The message was clear from the players, coaches, and general manager Tom Fitzgerald as the New Jersey Devils held exit interviews on May 11th and 12th. They all want to start playing meaningful games again. It is no surprise the team feels this way. The Devils have made the playoffs once since 2012. Outside of 2018, the Devils missed the playoffs eight of the last nine years. That starts to wear on the psyche of the players. Now most of them have not been there for that long, but the group that is there now has missed the playoffs three straight years and have pretty much been out of it since the midpoint of the season each of those two years.
Meaningful Games Must Be In The Devils Future
There was a time the Devils played meaningful games. And that time was not too long ago. As a matter of fact, there once was a time where the Devils made the playoffs from 1997-2010. And the organization wants to get back to those years. During that time period, every game was meaningful. Unfortunately, after the Devils last playoff appearance they have gone backwards as the rebuild continues in New Jersey. The Devils will once again pick in the draft lottery. Their fate is not yet determined where they will actually select. That comes on June 2nd. But you know this team does not want to go through this process every year. Eventually, they have to start put a competitive team on the ice if they want to play meaningful games as the general manager states.
“We all want to play meaningful games at this time of the year. We want to gear up to the big dance, the playoffs,” general manager Tom Fitzgerald said during the Devils cleanout day last Wednesday.
Fitzgerald admitted this is a young team. However, that does not mean they can’t field a competitive team to compete every night. Things got better after the trade deadline as younger players were inserted into the lineup. The Devils started to compete more, but they had trouble finishing games. But that is what happens with a young team. They have to learn how to finish games. But they will need get there in order to play meaningful games.
“I said it from the get-go, this group needs to crawl before they get up and walk, Fitzgerald continued. “We’re at the walking stage and we want to get running here soon. But you have to learn going through the trials and tribulations of a year like this and understand what it takes to win, understand what it takes to clock manage. That’s the winning process. That’s a commitment too. There’s got to be a commitment from everybody.”
This is a great mindset to have, but that means it is now on the general manager to put that team on the ice.
Tom Fitzgerald Must Put Words Into Action
“Enough is Enough we got to start making a meaningful leap in the standings to play meaningful hockey.”
Tom Fitzgerald emphasized numerous times about playing meaningful games as the calendar turns to spring. This is all well and good but it is time to put those words into action. And yes the Devils are a young team. Everyone knows this, but eventually, the mindset has to change. The Devils can no longer be in rebuild mode. They have to start acting like a team that can make the playoffs every year. The Devils must take a major step forward next season. No longer can they settle for just finishing in the draft lottery and looking ahead to the next regular season. They must look towards the second season which is playoff hockey.
That starts with the coaching staff and the players on the ice. That falls on Tom Fitzgerald to get the right pieces in place this offseason if the Devils want to start moving forward especially in the standings. The New Jersey Devils have the core in place to a be successful team down the road. But it is getting those young players in the right frame of mind to succeed. As we have seen with other teams, it is hard to change a losing culture. But once that does happen, a team can be successful. And that losing culture needs to change starting next year.
The New Jersey Devils have the potential to be in a position like the New York Rangers and New York Islanders are currently in. Especially the Islanders as they experienced a rebuild and put the right pieces in place to be a consistent playoff team for the last five years and beyond. But the first step is to put these words into action.
“The next step is being that team that can battle for a playoff spot and gets into a playoff spot, said head coach Lindy Ruff during exit interviews last Wednesday. “The message was we don’t want to be in this same place with these meetings (right after the regular season), we learn a hard lesson from this year and none of us want to be in the same place next year.”
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