The New Jersey Devils keep adding to a stacked team that’s finally living up to its hype. Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Dawson Mercer, Vitek Vanecek, and John Marino all had their best season last season. There is talent up and down this lineup. However, there are plenty of lineups that look the same. It takes a good coach to get the most out of the players.
Lindy Ruff was literally chanted at to get fired at the start of last season. To his credit, he took it with stride. To Devils fans’ credit, they made up for the chant later in the season. Ruff began making all the right decisions. He rode the right goalie. He made the right line adjustments. The assistant coaches were given the right duties to take off Ruff’s plate. Something just clicked beyond belief, and the Devils finished the season with the third-best record.
It’s another regular-season success for Ruff in a career full of them. This wasn’t even Ruff’s best season. He had 113 points with the 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres. He’s been the head coach of three different teams, and he has at least one 50-win season for Buffalo, Dallas, and New Jersey.
Ruff has a long list of accolades. He won the Jack Adams Award in 2007. He was a nominee this past season, his fourth nomination (including the one win). Ruff has never had an issue winning regular-season games. That is why he is fifth all-time in wins.
Ruff will likely pass Ken Hitchcock this season for fourth all-time. Then, he will have to wait another season to pass Barry Trotz, who he currently sits 80 wins behind. There’s a chance Ruff might retire after next season, but it’s not likely. He’s currently working on a long-term deal with the Devils. He should be in New Jersey for at least three seasons.
This isn’t talking about regular-season wins. Ruff needs playoff success to get himself into Hall of Fame discussions. He will probably get there on his record alone. Being third all-time in anything does that to voters. However, having zero Stanley Cups and just one appearance puts a damper on his career.
Ruff has to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder, which means he has to get in ahead of more than just other coaches. However, the numbers speak for themself. Now, he just needs that one last piece.
If Ruff ends his career with a Stanley Cup, he’s a lock for the Hall. More than anything else, the Hall is about the stories that make this league great. A coach on his last stop getting control of a team full of teenagers and 20-year-olds, there is no better story. However, without the Stanley Cup, there’s no way he can make the Hall. The coach’s literal job is to take his team to the promised land. No matter what Ruff did with those Buffalo Sabres team or this Devils team, without a win on the biggest stage, his Hall of Fame case deflates entirely.