It is the inevitable question. New Jersey has made the playoffs just once since the 2011-12 season. The fanbase screams frustration. So, it was natural to dismiss the Lindy Ruff rumors last week as just that…rumors.
However, several more viable coaching candidates fell by the wayside. Then, it came down to two choices the past few days.
On Wednesday night, Kevin Weekes reported that Lindy Ruff would be named head coach. Also, Tom Fitzgerald received the news that his interim tag got dropped. He now is the general manager and executive Vice President of the Devils. Fitzgerald carried some influence in the Ruff decision.
Why the rough reception for Lindy Ruff?
Alas, that answer is an easy one. He came from the New York Rangers. The Rangers were once of the worst defensive teams in the league. Ruff coached mostly the defense and that was a source of agony and derision among Ranger fans. Was this all Ruff’s fault? Certainly not. Does he have to take his medicine? Yes. Ruff is culpable and bears some of the responsibility.
New York was easily giving up 35+ shots a night on a near-nightly basis. New York was among the bottom five in scoring chances allowed per 60. To be fair, New Jersey was dead last over the second half in several key defensive metrics. It was only MacKenzie Blackwood that bailed them out. New York had Igor Shesterkin in the pipes.
Both teams needed great goaltending to keep them competitive. As for New Jersey, expect that free-wheeling to continue. Too often last year, John Hynes tried to slow things down and that resulted in his ultimate demise as coach. Ray Shero was, in effect, fired for standing by his man.
Other reasons for the rough reception for Ruff included the Rangers’ defense, he is a retread, and more than a few think better options were still available. Several candidates did not truly want to coach in New Jersey. In Peter Laviolette’s case, it appeared to be more off a money/control issue. Either way, Ruff ended up in New Jersey and was named the head coach officially on Thursday.
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A Quick Opinion on Lindy Ruff
Again, this is a simple opinion based on facts. Tom Fitzgerald rationalized his decision as Ruff said all the right things on Thursday. He promised the team would play at a higher tempo this season.
The last team he coached was the Dallas Stars and five years ago, that was a Stars team that was top-five in goals for and bottom five in goals against. That was a Stars team with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin plus a young John Klingberg. New Jersey has some talent but not quite at that level — yet. Maybe Ruff is the coach to get them there but he has had an inability to fully adjust to team deficiencies (see again Dallas and even New York).
Is he better than a John Hynes or Peter Laviolette? Yes. Unfortunately, ownership wants to win and this move seems to signify a few more years. Again, it is a move that seems to cause more head-scratching moments. The problem was that Fitzgerald and New Jersey have had.
Either way, the first half will be quite the interesting one — whenever that starts.
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