New Jersey Devils
Photo by Dave Janosz

It's time the Devils move on from Lindy Ruff

After another brutal loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, all eyes are on General Manager Tom Fitzgerald and head coach Lindy Ruff.

At the beginning of the season, many assumed the Devils were a lock to make the playoffs and even be a cup contender. Last season, the Devils set multiple franchise records and made it to the second round of the playoffs, beating their rivals, the New York Rangers, in the first round. After 58 games this season, the Devils are not even in a playoff position. The Devils are currently just above .500, with a record of 29-25-4.

With talent like Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Timo Meier, Jesper Bratt, etc., many fans across the league were expecting the Devils to maintain their elite play from last season.

This entire season has been a story of inconsistency and bad goaltending. Throughout the season, there have been games where the defense looked amazing, but the forwards cannot find the back of the net, in other games, it has been the opposite. In some games, the Devils can put up five or six goals on their opponent with 40 shots on the net, then the next game, they will barely crack 20 shots and struggle to put one in the net.

Another huge struggle has been that Ruff has misused players the entire season and has yet to address it.

With constant injuries, Ruff has been forced to shuffle the lines around. There is nothing he could have done to prevent these injuries, as it can happen to anyone. But, even with a mostly healthy roster, he can still be seen shuffling the lines around and not using players where they should be used.

For example, Alex Holtz, who has been amazing for the Devils this season in the little ice time he receives, is constantly getting moved around or benched. Holtz has scored 13 goals and assisted on 11 goals for 24 points. For most of the season, he has been limited to less than 10 minutes a game. With how he has been producing, he should be getting more playing time with a more skilled center, as he usually plays on the third or fourth line. As someone drafted to be a goal-scorer in this league, Ruff is messing up his development and not giving him the chance to become the goal-scorer he is meant to be.

Another example of Ruff misusing a player is Timo Meier. Before Meier joined the Devils, he was a 30-goal scorer in the NHL. Since joining the Devils, Ruff has been putting him on the wrong wing, not using him on the power play correctly, and refusing to put him with Nico Hischier, with whom he has built chemistry since they both play for Switzerland. Meier has dealt with injuries here and there, but when he is healthy, there is no reason for Ruff to be misusing him as he is supposed to be one of the Devils' big stars.

With the constant line shuffling, there is no surprise there is inconsistency in the lineup. Players do not have the chance to create chemistry with the people they are playing with. When players are not playing how they should, Ruff should be hard on them to get their mindset in the right place, but instead, he does not do much. With no repercussions for playing inconsistently, it's easy for the players to keep doing it because they know nothing will come out of it.

Goaltending has been bad since the season started. After a fantastic season from Vitek Vanecek, no one expected him to have this badly of a decline. Akira Schmid had an impressive run in the postseason and usually put up decent stats in the regular season. Schmid has struggled massively with New Jersey and in the AHL this year. This problem should have been addressed already, as the Devils are 58 games into the season. It was rumored that the Devils and the Calgary Flames almost made a trade bringing goaltender Jacob Markstrom to the Devils, but the deal fell through.

The defense is much better now than at the beginning of the season. At the beginning of the season, fans would see the defense let up multiple odd-man rushes, which typically ended in the opponent finding the back of the net. There have been some tweaks and changes in the defensive system, which fans have started to realize as the defense looks much better as of late.

The Devils are at a very low place right now, and a change needs to be made. There needs to be a fresh voice in the locker room before it is too late. Ruff is not the coach that will lead this team to a Stanley Cup, he is barely getting them into the playoffs. A new head coach would introduce a new system, players could be used differently, and there would be a new sense of motivation.

With 24 games left this season, the Devils are not entirely out of a playoff position, but something needs to change now. The Devils cannot afford to lose games like they have been lately. The group's mindset needs to change, the effort from players needs to be higher and the coaching staff has to make sure each player is ready to play every game. No one wants to lose, but the players look deflated and defeated with Ruff as a coach. Now is the time to move on.

The Devils are on their annual California trip for the week. Will Ruff still be the head coach by the time the trip ends? Are the Devils going to make any moves before the trade deadline?

Gabrielle Nordstrom