Despite the New Jersey Devils’ struggles this season, a report suggests General Manager Tom Fitzgerald will remain aggressive ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline.
The Devils are undoubtedly struggling this season. It’s a combination of lousy goaltending, insufficient defense, and a plethora of injuries that have resulted in subpar hockey following an immaculate 2022-23 season.
Over the summer, Fitzgerald traded away Damon Severson to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He also let Ryan Graves walk in free agency to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite the two former Devils defensemen struggling with their new teams, something about them on New Jersey’s blue line just worked. It was a total of 949 NHL games experience lost packaged with Fitzgerald’s trust in Luke Hughes and Kevin Bahl to replace what Severson and Graves left.
Hughes hasn’t been without his rookie mistakes. However, Bahl hasn’t quite filled Graves’ shoes and John Marino is struggling too.
Frankly speaking, Fitzgerald brought the Devils into 2023-24 with a weaker blue line. Plus, he didn’t upgrade the goaltending to address the deficit.
Yet, TSN Insider Darren Dreger states that Fitzgerald isn’t going to chalk this season up to a loss. Instead, he will be aggressive at, or leading up the the NHL Trade Deadline.
“When you lose top defensemen like Dougie Hamilton and star forward like Jack Hughes, obviously it’s going to take a bite,” Dreger stated on TSN 960 Radio. “Their goaltending, at best, has been sketchy all year long. If Tom Fitzgerald could take a mulligan, he probably would have tried to invest more or looked after the position of goal in the offseason. He continues to chip away at trying to stabilize and upgrade that position in a number of different ways. Also defense. I don’t think Fitzgerald is the general manager who is going to sit back and say ‘This isn’t our year because of injuries.’ I think he’s going to be as aggressive as he can be between now and March 8th with the hope that the return of better health and star players is going to make a difference.”
It’s a classic chicken or the egg situation. What’s worse? The Devils’ defense or the Devils’ goaltending? Can the answer be both are bad? Quite frankly, that might be the truth.
The Devils are one of the best offensive teams in the NHL. They score an NHL seventh-best 3.45 goals per game and more often than not lead each game in the expected goals race. However, their leaky defense and inadequate goaltending usually result in their downfall somewhere between puck drop and the final buzzer.
Some options on the market that make sense at both positions are Jacob Markstrom, Noah Hanifin, and John Gibson. Those are just to name a few. The question is, how long will Fitzgerald wait to get aggressive?
Vitek Vanecek clearly isn’t the answer sporting a 3.26 GAA, .887 SV%, NHL-worst -13.3 GSAx.