New Jersey Devils’ Tom Fitzgerald Robbed of Jim Gregory Nomination

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 NHL announced Wednesday its three selected finalists for the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year award. Jim Nill of the Dallas Stars, Bill Zito of the Florida Panthers, and Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins were nominated, but one name was notably absent.

The largest season-to-season turnaround in NHL history was masterminded by none other than General Manager Tom Fitzgerald and the New Jersey Devils. ‘Fitz’ addressed several areas of concern from the previous season by signing and trading for a slew of different players of all sizes and skill sets. Most notably, Fitzgerald traded Pavel Zacha’s rights for Erik Haula, added a starting goaltender in Vitek Vanecek, signed an experienced veteran in Ondrej Palat, traded a few picks and part-time NHLers for Timo Meier, and acquired a fringe top-pairing defenseman in John Marino at the cost of Ty Smith and a pick.

This is not to take away from the qualifications of some of the other names, though. Zito was thought to have gotten fleeced in the Matthew Tkachuk trade after giving up star players Mackenzie Weegar and Jonathan Huberdeau to get him. After the dust settled, the Florida Panthers came out on top, squeaking into the playoffs at the last minute and storming their way to a Stanley Cup finals berth. Brandon Montour, whose first season in Florida was in 2021-22, flourished in a full-time role taking over for the departed Weegar.

The Boston Bruins finished 2022-23 as the greatest regular season team in NHL history, posting a 65-12-5 under head coach Jim Montgomery. Montgomery just completed his third season as an NHL coach after spending 2018-19 and 2019-20 with the Dallas Stars. Don Sweeney acquired Zacha from the Devils in the summer, in addition to previous trade additions like Hampus Lindholm.

However, the Bruins’ success would be forgotten as fast as it came. In November, the Boston Bruins inexcusably signed Mitchell Miller to a contract, a decision they backtracked on just days later after public backlash and uncomfortable comments from their own players, including captain Patrice Bergeron. The Bruins would then suffer a historic collapse, blowing a 3-1 lead to the bottom-seed Florida Panthers and losing in seven games.

Jim Nill’s Dallas Stars returned most of the same team as last season, aside from hiring Pete DeBoer as their head coach and adding stud rookie center Wyatt Johnston. Free agent signing Mason Marchment hasn’t done much and has been outshined by trade deadline additions Max Domi and Evgenii Dadonov. Although the Stars advanced deeper into the playoffs than the Devils, the moves made by the two head honchos don’t really compare.

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The New Jersey Devils weren’t expected to make the playoffs this year by most, and yet they did, as one of the best teams in the entire eastern conference. While they didn’t advance as far as fans would have hoped, this is only the beginning. Not all of Fitzgerald’s moves were perfect, but they led the turnaround, and that deserves some recognition.