It has been 62 days since New Jersey Devils general manager (GM) Tom Fitzgerald addressed the media. Yesterday he held his pre-draft media availability in Montreal and discussed an array of topics, including his search for assistant head coaches and his restricted free agents. The NHL Entry Draft begins tonight at 7:00 P.M. ET and Fitzgerald made sure to keep his plans for the second-overall pick to himself.
Fitz’s Lips Are Sealed
Unlike Montreal Canadiens GM Kent Hughes, Fitzgerald was tight-lipped on who his team is looking to draft tonight. He admitted there is a focus on certain players, but followed that by saying there are a lot of good players in this unique draft class. Early on in his availability, he confirmed his phone has been ringing and there have been conversations regarding the second overall pick.
“Everybody calls each other. I’ve had some calls. A lot of it has been tire kicking,” he said. “I’ve been taking phone calls. Nothing right now of substance. But the draft is tomorrow night so the phone will keep ringing.”
Fitzgerald once again stated he would trade the pick if it results in something he can control for a long period of time. It is worth noting that both JT Miller and Alex DeBrincat, who have been linked to New Jersey, are only under contract for one more season. If an extension can’t be reached with either of those players, it seems like they could be looking for help somewhere else.
Jesper Bratt Update
Fitzgerald confirmed that the organization has presented Jesper Bratt with an offer, but chose not to comment on the specifics.
“We’ve talked to Jesper and we’ve made him an offer that shows the commitment that David Blitzer and Josh Harris have in this young gentleman for very good reasons. He is a really good hockey player that makes our team better. So that’s negotiations, you make an offer and you wait to see where his camp is at.”
Bratt has been a topic of discussion this offseason being listed as a top trade target by Frank Seravalli. It is good news to see things moving forward, but Fitzgerald could be in for a long summer of negotiations with Bratt’s agent Joakim Persson. The last time a contract was agreed upon, it was signed four days prior to the season opener causing the 5-foot-10 winger to miss the Devils’ first game of the season.
Lindy Ruff Will Be New Jersey’s Head Coach
During Fitzgerald’s end-of-season availability, he alluded to the fact that Lindy Ruff would be back behind the bench as the Devils’ head coach, but did not come out and say it. Yesterday the words “Lindy Ruff is our coach” were said, clearing up any speculation or questions that fans may have had over the past two months.
It is no surprise that the veteran coach would be back after hearing Bratt and Jack Hughes praise him during their own exit interviews. The Alberta native was brought in because of his success developing young players in the NHL, and the statistics back it up. Nico Hischier, Yegor Sharangovich, Bratt and Hughes have all flourished under their current head coach in addition to other players who had their own career seasons.
Fitzgerald mentioned there was nothing imminent regarding the hiring of assistant coaches and said they are talking with a lot of individuals. The priority is to find someone who has experience working with young defensemen and, of course, a candidate with proven success on the power play. There is no timetable as far as the team announcing their new hires.
Fitzgerald’s Final Thoughts
- All restricted free agents (RFAs) will receive qualifying offers. The list of RFAs includes Jesper Bratt, Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha, Jesper Boqvist, Tyce Thompson and Fabian Zetterlund.
- Yesterday, Fitzgerald talked about his team still being in the development stage and moving closer to the next phase. New Jersey’s general manager is looking to build a team that can sustain long-term success.
- Luke Hughes will go back to the University of Michigan next season. He is currently preparing for World Junior camp and will not partake in the Devils’ Development Camp which will be held next week.
- Mackenzie Blackwood is feeling great this offseason and the club expects the goaltender to get back to form. There is no timeframe for Jonathan Bernier’s recovery and Fitzgerald is still looking to add another goaltender in free agency. The general manager added that he would like to keep Nico Daws in Utica to further develop.
- Miles Wood has not been on the ice yet but has been progressing. There seems to be confidence that the 6-foot-2 forward will get back to 100 percent before the 2022-23 season begins.
The biggest takeaway involving tonight’s NHL Entry Draft is that Fitzgerald wants an asset that the team can control for a long period of time. That logic could mean a DeBrincat trade is off the table since he will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights at the conclusion of the 2022-23 campaign. Regardless if they move the pick or make a selection, the Devils have options, and tonight marks the first move in an uncertain summer for the Devils and their fans.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.