NEWARK, NJ – These moves are never easy.
Ray Shero is a good man and a well-respected hockey executive, but in the end, it’s a business that revolves around winning. And when you run a hockey team you have to make the difficult decisions.
On Sunday afternoon, the Devils managing partners agreed to part ways with their general manager. The team announced Shero would no longer run the hockey operations, passing the torch to Tom Fitzgerald on an interim basis.
“The Devils have decided to move in a different direction from Ray Shero,” said Managing Partner and Chairman Josh Harris, as he opened his press conference Sunday evening. “Ray was a really talented NHL executive and we wish him incredibly well in the future. He did great things for our organization, but the reality is we’re not where we want to be and we thought it was the right idea to move in a different direction.
“We’re lucky enough to have very high quality [executives in our ] organization, including Tom Fitzgerald to step in as acting general manager. Marty [Brodeur], who, as you know, is one of the greatest NHL players ever who is going to take on an added role of advisor to hockey operations. And we’re gonna start a search for our next GM, which will include very strongly considering Tom. And look, 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 for our fans. We’re really committed to winning. We weren’t winning enough.”
And that’s the key sentiment. The Devils “weren’t winning enough.”
There was much hope and optimism surrounding this franchise heading into the 2019-20 season. But the busy off-season has not translated into dashes in the win column. The club opened the season with six straight losses. Then they continued to struggle to find their footing, ultimately leading to the firing of head coach John Hynes.
Interim Head Coach Alain Nasreddine stepped in and the results have been much better as of late. Since recording his first win behind the bench on December 14, Nasreddine’s Devils are 7-4-2 and showing growth despite key injuries.
But in the end, the Devils front office demands even more. The team, moving forward, felt that meant changing up the leadership in hockey operations.
“We’re going to put [all of our efforts] into delivering you a winning franchise here in New Jersey,” said Harris.
Fitzgerald takes over, having played more than 1,000 games in the NHL and racking up plenty of executive experience in the league as well. He jumped behind the bench in October when the team was struggling and observed the roster and coaching staff up close before returning to executive duties. Now, he’s in the big chair with an opportunity to prove it’s where he belongs.
“I never thought I’d become a general manager like this,” Fitzgerald said, showing emotion one would expect when stepping in for a mentor. “I’ve worked hard, I’ve had a great mentor, I’ve been around other great people that have challenged myself and others. But this is what it is right now for myself. I’m excited about the challenge, I’m sad for my friend, my mentor. But right now, I just want to take it one day at a time.”
Harris said the club is “very comfortable” with Tom and the guidance he will receive from Brodeur and others in the organization. Fitzgerald is very much in the running to remove said interim tag, but in the meantime, the Devils are keeping their options open and entering a critical period of evaluation.
Harris also said the managing partners addressed the team and he appreciates the effort they’ve shown of late, racking up points in nine of their last 13 games.
“The team is doing a good job,” said Harris. “They’re committed to winning as well. And they appreciate that sometimes these things need to happen. And they listened intently and they were supportive and now they’re pretty focused on winning tonight.”
Harris alluded to the fact that there’s never truly a perfect time to make moves like this, but it’s on those at the top to pull the trigger when it feels right to them.
“The reality is we’re now in our fifth season and we’ve made the playoffs once and it was just time for a change.”
Following Sunday night’s home game versus Tampa, the Devils hit the road Monday and play in Toronto on Tuesday.