NHL.com: Fitzgerald, Devils Not Adverse to Trading 2022 First Round Pick

An article appeared on NHL.com this evening by Wes Crosby stating that according to Devils’ General Manager Tom Fitzgerald, the “Devils could trade their first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.”

While this is not a strange thing to report, since, really, the Devils can do anything with their own pick, it is an interesting look into where the Devils want to go this offseason.

Fitzgerald told Crosby that the pick could be traded to “allow the Devils to acquire an established player to complement a core of young forwards.”

As Fitzgerald noted: “I said this two drafts ago (2020), when we had the three first-round picks, I’m open to whatever can help our team improve. If that is using a pick like that, wherever it may be, to help bring in a player that we know, and feel, will help impact the results that we are looking for, absolutely.”

Fitz continued by saying, “That’s my job is to improve our hockey club thorough all the assets that we have.”

Crosby brought up the team’s goaltending situation over the last two seasons.

In 2021-22 in particular, the Devils “used a team-record seven goalies” with Mackenzie Blackwood – the projected Devils’ “one-A” goalie – finishing with a 9-10-4 record and a 3.39 goals against average and .892 save percentage over 24 starts and 25 appearances.

Jonathan Bernier, who was signed to be the team’s latest “one-B” goalie, played just ten games total with eight of those starts and had a 4-4-1 record (3.08 GAA and .902 save percentage) prior to having his season end on December 3 with a hip injury and surgery.

Fitzgerald, according to Crosby, said: “I’ve never hid from it. I’ve never dodged any bullets on where we need to improve. I’m still on that path. Both these goalies know where I stand. Competition will be part of that department going forward, whether Jonathan Bernier is 100 percent come that time. I’m not sure that’s going to be real.

“There will be competition in goal. I owe that, not only to the players and coaching staff, our fanbase, our ownership, everybody who’s invested in our team. … We need another NHL goalie to challenge and be able to play lots of games for us. I don’t know who that is.”

Crosby also talked about Lindy Ruff returning as Devils coach next season.

Ruff, who owns a 46-76-16 record with the Devils, is expected to come back behind the bench for 2022-23. Fitzgerald, however, said that “[t]here are areas that have to grow and develop. That’s something that Lindy and I had a very frank conversation about. Supporting him at this moment is something I believe is important because of the snapshot of all the positives I’ve seen from our players, how they respond to him. It’s something I can’t ignore.”

Crosby then segued that into a discussion of Jesper Bratt’s contract situation. Bratt is set to be a restricted free agent this summer and Fitzgerald sees signing him as a “priority.”

Fitzgerald said “Jesper Bratt is a big part of our future. We want Jesper Bratt here long-term. That’s my job is to work out a deal with his agent at some point. Offer sheets, I can’t control that. He has arbitration rights. We know that. So again, the goal is to get Jesper Bratt under contract and be part of the puzzle that we’re building here.

“Realistically, prices are also part of the puzzle. That’s where we have to figure out where we’re at with him. But absolutely, we need Jesper Bratt in our lineup. We know what kind of player he is. He makes us better.”

Where Fitzgerald said that the Devils need to switch things up is at forward. He acknowledged that with smallish skill players like Bratt, Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, the Devils have “a lot of the same up front.”

Crosby mentioned that the aim for New Jersey would be “to surround the young talent with a heavier lineup, one that could consistently reach the playoffs and compete once there.”

Fitzgerald told him: “No more excuses, ‘Oh, we’re the youngest team in the League. Guys know how ot play. Guys know what the standards are and the expectations of what we’re trying to build here and the culture we want to build. We all have to be pulling the same way.

“You may not like like certain things, but you have to be good teammates. You have to challenge each other. We need to take that step.”

The NHL Draft Lottery takes place on May 10 at 6:30 PM ET on ESPN and ESPN+ in the United States and SN, SN NOW and TVA Sports in Canada. According to Crosby, the “Devils have the fifth-best odds (8.5 percent) for the first Lottery Draw.”

O’Neil Gives “Green Light” to Fitzgerald on Podcast

Firstly, congrats to the Lightning and Canadiens as they begin the Stanley Cup Final tonight. They are where we want to get back to and, in a few years, it just might be the Devils playing for the Cup again.

Recently, Scott O’Neil, CEO of HBSE (the Devils’ ownership group), appeared on the New Jersey Devils Official Podcast: Speak of the Devils.

Sam Kasan of the Devils’ website recapped some of what O’Neil had to say and it was interesting.

“Let’s go” he said. Kasan clarified that he was speaking about “the Devils’ unique position and flexibility to make moves this summer. Whether it be with the NHL Draft, free agency or trades, general manager Tom Fitzgerald has been given the ‘green light’ to make the Devils a contender.”

O’Neil continued by saying “[l]et’s spill the coffers. We’ve got plenty of cap space, let’s use it. We’ve got plenty of picks, lets go get ‘em. We’ve got the expansion draft, that’s going to create opportunity. ‘Fitzy’ seems likes he’s locked in, zeroed in. He’s got the green light to go. Let’s put some players on the ice. It’s time. It’s time to start building up. We have this young core in place. Now let’s go build a hockey team and win some games.”

Kasan said that “O’Neil pointed to several NHL teams – Chicago, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles – that went through down years and rebuilt their franchises into Stanley Cup contenders.”

Setting the bar high, O’Neil said: “[t]his team is going to play some meaningful hockey (next) year. We have some work to do. We have aways [sic] to go. But you’ve seen this in hockey. You’ve seen the movie. You have a young core. You have to build around them. You make a meaningful run with good goaltending. That’s what we expect to do.”

Kasan said that O’Neil, despite the rough year, felt “the youth and enthusiasm pulsating throughout the lineup.

“This is the first Devils team that I totally fell in love with,” O’Neil, who has been with the team for eight years according to Kasan, said. “I think that’s the romance of hockey. I really do. I think you fall in love with teams, you fall in love with players, you fall in love with personalities. You fall in love with the way they skate.”

O’Neil also feels that Lindy Ruff is the man to get the Devils to the promised land. “I think that we have something really special. I’m sure some fans are frustrated with losing. I’m frustrated with the losing. I just didn’t think there was any other way. I think we have the right pieces in place. I think Lindy (Ruff) is the right coach. Fitzy is the right GM. I think they’re going to build something special.

O’Neil was on the podcast to promote his book: Be Where Your Feet Are: Seven Principles to Keep you Present, Grounded, and Thriving. While I am sure every business executive has seven or eight principles that allow them to write a book and pull in royalties succeed, I don’t entirely agree with his GM skills.

I think he’s right about the expansion draft, but if he is inferring making trades at the Draft (for veteran, NHL-ready players), or reeling in a high-priced free agent, no.

The team needs to be built for long term success. Recklessly throwing money at a free agent (and overpaying, likely) is not a good idea. And that is if said free agent even wants to come to New Jersey. It’s a great place to raise a family, close to, but not in, NYC, but the team just is not ready enough to win for a big-time free agent to come here. That’s the catch-22 of free agency.

And the team not being ready enough to win? That brings me to my next point. The Devils’ roster is historically young. Our oldest full-time forward is Miles Wood at a ripe old 25 (he will turn 26 in September). That kind of roster needs seasoning. Yeah, making the playoffs would be a good trial-by-fire for them. But just learning how to win, being in a NHL playoff race late in the season, would be novel for these guys.

Time will tell if he is right. This team will get back to prominence, this I know. You have to admire O’Neil’s enthusiasm and desire to win but I just hope there is no pressure on Tom Fitzgerald to do something rash to appease ownership and the higher-ups.

Return to prominence will need to happen organically.