Lindy Ruff, the Devils’ new head coach, has 736 career wins in 19 seasons, but still admits that what worked for him in the past may not be applicable in today’s NHL.
The average age of the Devils roster at the opening of this season was 26.5 years – the ninth youngest in the league – and the team counts among its stars the youngest NHL player, Jack Hughes, 19, who has enlisted n. 1 out of all in the 2019 draft. In a season in which sport faced hazing and abuse scandals with new initiatives, Ruff acknowledged that the old days of barking orders at players are long gone.
“They want to know the” why “part – why do we have to do it this way?” Ruff, 60, said of the players during a conference call on Thursday.
Ruff, a former Buffalo Sabers and Dallas Stars head coach who has spent the past three years as an assistant coach for the Rangers, was hired as the Devils made Tom Fitzgerald their permanent general manager after six months in a temporary role.
The duo takes the helm of a team of Devils that is recovering an organizational demolition, after swapping Taylor Hall, the league’s most valuable player in 2018, and fired coach John Hynes and general manager Ray Shero by January of this year. After enlisting Hughes and acquiring stellar defender PK Subban in an exchange during the off-season, the Devils expected both to contend and to entertain. Instead they started with a 9-14-4 record, dropped to 15th in the 16-team Eastern Conference in the first two months of the season and abandoned Shero’s project for the future.
The Devils are one of only seven NHL teams who will not resume playing on August 1st when the league starts expanded 24-team playoff. The Devils, who had a 28-29-12 record when the game was suspended in March, have only qualified for the postseason once in the past eight seasons, losing to Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in 2018. The seasons Losers made up for the overall No. 1 choice twice in the past four years, which the team used to take Hughes and forward Nico Hischier.
Fitzgerald and Ruff will chair the draft process this year when the the team will have the seventh choice and two indeterminate choices from potential play-in losers, Arizona and Vancouver. The location of these predictions will be determined in a second lottery draft between the play-in and the first post-season round.
“My downside to Tom is that he didn’t win the lottery,” said David Blitzer, one of the team’s owners jokingly.
The Devils will also be more than $ 30 million below the salary limit in the 2020-21 season, which will allow them to sign some of the best veteran free agents to integrate a young core of players that Blitzer has said will be “very exciting over a period of very long time. “
Fitzgerald led the coaching search that landed Ruff after taking on the temporary role when Shero was fired. Ruff trained Fitzgerald as assistant to the Florida Panthers in the 1990s, including during the team’s run to the final in 1996.
Fitzgerald said on Thursday that Ruff, who played 12 seasons in the NHL with Buffalo and the Rangers, would adapt to his preferences for a coach with deep experience who could also win a locker room with his strong presence and contagious personality.
“The longer we kept digging, the more Lindy kept rising,” said Fitzgerald.
Martin Brodeur, the Hall of Fame goalkeeper who is now executive vice president and adviser of the Devils, compared Ruff with former Devils coaches Jacques Lemaire and Claude Julien, who were considered teachers.
“We have such a young team,” said Brodeur, a video interview. “We wanted to become a bit of a father figure, a guy who has been around the league.”
The Dallas Stars fired Ruff after failing the playoffs in the 2016-17 season, but former Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault added him to his staff to focus on the team’s young defensive body. Ruff knew he wanted to go back to being a coach after only a year.
He said his Devils teams won’t ignore the defense game, but he still believes widely in a “superfast possession game”, a style that should help develop Hughes in particular, who had only seven goals and 14 assists in 61 start this season.
Blitzer didn’t mean how he thought the devils would get away with regrouping under Ruff, saying of the process, “The players will tell us.”