As with many teams trending toward youth, a head coach with experience would be at the top of the list for any general manager. That would explain why the Devils were interested in bringing Lindy Ruff on board.
The 60-year-old head coach has plenty of NHL coaching experience. Only six coaches in league history – Scotty Bowman, Joel Quenneville, Barry Trotz, Al Arbour, Paul Maurice, Ken Hitchcock — have coached more regular-season games than Ruff (1,493).
As GM Tom Fitzgerald went through the interview process he said that Ruff “continued to step to the forefront.” Ruff fit the criteria: NHL coaching experience, has a “presence,” a “personality,” and is “believable.”
“[T]he group needs a teacher, someone who’s going to come in and teach, and messages are going to be extremely clear, no break at all in the messaging,” Fitzgerald said.”
The Devils have a young core led by Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, and Mackenzie Blackwood. In the pipeline are prospects like Nolan Foote, Janne Kuokkanen, and Ty Smith, who could reach the NHL soon. In the team’s current state, Fitzgerald is banking on Ruff’s experience and educator-mindset to pay off down the line.
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“As we kept going deeper into that process, the infectious personality that Lindy Ruff has is a big part of who he is,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s a light-hearted person. He’s played the game. He’s coached young talent, another criteria. Being able to coach young talent and watch them develop into budding stars like he did with the core young players in Buffalo and core performers right now in Dallas. … As the process continued, Lindy continued to grow and grow and grow to the point where I felt relationship-wise, which is a big thing for a manager, it was there already. So as far as teamwork, I felt Lindy Ruff was the best person for this job.”
How Ruff goes about coaching young players and getting the best out of them is simple: constant communication. You can’t develop players without proper, constructive feedback. He feels that will serve his players best for sustained improvement.
“I think a lot of times you can tell [young players] what you want to do, but most times they want to know why,” he said. “‘Why do I have to do it?’ I think that’s a question you’ve got to answer the most. … ‘Why do you need me to do this?’ And most times, the answer to that is, ‘For the team to be successful.'”
MORE: Devils hire Lindy Ruff as head coach, retain Fitzgerald as GM
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.