New Jersey Devils: Is Tom Fitzgerald The Answer To Fix This Team?

New Jersey Devils owner Joshua Harris and Tom Fitzgerald (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
New Jersey Devils owner Joshua Harris and Tom Fitzgerald (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Is Tom Fitzgerald the answer to fixing the New Jersey Devils woes?

These are interesting times for the New Jersey Devils. Even with the expanded playoff this season, the Devils will miss the postseason for the seventh time in the last eight seasons. The organization began a long rebuild when Ray Shero came on board in 2015, and the next stage of the rebuild seemed to take place last offseason when the Devils drafted Jack Hughes and traded for players like P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev. Unfortunately, we all know how this worked out. While Gusev eventually found his footing, Subban and Hughes severely underperformed and Shero was gone by the middle of January.

Tom Fitzgerald was named Interim GM after Shero was let go and earned league-wide praise for his work at the trade deadline. The Devils are an organization that has many holes to fill before they can consider themselves to be contenders. So that begs the question, is Fitzgerald the right guy to move the Devils forward?

To answer this question, there are a few other questions that must be resolved. The first question is, where does the personnel stand at the moment? The Devils are doing a nice job of building their crop of forwards. They have two young centers that they will build around in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. They have guys like Kyle Palmieri and Nikita Gusev who are valuable veterans who can help should they be re-signed or extended. They also have a nice pool of prospects that will include whomever they draft at number seven this year.

The defense, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Subban is coming off a miserable year while the rest of the defense is comprised of sixth and seventh defensemen types. Damon Severson is the only other defenseman who would be a top-four defenseman on any other team. Two of the team’s top prospects are defensemen in Ty Smith and Kevin Bahl, but they will take time to develop.

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The next question is about cap space. In recent years, the Devils have been a team that has prioritized cap space and the ability to use it as a weapon. That is how we ended up with players such as Palmieri, Marcus Johansson, and Subban. The Devils project to have plenty of cap space heading into this offseason as well.

It is extremely important to utilize that cap space. Whether it be signing free agents or taking on money or cap space in trades, the Devils must utilize their abundance of cap space to take advantage of teams that are right up against the cap. This becomes even more important with the ratification of the new CBA which includes a flat cap for the next three to four years. Other teams may have trouble signing all of their RFA’s and or keeping their cores together.

All in all, Fitzgerald showed throughout the season that he is not afraid to make moves or to make difficult decisions. He could have stayed the course and retained Blake Coleman, but he made the decision to move on and got a tremendous return. In hiring Lindy Ruff, he showed that he is going to hire who he believes to be the right person, regardless of what the public and experts believe.

However, there is still some unknown when it comes to Fitzgerald’s ability to draft. Fitzgerald was part of the management crew who drafted players like Pavel Zacha and Michael McLeod. While Zacha has carved out a role for himself, he has hardly become the player you expect to get when you are picking at sixth overall while McLeod has yet to develop into a full-time NHL level player. While he has areas in which he needs to grow, Fitzgerald has shown that he has what it takes to lead this organization forward. He also fits into the Devils timeline of expediting the improvement process as he has shown himself to be aggressive in getting the players he wants.