This morning, the New Jersey Devils organization announced that they have inked General Manager Tom Fitzgerald to a multi-year extension. Per the announcement, Fitzgerald has also been formally promoted to be the President of Hockey Operations in the organization. Fitzgerald’s previous title was Vice President of Hockey Operations and General Manager, so it is a promotion even if only by title. He remains as General Manager of the team today.
There may be more details about the extension later today. There will be a press conference later this afternoon with Fitzgerald and David Blitzer, who I now notice is listed as the Managing Partner Chairman, and Governor of the team on the team’s website. Josh Harris is listed as the co-Managing Partner, Vice Chairman, and Alternate Governor. Both are still The Owners, but it is clear to me that Blitzer is the primary one between the two with respect to the Devils. In any case, the Devils’ official website will stream the conference at 5:45 PM ET today.
My initial question: Why now? The New Jersey Devils have followed up their 52-win season with a 2023-24 campaign where the Devils have been on the playoff bubble for months and unable to move ahead to even be on top of said bubble. Yes, the team is currently set back by injuries. They have been set back by goaltending all season on top of failures with how the team plays or gets prepared to play given their relative lack of success at home and in first periods.
This follows a rather active offseason by Tom Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald spent big this Summer, giving fat extensions to Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt. He also signed-and-traded Damon Severson to Columbus for a pick that would be flipped to Calgary for Tyler Toffoli in exchange for Yegor Sharangovich. Colin Miller was acquired from Dallas for a late pick, Tomas Nosek and a heap of depth guys were signed, and the table was set for Luke Hughes to start in New Jersey. Active, yes. Did I like it? For the most part, yes. So did many of the People Who Matter. Successful? Ask again in April. Had Fitzgerald been extended in, say, August, I and many others would have felt it was well earned and a good decision. To do so in January with the team sitting outside of a playoff spot (yes, still) makes me scratch my head.
However, this could be a sign of things to come. One of the purposes of signing a player, coach, or executive to an extension is to provide stability. Ownership may not be exactly enthused about 2023-24 is going but they trust Fitzgerald enough to keep him in the organization for however long “multi-year” means in this case. It is now very unlikely they will fire or demote Fitzgerald short of a scandal or a massive collapse. If Fitzgerald’s seat was getting warmer, then Blitzer and Harris just poured some ice on it.
This also means Fitzgerald should now feel secure enough to make some changes of his own. Changes that may not implicate Fitzgerald’s past decisions. Changes that may not lead to Fitzgerald getting punished or getting some heat for it. There have been rumors here and there about the Devils being interested on the trade market. Especially for a goaltender, which has been a massive sore spot for the Devils this season. It was noted by James Nichols on X that the Devils have hosted many scouts during last night’s win against Las Vegas. It was also noted, also through Nichols on X, that Devils scouts have been sighted elsewhere, such as last night’s Winnipeg-Boston game. The cost to make a deal may be steep depending on what it is. With Fitzgerald re-upped, he can feel more confident he can make a move as he sees fit.
He can also feel more confident that he can make some changes elsewhere in the organization. It is arguable that head coach Lindy Ruff may not be The Guy to take the Devils to the next level. The issues with Ruff are real from his systems being exploited, his refusal to adjust or simplify those systems due to that and/or new personnel coming in, and his players just straight up performing like they were unprepared (see: Brylin Night from just this past Saturday). The home record has been especially poor as well as the second half of back-to-back sets. Of course, the head coach should not be under some heat alone. Some of the assistants have not covered themselves in glory. It remains to be seen how much of, say, the defensive zone breakdowns and lack of coverage at times has to do with Ruff, Ryan McGill, or players like John Marino turning out to be rather bad at it. Goaltending coach Dave Rogalski has not helped the goaltenders out at all this season. We have seen Ottawa change goalie coaches in-season; it would be entirely justifiable for the Devils to do the same. We shall see whether this extension will embolden Fitzgerald to make some changes within the team he is managing beyond the players on the roster.
The timing for a change is certainly ripe. While the Devils are in the back-half of the season, there are 37 games left to salvage the season. It will be difficult and stressful, but also possible to still turn things around in a better direction. The hope is that other teams in their division also do not do the same; something that the Islanders are banking on with their coaching change. Moreover, the team will be off next week. Saturday at Tampa Bay will be their last game until February 6, a home game against Colorado. Perhaps the team will get a little healthier, they more well-rested, and have the time to acclimate to some changes ahead of a crucial February slate of games. The trade deadline is in March but I could see something happening in the next coming weeks. Especially now that I know that Fitzgerald will not be pushed out anytime soon.
The press conference at 5:45 PM may not reveal a ton. I still think those angling for some kind of change to the 2023-24 Devils have reason to feel positive. Extending Fitzgerald gives him some more security in his position. That should make Fitzgerald more confident to make a move sooner rather make one out of desperation later. For those who have been and are currently fans of Fitzgerald as GM, then this is even simpler. This is very good news to them. Fitzgerald will be GM in New Jersey for longer. The only group among the People Who Matter that may not be jazzed about this announcement are the ones who have soured on Fitzgerald because of this season. But even they can be soothed should the team be more successful on the ice more often. We shall see.
What is your reaction to this news? Are you interested in the press conference later today? What do you think Fitzgerald will do now given that he has been extended? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Fitzgerald and the Devils’ extending him in the comments. Thank you for reading.