After a successful season capped off with an exit to the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round of the playoffs, the New Jersey Devils have some decisions to make now that we’re officially in the offseason. Head Coach Lindy Ruff’s three-year contract that he signed in the 2020 offseason expires this summer, and there is practically a guarantee that Andrew Brunette will not be an Associate/Assitant Coach for much longer.
That leaves General Manager Tom Fitzgerald with one of his biggest decisions since taking over the front office. Will they bring back Ruff or will they look at other options? We will look at the various head coaches available this summer to see if they fit in New Jersey.
The Simple Option: Keeping Lindy Ruff
While there has been plenty to criticize Coach Ruff for during his time as head coach, he definitely deserves praise for the way he, along with the rest of the coaching staff, has been able to turn the ship around. After finishing second-last in the Metro two years in a row, the Devils skyrocketed this year into 3rd overall in the league and 2nd in the Metro behind Carolina.
The underlying numbers tell an even better story. Since his appointment, the Devils have seen steady improvement in CF%, and xGF%, with an exponential rise to the tops of the NHL ranks in those categories this year. The adage “Just a Goalie” was thrown around a lot during the 2022 off-season, and that became mostly true. Vitek Vanecek’s calming play led the Devils to a 2nd place finish in the league.
However, the regular season results do not matter if they don’t show up in the playoffs. While they mostly outplayed the Rangers in Round 1, the Devils were outclassed against the Hurricanes outside of Game 4.
It would be unfair to say that the loss is fully on Ruff. Carolina forced the Devis into an egregious amount of mistakes and giveaways that led to easy chances. But to find ways to beat the Carolina’s forecheck was Ruff’s job, and that was something both he nor the team could not accomplish. That lack of unpreparedness/adjustments falls mostly on Ruff and his staff.
There were also roster decisions that were baffling. Playing Vanecek against Carolina after his poor performances against the Rangers and not introducing Luke Hughes until Game 3 of the second round come to mind. Ruff felt like the perfect coach to get the proverbial ball rolling again for New Jersey and get them into a position to play “meaningful games,” but not the coach that takes them all the way. If the Devils want to go farther, perhaps a change behind the bench is necessary.