New Jersey Devils Must Learn From Toronto Maple Leafs' Mistakes

A new report shows Tom Fitzgerald is looking for a very specific type of player this offseason. We saw the Toronto Maple Leafs go into this year with a similar strategy, and it did not work.
Toronto Maple Leafs v Carolina Hurricanes
Toronto Maple Leafs v Carolina Hurricanes / Jaylynn Nash/GettyImages

The New Jersey Devils had another bizarre weekend, losing to the Ottawa Senators only to beat the bricks off the New York Islanders. That is how this season has gone. The Devils will beat a great team only to lose to a bottom-feeder. It has the Devils wondering how to save the proposed contender in the offseason. There were many reasons why this season was a disappointment. However, a new report shows one front office member's thoughts on the situation.

The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun has always had a good relationship with Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald. On Monday, it led to a long-form piece where Fitzgerald was very open and honest on what he thinks went wrong and how he plans to fix it. Talking about the young defensemen first was odd, since Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec are far from the Devils' main problem (although, Kevin Bahl hasn't had the best season). However, one quote is standing out more than anything else.

"“We’ve got a lot of skill,” Fitzgerald told The Athletic's LeBrun. “We really do. I’d like to get a little harder.”


This has been the mantra of a lot of Devils fans and analysts. The Devils are too "soft" according to them. We're not saying that's what Fitzgerald is saying; we don't want to put words in his mouth. However, it's definitely not far away from what he just said. We've seen so many skilled teams that go all in on being "playoff built," which in laments terms means tough.

We're not saying a team doesn't need toughness to be good in the playoffs, but the Devils were two rounds away from the Stanley Cup Final last season. Adding a player like Timo Meier, who brings toughness while having 40-goal upside, is exactly what Fitzgerald should do. He should find his toughness in great players.

The reason the Florida Panthers are built like they are is because their toughness comes from their best players. Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk both have more than 120 hits on the season. Aleksander Barkov has 88 as of this writing. They are tough, but that toughness comes from those who are some of the best players in the sport.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs tried to add toughness in the trenches. This offseason, after finally winning a first-round series only to get dispatched by those same Panthers, the Maple Leafs and new GM Brad Treliving went on a spending spree to add toughness to a core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares.

The Maple Leafs signed Ryan Reaves, Max Domi, and Tyler Bertuzzi. To be fair, most didn't hate the Bertuzzi or Domi contracts. They both seem like the type of players you want when building a contender, but it came at a price. The Maple Leafs needed to take risks upgrading the defense. They signed John Klingberg, hoping last year's fall-off was a fluke. It wasn't, and now the Leafs are in trouble.

They also didn't make a significant upgrade in net (similar to the Devils), and Ilya Samsonov spent most of the season as one of the worst options between the pipes. They never had the cap space to upgrade in the middle of the season because they spent so much on Bertuzzi, Domi, and Reaves.

On top of that, all three players have been different levels of disappointing. Domi has 40 points, which honestly is fine. That's about the floor of what you hope for as a Maple Leafs fan. Bertuzzi is the real disappointment, sitting as of this writing with 34 points in 68 games. Reaves looks completely cooked, putting up four points in 40 games. He's not a scorer, but that's just awful.

The Maple Leafs are on pace for 104 points, but this is on the back of a Herculean effort by Matthews, who has more than 50 goals already. William Nylander leads the team with 93 points. The stars are being stars. Will it work in the playoffs? We shall see, as the Maple Leafs are full bore into a first-round series with the Bruins, no thanks to Bertuzzi, Domi, and Reaves.

The Devils must take a look at the Maple Leafs' mistake and avoid them at all cost. Ironically, Domi and Bertuzzi are both free agents this offseason. We're not saying avoid them both, as they could see bounce backs at a discount, but the Devils can't spend all their available funds on grit. Spend it on the right pieces that fit the next coach's gameplan.