tom fitzgerald

It was an active summer for the New Jersey Devils hockey operations department. But after weeks of work and with the dust settling on free agency, the Devils have succeeded in retooling their roster to address their biggest team needs.

In the past two weeks via trades and free agency, New Jersey has added goaltender Jacob Markstrom, defensemen Brett Pesce, Brenden Dillon and Johnathan Kovacevic and forwards Paul Cotter, Stefan Noesen and Tomas Tatar.

On top of that, the Devils also hired Sheldon Keefe as the club’s new head coach and added Jeremy Colliton as an associate coach. Again, it’s been a busy summer.

“We had a punch list that we wanted to go through at the end of the year. I was adamant on what kind of changes I wanted to make, and I believe we did that,” general manager Tom Fitzgerald said Wednesday morning. “A new coach, goaltending, depth D, harder D, revamping the defense, looking for the bottom-6 to look different from vanilla. We checked those boxes for sure, and added depth.”

In order to get good players, the Devils had to give up good players. Defensemen Kevin Bahl and John Marino, forward Alexander Holtz and goaltender Akira Schmid have parted ways with the club.

Here’s a breakdown of how these moves affect the current roster and what it means for the upcoming season for the Devils.

President/GM Tom Fitzgerald speaks on free agency

Big Game

There’s no secret that the Devils’ biggest need was between the pipes. Fitzgerald worked at the NHL trade deadline last March to acquire Jake Allen and to clear roster and cap space to go “big game hunting” for a goalie.

They had Markstrom targeted since last season, and they finally got their man on June 19. For the first time in years, the Devils will enter a season with a bona fide No. 1 goaltender to man the crease.

“It was important to me to address that need and build a tandem with Jake Allen,” Fitzgerald said. “We added a true starter. That’s what we were looking for. Someone exposed to high-danger shots and showed well.”

Markstrom, 34, is a 12-year veteran who’s won over 200 games (215) in the league. He’s huge at 6-foot-6 and 207 pounds, deceptively quick for a goalie of his size and is excellent at reading the play.

Markstrom is the type of goaltender that can steal games and solidify the crease. He will immediately become the Devils’ backbone in the defensive zone. Of course, Markstrom will need some help from the players in front of him.

New Devil Jacob Markstrom shares his thoughts.

Revamped D

While goaltending was certainly an issue last season, the blame doesn’t belong squarely on the goalies. The Devils were also looking to make upgrades at the defensive position.

“We’re trying to sure up our D and our D zone and the way we play,” Fitzgerald said. “That will help eliminate those high danger shots.”

 The Devils traded two younger defensemen in Bahl and Marino, and replaced them with veteran blueliners Pesce and Dillon.

Pesce, 29, has nine years of NHL experience playing for the well defensively structured Carolina Hurricanes. Pesce, a right-hand shot, is a good skater and two-way blueliner. But what the Devils will love is his defensive discipline, evidenced by his career plus-92 in 627 games.

Dillon, 33, has played 12 years in the NHL with Dallas, San Jose, Washington and Winnipeg (he played in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final with San Jose). He’s played nearly 900 regular-season games (892) and 83 postseason contests. Dillon is the quintessential defensive defenseman. He will quietly put in the work in his own zone while being disciplined and sound.

Kovacevic, 26, is still relatively young with room to grow. He proved to be pretty reliable on a Montreal team that finished near the bottom of the standings. After all, he posted a plus-11 in 62 games for a team that had the fifth-highest goals allowed in the NHL. He can be a great depth player with a chance to earn a bigger role.

“Kovacevic just dropped on my lap,” Fitzgerald said. “I got a call from Montreal. ‘Are you looking for a right-shot D?’ When you can add another 6-foot-5, heavy, hard player in the depth and someone who can push to make sure our other right shots are playing on their toes every night.”

The additions will change the blueline in significant ways. For one, the Devils were overly reliant on youth at the blue line last season. The addition of some veteran players in Pesce and Dillon should sure up some of the defensive lapses that are expected from a young and inexperienced D corps.

Second, the Devils have a plethora of offensively gifted defensemen with Dougie Hamilton, Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec. Adding players that are more defensive minded will be a welcomed balance and good pairing partners with those more offensively inclined players.

“When you look at our top 7 it’s completely different from what we’ve had in the past,” Fitzgerald said. “What’s really important is (Hughes and Nemec) can take that next step. We don’t need them to put this team on their back with this D corps. We surrounded them with veterans that have been here and there and understand what it takes to get to where we want to go.”

Brett Pesce signs a six-year deal with the Devils


The Devils targeted players that could bring certain attributes on and off the ice. One thing they have certainly added is size, grit and physicality.

Pesce (6-3, 206), Dillon (6-4, 225), Kovacevic (6-5, 223), Cotter (6-2, 213) and Noesen (6-1, 205) all have solid frames. They’re all defensively responsible and reliable. And they will all compete hard in the dirty aspects of the game.

Pesce had 113 blocked shots last year, ranking second on Carolina. Dillon led Winnipeg with 241 hits and 92 penalty minutes last season. Cotter placed second on Vegas in hits with 233 despite playing bottom-6 minutes. Noesen was third on Carolina’s leader board with 118 hits while playing bottom-6 ice time.

The Devils had a goal of becoming a harder team to play against. They’ve added players that will make life much more difficult on opposing teams in terms of space, time and punishment. Combining that with an already potent Devils’ offense and the team has a strong balance in the lineup.

“When you look at this team, there’s some reminiscing of the past Devils teams,” Fitzgerald said. “Being heavy, being hard to play against, identity players on the third and fourth line.

“It’s a well-rounded group and hopefully something that reminds (fans) of the past.”

Tom Fitzgerald stuck to his off-season planning


The Devils set out to improve the team’s bottom-6 look, and they succeeded with the additions of Cotter and Noesen. Both players are versatile – can play center or wing and can elevate in the lineup if needed.

More importantly are the intangibles mentioned above that they possess. They have a true bottom-6 identity of playing fast, hard and physical with high compete and energy. They can help either the third or fourth line to become a defensively responsible and momentum changing energy line. The Devils want to be a team that can roll four lines effortlessly, and the additions of Cotter and Noesen will make that more possible.

“Adding a guy like Paul Cotter, who we believe has upside, and has a little bit of Miles Wood in him, he can skate, he’s physical,” Fitzgerald said, “the pieces and the identity that we were looking for.”

The addition of Tatar also gives the team depth with a player that can play either a top-6 or bottom-6 role. He was beloved during his time in New Jersey (2021-23) and had a good playing rapport with captain Nico Hischier.

The Devils still boast one of the most potent offensive teams with Jack Hughes (who is scheduled to be ready for training camp following shoulder surgery), Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Timo Meier, Dougie Hamilton and Luke Hughes. What Fitzgerald added this summer was the other pieces.

“This is the fun part,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s building the complimentary guys that you need. Now you’re putting together a contender and checking a lot of the boxes that contenders have.

“The last thing I was worried about was the offense on this team. It was everything else that we needed to build up and we’ve done that.”