New Jersey’s New Head Coach Embarks on a New/Old Frontier

It was a surprise to many when the New Jersey Devils management announced last week that it had hired Lindy Ruff to be the team’s new Head Coach. Ruff was chosen to return to the Head Coaching ranks with New Jersey over several other highly qualified candidates, including John Stevens, Gerard Gallant, Peter Laviolette, and the Devils interim Head Coach Alain Nassredine. 

Ruff’s coaching career has been a surprise to many over the last few years. After being a long-term head coach in the NHL, Ruff became the Rangers assistant coach for the 2017-18 season. What was supposed to be a one-year stint coaching the defense stretched to three years, as Ruff even survived a change in the head coach in New York.

Despite it being a surprise to many, the Devils and Ruff revealed last week that the road to his selection was long and thorough. The then interim (and now permanent) GM Tom Fitzgerald was placed in charge of the head coaching selection, but the whole organization got involved. According to the Devils, “everything that drove the decision on the next coach followed a specific vision for what is the correct fit for this current roster and where they want to get to.” The coach search motto was “the right coach, at the right time for this team.” It was a months’ long process to analyze where the team was at now, where it would be next year and the year after. Personality, coaching style, and history of success were at the top of the Devils’ list of qualifications the team was looking for. According to Marty Brodeur, the team’s advisor to hockey operations, Lindy had the kind of long success that made him someone they wanted to speak to early on. Other candidates were considered but, as team co-owner David Blitzer stated, Ruff impressed “our entire group with his experience and success at every level during his 25-plus year coaching career, his enthusiasm, his ability to communicate extremely well, and the way he’s developed players over the years. We just think he’s very well suited to be the leader on the ice for this organization at this point in time.”

Ruff’s accolades are many. He served as an NHL head coach for 19 seasons, accumulating a 736-554-78-125 regular season record. That record is sixth all-time in regular season wins. He also ranks 15th all-time in career Stanley Cup Playoff games coached and career Stanley Cup Playoff wins. Additionally, in 2005-06, he was the Jack Adams Award recipient as the head coach adjudged to have contributed most to his team’s success. Fitzgerald referred to that when Ruff was named to his new position, calling the new bench boss, “one of the most successful and respected coaches in the NHL, not only today but in league history.”

Brodeur added that Ruff had the additional qualities that the team was looking for. “We have such a young team; we wanted to get a father figure a little bit, a guy that knows the league, and who has been around the league a lot to really help our young players move toward the right direction and trying to get us into the playoffs and having some success in the near future. And Lindy kind of checked a lot of those boxes for us.” Brodeur went on to say that Ruff has “a really infectious personality. I think his demeanor is really laid back. I think he shows a lot of confidence in himself with the way he walks around and the way he talks. And I think our players will benefit from a guy like that’s been around . . . [a]nd one of the other things too is he’s welcoming a lot of help around him. So I’m sure we’ll build a really good staff around him to help everybody.” A strong relationship between the Head Coach and General Manager is always important to a team’s potential for success; especially for a team as young as the Devils. With youngsters Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes on the roster and the likes of Ty Smith, Nolan Foote, and Jesper Boqvist coming through the pipeline, it behooves Devils management and Ruff to build a coherent game plan for the future — both in the short and long-term. 

It seems like Ruff has been everywhere since his appointment as the new head coach. Whether it be on radio, television, YouTube, or interviewed by the print press, he appears to be energetically embracing his new mission. His excitement about his new role is palpable. It is great for the Devils and great for the fanbase, who have not had much to cheer about this season.

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