Was Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald snubbed by NHL General Manager of the Year Award?

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - NOVEMBER 30: General manager Tom Fitzgerald of the New Jersey Devils announces a contract extension for Jack Hughes prior to the game against the San Jose Sharks at the Prudential Center on November 30, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - NOVEMBER 30: General manager Tom Fitzgerald of the New Jersey Devils announces a contract extension for Jack Hughes prior to the game against the San Jose Sharks at the Prudential Center on November 30, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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General manager of the New Jersey Devils, Tom Fitzgerald, shockingly is not a finalist for the NHL’s 2023 Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award. 

New Jersey Devils General Manager Tom Fitzgerald should have been a finalist for the 2023 Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award for his construction of a strong, competitive roster following a long rebuild. The award finalists for General Manager of the Year are Jim Nill of the Dallas Stars, Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins, and Bill Zito of the Florida Panthers. The finalists are decided through a vote by NHL general managers, NHL executives, and members of the media.

The Devils exceeded expectations with 112 points in the 2022-23 regular season, a 49-point improvement over the 2021-22 season, the largest turnaround in NHL history. The team held a regular season record of 52-22-8. They went from the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference one year to the third-best record in the NHL the next year. In an exciting Stanley Cup Playoffs series, the Devils beat the New York Rangers in Round 1 before being eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes in Round 2. Captain Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer, and Dougie Hamilton were some of the Devils who had a lot of success this year.

Despite a disappointing 2021-22 season, Fitzgerald kept Lindy Ruff as the head coach for the 2022-23 season. Instead of moving to a new head coach as some hoped he would, Fitzgerald improved upon the Devils’ assistant coaching staff by hiring Andrew Brunette, Sergei Brylin, and Ryan McGill. In the 2022 NHL draft, the Devils drafted Simon Nemec, Seamus Casey, and Tyler Brennan. Simon Nemec is expected to have a big impact in the 2023-24 season.

Fitzgerald made some big, bold moves with roster construction in recent years. He also made some quieter moves that paid off. First, let’s look at Fitzgerald’s big moves which show that Fitzgerald was snubbed.

Big moves Tom Fitzgerald made while building a Devils roster to compete for a Stanley Cup

The biggest splash of the 2023 season was the trade for Timo Meier at the trade deadline, sending ripples of excitement through the Devils fanbase. Fitzgerald traded Fabian Zetterlund, Andreas Johnsson, Nikitia Okhotiuk, and Shakir Mukhamadullin along with draft picks in exchange for Timo Meier, Santeri Hatakka, Scott Harrington, Zachary Emond, Timur Ibragimov, and a draft pick. The Sharks retained half of Meier’s salary.

Fitzgerald made this massive deal happen without having to part with a big name like Dawson Mercer or Luke Hughes. This offseason, Meier is going to be a restricted free agent with a $10 million qualifying offer. Fitzgerald would like to square things away with Meier, who scored 40 goals during the regular season. Meier fits in well with the Devils.

Dougie Hamilton’s signing was two offseasons ago, so it might not be looked at when examining what a GM has done in the past year to deserve a General Manager of the Year nod, but the Hamilton signing paid off in the 2022-23 season. Fitzgerald locked down the veteran defenseman through 2027-28 with a big seven-year contract worth $63 million. In addition to shutting down opponents’ offense, Hamilton scored 22 goals during the 2022-23 regular season, tying a franchise record for most goals by a defenseman in one season. Get the puck to Dougie Hamilton when the game is on the line. He’s known for delivering.

Goaltender Vitek Vanecek was acquired in the 2022 offseason through a trade with the Washington Capitals as a restricted free agent in exchange for draft picks. It may not have seemed like a huge trade at the time, as the Devils were expected to roll with Mackenzie Blackwood as their main goalie, but it was a bigger deal than many realized. Considering the Devils used seven goalies during the 2021-22 season, Vanecek’s reliability was an answer to the Devils’ struggles between the pipes.

The Devils signed Vanecek to a three-year deal worth 10.2 million. While Mackenzie Blackwood dealt with injuries, Vanecek shined in his first regular season with the Devils. He had a .911 SV% and joined Martin Brodeur as the only goalies to win 30 games in one season in Devils history. Although Vanecek struggled during the playoffs, he’s a key part of why the Devils got there. The goalie situation is under a microscope for the 2023-24 season due to Vanecek’s playoff collapse. Fitzgerald will need to decide if he’s going to have Lindy Ruff roll with an Akira Schmid/Vitek Vanecek goalie duo or if he’ll address the position in another way.

One move that might look like it hasn’t quite panned out is signing veteran winger Ondrej Palat, but there’s more to the story than stats. Fitzgerald brought Palat in on a five-year $30 million deal as a veteran presence with playoff experience. Palat spent a good chunk of the season out with a groin injury and didn’t generate much offense once he returned. Despite time missed, Fitzgerald made it clear that Palat remained involved with the team during his rehab, offering steady leadership. Palat has more years in a Devils’ uniform to create a lasting impact on the team.

Now, let’s look at Fitzgerald’s savviest moves.