teams for treating him as such. Fitzgerald also thanks his family and he is grateful for their support. He noted Shero, Jay Botterrill, and Chuck Fletcher as mentors. He also thanks the team’s staff for helping him grow over the last six months.
- Loughlin then introduces Ruff to the call.
- Ruff is “super excited” to be a part of the Devils. Ruff believed it was a perfect fit for him based on his discussions with Fitzgerald about the team and the direction He thanks the Rangers for the opportunity of the last three years and letting him talk with the Devils. Ruff goes back to the 2006-07 Sabres and would like to bring back a “super fast, puck possession” game. He also stated that defending will have to be a “passion” for the team to have to go along with the speed. Ruff wants to help direct the team to go back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and go in the right direction. He “can’t wait to get going.”
- Loughlin now opens the floor to questions.
- First question from Amanda Stein, which was for Blitzer. She asked about whether the was a given moment where they decided upon Fitzgerald. Blitzer emphasized how pleased they were with how Fitzgerald handled everything since he was the interim GM. Blitzer highlighted how Fitzgerald handled the coaching search, not just with the results, among all other things.
- Second question from Greg Wyshynski, which was for Fitzgerald. He asked how aggressive he would be given the flat cap that could be in place for multiple seasons to come. Fitzgerald did agree that there was an opportunity to “get ahead of where we were prior to the pandemic.” He did state that he cannot get too excited about what will be, but it is a factor.
- Third question from Corey Masisak, which was for Blitzer. What sort of timeline do you have for seeing the team to compete for a playoff spot. Blitzer said it was a difficult question, but he thinks the core the team will be “excited for a long time” and there will be “different dynamics” that will have to be managed. There are moves they intend to make over the summer. They want to be contenders in “the coming years.” But Blitzer believes “the players will tell us” Blitzer emphasized there is no line in the sand that they intend to make the playoffs next seas
- Fourth question from Stein, which was for Blitzer. What did the search committee look like when it came to the GM? Blitzer said he and Josh Harris were the most involved. He used Brodeur as a sounding board for the last six months.
- Fifth question from Stein, which was all for Blitzer. What elements did you want to see in a GM? Blitzer says he does not put things in boxes, he took a holistic approach. Fitzgerald’s player experience was a factor; his past experience as a coach was a factor; his assistant GM. His character, his value, how he “looks at the chessboard,” the development plans he has in place, his leadership qualities, his decision making - specifically noting the trade deadline were all factors. It was not just one thing.
- Sixth question from Colin Stephenson, which was for Fitzgerald. In leading the search for a head coach, what made Ruff the selection? What stood about him among other “big name” candidates? Fitzgerald stated that the search was extensive and long. They communicated a lot about how the game should be played and similar, which helped initially. Fitzgerald stated that Ruff stood out because of his experience and his presence as someone who’s “been there, done that.” Fitzgerald stated that personality mattered; Ruff would be a teacher who can stick to a message. Ruff’s “infectious personality” was a big part of that presence. Being able to coach young core talent was another important element, which Ruff did in Buffalo and Dallas. As they kept digging, Ruff stood out and then they put him in front of Brodeur and Harris and Blitzer. It kept growing such that, relationship-wise and teamwork-wise, Ruff was the best person for the job.
- Seventh question from Colin Stephenson, which was for Ruff. What did you learn from the assistant role [with NY] that would help transition him to being a head coach? Ruff talked with Vigneault about being assistant. He asked why Ruff would want to be an assistant. Ruff stated he thought there was things he could learn from him and, at the time, neither won a Stanley Cup and so maybe together they could. The Rangers were rebuilding, bringing in a lot of young players, and Ruff specifically worked with those young defensemen. When David Quinn came in, Ruff stuck around to help Quinn learn how the NHL worked as a head coach and continued to help. To Ruff, this is a similar situation. Communication is utmost and he could spend a lot more time with young players - things you would not necessarily get to do as a head coach. Ruff
- Eighth question from Mike Morreale, which was for Fitzgerald. Are you able to speak to the status of the staff? Was Nas[reddine] offered a different position? Fitzgerald stated that the next step of the process is for he and Ruff. The current staff will get a chance to speak with Ruff. He thinks it is only fair that they get a chance and Ruff has a chance to make a decision. Fitzgerald noted that Nasreddine is still under contract. He specifically mentioned that he was “one of the best penalty killing coaches in the league” and “we still need help there.” Fitzgerald stated that Nasreddine did an “incredible job” under the circumstances and grew into the role. He is proud of Nasreddine. And so he will be in consideration.
- Ninth question from Morreale, which was for Ruff. What is your philosophy behind teaching young players? Ruff states that “his philosophy is constant communication. It is about building a role and a responsibility.” When it comes to a puck pressure game, some players are going to have talents that better fits than others. But communication is key as to help a player get to where you want to go. You can tell someone what to do, but you have to answer the “why” questions that follow.
- Tenth question from Neil McHale, which was for Blitzer. Is there a change in Brodeur’s title and what he will do given his involvement? Blitzer stated that Brodeur has been a huge “value add” to Josh and David. My “negative” on Tom is that he did not win the lottery; but in all honest, but we are excited about the Summer. We will have an exciting draft. Going back to Marty’s role, he thinks Brodeur will stay in his role. They will discuss it, but that is his expectation.
- Eleventh question from McHale, which was for Fitzgerald. Was there anything you took from past GM interviews and applied it to the this team? Fitzgerald says he loved his time in Pittsburgh, but at that time, he felt he needed different challenges to grow as a manager. Getting experience in communication with management groups, which is something he had to learn and still grow. And managing means everything. The experience he took from there and from New Jersey he did take to interviews. But that continues to grow and the important thing is the “day to day” activities, knowing when to lean on help, when to compartmentalize, and such.
- Twelfth question from McHale, which was for Ruff. How much has the younger players changed and in how you communicate over your time as a coach? Ruff says the changes have been great between Buffalo and Dallas. You don’t just take a player who has been playing one way for awhile and then just dump into a spot and expect him to the best defensive players. Ruff says the idea is that while you will make mistakes, but it is about knowing when to make the decisions and making better ones.
- Follow-up (thirteenth) question from McHale. He asked Ruff about Mike Grier? Ruff says it will be great to connect with Grier, he has a lot of respect as a player and even more as a person.
- Fourteenth question from Masisak, for Fitzgerald. What is your plan for the assistant GM position and the hockey operations staff under your guidance? Fitzgerald explained his own day (two hour walks every day) and how he has been thinking a lot about his own replacement and what he needs help at what is not his expertise. He does not have any names. He does have ideas.
- Fifteenth question from Masisak, for Ruff. What things are you going to be looking for when filling out your staff? Ruff says he is going to look internal first, talk with the current staff. The goal is to put the best coaching staff possible; he reiterated
- Sixteenth question from Randy Miller, for Ruff. He talked to Rob Ray and Ray thinks you will be a different coach as the “hard-nosed” days of coaching are over. Do you expect to be a different coach since the Billy Martin-type coaching is over? Ruff says “don’t get caught up with my emotion, but get caught up with my message.” Sometimes players do not respond to that emotion. He thinks there is a happy medium. He also believes if you ask past players. What Ray was saying that the days just walking in there and screaming; well, players now want to know “why do I need to do this.” So you need to communicate that this is all t. The players all need to know that I will have their back, but they need to have mine - and that’s the trust thing. We need to be together.
- Seventeenth question from Miller, for Ruff. Were you looking for a good fit as a head coach; to get that final feather in your cap? Ruff stated that the conversations he had with Fitzgerald were talked about was a lot more about whether we can help each other move this team forward. They can push each other that can lead to a team with better growth. What excited Ruff was that in talking with everyone was that they understand “where we are, where we want to go, and how we can do it together.”
- Eighteenth question from Miller, for Fitzgerald. What was the timeline for this process? Miller initially asked it for Ruff, but Fitzgerald stated he would explain. Fitzgerald gave an overview of the process, identifying a core group to talk to. Fitzgerald stated he started to communicate with Ruff by the end of March. Three to five hour Zoom calls and follow-up deep dive calls with candidates with him. Fitzgerald took the approach that if the coach could teach him, then they could teach. Then he would forward them onto Brodeur. Fitzgerald thanks all the candidates for their patience. He thanks John Davidson and Jake Gorton for letting them talk to Ruff. It was a long process.
- Nineteenth question from Molly Walker, for Ruff. During your time with the Rangers, what was that experience and did you miss being a head coach? Ruff initially felt he would be an assistant for a year and then move on. He described being an assistant as a break. Ruff wanted to get back to being a head coach, but he did enjoy coaching young players and help them grow. For the most part, those last few years were rewarding.
- Twentieth question Steve Cangialosi, for Ruff. Was the process of landing this job the strangest you ever had? Ruff agrees it was the strangest in all of my interviews in different places. This is a strange time. We are facing a lot of things that we have not faced before. Doing the Zoom meetings, how long the process went, and I found that it was easy to get on a Zoom call for 1-2 hours and then four and a half hours later, you’re still talking hockey with Fitzgerald. There were positives.
- Twentieth-first question from Cangialosi, for Ruff. You witnessed Tyler Seguin become a surefire star and was there anything you noticed in that process that may apply to Jack Hughes? Ruff stated that you see that with young players, they want to get to the finish line right away. Ruff explained that there is a lot of things for a young pro that has to develop, such as their practice habits, eating habits, sleeping habits. In Seguin’s case, he was a dynamic skater and shooter, and it was easy to find the right guys for him to play with. When you find it, it will last a long time. With Hughes, once you find the right guys to play with and as he gets stronger . No different from Kaapo Kakko, from across the river. It is about measuring levels of growth and taking off from there.
- Twentieth-second question from Stein, for Ruff. You have talked so much about communication and now that a lot of it is online, how do you plan to connect with players? Ruff says the way we are connecting now is probably how I will connect with them. I personally prefer to have a Zoom or Facetime call. There are a number of players I have coached before so I am familiar with them. But I will communicate them by all means and I will continue these ways to build a relationship with them before I meet them.
- This ended the press conference.
This is the first time I’ve documented a press conference and let me tell you that David Blitzer loves the word “excited.” More seriously, the big pieces to take from all of this is that there is still a lot to work on. The coaching staff is yet to be determined. Nasreddine and Grier were specifically asked and answered in this conference; I would keep an eye on both. Whoever will take over as assistant GM in Fitzgerald’s place is still yet to be determined. Fitzgerald says he does not have any names in mind. However, I think the staff directory at the Devils’ site may have some he may consider among any others he thinks of. As much as Blitzer talked about how impressed he was about how Fitzgerald managed the team amid the pandemic and the coaching search, I still think they could have ripped the interim tag off of him much earlier. Even during the coaching search, it could have helped ease some of the concern from the coaches going through the extensive process Fitzgerald discussed. That stated, I was pleased to hear that Blitzer specifically stated that it is up to the players will decide if they are a playoff team and that he is not putting a line in the sand for next season.
As for Fitzgerald’s answers, clearly he is very thoughtful. Multi-hour calls and follow-ups with coaches to go over tactics speaks a lot. Going for two hour walks every day to think about things speaks to that too (and it is a good idea, I get it). I get the impression that he worked primarily with Brodeur and the managing partners on the coaching decision; although I would not be shocked if there were more involved. He played close to the vest about Ruff’s staff and plans for the near future with respect to what will likely be a flat salary cap. Credit to Wyshynski for being the only one to ask something relevant to the new (and hopefully soon to be ratified) CBA, by the way.
I was surprised to learn that Ruff was considered as early as in March and that Fitzgerald really led an long, exhaustive process. This puts lie to a notion of whether Ruff was the last one available or similar. I was also surprised that the only names mentioned involved in the coaching process were Harris, Blitzer, Fitzgerald, and Brodeur. I was under the impression more were involved, and perhaps they were. But I expected some more names to be mentioned. Given how many people were thanked, I do not think anyone was holding back gratitude. Maybe I am wrong and those four were really in charge of it.
Ruff’s own comments were heartening. While Fitzgerald cited a lot of factors, communication was brought up first and most often. Ruff talked a lot about communication and how important it was. As well as how he enjoyed being an assistant so he could do that more with young players. I think it is fair to say how he connected with Fitzgerald and in his coaching career were major points in his favor in the eyes of the Devils. As does the After all, the core of the Devils is young and having a coach who is passionate about young players is good for that. It remains to be seen whether he will help Hischier, Hughes, Blackwood, Bratt, and others to get to where they want to go. At the least, Ruff has the resume and given how often he went back to it, I think it is legitimate. While Ruff mentioned how he had teams play fast in the past; that more talk was given about communication and development suggests that played a larger role in terms of why Fitzgerald made the choice that he made.
Curiously, no one questioned or brought up how Ruff did as an assistant with respect to the defense and penalty killing. To put it bluntly, he was really bad at it. Fitzgerald specifically cited the penalty kill under Nasreddine and how the team still needs help in that area while praising his work as interim head coach. That was the closest the subject was really broached in the press conference. Perhaps Fitzgerald and Ruff will see if he could stay on as an assistant to Ruff in that role. Perhaps Grier could do that as well (or in place of Nasreddine)? We’ll see whether that actually happens.
My opinion on both remains about the same from last night. I want to be wrong; I want both Ruff and Fitzgerald to improve a team that badly needs improvement. Right now, I am still not confident they are the right people to do that. As ever, we shall see.
Additionally, Amanda Stein tweeted out a video interview Matt Loughlin did with Devils legend and current executive vice president and advisor to hockey operations, Martin Brodeur, about the Ruff hire. As learned during the press conference, Brodeur was involved in the decision making process. This was posted prior to the press conference. Here are my takeaways from that interview:
- Per Loughlin, Brodeur was involved in the decision to hire Ruff.
- Brodeur states that Ruff was looked at early on, primarily due to his experience. He “checked a lot of boxes.”
- Ruff was willing to change his role from being an assistant with the Rangers to take a bigger role in being a head coach again.
- Brodeur was reminded of the “Jacques Lemaire and Claude Julien eras” in that he was a guy who “been there and done that before.”
- Loughlin asked Brodeur about what he learned under Ruff as Brodeur played for him in the past with Canada. Brodeur explains that Ruff has an “infectious personality,” he has a “laid-back demeanor,” and that he carries himself with confidence. Brodeur thinks this would be good for the players to have someone with experience and knows what he has been talking about.
- Brodeur specifically noted that Ruff is welcoming to having a lot of help. “I’m sure we will build a really good staff around him to help everybody.”
- Loughlin highlights Ruff’s resume and how he stayed current since he was a part of the Rangers’ staff. Brodeur concurred, noting that he appreciated how Ruff stayed in the game.
- Loughlin asked how he was like to play against him, specifically when he was behind the bench. More about his preparation. Brodeur responded by stating that they were very structured. Not just with Buffalo, but he saw it with Dallas when he was with the St. Louid Blues. Brodeur noted that he was OK with defensive hockey, but he was also OK with offensive hockey in Dallas. So he thinks he can adjust to what he has with the team.
I am not super-suprised that Brodeur was involved in the process as he is an advisor to hockey operations. I am also not so surprised that experience was brought up as an initial factor for the team to be interested in. I am more surprised that Brodeur stated that they were looking at Ruff “early” in the process. How early was early? Ruff’s name did not come out to the public until a few weeks ago. Perhaps he was part of initial interviews? I am also curious about the staffing comment and Brodeur’s last response. There was no follow up about the staff. Does this indicate a new staff will be put in place? Is there a chance for Mike Grier, Rick Kowalsky, Roland Melanson, and Peter Horacek to stay on? It remains to be seen.
As far as the last set of comments, it was interesting how Brodeur made a point of it to note that he was OK with defensive and offensive hockey. Loughlin did ask him about what it was like to play against him when he was with Buffalo, but styles were not specifically brought up. It is true that Ruff’s time in Dallas was rather high-event and successful in 5-on-5. Thanks to MedicSBK for pointing that out in the comments yesterday. Ruff’s comments at the press conference gives me the impression that he wants to play like that. But given how Brodeur responded (and the Devils are not the Stars), it is not necessarily a guarantee we will see that in Newark. I get the sense he needs to know what he has on the roster first, which is appropriate.
This was not brought up at the press conference or in the Brodeur interview, but there is one detail to note. Ruff’s time with New Jersey is immediate. Our Hated Rivals have already filled in his position As per Dan Rosen of NHL.com, New York will have Gord Murphy, who was an associate head coach for Hartford in 2019-20, on the bench in Ruff’s spot. It is not yet clear if he will have the same responsibilities, but the position is filled. Ruff’s job with New Jersey starts today.
It is official: Tom Fitzgerald is the GM and Lindy Ruff is the head coach of the New Jersey Devils. The press conference is now over and the work for the organization will continue. I will ask again: What is your reaction to these two hires? Did this press conference make you more or less (or no change) in favor of Fitzgerald as GM and/or Ruff as head coach? For those who have known this since last night what it was all have had a night to sleep on it plus reading this, has your feelings changed about these decisions? Was there anything in the press conference or in the Brodeur interview that stood out to you? Please leave your answers and possibly updated opinions on each in the comments. Thank you for reading.