With Devils’ deadline moves, Tom Fitzgerald looks to summer of ‘big-game hunting’ ahead

GettyImages 2066880200 scaled e1709947447249

The Devils aren’t eliminated from playoff contention, but President of Hockey Operations Tom Fitzgerald’s moves Friday reflected an eye toward the 2024-25 season, not the final 19 games of the present one. Given New Jersey’s strong 2022-23 season and promising young roster, that’s disappointing for the organization.

“It’s not a position I thought we would be in,” Fitzgerald said. “But we were. We’re here.”

Fitzgerald’s deadline week started with a massive organizational decision. He fired coach Lindy Ruff on Monday after losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles and named Travis Green the interim. His roster decisions, meanwhile, came Friday. Fitzgerald called this deadline a transitional one for the organization, and he dealt his leading goal-scorer, added future picks and cleared cap space for the coming offseason. New Jersey has been plagued by poor goaltending this season, and though the front office added a pair of goalies Friday, Fitzgerald indicated he’d make a big offseason move in net. He wants to go “big-game hunting,” he said.

The Devils’ first move Friday came when they traded Tyler Toffoli, first on the team in goals, to Winnipeg for a 2025 second-round pick and 2024 third-round pick. Fitzgerald wanted to extend Toffoli, a pending free agent, but the forward wanted a longer-term deal than the executive was willing to give out. Fitzgerald said he still has interest in signing the winger when he hits free agency this summer.

New Jersey and the Jets were trade partners again by day’s end with the Devils sending defenseman Colin Miller west for a 2026 fourth-round pick. The Miller and Toffoli deals were New Jersey’s most seller-like moves. Both were aimed fully at accumulating picks for the future.

But Fitzgerald wasn’t exclusively in sell mode. He traded a conditional 2025 third-round pick for Montreal goalie Jake Allen, who has an .892 save percentage playing in front of a porous Montreal defense. The pick becomes a second-rounder if Allen plays 40 games next season and the Devils make the playoffs. Montreal retained 50 percent of Allen’s $3.85 million cap hit, which goes through next season.

Fitzgerald continued reworking his goalie situation by trading Vitek Vanecek for Kaapo Kahkonen. Vanecek, who is on injured reserve, had an .890 save percentage for the Devils this year, which was a massive disappointment after a solid campaign in 2022-23 that saw him post a .911. His regression, as well as the inconsistent play of young goalies Nico Daws and Akira Schmid, contributed to the Devils’ lackluster season.

For the Devils, the Vanecek trade is less about acquiring Kahkonen, a pending unrestricted free agent, and more about getting rid of Vanecek’s contract. He’s on the books through 2024-25 with a $3.4 million cap hit, which would have hampered Fitzgerald’s flexibility going into the summer. With Allen set to be in the goalie rotation next season, Fitzgerald wants to add a bigger name.

“We’re looking at a potential tandem that maybe could rate up there in the league if I was able to land one of these big fishes,” said Fitzgerald, who believes unloading Vanecek “allows us to be able to be in on anything next summer and have the flexibility with what we believe will be available in the offseason.”

Fitzgerald didn’t say who he plans to target in net over the summer, though the Devils were reportedly engaged with the Flames about Jacob Markstrom at various points this season. Markstrom has a .911 save percentage and, when he’s at his best, is among the league’s top goaltenders. Markstrom also has familiarity with Green, who coached him in the AHL and with Vancouver. Green, of course, is not guaranteed to have the interim tag removed, but Fitzgerald said he’d be considered for the full-time job.

The additions of Allen and Kahkonen also give the Devils the option to send Schmid and Daws, both 23, to the AHL, which could help the young goalies’ development.

The Devils’ moves this week made sense in a vacuum. The question remains, though, about if the Devils could have saved their 2023-24 season by making them earlier. The team had long-term injured reserve space to work with after Dougie Hamilton tore his pectoral muscle, though Fitzgerald said the staff didn’t know his exact timeline to return, which limited some of the front office’s flexibility.

“At that time, I was still in the goalie market,” Fitzgerald said. “I was still looking at what to add in the goal. But at the end of the day, it takes two teams to try to make a trade. So there’s no regrets because the effort was there.”

Fitzgerald and the Devils front office bet last offseason that a combination of Vanecek, Schmid and Daws could once again help New Jersey reach the playoffs. That assumption — in part because of skater injuries, free agent departures and other mitigating factors — proved wrong.

Now Fitzgerald is betting again, this time on bringing in a new goalie. And after a disappointing first 63 games of 2023-24, there’s pressure on him to get that decision right.

(Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top