On January 12, 2020, Tom Fitzgerald stepped in front of a media contingency shoulder to shoulder with New Jersey Devils Managing Partner Josh Harris. His head, rightfully spinning.
The Devils were giving Fitzgerald a tremendous opportunity that many would love but few achieve: to step in as the general manager of a National Hockey League franchise.
"I never thought I'd become a general manager like this," he said, showing the emotion one would come to expect when taking over for a friend and mentor. Harris opined confidence in Fitzgerald at the time, stating the franchise was lucky to have an executive like Fitzgerald waiting in the wings for a chance to prove himself.
Nearly six months later, serving under the weight of the uncertainty of the interim tag, navigating the perils of an international pandemic, a hockey season paused and then ended prematurely, a multitude of trades, and a coaching search, Fitzgerald still stands. And better yet, he stands taller than before, assured of his place with the organization and newly dubbed the Executive Vice President and full-time General Manager of the New Jersey Devils.
"When Tom took over the role of GM in January, we were committed to moving the organization in a new direction," Managing Partners Harris and David Blitzer said in a joint statement. "Having gone through the process of interviewing various candidates, including Tom, and reviewing his work in the interim, we feel that he is the best fit for the New Jersey Devils moving forward."
As the organization presses to move forward with Fitzgerald steering the ship, the club has also found their next head coach. The coaching search, led by Fitzgerald but involving the club's leadership group, determined Lindy Ruff was the best fit to stand behind the bench at Prudential Center for the coming years.
"Here's the reality," said Blitzer. "We think the core of our team is very exciting for a very long period of time."
But that core needs to be directed properly.
"It was about the right coach at the right time for the right team," said President of the New Jersey Devils, Jake Reynolds.
But what does that mean exactly? What went into entrusting Fitzgerald in this role? What went into tabbing Ruff as "the guy" and what ultimately swayed the Devils to carve a path forward led by these two?
We'll start at the beginning.