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Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald Addresses Firing Ruff, Puts Players on Notice

Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald explains the Devils’ lackluster season is not only on coaching, but also on himself and the players.



New Jersey Devils

NEWARK — New Jersey Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald made it clear on Tuesday morning that he knows former head coach Lindy Ruff isn’t completely to blame for the team’s lackluster season.

Fitzgerald opened the conference by citing Ruff as a good friend and a “very good” coach, explaining this was a decision that was extremely difficult and emotional for him.

“It’s been an extremely tough day for me personally,” Fitzgerald said with tears in his eyes. “When you have to let go of a good friend, a very good coach throughout his career, it’s not easy to be quite honest. At the end of the day, I felt it was the right decision for the organization at this time.”

The Devils are sputtering this season. They’re a team that has had inconsistencies up and down the lineup and as a result, they sit eight points out of playoff position. The math isn’t great, but New Jersey does have a couple of games in hand on the Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning, both of which they are chasing. They’ve played an equal amount of games as the Detroit Red Wings who they are trailing as well.

On Monday evening, the timing of the coaching change was curious. The Devils have 21 games left in the regular season, there are four days until the NHL Trade Deadline, and if firing Ruff was going to be the result, what took so long for it to happen?

Fitzgerald explained the Devils’ inconsistencies made it difficult for him to assess if they were getting back to their game or not under Ruff’s tutelage.

“Were there times during the season that I was looking at how we played and was unhappy? Yes, for sure,” Fitzgerald said. “Did that mean it called for heads the role? No, not at that time. You know, he’s the same coach that got 112 points last year. And with myself, my recommendation to extend him and ownership believing in him, (extending Ruff) was the right thing to do. But I started to see certain things that I value as a team that wasn’t changing. But then you saw a change. You saw the good game. You saw the details and some of the way we played. And then you wouldn’t see it the next game. The inconsistency started to creep up. And like I said, it was this final straw on the camel’s back for me that I felt I needed to make the change.”

Unlike last season, the Devils haven’t strung together more than three wins in a row this year. Last season, the Devils went on a franchise-tying 13-game win streak and sprinkled a few stretches collecting four or five consecutive wins.

That has not been the case this season.

However, Fitzgerald cited that the Devils’ issues go beyond the coach behind the bench. The Devils’ GM was pointed in his response that the onus is on everyone from himself to the players in the locker room that Ruff is no longer the head coach in New Jersey.

“This is on all of us,” Fitzgerald said adamantly to New Jersey Hockey Now. “I just spoke to the team and a good man lost his job because of an underperforming team. And like I said, it starts with me up here. I’m the one creating this team and trying to build this team around the pillars that we have. It’s not good enough. It hasn’t been and wishing and hoping it would change is not a plan. Individuals need to look in the mirror. All of us have to look in the mirror. It wasn’t good enough. It’s not good enough. We have better, we can play with more detail and better habits at practice. You name it, but a good man lost his job yesterday because of the underperforming pieces in front of him.”

Fitzgerald did not dance around being asked if there was a roster construction issue, either.

Could we have done things differently structurally? Absolutely,” Fitzgerald admitted. “Could I have done things personnel-wise? Probably. But at the end of the day, the foundations of playing the right way are important to any team, not just our team. And I felt like we’d gotten away from that.”

So what happens next? Travis Green takes over as the interim head coach with a large task at hand.

Get the Devils back in playoff position.

How? Green explained he’s going to work through the last 21 games a day at a time. The media consensus on the Devils’ season and the MoneyPuck percentages to creep back into the playoffs don’t matter much to Green. What he cares about is preparing the Devils to make a push for the playoffs one day at a time.

“I don’t worry about (the public perception),” Green explained. “I don’t worry about the things I can’t control. I’m going to worry about the things I can control and that’s us getting ready to win tonight. And then I’ll worry about how we’re going to practice tomorrow. Hopefully, it accumulates into another win in the next game. People have their opinions. I get the percentages. I have no idea what they are, and I don’t really care. All I care about is that I get this team ready to play on a daily basis and we’ll see where we (are) at the end of the year.”

Fitzgerald echoes Green’s sentiments, hence the fresh voice behind the bench. The belief is there is still enough time to get back into the playoffs. Perhaps Tuesday’s tilt against the Florida Panthers and Thursday’s game against the St. Louis Blues changes that outlook before Friday’s trade deadline if the Devils continue to decline. However, as of now, the goal is to get back into the playoffs, just without Lindy Ruff.

“I don’t ever think it’s it’s ever too late,” said Fitzgerald. “We do have a small window here. I believe in the group. I believe that if we play the right way, and can give ourselves a chance to be in every single game by again the details, knowing who we are as individual players, and playing to our strengths, we leave everything out on the line, why can’t we put a string of games together and jump up in the standings?”

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