Tom Fitzgerald

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Devils selling with the NHL trade deadline approaching

NEWARK, N.J. — With the NHL trade deadline a week away, the New Jersey Devils may as well have a giant “for sale” sign hanging outside the dressing room.

Interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald gave a clear indication the Devils are ready to unload when he shipped defenseman and captain Andy Greene and forward Blake Coleman in separate deals Sunday for prospects and draft picks.

With New Jersey looking at a potential second straight bottom-five finish, expect Fitzgerald to move more players.

“I’m guessing my phone will ring a little more now because of what I did,” Fitzgerald said Sunday evening. “But I’m not looking to get rid of players. I’m looking to really move the organization, continue moving forward. And there are players here that will do that and help us.”

Fitzgerald said there are several players he will not trade. Centers Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall selections in 2017 and ‘19, respectively, are untouchable, as is rookie goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who has 19 of the team’s 22 wins. Centers Pavel Zacha and Travis Zajac, who has a no-trade clause he is not going to waive, also are staying.

The rest of the roster seems to be on the market. The most interesting players on that list are forwards Kyle Palmieri and Wayne Simmonds and defensemen Will Butcher and Sami Vatanen.

Palmieri is the best player. He has a team-high 22 goals and is a legit top line forward who is good on the power play. Simmonds has struggled in his first season in New Jersey with seven goals, but he remains a net-front presence.

Vatanen, 28, is in the final year of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He is currently on injured reserve with a foot injury so that would have to heal if he is to be moved.

The 25-year-old Butcher has slipped a little in each of the past two campaigns after having a 44-point season as a rookie.

Defense is the area the Devils need to improve. They have given up 204 goals, which is third worst in the league.

New Jersey has some young players who might be ready soon. Kevin Bahl, who was acquired in the December deal with Arizona for Taylor Hall, and former first-round pick Ty Smith have had very good seasons in junior hockey.

The deal that shipped Coleman to Tampa Bay on Sunday night gave the Devils a couple of assets. They picked up a first-round draft pick this year that belonged to Vancouver and prospect forward Nolan Foote.

Foote could be the find. The 6-foot-4 son of former NHL defenseman Adam Foote, has all the tools at 19 years old.

“I saw him in the summer at the world junior camp and was impressed with his size and hands around the net and definitely the shot,” Fitzgerald said. “So those type of players don’t grow on trees, so when that’s being offered to you, you have to think.”

If Vancouver makes the playoffs and Arizona does not get a top three pick in the draft lottery, their first-round picks will go to the Devils, giving them three in what is considered a good draft.

The problem is New Jersey has a long way to go. It has made the playoffs once since going to the Finals in 2012. Its coach, Alain Nasreddine, and general manager have interim tags.

Ownership has shown little patience this season. John Hynes was fired as coach in early December and Ray Shero was fired as general manager a month later.

“I don’t think we’re going to snap our fingers and next year we’re going to be contending for a Stanley Cup, or the year after,” Fitzgerald said.

New Jersey has three pillars for the future in Hischier, Hughes and Blackwood, and some young players with potential.

“If I can add things in the summer, I don’t see why this team can’t be competitive and scratch and claw to that point of playoffs (next season), but continue to grow it the right way,” Fitzgerald said.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Devils fire Ray Shero, make Tom Fitzgerald interim GM

Devils fire Ray Shero
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It turns out Cory Schneider getting recalled is far from the biggest New Jersey Devils news on Sunday. In a surprisingly timed move, the Devils decided to fire GM Ray Shero, instituting Tom Fitzgerald as interim GM.

Technically, the Devils stated that Shero and the team “agreed to part ways.” Read the full statement from Fitzgerald and team executive Josh Harris:

“The New Jersey Devils and General Manager Ray Shero have agreed to part ways, effective immediately.

“Ray is a talented hockey executive and I am confident he will have great success in the future. However, Ray and I are in agreement that the Devils need to move in a new direction and that this change is in the best interest of the team.

“In the coming weeks and months, we will be launching a formal search for a new General Manager.

“We are very optimistic about our future and have a lot of talent, both on and off the ice.

“Tom Fitzgerald will serve as interim General Manager and he will receive support from Martin Brodeur, who will serve as an advisor to and on hockey operations.

“Our organization remains deeply committed to creating a sustainably winning franchise. Our fans deserve nothing but the best hockey. We thank them for their continued support as we work toward our goals.”

As you can see from the statement, Martin Brodeur will serve in the role as advisor to hockey operations.

The Devils face the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning not very long from now on Sunday. The timing is curious, opening the door for hypotheses. Did Shero and the Devils disagree on how to approach the trade deadline? Maybe the two sides even couldn’t hash it out on a specific player? Did something else happen?

Either way, the 2019-20 season has been a big letdown for a Devils team that made large investments (P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev trades, lucking into Jack Hughes) without much in the way of improvements. If the Devils are going to get things together, it won’t be with Shero at the controls.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Devils promote Fitzgerald, MacKinnon to senior VP positions

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The New Jersey Devils have promoted player personnel directors Tom Fitzgerald and Dan MacKinnon to front-office vice president positions.

Fitzgerald adds the title of executive vice president to his title as assistant general manager. MacKinnon was elevated to a senior vice president’s role and assistant general manager after previously serving as the Devils senior director of player personnel.

The promotions were announced Saturday while the Devils compete in the Sabres prospects tournament in Buffalo. The moves solidify a management structure under the GM and alternate governor Ray Shero.

Fitzgerald had been a candidate for the Minnesota Wild’s GM opening over each of the past two years.

Pens opt against making AHL record-breaker Murray a backup for Fleury

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The departure of Thomas Greiss and a record-breaking AHL season apparently aren’t enough to inspire the Pittsburgh Penguins to tab Matt Murray as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup, as the team website reports.

Management’s explanation is simple enough: Fleury is the No. 1 guy, so why not allow Murray to get more reps as the top dog in the AHL instead of being glued to the bench?

“He’s not coming in here and beating out Marc-Andre Fleury and taking over this team,” Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald said. “We love what we have down the line here, and it is down the line. He just turned 21. He needs to play hockey games. You can’t develop if he’s sitting on the bench. That’s just a fact.”

Although he said the Penguins knew he was good, Fitzgerald admitted that they didn’t expect him to generate the kind of 2014-15 campaign he did, winning the AHL’s goalie of the year award while putting up big numbers.

A devil’s advocate take might be that it’s sometimes wise to ride out surprise hot streaks with goalies. The Ottawa Senators rode Andrew Hammond’s out-of-left-field surge to a playoff berth while Devan Dubnyk went from the scrap heap to saving the Minnesota Wild’s season, and neither team anticipated either scenario, right?

Regardless, the good news for the Penguins is that Murray seems fine with both scenarios.

“I think either way could be good for me,” Murray said. “I think playing in the AHL wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but also practicing with the best players in the world wouldn’t be a bad thing either, so the way I look at it, either way I can take the positives out of it. Wherever I end up, I’m still going to have the same determinations and play the same way each and every day and let things take care of itself.”

Matching a record-breaking season might be asking for too much, but if Murray’s for real, he’ll get his big chance sooner or later.

HOF columnist says Botterill tops Pens GM candidate list

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The Pittsburgh Penguins search for a new general manager continues on and while the list of candidates is pretty well known at this point, but figuring out who has the edge for the job is tricky.

There’s not a lot of talk coming out of Pittsburgh about the direction things are headed as Penguins brass including Mario Lemieux, Joe Burkel, and David Morehouse are keeping mum.

All that means is there’s plenty of speculation to go around. Hall of Fame writer Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has about as much credibility as anyone regarding the team and he ranked the top five candidates for the position.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Penguins assistant GM Jason Botterill was his top choice.

“Sometimes, the best answer is the most obvious one, and that might well be the case here. Botterill was Shero’s assistant and has handled every conceivable duty, from negotiating contracts to evaluating free agents, during five seasons in that role. He is regarded as one of the top young front-office talents in the league, and it’s a given that he will be a general manager sometime soon. There appears to be no good reason that it shouldn’t happen now. Here.”

As for the rest of his top five, Lightning assistant GM Julien BriseBois came in second, Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton was third, NBC Sports’ Pierre McGuire fourth, and fellow Pens assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald fifth.

The common thread with that group is none of them have been in the top GM position before. All five are or have been assistant GMs. Pittsburgh looking for some new blood at the executive ranks may seem like a curious move, but a fresh set of eyes can do a lot of good.