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NHL Hot Seat Radar: New Jersey Devils

The New Jersey Devils are entering a very important year in which they hope to make the playoffs for the first time since 2018. Is head coach Lindy Ruff on the hot seat?
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Welcome to the newest edition of the THN Hot Seat, an ongoing series of THN.com columns in which we identify one member of every NHL team who’ll be dealing with major pressure in the 2022-23 season. The person we put on the Hot Seat could be either an NHL player, team owner, GM, or head coach. In today’s file, we’re examining the New Jersey Devils.

DEVILS HOT SEAT: LINDY RUFF, HEAD COACH

WHY: As we’ve seen this summer, the NHL head coaching business is fraught with tumult, and it doesn’t take much for a franchise to change coaches in the name of bettering their immediate on-ice results. And while there are other coaches who’ve got to produce a positive impact this coming season, there’s nobody whose job is more imperiled than Devils bench boss Lindy Ruff.

The 62-year-old Ruff has been in the coaching business since 1997, when he was given the head coaching job of the Buffalo Sabres team he thrived with as a player. Incredibly, Ruff’s tenure in Buffalo lasted until 2013, when he was dismissed. But less than a half-year later, he was hired as the Dallas Stars head coach, and served in that role for nearly four years. After being let go in 2017, Ruff became an assistant coach for the New York Rangers for three years, he was picked to become Devils head coach in July of 2020.

Unfortunately for him, Ruff has failed to steer New Jersey out of the basement of the Metropolitan Division, finishing seventh in its division in both seasons behind the Devils’ bench. Expectations for this young team have been high, but Ruff hasn’t had the depth of personnel or the structure to ice a consistently winning group.

Making matters worse for Ruff is the fact he’s in the final season of a three-year contract. Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald wouldn’t have been blamed if he’d cut ties with Ruff this summer, but with an infusion of new talent – including former Lightning forward Ondrej Palat, former Penguins blueliner John Marino, and former Capitals goalie Vitek Vanicek – there are no more excuses for this squad to squander another season and miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season and the 10th time in the past 11 years.

All of which is to say there is enormous pressure on Ruff to get the Devils playing competitive hockey, and to get them doing so right away. Ruff cannot afford a long (or even medium) stretch of bad hockey to start the season. There are too many quality individuals prepared to step in with the Devils and give it their own shot. There’s a reason why former Florida interim head coach Andrew Brunette chose to leave the Panthers and join New Jersey as an associate head coach; he knows as well as anyone that Ruff has little leash room this year, and it could be easy for Brunette to replace him.

Ruff is the odds-on favorite to be dismissed not because he’s a bad person, but because he’s had time to demonstrate he can lead the Devils to better days, and he’s been unable to do so. With up-and-coming stars including Jack Hughes, Nico Hirschier, Jesper Bratt, and Yegor Sharangovich on board, there’s no good reason why New Jersey shouldn’t be challenging the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets for one of the lower playoff berths in the Metro. Should they stumble at any point, Fitzgerald likely will pull the plug on the Ruff era in New Jersey, and there will not be many hockey observers outspoken in defense of Ruff. Results matter, and that’s something Ruff surely has learned in his quarter-century as an NHL bench boss.

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