fitzy presser


  • Fitzgerald looks back at the 2023-24 season
  • Fitzgerald wants to see a new commitment 
  • Fitzgerald lays out his needs for a new head coach
  • Fitzgerald lays out his vision for players to add to the roster

Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald held his annual season-ending press conference with the media to discuss the state of the team. As with every year, the afternoon covered an array of topics with a look back at the season that was and a look ahead at the off-season that awaits.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the media session.

On the 2023-24 Season

There’s no getting around the disappointment of the year. Finishing with a 38-39-5 record and missing the playoffs is not how the team expected this campaign to play out. Especially with this season coming on the heels of a record-setting year in 2022-23 that saw the team advance to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

All that said, the roster from last year’s team – which had the third-best record in the NHL – and this season’s team that finished one game under .500 isn’t all that different. The core remains the same. At the same time, changes are certainly needed.

“We don’t want this to happen again,” Fitzgerald said. “We do have a lot of talent on this team, extraordinary amount of talent. We are a fast team when we think and play quick. The maturity of this team has to continue to grow, and that’s everyone.”

The team certainly learned some hard lessons this season. The Devils need to grow from this experience moving forward with the knowledge of how hard the league is and how much work is needed to compete every single game. That comes with time and age.

“Experience is huge. We’re still the sixth-youngest team in the league, but that’s not an excuse,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s time that this young team matures into understanding what the teams that win actually do to hoist the Cup.

“And I know we will. That’s what I’m excited about.”

Matt Loughlin sits down with Tom Fitzgerald


Fitzgerald enters another off-season with many expected changes to come, as happens every year. And with that, a busy summer ahead.

“This is the fun part. I’m so excited about this,” he said. “I know exactly what this team needs. I know exactly what the individuals need. I know what they want.”

And now it’s up to Fitzgerald to make the necessary changes to the roster and decisions regarding his coaches to give the team what it needs and wants.

“I get to put my handprints on this organization moving forward and add to the core that we whole-heartedly believe in,” Fitzgerald said. “I really believe in this group. I’m excited about the off-season.

Tom Fitzgerald speaks at the end of the 23-24 season


Fitzgerald pointed to a couple of areas that he’d like to see his team grow from after this season. And a lot of that comes away from the ice surface.

“There’s another level that we have to get to, and I’m not just talking about on the ice,” he said. “I’m talking about off the ice, too. Leading the way off the ice. Doing things in the weight room is as important as the extra stuff you do on the ice, whether it’s D drills, faceoffs for centers or wall play for wingers. It’s all encompassing. We’ve got to get there.”

Part of that, Fitzgerald would like to see the team improve on its conditioning so that they can maintain a high-level of play on every shift. That means the players are peaking at the 45-second point of their shift and not skating to the bench gassed. And to get there, it’ll take a new commitment to practice and workout habits.

“When we go to work, we work. I ask you for an hour a day,” Fitzgerald said of practices. “You should be able to handle a very crisp skate in March after a four (games) in five (days). It’s a mindset. That’s where I’d like to get to. I want the game to be easy for our players. The only way to do that is to get into the best possible shape we can be.”

Bench Boss

The first order of business for Fitzgerald and his management team is finding a head coach for the club. Lindy Ruff was relieved of his duties on March 4, replaced by interim head coach Travis Green for the remaining 21 games of the season.

Fitzgerald will hold a league-wide search for his next coach, which will include Green as an option.

“I’d like to have something in place before the draft. That gives me flexibility with the candidates, including Travis,” Fitzgerald said. “You don’t know what could shake out after the first round either. I want to take my time with this. But I have specific boxes I want checked.”

As far as Green, he made his desire pretty clear.

“Do I want to be the head coach of the team? One-hundred percent,” Green said Thursday afternoon. “There’s a lot of reasons why. One of them being that the team is good.”

And while Fitzgerald has had a front-row seat, albeit it a short look, to Green’s coaching ability, he also understands that he needs to do what’s best for the organization.

“I owe it to the organization that I scour the coaching world for who I believe would be the perfect coach for this group moving forward for what’s available out there,” Fitzgerald said. “(Green) checks a lot of boxes. I think he’s a no-nonsense head coach. I think he’s very open. Players know where he stands and his thoughts. And that’s important. But it’s my responsibility to make sure no stone is left unturned.”

As far as Fitzgerald’s desired criteria for a coach, he promoted three big factors: Communication, Collaboration and Accountability.

Fitzgerald wants a coach that will be very open in the communication aspect: “Negative feedback, positive feedback, constant feedback. The players crave it. They want it. Communicating upwards, communicating with management, communicating with our managing partners.”

Fitzgerald also wants a collaborative partner: “I’m not a dictator,” he said. But Fitzgerald doesn’t just want a partner for himself. He wants a head coach that will collaborate with everyone in the organization from the players, to management, to ownership, to the analytics team to the sports science team and so on.

Perhaps the biggest area of necessity is accountability: “A coach that will keep every player, not just a handful of guys, accountable. If you don’t have accountability, you don’t have the building blocks for a championship-caliber team. … We need players who understand accountability and want to be held accountable.”

As far as the remaining assistant coaches on staff, Fitzgerald said those decisions would be made down the road by the new head coach, but did point out how effective the assistant coaches have been in developing the club’s youthful talent.

“I want to get through the head coach search first,” he said. “Once I pick whoever the next head coach is, what he’s looking for in assistants, he’ll have a say in that. But we have a really good group.”

Roster Changes

Roster changes are expected every season. And Fitzgerald is already on record for saying that he wants to go “big game hunting” for a goaltender in the summer. He currently has the roster opening and cap space to make such a splash, if he can find a workable deal.

Fitzgerald said he plans to tender all of his restricted free agents. As for the team’s upcoming unrestricted free agents – Tomas Nosek, Chris Tierney, Max Willman, Kurtis MacDermid, Brendan Smith, Nick DeSimone, Kaapo Kahkonen – time will tell on what the Devils plan on doing.

“We evaluate what we have internally. We have UFAs that we’ll discuss,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ll go through with my leadership group on what we need. Where do we need to get better? Certain areas. I believe in this core so how do we build around these guys. How do we become a team with the identity that we want.”

If the team’s current unrestricted crop fit that identity, then the Devils will work to re-sign them. If not, they’ll look elsewhere.

“Then you project who could be available as a UFA, then talks with other managers who could possibly be a player that checks boxes that we want to add to our organization,” he said.

As far as the boxes being checked, Fitzgerald said the type of players he wants are “hockey players” and not just “guys that play hockey.”

“First and foremost, they have to be passionate. They need to love the game,” he said. “They need to come every single day, punch the clock and go to work, and actually enjoy it.

“Those are the players that are willing to block shots. Players that are comfortable with confrontation, who understand that physicality is part of the game.”

Fitzgerald envisions those types of players filling out the roster and possibly even filling out a line or two.

“Get back to having a momentum line or two that can change the momentum of a game,” he said.

Final Message

Fitzgerald had a final message to his locker room, the entire Devils organization and the fanbase.

“Last year wasn’t a fluke. We have good, young players that I believe in,” he said. “The players are passionate about being in New Jersey. They know we play in front of a passionate fanbase that craves a winner. And they deserve that. That’s not being overlooked. Our fanbase has been extremely patient.

“But I know our players now realize that to take the next step there has to be different commitments, different values and beliefs in how to get there. It’s my job and the next coach’s responsibility to help them understand that.”