Throughout the 2020-21 season, Devils general manager was completely up-front with his two veteran forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, though their circumstances were quite different.
Video: RAW | Fitzgerald on Trade w/ NYI
Palmieri, 30, was in the final year of his contract and set to hit unrestricted free agency in the summer. The Devils worked with Palmieri's agent on a contract extension. Zajac, 35, also was set to become a UFA, but controlled his own fate due to his no-trade clause.
As the NHL's annual trade deadline, which is set for April 12, approached general managers around the NHL started having conversations about players. And two players often mentioned to Fitzgerald were the availability of Palmieri and Zajac.
"I talked to every team in the league," Fitzgerald said. "Did I talk to them all about Kyle? No. But every team in the league talks to each other about a month out of the deadline just to see where teams are at.
"You build a relationship with those general managers and you try to create a dialogue of where they're at, what they're thinking, what we're thinking on potential returns. That's how you mold it, and start building it. The framework starts from there."
And as contract extension talks with Palmieri failed to materialize, Fitzgerald started to listen.
"It got to the point that because of the amount of interest that teams were showing in Kyle, it was probably appropriate for the organization to listen and see what Kyle's value was out there as a UFA rental," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald sat down with Palmieri on Saturday and both sides decided it was time to move on. And part of that understanding was that Palmieri would be held out of the Devils' Sunday game against Washington for "precautionary reasons" in anticipation of possible trade.
"We got together (Saturday) for a couple hours, hung out, talked about his future, talked about his past, my experiences in potential trades at deadlines," Fitzgerald said. "I just told him I have to do what's best for the organization here and make the best deal possible.
"With that being said I didn't think dressing him on Sunday was in the best interest of our team due to what I knew was going to transpire at some point leading up to the deadline. He understood that. He respected that."
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald was in constant discussions with Zajac about his desire. The veteran had to decide between staying in New Jersey, the place he's called home for the past 15 years, or going to a new team with a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup.
"He and I sat down for 15, 20 minutes each day just hashing through, what do you think about this? Just kept him in the loop," Fitzgerald said. "If Travis wanted to continue to play and not make the playoffs, that was his right to stay. But I know he's a hungry professional that wants a chance to win a Cup, like everybody wants. And this may be the year he does that."
Fitzgerald negotiated possible trades with several teams, but things started to grow with New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello. Their relationship goes back to 1986 when Lamoriello was the athletic director at Providence College, where Fitzgerald attended school.
"He talked to me about each (player) individually," Fitzgerald said. "Lou is the ultimate professional and a true gentleman. He is a man of his word. He is trustworthy. I hope he believes that I'm the same way. He's just a gentleman to work with."
Fitzgerald approached Zajac one final time Wednesday morning about his future. This time, unlike last year when Zajac opted to remain a Devil, he gave the go-ahead for a deal.
"It was today, I just went to him and said let me know what you want," Fitzgerald said. "Travis drove the bus. I gave him time. I gave him the information. I was completely transparent.
"Today was the day that he told me he'd like a chance to move on and win. We as an organization owe Travis that. I was proud to do that."
With the final approval from Zajac, the Devils and Islanders hammered out the final makings on the deal. Zajac and Palmieri to New York in exchange for a 2021 first-round pick, 2022 conditional fourth-round pick (becomes a third-round pick if the Islanders reach the Stanley Cup Final) and forwards A.J. Greer and Mason Jobst.
"The transparency I've had with both players over the last week or so has been up-front and honest," Fitzgerald said. "The most important thing is for these two gentlemen, I really, really hope nothing but success for both of them.
"I hope these two gentlemen can win a Cup. I would love nothing more than that."