I’ll just start this off by saying this one thing. I don’t think Lindy Ruff is getting fired. He was just extended this past offseason and while Devils ownership has proven willing to spend up to the cap to get a good product off the ice, they aren’t the Toronto Maple Leafs with an endless stream of revenue where they can eat contracts. Now if the team continues to look bad and, say, loses to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night and then plays Dallas, Vegas, Carolina prior to the All Star break...then Colorado, Calgary, Carolina, Seattle, Nashville and LA leading into the Stadium Series game against the Flyers. Theoretically, if the Devils don’t beat the Blue Jackets (and I’m assuming a Vitek Vanecek start on Friday), the Devils could go from preseason favorites for the Stanley Cup to the NJ Devil when he ran through that glass door in a classroom full of kids REALLY quickly.
But here’s the thing, and people have discussed it a lot, now that injuries have piled up with this team, Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald has every excuse for keeping Lindy now. Yet here he is, acting like a petulant child to a reasonable question from Devils beat reporter (and former SB Nation alum) Ryan Novozinsky.
Lindy's response to being asked about why Alex Holtz got benched after scoring a goal is INSANE pic.twitter.com/Odd4nGFbue— The Bratt Pack (@TheBrattPack63) January 18, 2024
Granted as the coach, you’re likely pissed to lose a game after finally coming back to tie it in the third period and hockey is emotional and fiery, but it wasn’t like Novo was asking him why he hasn’t revamped his putrid swarm defensive system or why he can’t help his team adjust to different ways to create offense besides a rush-based system that falls flat on its face without Jack Hughes out there and healthy.
Look, I wasn’t writing for All About the Jersey when Lindy Ruff got hired, but I was never a big fan of bringing him in. I was glad to be proven wrong last season when everything seemed to fall into place to make him a candidate for coach of the year. We don’t need to rehash the Fire Lindy and Sorry Lindy chants, but I’ll just say that fans were so eager to chant for him to be gone last year because of the collection of data from the season prior which national media and hockey podcasters everywhere tend to conveniently forget.
But I still have multiple problems with Lindy as a coach. And in Festivus-style airing of the grievances, here are my thoughts on what they are:
- His system is predictable and relatively easy to defend when someone like Jack Hughes or Jesper Bratt aren’t making exceptional plays. He doesn’t seem willing (or able, not sure which) to adjust when the opposition is taking away the neutral zone space well.
- His defensive swarm system can make both defensemen and goalies look really bad. If the opposition happens to win a battle for a puck, even against two Devils defenders, it more often than not winds up in the net because it will lead to a cross-crease pass for a tap-in or someone all alone in front of a Devils goalie. And in hockey, you will occasionally lose a battle, even if you outnumber an opponent whether it’s because of a bad bounce or that opponent happens to be more tenacious than your defenseman digging for a puck.
- His team is failing at home. The team is merely 9-9-2 at home this year, losing to some awful opponents like the Sharks, Ducks, Blue Jackets and now the Canadiens. Unacceptable losses in front of the home crowd. The team finally got some momentum from such a historic year last year and were close to selling out on the regular. But how many stinkers against inferior opponents are New Jersey fans supposed to take before they decide to stay home and save their money? Yes, injuries, but see points one and two on the lack of adjustments.
- Poor starts. This feels like it’s been going on for forever now. I remember it being an issue at times last season where the Devils would come out of the gate slowly but this year it’s gone to another level. They consistently allow the first goal, so much so that they have to constantly be coming back in games to win. To me, this is one of the most damning trends this year. It tells me that the coach is being tuned out because he says this after nearly every game. The plays say the message after every game too, but it doesn’t change. It’s just possible that Lindy has hit the shelf life of a typical coach. Maybe it’s time for someone else to take the foundation he built and create something much better on top of it. Granted, the Devils did lose a lot of team speed this past offseason (Sharangovich, Zetterlund, Boqvist, Wood, Tatar). So part of it is the team had the personnel to come out storming.
- Wild personnel decisions. Lindy consistently favors certain players over others. Usually gritty vets. Or goalie vets. He also seems to have a different bar for how much leash someone on the team gets compared to others which is the genesis of that Novo-Ruff clip with regards to Alex Holtz. No coach is likely ever going to make fans 100 percent happy with how they handle things and fanbases often overreact to lineups and other decisions (myself included), but Ruff has always given Devils fans plenty of fodder for anger and questioning. Whereas almost everything he shuffled last season appeared to turn to gold, this year, his decisions are abandoned almost as quickly as they were implemented and things reset constantly.
So yeah, injuries will probably give Fitz an excuse to stay the course. Simply not having Jack Hughes, the team’s biggest offensive weapon and play driver, will likely make an enormous impact on any roster and coach.
Yet if the Devils somehow go winless over the next two weeks leading up to the All Star Break, which is entirely possible given their schedule and the current long IR, maybe even Fitz realizes a new voice and approach is needed. It remains to be seen. One thing is for sure though...Lindy seems like he’s starting to feel the heat from losing a lot of these supposedly winnable games.
We’re into the second half now. Time is short. Schedule is hard. Players are hurt. Buckle up, because only going to get more wild from here on out.