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Where Should the Blame Lie for the New Jersey Devils Poor Start?

Despite some optimistic feelings from the summer preseason, the New Jersey Devils have started 2022-23 as a disappointment. Today we examine who the should bear the blame for it.

NHL: OCT 18 Ducks at Devils
One win against a team on their third game in four nights is not likely to cure what ails this team.
Photo by Andrew Mordzynski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Over the past couple of days here at All About the Jersey, a couple of our writers have been analyzing who the New Jersey Devils should be firing. Mike discussed the concept of letting a coach go when you can’t fire an entire team, while Jared looked at if it is ever too early to fire said coach. Both writers came to essentially the same conclusion, albeit for different reasons, but should we really be looking at a coaching change? Is it truly the fault of the coaching staff?

Aside from the chorus of “yes” that I expect to see in the comments section, I’m willing to play Devil’s advocate here. Maybe the problem is that Mackenzie Blackwood has truly regressed, or perhaps reverted to his pre-NHL form, and Vitek Vanacek, who wasn’t great for the Capitals, is just showing that he’s below average if the system doesn’t benefit him. Maybe the fact that the offense around them isn’t cashing in on their multitude of chances is deflating the team, be it the goalies or otherwise. Maybe the defense and the numbers of players being left open is to blame for the goals. And maybe, just maybe, the coaches are telling them what to do to correct these mistakes, but the players just aren’t getting it.

To be fair to both sides of this argument, that could also be a coaching issue. The coaches may have lost the room, and even though they’re trying to implement the right changes, the players just aren’t buying what they’re selling anymore. Alternatively (again), maybe it’s not so much the players not listening, but more that they’re not capable of what is being asked due to deficiencies in their own game. If that’s the case, does the blame lie with the player for not being able to do what is asked? Or should it be on the coach for putting a player in the lineup that can’t do what was asked of them? Maybe the blame should be on General Manager Tom Fitzgerald for adding the player to the team instead of a better fitting one.

I think in this case, there’s a need for some top-down changes. While Fitz might get a chance to right the ship, Ruff just doesn’t seem to be the right coach to maximize this group. Additionally, Dave Rogalski survived the coaching cuts over the summer, but should be sent packing along with Ruff. I’ve mentioned in other articles that have discussed the coaching issues that I can’t understand how the one coach responsible for the team’s worst performing position hasn’t felt the fire under his seat. If the team moves on from Ruff, but Rogalski stays, I just don’t see how things will improve.

I’d also be interested to see how Blackwood (and to an extent Vanacek) would perform with a different coach overseeing them. Blackwood’s best seasons came prior to Rogalski joining New Jersey and it’s been all downhill from there. Changing the goalie coach might be a good way to see if the issue lies more with the players or with the coaching, as league average goaltending (at worst) would give the Devils a significant boost in overall play as well as probable results.

If the coaches change and the results do not, then maybe it’s time to look at other personnel changes. Maybe this means cutting loose players on expiring contracts, or trading out one player for someone who brings a different skill set. Maybe it means taking a closer look at the people who are developing our draft choices. If the players aren’t playing up to standards or to their projections, shouldn’t there be different people put in charge of their development path?

I think right now there’s a lot more questions surrounding the Devils than there are answers. Tuesday’s game may have done a little bit of damage control, but if tonight’s test against the New York Islanders goes wrong, the fire under the aforementioned hot seats could grow even bigger than before. There’s also still the chance that the Devils find a way to come together and put it all together, but the time for that is running out quickly. This Devils group either needs some changes or to get everything in order to ensure that 2022-23 is not another sunk season.

Per the blame? Right now it lays with players (mostly those in net and defending), coaches (mostly Ruff and Rogalski) and even with our GM. Someone has to act to get things going the right way, and if tonight is another 5-2 game not in our favor, maybe that action should be taken as soon as before the San Jose game.

What are your thoughts on the way this Devils season has started? Do you blame one person or set of people more than the others for the disappointment so far? Does the team need changes from the top down to find relevance again? How many more times do we as fans need to go through this before they get it right? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!