NEWARK, N.J. -- Ray Shero was fired as general manager of the New Jersey Devils on Sunday.
Tom Fitzgerald, who was assistant GM, is taking over on an interim basis. Former Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who is their executive vice president of business development, will serve as an adviser for hockey operations.
New Jersey (17-21-7) is in last place in the Metropolitan Division and qualified once for the Stanley Cup Playoffs under Shero, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the Eastern Conference First Round in 2018.
The Devils fired coach John Hynes, who has since become coach of the Nashville Predators, and replaced him with Alain Nasreddine on Dec. 3.
"We don't do these things lightly," Devils managing partner Josh Harris said. "We take a long-term approach, but the reality is [Shero] is in [his] fifth season and made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once and it was just time for change. It's never a good time to do this and once we made the decision, we did it as quickly as we could. It's always awkward, but it wasn't one specific thing that happened.
"We're optimistic about our future. These things are never easy, but we thought this was the right thing to do and we're moving forward with our fans. We're really committed to winning and we weren't winning enough. We're going all in to put out a winning franchise here in New Jersey."
When the Devils began the season 0-4-2, Fitzgerald was asked by then-coach Hynes to serve as an assistant on the bench. They were 8-6-2 in 16 games (Oct. 16-Nov. 25) with Fitzgerald in that role.
"I'm excited about the challenge; I'm sad for my friend and my mentor," Fitzgerald said. "Today was a bit of shock, to say the least. ... This has been a whirlwind couple of hours for myself, and I know how much of a whirlwind it is for everybody here.
"I never thought I would become a general manager like this. I've worked hard, have had a great mentor and have been around other great people who have challenged myself and others."
The Devils entered the season with playoff aspirations after using the No. 1 pick of the 2019 NHL Draft to select center Jack Hughes, and the acquisitions of defenseman P.K. Subban from the Predators and forward Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden Knights. But their early struggles ultimately led to pending unrestricted free agent forward Taylor Hall being traded to the Arizona Coyotes, along with forward Blake Speers, for forward prospects Nicholas Merkley and Nate Schnarr, defenseman prospect Kevin Bahl, a conditional first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and a conditional third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
"He was a really great GM, a great guy," Devils captain Andy Greene said. "He was nothing but awesome with me and the team and my family. We underachieved to a certain degree, and it wasn't too long ago we were going into the season saying what a great job he did over the summer, adding pieces, bringing people in and being active, and then unfortunately that doesn't work out the way we wanted it to and this is what happened."
Shero was GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins for nine seasons (2006-14) and was hired by the Devils on May 4, 2015. Under his direction, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009. But New Jersey finished 27th or worse in two of the past three seasons and won the NHL Draft Lottery twice, selecting center Nico Hischier No. 1 in 2017 and Hughes last year.
Harris said he would like to see the Devils become more competitive as soon as possible.
"We have a great young nucleus of players, we have cap space and we have a full slate of NHL Draft picks, so it's on us, and especially [Fitzgerald]," Harris said.
Harris said the Devils are committed to Nasreddine as coach at this point in the season. The Devils are 6-2-2 in their past 10 games after ending the Lightning's 10-game winning streak with a 3-1 victory at Prudential Center on Sunday.
"Ray gave me my first shot 10 years ago as an assistant coach in Wilkes-Barre (of the American Hockey League); I was just done playing and he's the main reason why I'm here today," Nasreddine said. "It's tough news and I don't think anyone saw it coming, but it's a tough business and ownership had to make that tough decision.
"I'll be forever grateful to Ray because he gave me my first shot and first opportunity to get into coaching."
In the meantime, the Devils will conduct a search for their next GM. Harris said Fitzgerald will receive strong consideration for the full-time role.
"I didn't think I'd get my job this way, but it is what it is and I'm just going to put one foot forward and continue to pass on what I feel this team needs one day at a time," Fitzgerald said.