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Fitzgerald Explored Devils Trade for Free-Agent Signee

Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald signing Brenden Dillon wasn’t the first time he attempted to acquire the physical defensive defenseman.

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Defenseman Brenden Dillon with the Washington Capitals circa 2019-20. // Photo courtesy of Washington Hockey Now

The offseason seemingly started early for New Jersey Devils General Manager Tom Fitzgerald. By the time the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline rolled around, the Devils’ GM knew his team wasn’t going to clinch a spot in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He didn’t say that outright, and he never would. But, his actions by selling leading goal scorer Tyler Toffoli as well as revamping his goaltending with Jake Allen proved to be part of his plan heading into the offseason. At deadline in March, Fitzgerald expressed interest in a Devils trade for free agent acquisition, Brenden Dillon.

On the last episode of the season for Sportsnet’s The Hockey PDOcast, Dillon joined the show and explained that in free agency, there were quite a few suitors who lined up for the physical defenseman’s services.

Explaining his thought process on choosing a team in free agency, Dillon said, “Is there four other similar players to Brenden Dillon that I’m just kind of gonna fall in line? Do I feel like I can be of value to that team? And then kind of once it got there to July 1st and other teams’ offers started to come in and the legitimacy of them, it was just overwhelming because then you’re like, ‘Okay, I was fortunate to have a good amount of offers.’

And then I talked it over with my wife and then you talk to your parents. Geographically, where are you gonna be at? I wasn’t even really looking at what the rest of the divisions are. All I’ve ever really known for, I think it’s 11 of my 12 seasons, were all in the West.”

Dillon, of course, was a member of a strong Winnipeg Jets team in 2023-24 that had legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations despite faltering in the first-round of the postseason. Dillon part of the machine in Winnipeg that helped earn the Jets 110 points in the regular season, good for second in the Pacific Division.

Dillon explained what everyone knew, especially fans in New Jersey, that the Jets were buyers at the deadline. However, he also explained that didn’t stop Fitzgerald from exploring a Devils trade to acquire the 33-year-old defenseman back in March.

“But when Jersey came, I mean, I know there was interest from them at the trade deadline this year,” Dillon explained. “And of course, with Winnipeg, we were having a strong season and they weren’t going to be moving any UFAs.”

Ultimately, the Devils came away with Dillon after Fitzgerald locked him into a three-year contract. Dillon explained after seeing that Brett Pesce was joining New Jersey in addition to a plethora of other talent, it was enticing to end up with the Devils as part of “something special.”

Admittedly, Fitzgerald took a lot of criticism when the Devils fell off in the 2023-24 season after accruing 112 points in the previous season. However, he proved that with his patience, he was able to restructure his team into what many are once again considering a playoff contender and threat by identifying as early last March where the Devils had deficits.

Fitzgerald might not have pulled off the Devils trade a few months ago, but he got his guy, and a few other notables in free agency. It was a good bit of business by the Devils GM this summer.

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