New Jersey Devils: Tom Fitzgerald Deserves GM of the Year Consideration

General manager Tom Fitzgerald of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
General manager Tom Fitzgerald of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The New Jersey Devils have been a slow build. After decades of competing, the franchise that made the playoffs for 13 straight seasons and 19 out of 20 seasons was going into its first rebuild since the 1980s. Lou Lamoriello tried to hold onto contention. He signed Michael Cammalleri, Michael Ryder, Ryane Clowe and Jaromir Jagr to try and hold on to what the Devils once were. Instead, the Devils kept missing the playoffs. Ray Shero eventually replaced Lamoriello, and the rebuild was on.

Fast forward almost eight years, and the Devils finally look like they have a legit contender in Newark. It took a lot of work. Fitzgerald was given a good foundation thanks to Shero, but he had to execute. That means getting top dollar for Blake Coleman. He had to execute on the many draft picks.

The fruits of Fitzgerald’s labor are finally in play. Dawson Mercer has been a key contributor to the Devils this season. He was the player the Devils acquired with the Taylor Hall draft pick. It’s probably Fitzgerald’s biggest success. Mercer seems like a superstar in the making. He’s an untouchable asset. He has 23 goals and 51 points this season, Showing he could eventually grow into a 70-point winger/center.

Then, Fitzgerald started making those incredible trades. He traded Ty Smith and a third-round pick for John Marino. He was one of the best defensive defensemen in the league earlier this season. Even with his current slump, he’s still a phenomenal performer overall. Smith only played nine games in the NHL this season, and he didn’t exactly dominate the AHL.

Ryan Graves was another really good trade for the Devils. They sent a second-round pick and Mikhail Maltsev for Graves, who has solidified his role in the top four. Despite being on the injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche, Maltsev has only had nine games in the NHL this season. Graves is playing the highest caliber opponents with Marino as a shutdown line.

There are the absolute steals that he pulled on the Washington Capitals. He traded a third-round pick at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline for Jonas Siegenthaler. That’s obviously one of the best trades of the last five years. Fitzgerald went back to the well, getting Vitek Vanecek for a few draft picks. He’s been about as good as the Devils need him to be.

Even the ones he “lost,” nobody either blames him or cares. Technically, Pavel Zacha is having a better season than Erik Haula, but it was clear Zacha’s time was up in New Jersey. Some thought Fitzgerald might just let him become a UFA instead of tendering him a qualifying offer. The Andreas Johnsson trade did not work out, but the piece they traded (Joey Anderson straight up) didn’t work out for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both teams aren’t happy with the return.

Then, there are the free-agent acquisitions. The Devils got the big fish in 2021 when Dougie Hamilton signed a seven-year deal in New Jersey. He is clearly their top guy on a much better defensive unit. This offseason, the Devils signed Ondrej Palat to a five-year, $30 million deal. It seemed like a reaction to losing out on Johnny Gaudreau, but he will be incredibly important come playoff time.

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Then, Fitzgerald pulled off the huge move right before the trade deadline. He got Timo Meier from the San Jose Sharks for Shakir Mukhamadullin (who he surprisingly picked in 2020), Fabian Zetterlund, two (likely) first-round picks, and Nikita Okhotyuk. Meier is a superstar who is going into his RFA negotiations. The Sharks needed to turn this asset into pieces, and the Devils had the most pieces to give up. To get Meier without giving up Alexander Holtz, Simon Nemec, Mercer, or any other top prospect is a Masterclass in midseason trades.

Fitzgerald deserves GM of the Year honors. He took a roster that needed a ton of work and put them in the position to be a top team in the Eastern Conference. The Devils are a 100 point team for the first time since 2012. It’s because of Fitzgerald’s dealings.

One might even give him credit for sticking with Lindy Ruff. It would have been easy to say goodbye to his head coach. Instead, they cleared the bench behind him and brought in quality assistants.

Some might want to give the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award to Don Sweeney, but after how he botched the Mitchell Miller situation, does the NHL really want that situation coming up again? It honestly should disqualify him, because he messed that up beyond belief. Say what you will about second chances, but this was just not the right way to handle a very delicate situation.

Next. Breaking Down Devils-Rangers Position By Position. dark

So, that leaves the award wide open for Tom Fitzgerald. He did a perfect job with this roster. He deserves to be recognized for it.