Yesterday was an emotional day for New Jersey Devils’ fans. First, you had the somewhat unexpected trade of Andy Greene. People felt sentimental about the captain leaving, but the trade partner being former New Jersey Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello was hardly surprising. Then there was the exhausting speculation and eventual trade of Blake Coleman. Sprinkled in somewhere was a come from behind victory against the Blue Jackets. Remember the end of Fast and Furious 7? Where Dom and Brian drove in separate directions? That’s how I feel seeing Coleman go to Tampa.
Interestingly, Devils interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald — who played the role of temporary assistant coach under John Hynes earlier this season — gave a post-game press conference. It was a wise move for Fitzgerald to open up his media availability on what had been the Devils’ busiest day — on and off the ice — all season. Let’s take a closer look and analyze some of Fitzgerald’s quotes from the impromptu press conference.
The Press Conference
Considering that Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes are both first overall picks, it’s not surprising that Fitzgerald wants to build around them. What was notable is that it seemingly paints everyone else, execpt MacKenzie Blackwood, as expendable. You wouldn’t think the Devils would trade the likes of Kyle Palmieri or Jesper Bratt, but no one thought they’d trade Coleman either until yesterday. Fitzgerald’s actions speak louder than his words here, so it seems if he’s going to move valuable pieces, he’d only do so for a proper return. Everyone has a price, after all.
One thing that stood out to me was Fitzgerald not mentioning Ty Smith. Sure Smith has never played in the NHL, but before the acquisition of Nolan Foote, Smith was arguably the organization’s top prospect. Also, he looks to be the major piece of a struggling defense when he finally makes his long-awaited NHL debut. It might have just been an oversight by Fitzgerald, who may have been just focusing at the NHL-level. Or it might be him saying that if the price is right Smith could be moved. All I know is I will not be taking Ty Smith for granted.
Not necessarily a quote from Fitzgerald’s press conference, but an important one at that. I’m wondering what Fitzgerald considers the difference between “competitive” and “contender”. Even our most optimistic fans do not expect the Devils to win the cup in the next few seasons, but what about a .500 record? What about a return to the playoffs? Our fans are dying to see the team take that next step forward, even if it’s a first-round loss in the playoffs. We all thought the team took “the next step forward” in 2018, and look how that turned out.
Fitzgerald chooses his words carefully. Unfortunately, we all should declare 2019-2020 a lost season and hope for a better future. If the Devils do not at least show some signs of progress next year, the fan base might turn on him, or whoever is in the general manager’s chair. Our fan base is relatively impatient, but considering how long we have been waiting for that next step forward in the rebuild process, it’s expected and justified.
If Travis Zajac refused to waive his no-trade clause, it sounds like he wants to stay here more than the Devils want to keep him. I have always respected Zajac, even if I am not a fan of his contract. So, I am not opposed to keeping him around. Considering his relationship and longevity with teammates, and the reaction from Devils’ players after Andy Greene was dealt, it might be for the better this season. Even if Zajac waived his no-trade clause, there is no way Fitzgerald would be getting a Taylor Hall, Blake Coleman, or even an Andy Greene type of return for him.
Funny story. So yesterday I am messaging a few of the other Devils Army Blog writers complaining about how the Devils chose John Quenneville over Brendan Lemieux in the 2014 draft. About 10-minutes later, the news of the Andy Greene trade breaks. And who do the Devils acquire for sending our captain off to the Fish Sticks? None other than John’s brother David.
One thing I am thankful for, as Abby pointed out above, was Fitzgerald’s honesty about the situation. In the world of sports, you get a lot of artificial quotes meant to sound good for the media. The repetitive and unoriginal responses make it hard to gauge what direction a team or player is going in. No one wanted to see Blake Coleman leave, even after seeing the more than fair return. Instead, most of us are still upset to see the fan-favorite go. Fitzgerald made a difficult decision and was not afraid to call it just that: a difficult decision.
Fitzgerald’s blatant honesty reminds me a little of Brendan Shanahan when he took over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Shanahan did not promise a quick fix and instant gratification, he said success would take time. The Devils are in the same place right now. It may not be what we want, but it’s what we needed to hear.