The New Jersey Devils are having a pretty terrible season based on the expectations. They are six points away from the second Wild Card spot held by the Detroit Red Wings and five points away from the third spot in the Metropolitan Division held by the Philadelphia Flyers. They have games in hand, but neither are enough to make up the deficit.
There are a hundred reasons why the Devils season has gone the way it's supposed to. The goaltending straight up stinks. Vitek Vanecek took 11 steps back. The defense misses the chemistry it had with Ryan Graves and Damon Severson. It also hasn't helped that Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler both suffered severe injuries. On top of that, John Marino has been bad. Jack Hughes, Timo Meier, Nico Hischier, and Tomas Nosek have missed weeks. All of these are great excuses.
Whenever a team underperforms as bad as the Devils, the fanbase will call for the job of the coach. To be fair to Lindy Ruff, it's not his "fault." That's not to say he's done a good or bad job. It's hard to say he's done a good job. The Devils aren't even in a playoff spot at the All-Star Break. However, it's hard to believe that Scotty Bowman could get this Devils situation in a better spot.
Again, this isn't to say we don't feel Ruff could be doing a better job. His use of Alexander Holtz is mind-boggling. It literally makes no sense he keeps stapling that kid to the bench and leaving him with AHLers on a nightly basis. He also hasn't made many right decisions with the lines, that have needed changing basically every week. The defense and the goaltending both took a step back despite great seasons from rookies Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec. There's a lot of legit criticism Ruff deserves.
Last week, news came out that Michael McLeod, who had been key to many Devils wins, and Cal Foote were taking an indefinite leave of absence. While not officially linked to the Hockey Canada investigation, both were on the 2018 World Juniors team linked to the investigation, and they are two of five players who took a leave of absence last week. Reports say five players on that team are being asked to turn themselves in.
Losing McLeod and the alleged charges involved is a heavy lift for a coach to overcome. The charges and the allegations are heinous. These players traveled with both of them, dined with them, sometimes they roomed with them. Others considered them friends and maybe even best friends. Now, they're gone.
Saying nothing about the allegations themselves, which again are heinous and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, Ruff's job just became as important as ever. He needs to get these players to focus on who is here. Will any legitimate coach sign on to take over a locker room in shambles? There's nothing Jay Woodcroft can say to fix this. Craig Berube might see immediate backlash with his brand of coaching. Gerard Gallant will wait for a better timing for what could be his last chance.
Basically, the Devils choices are Lindy Ruff, Travis Green, or Kevin Dineen. Do the Devils feel like they are in a better spot to win with this roster, this many injuries, and a roster that's now dealing with unprecedented issues? It just doesn't add up. The Devils will stick with Ruff for better or for worse. They have a lot invested in this season. Even with Ruff's "extension" not being what it seems. On a pre-Christmas edition of 32 Thoughts, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman says he thinks Ruff's contract was a one-year extension with an option for more.
With all this in mind, it makes sense the Devils will let Ruff finish out the season for better or worse. Is it the right decision? That's for another time and place.