Though the New Jersey Devils have been relatively quiet since their season ended on May 11 with a Game 5 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, there’s still some news to catch up on for this Memorial Day weekend in the States. Dougie Hamilton had offseason wrist surgery, the Devils will be getting a Stadium Series matchup at MetLife Stadium in February 2024, and more with us one month away from the NHL Draft.
Hamilton Undergoes Wrist Surgery
Hamilton mentioned in his exit interview that he hurt his wrist “pretty bad” at the end of their first-round series against the New York Rangers. At the time, he said he was still discussing it with the organization and whether he needed surgery or not. As it turns out, Hamilton made a quick decision and opted to undergo surgery. Because he had the procedure done now, his agent confirmed (via James Nichols) he would be ready for the start of the 2023-24 season.
If you thought Hamilton struggled in the team’s series against the Hurricanes, there’s context now. He was far from 100 percent but still gave it a go to try and help the team advance another round. Hamilton is coming off a career season in which he totaled 22 goals and 74 points in 82 games. Hopefully surgery won’t slow him down to start 2023-24, and he can get off to a hot start as he did this past season.
Devils & Flyers Stadium Series
It’s been nine years since the Devils last played in an outdoor game, and next February will mark the first time in a decade they’ve done so. Per multiple reports, the Devils will host the Philadelphia Flyers for a Stadium Series matchup at MetLife Stadium — home of the New York Jets and Giants — in February 2024. The Rangers and New York Islanders will face off in the other Stadium Series tilt.
Many fans, though not all, were hoping for another Devils and Rangers outdoor matchup, especially after the thrilling seven-game series they had in Round 1 of the 2023 playoffs. But with the Islanders also taking part, the league had to think about the best matchups for TV, ticket sales, etc.
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While the Flyers may head into a full rebuild in the coming weeks and months, there’s a built-in history with the Devils. Remember the 2000 Eastern Conference Final when the Devils stormed back from a 3-1 series deficit to win in seven games and advance to the Stanley Cup Final? Or how about the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinal when New Jersey was the heavy underdog but went on to win in five games? The two teams may be on different trajectories right now, but it’s still a great rivalry. And given the history between the Islanders and Rangers, it makes sense to go with these two matchups.
Fitzgerald Snubbed of GM of the Year Nomination
On Thursday, the league announced the three finalists for the Jim Gregory Award for general manager of the year for the 2022-23 season. The three finalists were Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney, Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill and Florida Panthers GM Bill Zito. All worthy nominees, but it was a surprise to see Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis and especially Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald not among the three finalists.
Devils fans are all familiar with the season they had in 2021-22. The team went 27-46-3 and finished with 63 points, leading them to draft Šimon Nemec with the second overall pick in the 2022 draft. There was going to be some correction with the Devils this season simply because the team wasn’t as bad as their record indicated a year ago. But Fitzgerald helped the team add 25 wins and 49 points in the standings with his moves last summer.
In desperate need of a goalie, Fitzgerald acquired Vitek Vanecek from the Washington Capitals at the 2022 draft. He’d finish with 33 wins and a .911 save percentage this past season. With the Pittsburgh Penguins needing to clear cap space, Fitzgerald acquired John Marino for Ty Smith and a 2023 third-round pick. Marino went on to be the Devils’ best defensive defenseman this past season.
Even a lesser-known move like signing Brendan Smith shouldn’t go unnoticed. Sure, he was a No. 5, 6 or 7 defenseman this season, but it’s one of those things you can’t quantify. His presence in the locker room seemed to make a difference for a young Devils team. And even though Ondrej Palát had an injury-plagued first year in New Jersey, Playoff Palát showed up in their Round 1 series against the Rangers.
It’s understandable why Sweeney was one of the three finalists; the Bruins had the best regular season in NHL history. And Nill has quietly done a great job building up the Stars over the last couple of years. With all due respect to Zito, who’s a solid GM, the Panthers would not have made the playoffs if it weren’t for the Penguins completely fumbling the bag in the final week of the regular season. And the Panthers won 16 fewer games and had 30 fewer points than in 2021-22 when they won the Presidents’ Trophy. It’s semantics at the end of the day, but Fitzgerald probably should’ve been the nominee over him.
MacKinnon & Brunette Interview for Other Openings
When a team like the Devils has success, other organizations will start looking to them to fill vacancies they have for front office or coaching positions. We know that the Pittsburgh Penguins interviewed Devils assistant GMs Dan MacKinnon and Kate Madigan, as well as director of player development Meghan Duggan, for their GM vacancy.
MacKinnon made it to the second round of interviews, but Pierre LeBrun reported earlier this week that MacKinnon was out of the running to be Penguins GM. That should leave a well-structured front office intact for the Devils this offseason and into 2023-24.
In other news, The Hockey Writers’ Mark Scheig reported that the Columbus Blue Jackets have spoken to Devils assistant Andrew Brunette about their head coaching vacancy:
Brunette joined the Devils after the Panthers decided not to renew his contract for this season. He’s likely in the mix for other vacancies, including the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames. If the Devils lose him, they’ll have an opening to fill on Lindy Ruff’s staff. But if not, they also won’t have any attrition to what’s an already excellent coaching staff.