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FanFirst Friday: Family Edition

With the signing of Cal Foote this week, the Devils added another sibling into the system. When Tom Fitzgerald says, “Family,” he truly means it.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at New Jersey Devils
Tom Fitzgerald: Building a Jersey family
Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

New Jersey is synonymous with family, probably thanks in large part to the Sopranos. Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald has taken that mandate seriously. This week he went out and got Cal Foote as an added piece for defensive depth. It tells me that Fitz wants a little reassurance on the right side of the defense just in case Simon Nemec proves to be not ready yet. Colin Miller and it’s possibly likely that Foote might wind up being the first call-up in case of a significant injury. It makes sense. Let Nemec fully cook in the AHL. Luke Hughes did a full two years at Michigan before he was basically assured of getting the starting spot this season in the NHL.

But that’s ultimately not what I want to talk about. Thus far, Fitz has brought in Cal Foote, brother of Nolan Foote, a winger expected to push for a position this upcoming camp. Luke Hughes will be a major part of the Devils roster this season. He is obviously the brother of Jack Hughes, Devils superstar. Brendan Fitzgerald, one of Fitz’s sons, joined the team for development camp less than a month ago. Jeremy Brodeur, the son of Devils legend Martin Brodeur, was brought in for goaltending depth in the ECHL or AHL. Will MacKinnon, son of Devils Assistant GM Dan MacKinnon, was signed as depth for the Utica Comets team. Fitz also brought in Jesper Bratt’s brother Filip last year too for a look. Chances are, if you are a part of the New Jersey Devils affiliate family, Fitz is more than willing to give them an opportunity. Look out for Brandt Clarke and Quinn Hughes eventually being targets for acquisition for Fitz. I’m only half joking here.

For the New Jersey Devils, this is becoming a family affair. And I honestly believe that it makes sense on a couple of different fronts. While some might scream about nepotism, I don’t view it that way. I think loyalty from an organization is something that everyone strives to show to their most valuable people, whether it’s a hockey organization or not. And giving a chance to someone’s family member builds up some of that loyalty equity. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons why you see players a little more willing to take less to stay in an organization that is known to treat its players right. Trust is earned and built up over time and actions. Obviously the winning helps. The light travel from New Jersey helps. The rinks with practice rink attached helps. The choices between city living, suburban living and even beach visits obviously helps too. But giving opportunities to other loved ones certainly helps as well. And, in the case of someone like Filip Bratt, if it doesn’t work out, then there’s no hard feelings involved. Opportunity offered and if the player doesn’t measure up, then I imagine everyone walks away feeling happy that it happened.

Tom Fitzgerald was on the Spittin Chiclets podcast earlier this week, which honestly, it made for kind of an odd listen. On one hand, you have Paul Bissonnette saying Biz things like, “Here comes Pasha with the lotion” and Fitz awkwardly laughing while maintaining professionalism throughout. Fitz knew what he was getting into with that crew so it wasn’t a surprise by any means. Fitz went into depth about the story about how he traded away his pick in the seventh round at this past draft to David Poile and the Nashville Predators. It was Poile’s last draft pick as GM of the team that Fitz captained in its inaugural season. As Fitz told the story, you could hear the emotion in his voice. I realized while listening that loyalty and connection is what Fitz is all about. He might’ve partially been born with it, but also through sacrifice, playing the fourth line and doing whatever was asked of him to win, it became more and more important. In other words, he was realizing loyalty and human connection were what matters in this business.

At one point during the Chiclets interview, Fitz said that part of what he loved about talking to hockey players was helping them develop and showing them what they needed to do to get better. He said that Jack and Nico don’t need that much help but everyone else is in the same boat if you aren’t built with natural gifts that elevate you beyond others just by merely strapping on skates. In short, Fitz appears like he was built for this opportunity. And he knows how to build a proper family and show those around him loyalty and respect and opportunity. Kind of like Tony Soprano.

On a personal note, I love all the familial connections just because, as I’ve stated in other columns about Luke Hughes in particular, hockey is a game about feel and freedom of movement and anticipating where your teammates will be as much as the opposition. And I firmly believe that siblings have that. They grow up playing against each other, not just in hockey, but all kinds of other sports, board games, academics. You begin to understand their tendencies and it becomes a connection that simply often can’t create with other humans. So if Tom Fitzgerald wants to see if he can find magic here and there with this philosophy, who am I to argue with him?

What about you? Do you like giving opportunities to familial connections? I mean Cal Foote has played in the playoffs at the highest level. Luke Hughes is elite. Jeremy Brodeur, Will MacKinnon and Brendan Fitzgerald aren’t really taking opportunities away from others. So what’s the harm? To me, there really isn’t any.