Two summers ago, Travis Green reached out to Tom Fitzgerald.

Green had just been relieved of his head coaching duties with the Vancouver Canucks and was looking at his future prospects as a coach in the league. So, he asked Fitzgerald – his friend and former teammate with the New York Islanders and now general manager of the New Jersey Devils – for advice on how best to secure another coaching position.

Green had a presentation that he asked Fitzgerald to review and edit.

“I was extremely impressed with what his core values were at that time and still are,” Fitzgerald recalled. “How he looked at the game, how he looked at practices, small details that matter, the game within the game that some people overlook. I thought those values run parallel to my values.”

It’s not all surprising that Fitzgerald hired Green – who has been a head coach in junior hockey, the AHL and NHL – as the club’s associate head coach last summer. And now he’s tapped Green as the interim head coach after the team relieved Lindy Ruff of those duties on Monday.

“Going internally with Travis, he’s got five years of NHL coaching. He’s dealt with players on a daily basis, star players,” Fitzgerald said. “He understands the development side of coaching from his years in junior hockey. He’s a people person. He understands people. He’s passionate. He’s demanding. He’s a way different head coach than assistant coach.”

Green takes over the Devils bench against Florida

It’s often easier for assistant coaches to build relationships with players than a head coach. Assistant coaches are the gentle messengers and intermediate between head coach and the players. But having built those relationships with the players should only help in his transition.

“The relationship he has with our players in understanding who they are, what they need, he’s got an open-door policy, he’s fair, he’s demanding, he’s direct,” Fitzgerald said.

The Devils will hire a new head coach after the season concludes. And Green will be among the contenders for the position. He’ll get a 21-game trial run.

“For sure he will be considered at the time,” Fitzgerald said. “I have to look at every possibility that comes my way once the season is over. We don’t know who those people are, experienced coaches are let go and become available. I’m not worried about that right now. I’m worried about today.”

And today the Devils are eight points behind in the hunt for a playoff position. With 21 games remaining, there is little room for error. However, there is hope.

“I don’t think it’s ever too late. We do have a small window here,” Fitzgerald said. “I believe in the group. I believe if we play the right way and give ourselves a chance to win every single game by the details, knowing who we are as individual players, playing to our strengths, leaving everything on the line, why can’t we put a string of (wins) and jump right back into this?

“I think the runway is still big enough for us to piece together some strong outings.”

Fitzgerald speaks to media after naming Green coach


Often overlooked in moments like these is the human element to it. While changing coaches is never easy, Fitzgerald and Ruff were close friends. That only made this all the more difficult.

“This is an extremely tough day for me personally,” Fitzgerald admitted. “I had to let go of a good friend, a very good coach throughout his career. It’s not easy to be quite honest. At the end of the day, I felt it was the right decision for this organization at this time.”

The decision was made because the team has underperformed expectations.

“The standards have not been met, for many reasons. A good man lost his job because of an underperforming team,” Fitzgerald said. “Wishing and hoping it would change is not a plan. Individuals need to look in the mirror. All of us have to look in the mirror. It wasn’t good enough. We have better.”

So, the Devils will move forward without Ruff. But his tenure will still have a lasting effect on this club. Under his tutelage Jack Hughes has improved every season, scoring 43 goals and 99 points last year. Captain Nico Hischier had three 20-goal seasons (and a 31-goal, 80-point season). Jesper Bratt had three 20-goal seasons (and a 32-goal season). Ruff has molded the foundational core of this team.

"He’s done a lot of good for a lot of guys in this locker room," Hughes said. "The three guys the most are myself, Bratt and Nico. I have a lot to credit him with the development of my career and where I’ve gotten to. A lot of that is due to Lindy Ruff."

“I brought Lindy in because I felt he was the right person for this group to allow it to grow and develop, their skills,” Fitzgerald said. “He’ll always have his handprints on this organization moving forward. The players that you watch and enjoy watching, they’ll be here for a long time, he’s played a major part in their development.”


The Devils haven’t had the same success this season as they did last year when the club set franchise records with 52 wins and 112 points. The team has been without star defenseman Dougie Hamilton since November. All-Star Jack Hughes missed 16 games with various injuries. Forward Timo Meier has been hobbled all year.

But the injuries are no excuse for Fitzgerald.

“Sure, we have a lot of injuries, but lots of teams have injuries,” Fitzgerald said. “I felt the identity we played with to sustain a playoff position wasn’t there. It wasn’t sustainable. So, accountability is a huge word for me.

“I started to see certain things that I valued as a team that wasn’t changing. Then you’d see it change. You’d see a good game. You’d see the details. Then you wouldn’t see it the next game. The inconsistency started to creep up.”

A high point of the season was when the Devils defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, 6-3, in the Stadium Series at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 17. The win pulled the Devils within five points of the Flyers for the third spot in the Metro Division and playoff position.

After, Fitzgerald wanted to see if the team could get on a roll. The Devils had a three-game homestand against NY Rangers, Montreal and Tampa Bay followed by a three-game road trip to San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles.

“Last week at home and this long road trip, this was the measuring stick for me,” Fitzgerald said. “How close can we get (to the playoffs)? Can we get there?”

The Devils went 2-5-0 on the stretch (that included a loss at Washington). That’s when Fitzgerald knew.

“At the end of the day, I knew deep down in my heart it was time for change,” he said.

Odds and Ends

Fitzgerald on acquiring a goaltender by Friday’s NHL trading deadline.

“I am in the market. Is there the right personnel for the right price? Without mortgaging the future but understanding the short-gain that it’s an important position. I’m not ignoring that. Our goaltending has not been good. Yes, that’s on me to go out and try and upgrade. I wish it was as easy as said and done. I’m trying to do the right thing for the organization in the short window with the big window in my mind.”

Fitzgerald on the future of unrestricted-free-agent-to-be Tyler Toffoli, who heads the team with 25 goals on the season.

“I’m not shopping Tyler Toffoli. Tyler and I sat together in LA. We had a great talk. Tyler knows how much I’d like to bring him back. Unfortunately, right now there’s a possible term difference. That doesn’t mean we can’t revisit this past the deadline if he’s still here or in the off-season. The reality is, teams have called on him. What that return looks like, I wouldn’t give away our leading scorer just to gain future assets. Those future assets could help us down the road.”