Can Tom Fitzgerald be blamed for the New Jersey Devils' lack of success?

Of those to be held responsible for the underwhelming performance throughout the 2023-24 NHL season by the New Jersey Devils, is GM Tom Fitzgerald one of them?
Tampa Bay Lightning v New Jersey Devils
Tampa Bay Lightning v New Jersey Devils / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages

The amount of disappointment felt among the fans of the New Jersey Devils is alarming for a team that took the NHL by storm a year ago. However, the current problems that exist are not unforeseen.

Jersey’s struggles in the defensive zone, the inability to stop the puck, and a ceaseless flow of odd-man rushes were problems faced even before this season. They were simply muffled behind the noise of their magical post-season run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year.

Were we so quick to forget the outlash of frustrations from long-time players of the organization like Miles Wood about the lack of drive from the team at the start of the 2022-23 season? 

Before the Devils went on a historic 13-game win streak that propelled the team into playoff mode, this was a team that was set to implode due to a lack of control from the coaching staff. 

Lindy Ruff was one foot out the door, Devils jerseys were being heaped onto the ice in a fit of enraged embarrassment by fans, and nobody had any chemistry on the ice. A lot can change when you start winning games. 

The New Jersey Devils have a few problems that need to get fixed

This is the same story this season, only they're not winning games. The Devils always seem to be playing from behind and for guys who are professionals in the sport, not a lot of guys seem to know what’s going on.

The lack of success is by no means attributed to a lack of skill on the team. On paper, the New Jersey Devils have put together a core group of players that will be together for the next five years while having a deep pool densely concentrated with top-tier prospects to fill in down the road. 

Where holes have existed, general manager Tom Fitzgerald has done as much as he could without sacrificing the big picture to improve the team. While he’s yet to acquire the desperately needed upgrade at goaltender, we can’t say it’s not because he isn’t trying.

He’s made house calls to the Anaheim Ducks for John Gibson, the Calgary Flames for Jacob Markstrom, and the Nashville Predators for Juuse Saros. The price just hasn't been there.

This is also while dealing with the current salary cap situation for the New Jersey Devils. Fitzgerald has roughly $400,000 and wants to try and get one last push from this team before the result of this season is decided.

Meanwhile, Tyler Toffoli, Dawson Mercer, and a handful of others have expiring contracts, with the former on the verge of cashing in a lucrative long-term deal.

Tom Fitzgerald has done as much as can be expected when it comes to fielding a good hockey team. Seasons that are riddled with injury are difficult to contend with and are nearly impossible to anticipate. That being said, there’s one issue at hand that looms over his head and it’s the coaching staff.

Hindsight being what it is, the brass of the New Jersey Devils should’ve let head coach Lindy Ruff walk last season rather than inking him to a contract extension. The magical run the team had blinded us by the fact that the Devils still don’t have their coach. 

This was why they originally brought in Andrew Burnett as an assistant coach for the 2022-23 season. They were supposed to groom him into becoming the next head coach.

What happened instead? The front office was so hung up on their appearance in the second round of the playoffs that they thought Ruff wasn’t the problem anymore and therefore no longer needed Burnett’s services.

What’s happened since? The New Jersey Devils are back where they started (a barely .500 team) with Lindy Ruff still as the head coach. Also, the Nashville Predators are biting and holding onto a wild card spot in the Western Conference led by their new head coach, Andrew Burnett.

The defensive breakdowns, countless odd-man rushes, and a lack of chemistry are the direct result of an incompetent coaching staff. The lack of success by the New Jersey Devils will be Tom Fitzgerald’s fault if he doesn’t recognize this and finally remove Lindy Ruff from the bench.