The 2022 NHL Draft will be held in Montreal on July 7. On the eve of the event, New Jersey Devils General Manager Tom Fitzgerald held a press conference. The Devils streamed it on Youtube and retained a video of the whole 32 minute and change media session. Fitzgerald was asked and answered plenty of questions surrounding the NHL Draft, the team’s offseason plans, and expectations for the 2022-23 season. Plenty of what Fitzgerald said turned out to be worth highlighting for the fans, the People Who Matter. Therefore, here is a summary of the whole presser.
I have included my full notes for each question in the press conference later in the post. Here is the executive summary, the main takeaways from Fitzgerald’s press conference, for convenience’s sake:
- Jesper Bratt has been offered a contract, and likely a large one given that Fitzgerald invoked a commitment from Blitzer and Harris, the team’s principal owners.
- Bratt is not on the trade block. Fitzgerald’s quote: “I can tell you, unequivocally, I never had Jesper Bratt on the trading block. Never talked to anybody about a Jesper Bratt trade. I am not really sure where all this comes from. I can tell you it is not coming from the New Jersey Devils camp.”
- Fitzgerald did have discussions with Bill Guerin, GM of Minnesota, but stated Guerin was “locked in” with a team when it came to Kevin Fiala. Fiala was traded to Los Angeles so I presume that’s who came in.
- The RFAs will all get qualified offers and deals will be negotiated. This means Bratt, Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha, Jesper Boqvist, Fabian Zetterlund, and Tyce Thompson will be retained.
- In questions about trading the second overall pick, Fitzgerald repeated over and over that it is a large asset and he would only move it for someone to help the team and for an asset that he can control. This means if #2 is moved, then it is not (likely) going to be for someone with just a year left on his deal short of an agreed upon extension.
- Devils are in discussions with assistant coaches; he wants coaches with experience and success at special teams.
- Lindy Ruff is the head coach for 2022-23.
- Luke Hughes will not be at the Devils’ development camp. He is in camp with USA Hockey for the re-scheduled World Junior Championships in August. He is also going back to Michigan for another year.
- Yegor Sharangovich is in New Jersey.
- Fitzgerald stated that Mackenzie Blackwood is progressing and the goalie is confident about returning; there is no timeline with Jonathan Bernier’s injury; and Fitzgerald is looking to add to the position in this offseason.
- Fitzgerald stated that Miles Wood is progressing from his surgery, but has not been on the ice yet.
- Fitzgerald did reiterate that Jack Hughes could have played at the end of last season but did not want to risk any injury.
- Development camp will be all next week from Sunday through Friday.
- The Devils will return to the Rookie Tournament in Buffalo and play 3 games this offseason. Montreal and Ottawa are apparently involved and Pittsburgh is coming in to play one game.
- Fitzgerald included the recent hire of Dr. Angus Mugford, Senior VP of Player Development and Performance, when discussing the AGMs Madigan and MacKinnon. I presume this is to mean he is on a similar level as both of them. Also interestingly, Fitzgerald acknowledged a change in structure but nothing was deleted. That may be too “inside” to mean much but it’s something.
- Fitzgerald really likes the word “pillars” to refer to his young core.
My read from all of this is that you can count of Fitzgerald to be active in the offseason when looking for a goaltender. Curiously, no one asked about any other free agent targets so Fitzgerald did not go there. Given his statements about Bernier, I would expect the tandem to be Blackwood and (Free Agent Signing) for 2022-23. He was so positive sounding about Blackwood that I do not get the sense Fitzgerald wants to move on from him. We shall see on July 13. I suspect (and hope) Fitzgerald does more than just look for a goalie on the first day of free agency.
There were multiple questions about moving the second overall pick and Fitzgerald kept holding true that he would move it for an asset who can help the team now and have control over. So much so that I would be more surprised if he did move it - unless he gets calls about players with more than a season left on their current contracts.
The chatter online about Bratt being traded just took a big ‘L’ from Fitzgerald, who shot those rumors down. The hope of larger changes also took a blow as Ruff was confirmed to return and the RFAs will be qualified so they will all likely return to some capacity. I wish the Devils were further along with their assistant coaches. But I understand the draft takes precedence and if the people they want are there, then no issue.
As one final point: A lot can change within the next 24-48 hours. Or nothing at all. So if something said by Fitzgerald today does not match the future, it is not necessarily that Fitzgerald lied today. Things changed. That typically happens around the NHL Draft (and drafts in other sports).
Again, my full notes from the conference are below. In the meantime, what are your reactions to the press conference? Did any of the major takeaways surprise or intrigue you? Please leave your answers and other reactions to the media session in the comments. Thank you for reading.
Fitzgerald opens with condolences to the late Bryan Marchment and his family. Marchment was a friend and teammate to Fitzgerald.
Initial Questions from Amanda Stein
- The first question came from Amanda Stein, who works for the team. She asks about what the last few days have been like for his first in-person draft. Fitzgerald says it has been great and busy. He claims it is unique in sports for the hockey world to come together in one place where scouts and managers and such interact. (Which, um, I dispute, but whatever.) Fitzgerald has been in Montreal since Monday and his phone has been ringing
- Stein follows up with a question about the second overall pick. Without a clearcut #1, #2, and #3, she asks how that has impacted the Devils’ decision. Fitzgerald points out that it is hard to project out what a 17 or 18 year old kid will be when they are 24 and 25; to find the players who can help them get to where they want to be.
- Stein then asks whether Fitzgerald has received any calls about that #2 pick. Fitzgerald candidly says that everyone has called each other, but yeah, he has had calls. A lot of it has been “tire kicking.” He’s been taking calls but nothing of substance, but the draft is tomorrow and the phone can keep ringing.
- Stein continues: How do those phone calls change when the draft gets closer? What does he expect? Fitzgerald says there is a lot of preparation that goes into it. If the pick is made, then it is about making sure you pick the right player. When it comes to trading the pick, Fitzgerald emphasizes that the deal has to make the team better and (my emphasis) its something I can control for a long period of time. Fitzgerald stated he would be giving up an asset that may not help right now or next season but in the long term and he’s interested in building a team for the long term. Fitzgerald also offers the option to move back, but there has to be a partner for that. There’s multiple things that can happen.
- Stein asks about Kate Madigan, who was announced as assistant GM for the Devils. Fitzgerald is privileged to have her on staff. He says that she touches every part of the Hockey Operations department and makes an impact. Fitzgerald says she is deserving and the organization is extremely lucky to have her in this position.
- Stein asks about where the discussions are going with Jesper Bratt and his next contract. Stein did note that the last round of negotiations dragged down to the wire and asked for Fitzgerald’s feelings on current negotiations. Fitzgerald opens this answer by noting how important he thinks Bratt is to the team. He wants to build with him. Fitzgerald states he has made an offer to Bratt that, “shows the commitment that David Blitzer and Josh Harris have in this young gentleman for very good reasons. He’s a really good hockey player that makes our team better.” Fitzgerald states that the offer was made and now he waits for where his camp is at, but as a player, he thinks the world with him. The last set of negotiations were not smooth, but at the end of the day, he wants Bratt to be a Devil for a long time.
Questions from Ryan Novozinsky
- The banter opens up with Novozinsky stating “nice to finally talk to you.” Is this really his first contact with Fitzgerald? OK.
- Novozinsky asks about the “money amount” on that Bratt offer. Fitzgerald states that number is internal. He feels very comfortable with the offer and in showing how we felt. But that is about all he can talk about.
- Novozinsky states that Kent Hughes gave his short list for #1. [That’s Wright, Slafkovsky, and Cooley, by the way] He asks Fitzgerald, “Can you give your short list for prospects you’re locked in on at #2?” Fitzgerald laughs and says he prefers not. He says that this draft is unique, that there are a lot of good players, and that is what makes it tough. Fitzgerald repeats that the projection of 17 and 18 year old players being tough. Fitzgerald says they are looking for the player who has “the highest upside that not only makes us better in a few years but someone to build around.”
- Novozinsky refers to other moves. Why haven’t been the Devils one of those teams? Fitzgerald asks for clarification. Novozinsky brings up trades and players being signed. Fitzgerald says the plan with RFAs [Restricted Free Agents] is to qualify them all and negotiate contracts with them all. (emphasis mine) Qualifying offers are due on Monday. He doesn’t view it as a deadline. He just wants to figure out what they can do. He doesn’t think the Devils are lacking in getting things done, they are prioritizing things in order.
- Novozinsky asked if Fitzgerald contacted Minnesota about Kevin Fiala and what happened. Fitzgerald acknowledges that they talked with Minnesota and states that they called him. Fitzgerald states that his sense of it was that Bill Guerin was locked in with another team and stayed there. That was based on what he talked to Guerin when he “was down that road.”
- Novozinsky asks if Fitzgerald has entertained any calls about Jesper Bratt. Fitzgerald says: “I can tell you, unequivocally, I never had Jesper Bratt on the trading block. Never talked to anybody about a Jesper Bratt trade. I am not really sure where all this comes from. I can tell you it is not coming from the New Jersey Devils camp.”
- Novozinsky brings up Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat and Vancouver’s J.T. Miller and asks if Fitzgerald has called about either. Fitzgerald’s response by stating he’s holding the second pick, which is a huge asset, and he does not want to really comment about what, who, when, and where he receives calls. (Hmmmmm....)
- Novozinsky if there’s any update with assistant coaches. Fitzgerald says there is nothing imminent but he is in talks with lots of experienced coaches. He says for someone experienced with younger defensemen, PK experience and success. Same for the offense with PP success. Fitzgerald says they are “inching closer.”
- Novozinsky asks “How about the name Andrew Brunette sound to you?” Fitzgerald: “Andrew Brunette? He was a great teammate. Great teammate back in Nashville.”
- Novozinsky asks if Fitzgerald is committed to Lindy Ruff this season. Fitzgerald affirms, “Lindy Ruff is our coach.”
- Novozinsky asked if any other free agent head coaches enticed him. Fitzgerald discusses that the team is still in a development phase and they are approaching the next phase of where they want to be. He continues to go on about young players’ success and how they played.
Questions From Other Media
- Bill Price at NHL.com asks again about the second overall pick being moved, whether Fitzgerald is expecting a lot of activity. Fitzgerald says there are not many teams out there with the assets for it. There are a lot of conversations, meaningless at times, but this is what he does for a living - he wants to stay the course and build the team around the pillars he has. Internally, he expects the players to continue to develop, help them win, help them get to the playoffs, and more than that, advance. There is a process.
Price follows up: Now that everyone (GMs) is in the same room, does that change how a deal can be made? Is it easier if it is face-to-face? Fitzgerald says it is easier on Day 2, much more than sitting in a room with a phone keep ringing. It is easier to walk to the table.
- Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press asks about the uncertainty of the top pick. He asked how many scenarios he has planned for and how [Kent] Hughes’ decision impacts it. Fitzgerald says this is a unique draft and there’s discussions about ceilings. He’s going into the draft with the pick. If it is moved, Fitzgerald emphasizes the importance of having control over the asset. Fitzgerald offers the option of moving back. He notes that he has it mapped out and will talk to teams tonight about what they do. At the end of the day, Montreal will pick a player and he will make a decision.
Whyno follows up and asks whether the price for #2 is someone who can help now as opposed to someone 3-4 years from now. Fitzgerald repeats about getting a player to control for some years in a move up, move down situation. He repeats that there are multiple scenarios and maps out the possibilities. These are all assets and wants to make the best decision.
- Anthony Fucilli of MSG Networks asks about Luke Hughes. Fitzgerald says they are “super excited” with his progress. Hughes is going back to Michigan, trying to win a national championship and get stronger. He is in camp for the World Juniors, so he will not be at the Devils’ development camp. The camp will be right after the draft.
Fucilli asks what is so unique about this year’s draft. Fitzgerald refers to someone (it was Stein) saying that there is no clear cut #1 and that has been the case for majority of years.
Fucilli brings up that the team made a big splash in free agency last year. He asks whether the Devils will repeat that or continue to develop young players. Fitzgerald says they have mapped out potential holes the team has. He notes that when everyone was healthy, but the team was a top 6-7 offensive team in the league. Staying healthy will help a lot. But, the team would like to add if possible. They will try and find someone who will see value in the team and leave a legacy in getting the Devils where they want to be.
Fucilli asks for an update on Miles [Wood] and the goalies. Fitzgerald says that Blackwood is “doing great.” He notes that the end year meeting went well and they anticipate Blackwood to return to the goalie from past seasons and he is confident. Bernier is different. He’s “slower, progressing wise.” Fitzgerald says there is no timetable about his return. Fitzgerald says his goal is to add to the position like he has done for the last 3 years and allow his young prospects in Utica and develop. As for Miles Wood, Fitzgerald says he’s progressing well. He has not been on the ice, but he is confident that he will eventually be 100%.
- Abbey Mastracco of Bleacher Report asks, as a clarification, without a timeline for Bernier, does that mean Fitzgerald will address the goaltending in the offseason. Fitzgerald repeats that he is looking to add to that position. He does not want to go through 7 goalies again; you can’t help injuries. Fitzgerald acknowledges that the young players were perhaps exposed too much, noting Nico Daws. And if Bernier comes back healthy, then he will deal with it then.
Mastracco asks about whether Yegor Sharangovich is in the United States and if the league has provided any guidance about what to do with Russian and Belarussian players. Fitzgerald states that Sharangovich is in New Jersey and he saw him in the gym last week. As far as the league, it is out of the team’s hands. They do not have any Russians and it is not something they can control.
- Tom Canavan of the Associated Press asks whether Jack Hughes will be ready for next season or if he is in rehab. Fitzgerald says he will be ready. He was held out of the end of last season to not risk any injury.
Canavan asks whether Fitzgerald is hoping the team is making the playoffs this season. Fitzgerald says “players play and managers manage and coaches coach their players to win.” The goal has always been to put the best product on the ice and they believe that their young developing players are not going to get worse but get better. And that excites them as an organization. The goal has always been to make the playoffs and this Summer is no different.
Canavan asks whether there are a list of priorities for the draft, or is it simply with young kids that they are depth added. Fitzgerald states that you’re not adding depth but hopefully a pillar for the future. He reiterates the young players are the strength of the organization. It is tough for a GM to go to the scout and ask for an all star. Fitzgerald says there could be 6 or 7 guys with similar ceilings but at different positions.
- Dan Rice of Pucks and Pitchforks asked about dates for development camp. Fitzgerald says the players will come in on Sunday and be there all week through Friday.
Rice also asked about whether the Devils will return to Buffalo for the rookie tournament. Fitzgerald answered that they will. A couple teams are being added. He believes Montreal and Ottawa will be there and Pittsburgh will come in for one game. They will play three games against three different teams.
- Neal McHale of Inside Hockey asked how surprised Fitzgerald would be if the pick comes and goes and he was not planning on making it. Fitzgerald repeated what it would take to give up such a pick. A player in the same age group as his pillars and with control. Fitzgerald is looking to make the best decision for today and also in the long term.
McHale asks if Fitzgerald has any idea what Kent Hughes will do. Fitzgerald shook his head no and said he wished he knew.
McHale asked about Madigan’s promotion and how it impacts the other assistant GMs. Fitzgerald reiterates that the organization is excited with Madigan. Fitzgerald stated he came in 2015 and Madigan did in 2017 (this is true) and praised her detail-oriented approach to whatever she did. When Fitzgerald was named GM, he put her in a different role to help him be successful and he feels she’s done that and they can contiunue to grow. Fitzgerald has said there has been some changes in the structure, but nothing has been deleted. He brought up Angus Mugford for development, Dan MacKinnon running the farm team and overseeing development. McHale followed up asked about Brodeur. Fitzgerald states Brodeur has been an advisor to him.
McHale asked if a “local guy” [Brodeur, who is from Montreal] will make the pick tomorrow. Fitzgerald laughed and said he’ll be on stage.
- Stein closed out the questions. Stein asked about thoughts about Mike Grier, who was just hired as GM of the San Jose Sharks. Fitzgerald stated he’s excited for him, that he was a Shark, he had some children there before. He recapped his experience: scouting, coaching prep hockey, coaching with the Devils, working with New York; and Fitzgerald said he’s an even better person. Fitzgerald considers Grier a great friend.