Devils Hire Ruff: Overreaction Not Necessary

Introduction

The wait is finally over. Yesterday it was announced who the New Jersey Devils are expected to make the team’s head coach and general manager. Surprisingly, it is expected that the Devils plan on hiring current New York Rangers’ assistant coach Lindy Ruff as the team’s next head coach. It was also announced the Devils are removing the interim tag off Tom Fitzgerald and making him the team’s full-time general manager moving forward. 

The announcement of Ruff was certainly surprising. And hockey Twitter is all up in arms about it. Devils’ fans are infuriated, and non-Devils fans are already making a mockery of the move. I am here to tell you, although not the best candidate, why the hiring of Ruff does not warrant all the overreaction it is receiving, as well as address the move to make Tom Fitzgerald the permanent general manager.

It was announced Lindy Ruff will be the next head coach of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Lindy Ruff

The Background

Lindy Ruff began his head coaching career with the Buffalo Sabres in 1997. He spent 15 years at the helm in Buffalo, totaling a 571-432-78-84 record from 1997 to 2013. Over this time, he brought the Sabres to the playoffs eight times, appearing in the Stanley Cup finals once (losing to the Dallas Stars in 1998-99 finals) and had three other Conference Finals appearances over this time. He was let go at the beginning of the 2012-13 season.

After his time with Buffalo, Ruff landed the head coaching job in Dallas. In his first season in 2013, the Stars were amidst a five-year playoff drought and coming off a 48-point season in the 2012-13 lockout-shortened year. However, Ruff was able to bring the team to a playoff trip and a 91-point season. In total, he coached the Stars for four seasons, making the playoffs twice. Over this time, he had a 50-win season, a second-round playoff exit, and a first-round playoff exit. He was ultimately let go following the 2016-17 season.

Ruff landed on his feet once again, this time as an assistant coach for the Devils’ cross-river rivals, the New York Rangers. He was in charge of the team’s defense and penalty kill from 2017-present. It remains to be seen if he will remain with New York for the team’s return-to-play series versus the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Statistics

My analyses of Ruff’s team’s and how they performed focused on his time in Dallas and New York. Surprisingly in Dallas, the team’s numbers were pretty decent. His team played a fast-paced, and high-event style of hockey. Offensively, the teams excelled, and you can see this for yourself with the advanced statistics below. 

Defensively, however, was another story. Below are some advanced statistics I pulled from his time in Dallas. The numbers are not exactly encouraging, however, not extremely surprising given how high-paced these teams were. Because of this, it was bound Dallas would give up a decent amount of chances against. One thing that’s for sure is Mackenzie Blackwood may have his work cut out for him.

StatisticRateRank
Corsi Against/6056.1523rd
Expected Goals Against/602.2624th
These statistics are from 2013-to-2017.

The most surprising aspect for me in all this was learning Ruff was in charge of the New York Rangers defense and penalty kill. He showed in Dallas he was not all that great in this area of the ice, but the Rangers brought him in to run that part of their team. And to the surprise of no one, it did not go well. Below are defensive metrics, as well as the Rangers’ penalty kill rankings, from the point Ruff was hired until now. As you can see, they are horrid. Now, this may have a lot to do with David Quinn and the system he runs, especially given Ruff’s defensive metrics in Dallas were not nearly as bad.

StatisticRate/%Rank
Corsi Against/6061.3830th
Expected Goals Against/602.5830th
Penalty Kill79%21st
These statistics are from 2017-to-now.

It’s worth noting in New York, defenseman Tony DeAngelo and rookie Adam Fox both took great strides in their development under Ruff. DeAngelo took a huge step forward from his previous season and turned in a career-year. While Fox can easily be in the running for the Calder Trophy this season. You can hear these points discussed further on the latest episode of Devils Army Cast here.

The Decision

For me, Ruff is, by far, not the best candidate but also not the worst. Make no mistake about it, he’s an upgrade over Alain Nasreddine and John Hynes. I would have preferred Gerard Gallant or Peter Laviolette, but it was learned after the fact that Gallant did not want the job and Laviolette was commanding around $5 million per year, which the Devils reportedly did not want to pay, which is fine. The money saved is better spent elsewhere.

Ruff will bring a system that fits the roster well. High-paced, fast-hockey that will hopefully help the younger players — such as Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, and Jesper Boqvist — who fit this mold. However, his defensive track record doesn’t inspire much confidence. So, Mackenzie Blackwood will have to be his great self, and the Devils must make it a priority to improve the defense and find a solid number two goaltending option this offseason.

So, I am pleading to you Devils’ fans out there. Take a deep breath, relax, and really think about who Lindy Ruff is and what he’ll bring to the team. If you still feel sour about the hiring after that, fine. But keep in mind the head coach only does so much. It ultimately comes down to what the players on the ice do, and it comes back to general manager Tom Fitzgerald to put together a squad that can get it done.

Tom Fitzgerald had the interim tag removed, and is expected to be named general manager as the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by: AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Tom Fitzgerald

Making Fitzgerald the permanent general manager was not only unsurprising but also well-deserved. After taking over after the firing of Ray Shero, Fitzgerald got to work and made some great moves. He traded Blake Coleman for a stellar prospect in Nolan Foote and got a first-round pick for good measure. He also swung a second-round pick for rental Andy Greene. Additionally, he made the right decision by not trading Kyle Palmieri at the deadline. All-in-all, he did not make a bad/questionable move since taking over. You can hear more about this on our recent special episode of Devils Army Cast here.

As mentioned above, Fitzgerald is now responsible for what is arguably one of the Devils’ most important offseasons in team history. He has the second-most cap space, potentially three-first rounders, and a solid young core at his disposal. If he does not make good decisions there and bring in the players the Devils need to be successful, the highly debated coaching hire is mute. 

It’s also worth noting the Devils should not be done filling out personnel. And this is another thing that will largely fall on ownership and Fitzgerald. Will ownership bring in a President of Hockey Ops? Will Fitzgerald make adjustments to the scouting department? Who will fill out Ruff’s coaching staff? These are all extremely important questions that will, like the team’s player personnel decisions, go a long way in determining if the Devils are finally able to exit this seemingly decade-old rebuild. 

Conclusion

There is a lot to digest with the announcement of Lindy Ruff and Tom Fitzgerald yesterday. And I hope above gives you enough insight to help you form your own opinion and hopefully not be as irate, as it seems many around the Devils’ fanbase are over the Ruff hiring. Because the overreaction – specifically toward Ruff – is not exactly warranted. 

For more and even deeper insight on the moves, check out the most recent special edition of our podcast, Devils Army Cast (above). In this episode, we not only discuss much what I did above but also some options for additional personnel and more in-depth analysis. You also get to hear three opinions rather than just my own. So, make sure to check that out.

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