New Jersey Devils: 2024-25 is Make or Break for Tom Fitzgerald

New Jersey Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald's moves this offseason are under a microscope. Can he fill the holes to take this Devils team to the next level?
Tom Fitzgerald
Tom Fitzgerald / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Following an overachieving 2022-23 campaign and an underachieving 2023-24 season, the New Jersey Devils are in a different position than they were a year ago. They already got the hiccup out of their system this past season. It was a setback, a season filled with disappointment and missed opportunities. General manager Tom Fitzgerald has a crucial job to do this summer: add the pieces needed to take this team to the next level. With a young core and a new coach, the one who is the most under the microscope is Fitzgerald.

We’ve already hashed and rehashed all the things that went wrong in 2023-24. Injuries, inconsistency, poor goaltending, struggling defense, lack of grit, etc. Injuries are unpredictable, but a healthier season is hopefully on its way. Having Dougie Hamilton back on the blueline will be a big boost. The focus is now on the future.

Fitzgerald has done a lot to turn the Devils into a strong team. It was only a year ago that we wondered if he was snubbed for General Manager of the Year finalist. He became known for smart, savvy moves like trading Ty Smith for John Marino in the 2022 offseason. Marino was a revelation in 2022-23. Then he fell off a cliff in 2023-24.

We praised Fitzgerald for moves like trading for Timo Meier ahead of the trade deadline in 2022-23, but the 2023 offseason was a different story. Not adding a goalie in the offseason turned out to bite Fitzgerald and the Devils. It was glaringly obvious that this was a mistake. By the time he addressed the need at the 2024 trade deadline, it was too late. Fitzgerald was dealing with what was available, and the market was not plentiful. The defense fell apart, but again, to be fair to Fitzgerald, Jonas Siegenthaler, and John Marino completely underperformed, and injuries ravaged the blueline.

Now, Fitzgerald has already gone to work retooling the team, adding pieces needed to push this team to the next level. Fitzgerald and Co. hired Sheldon Keefe as the new head coach. Then, they traded defenseman Kevin Bahl and a protected first-round pick in 2025 for goaltender Jacob Markstrom. The 34-year-old has two years left on his contract, providing the Devils the stopgap they need to contend over the next two seasons while giving Nico Daws and Akira Schmid more time to develop.

Fitzgerald knows what needs to be done. The Devils still need some bottom-six depth, a top-six winger, and a defensive upgrade. Once free agency opens, and the summer continues to unfold, we’ll have a better idea of the squad the Devils will be putting on the ice in 2024-25. With more moves expected to be made this summer, the Devils should have what they need to put last year’s failure in the rearview mirror and play like a contending team.

Something else notable for Fitzgerald to take care of this summer is Dawson Mercer’s next contract. Mercer didn’t have a great season, which means he should be less expensive than anticipated a year ago. The contract length should be shorter, too. Mercer’s contract will affect how much money the Devils have for other moves this summer and vice versa.

Failure to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2024-25 is not an option. The Devils are in a Stanley Cup window, and the window has only just opened. But not making the playoffs again would be catastrophic. With a core consisting of Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Timo Meier, Dougie Hamilton, Luke Hughes, and more, the Devils are too talented to have another poor season. They are still a very young team, and much of their young talent is a little more seasoned now. The way the team is built around them is critical.

The Devils need a big year to prove that Fitzgerald has put together a contender. A lot of questions will surround him next season. Did he hire the right coach? Did he trade for the right goalie? Did he address the forward depth properly? Did he strengthen the defense? Did he trade away the right players? Did he make a splash in free agency?

These questions will be answered next season by whether or not the Devils take a step forward. With Fitzgerald's past success in making the right moves for the team, we’re willing to overlook what happened in 2023-24, but this is a big summer ahead of a big season. 2024-25 is make or break for Tom Fitzgerald.