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2023-24 New Jersey Devils Season Preview Part 5: The Coaching & Management

The Devils lost Andrew Brunette to a head coaching opportunity in Nashville, but he has been replaced by former Vancouver head coach Travis Green. Otherwise, a very similar group from last year heads into this season.

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils
Lindy Ruff will look to make it a better playoff run with a new assistant coach in Travis Green, who joins Ryan McGill, this season.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils, like all NHL teams, are a vast organization made up of many moving parts, from the owners down to the players. And as the Devils are beyond rebuilding and are transitioning from a playoff hopeful to a perennial contender, they are in a much different spot when it comes to coaching and management. The days of fans calling for heads to roll is likely — at least mostly — behind us. And for the most part, we will see the same cast of characters filling out the team beyond the players for the 2023-24 season, with just one new change resulting from the departure of Andrew Brunette.

Ownership & Management
The Owners - Josh Harris & David Blitzer (Harris-Blitzer Sports & Entertainment)

Harris-Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the New Jersey Devils, is an ownership group that has majority stakes in the New Jersey Devils (and Prudential center), Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA, the Utica Comets of the AHL, and the Delaware Blue Coats of the NBA G League. HBSE is also a minority owner of Crystal Blue Palace FC in the Premier League and the Cleveland Guardians of the MLB. Separately, David Blitzer is the majority co-owner of Real Salt Lake of the MLS with Ryan Smith of the Utah Jazz, while Josh Harris is the majority owner of the Washington Commanders.

While it might be easy to expect the ownership group to care more about their more lucrative properties, Harris and Blitzer have allowed the Devils to spend to the cap and thus spend to win. Financially, you cannot ask for much more than that. It is a bit scary to think about how far a reach these two guys have made for themselves across the sporting world in such a sport span since they bought the 76ers (2011) and Devils (2013). It is even a little difficult now to think they can truly devote much attention to the Devils. But that’s where the next guy comes in.

General Manager - Tom Fitzgerald

Tom Fitzgerald has been GM of the New Jersey Devils since Ray Shero was fired in January 2020. Since Fitzgerald took over the Devils in the sorry state they were in at that time, he has been able to rebuild the roster around Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, and Jesper Bratt (they, along with McLeod, are the only remaining Devils from when Fitzgerald took over) with great success and efficiency. Of course, it did not always seem like Fitzgerald was on the cusp of such a breakthrough, but the signings of Dougie Hamilton and Ondrej Palat, along with the trades for Jonas Siegenthaler, Erik Haula, John Marino, Vitek Vanecek, Timo Meier, and Tyler Toffoli have done wonders to make the Devils near-certain bets to make the playoffs out of the Metropolitan Division — and they should contend for first place.

2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7
The kingpin.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In addition to his trade wizardry, Tom Fitzgerald has fared very well in the contract negotiations world. Yes, he gave out a huge contract to Dougie Hamilton — but one that Hamilton has played up to so far. He certainly makes up for it, and probably then some, with the contracts that Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes received. Despite possibly reaching hot seat territory at the end of the 2021-22 season, Fitzgerald has proven his vision and has set the team up for long-term success, gaining the trust and respect of the organization, players, and fans alike.

Assistant General Manager - Kate Madigan

Promoted to AGM just before the 2022 Draft, Kate Madigan has been with the Devils since 2017, working with the Hockey Operations and the scouting departments. While it is difficult to estimate the extent of her duties under Tom Fitzgerald at the moment, one could assume that she has a big hand in scouting, drafting, and in filling out the roster with organizational depth. When she was promoted, Tom Fitzgerald lauded her work across the organization and for her strong communication skills. If she does not get poached at any point over the next few years, she should be first in line to be Fitzgerald’s successor whenever he ends up retiring (unless he doesn’t).

The Coaching Staff
The Head Coach - Lindy Ruff

“Sorry, Lindy” might be a chant you hear every now and then from crowds at The Rock throughout this season. Coming into his fifth season with the New Jersey Devils, Ruff has gone 834-652-149-78 in his coaching career. With the Devils, last year’s team brought him to NHL .500 with the franchise at 98-98-24. At one point, it seemed to be nearly a certainty that Ruff would be fired with one of the worst records in franchise history. As fate would have it, he would lead the team to their biggest season-to-season turnaround in their history.

With his high-octane offense, the missing piece of the puzzle that came through last season was the goaltending. Two seasons ago, the Devils performed like a middle-of-the-pack team, but had bottom-of-the-barrel results thanks to an utter lack of viable NHL goaltending. But as the team has improved on paper, the improvement on the ice has come in leaps and bounds. At 63 years old, Lindy Ruff is still seeking his first Stanley Cup — he has not appeared in the Finals since 1999, when the Sabres lost to the Stars.

2023 NHL Awards - Red Carpet
Can you spot Lindy Ruff with Nico Hischier and the Hughes family in this picture?
Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

Of course, some people still have concerns with Ruff. Will he play young players enough? Will any of Alex Holtz, Luke Hughes, or Simon Nemec be unable to reach their full potential under him? Personally, I do not think we have much cause to be concerned. With how good the team has become, everyone will need to earn the minutes they play — and Ruff has the vocal support of team leaders such as Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. Coming off a year where the team had the 4th ranked offense and the 9th ranked defense by goals scored and allowed, the sky is a limit with a full year of Timo Meier, Tyler Toffoli, and Luke Hughes. Continuous improvement — especially from a team like last year — is difficult, but Ruff should be shooting for the stars.

The Associate Coach - Travis Green

Following the departure of Andrew Brunette to the Nashville Predators, Lindy Ruff was able to fill the void with former Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green. As the Vancouver head coach, Green had a 133-147-34 record and was fired in favor of Bruce Boudreau during the 2021-22 season. Travis Green should be taking over the power play from Brunette, and I think there is room to improve from last year’s unit, which went 49 for 224 at a 21.88 efficiency rate. With Meier, Toffoli, and Luke Hughes, and the maturation of Hischier, Bratt, Hughes, and Hamilton, Green should be shooting for a power play that scores on a quarter of opportunities. Green’s information on the team coaching page reveals that he was also Tom Fitzgerald’s teammate in three different seasons: 1992-93, 2002-03, and 2005-06. Hockey is definitely a relational business, and that trend continued once more here.

When Green was coach of the Canucks, his team ranked 8th in GF/60 on the power play in 2017-18, followed by ranking 23rd in 2018-19, 4th in 2019-20, and 7th in 2020-21. While Green was fired for the team underperforming (I would argue the team was poorly built), they almost never failed because of their power play. Hopefully his experience with players such as Quinn Hughes helps Green fit in with the Devils’ Hughes duo on the power play, as Jack and Luke figure to be big parts of that unit this year.

The Assistant Coach - Ryan McGill

Ryan McGill was hired in July 2022 to fill the void left by former defensive coach Alain Nasreddine. And man, oh man, did McGill have a good first season with the team. Dougie Hamilton reached a career high in points. John Marino became a viable shutdown defender. Kevin Bahl went from healthy scratch to playoff-capable pot-stirrer. With the addition of Colin Miller, who McGill was coaching when he had a career high in points in Vegas, as well as the arrival of Luke Hughes, McGill has no excuses for much of a regression in his second year implementing his and Ruff’s defensive system.

Last season, the Devils ranked 7th in CA/60 (54.11), 5th in SA/60 (27.31), 9th in goals allowed, 4th in xGA/60 (2.42), and 1st in HDCA/60 (10.32). If Kevin Bahl and Colin Miller can limit the mistakes that Ryan Graves and Damon Severson (as much as I loved watching them) often made on the back-end, they should be able to match or improve their numbers from last year. This not only puts the team in a good spot to win each night — but it gives Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid breathing room to become better as goaltenders.

The Assistant Coach - Sergei Brylin

Sergei Brylin is a Devils legend that needs no introduction. But since his playing career has ended, he was a coach for several seasons with the Devils’ AHL affiliates from 2012 to 2022. After years working with the younger players of Binghamton and Utica, he was promoted to assistant coach in summer 2022. While he may have been a candidate to replace Andrew Brunette as the offensive assistant and associate coach, he was passed over in favor of Travis Green. Given how long it took for him to get a promotion from Utica, it is not too surprising, although he did work with the power play in the AHL. His input should still be of great value to developing Alex Holtz this season, with whom Brylin has a history of working with. As one of the great two-way players of Devils history, Brylin’s skillset and philosophy of play should continue to prove itself as valuable to Lindy Ruff’s system and style.

The Assistant Coach - Chris Taylor

While he does not specifically run any special teams, Chris Taylor has been both in the press box and behind the bench since he was hired in 2020. Since Brylin’s promotion, he has been more visible behind the bench. While his official duties are not entirely clear, he was an AHL head coach for the Roschester Americans from 2017 to 2020, and was an interim assistant for the Buffalo Sabres for a stint in 2019. He was very successful in the AHL, going 116-65-33 in Rochester as head coach.

New Jersey Devils v Buffalo Sabres
Chris Taylor and Lindy Ruff
Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

The Goaltending Coach - Dave Rogalski

Dave Rogalski has seen quite the range of goaltending since he was hired in 2020. Going from Blackwood and Wedgewood to the Lost Season of Blackwood, Daws, Gillies, Hammond, and Schmid; Rogalski had to be incredibly relieved to be able to rely on Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid in 2022-23. Across his three seasons leading the goalies, the Devils have had team save percentages of .891, .881, and .904. It would have been extremely easy for the team to fire Rogalski after the second season, but I imagine they are happy with their decision to retain him in the face of the myriad injuries and circumstances that led to their disastrous 2021-22 performance.

Before he was the goalie coach for the Devils, Rogalski was a development coach for the St. Louis Blues, where he presumably met Martin Brodeur in 2017-18. It was Rogalski and Brodeur who convinced Lindy Ruff to start Akira Schmid in Game 3 against the New York Rangers in the 2023 First Round. Now that Schmid has a full year in the NHL under his belt (or therabouts) and Vitek Vanecek is in his expected prime, Rogalski needs to get the most he can out of those two this season.

My Final Thoughts and Your Thoughts

For years, the Devils struggled to justify keeping people on their staff due to long-term underperformance and dismal on-ice products. But now that the coaching staff is relatively set, Lindy Ruff and Tom Fitzgerald have a new thing to consider: poaching. Who is to say if Ryan McGill is here next year, if the defense has another great year? Who is to say Travis Green won’t get another head coaching shot if the power play improves from Brunette’s system? Even Chris Taylor could feasibly be poached on account of his AHL head coaching success and experience. And on the executive side, it appears to me that Tom Fitzgerald and Kate Madigan have a great working relationship. But if Kate Madigan, given her great reputation at such a young age, were given a chance to run an NHL team?

You never know.

So while the Devils have such an experienced and, in my view, esteemed group of staff and executives, the players need to take advantage. We do not know who will still be here next year, and how the team will change as a result. What we do know is that most of this group saw the biggest year-to-year turnaround in team history. We know they have the potential to motivate and teach the Devils’ players, getting the most out of them, and winning games.

So what do you think of this coaching and management group? Are you happy with the owners, the executives, and coaches? Or do you feel dissatisfied with any of them? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.