As the Devils season winds down, the biggest question moving forward is what to do with Lindy Ruff? Should he take the blame for the Devils spot in the standings and be fired?
Calls from Devils fans to fire Lindy Ruff have been circulating on the internet for months and getting louder and louder in recent weeks as the team continues to lose. However, would firing Ruff be warranted? Would it be the right decision for New Jersey? Today, let’s look at the case to fire Lindy Ruff and in a few days, assuming he is still employed at that time, I’ll present arguments to keep Lindy Ruff as head coach heading into next season.
Once again, the Devils missed the playoffs by a country mile. In the two seasons where Lindy Ruff has been the Devils head coach, they have been nowhere near the playoffs for most of the season. At the end of the day, the NHL is a results driven business and the results under Lindy Ruff have been depressing to say the least. Now, there are several reasons for this outside of the coach’s control, but at the end of the day some one needs to be held accountable for the poor results of the organization and more often than not, the head coach is made the scapegoat. Entirely his fault or not, there is an argument to made that the Devils organization has become too comfortable with losing and need to make someone the sacrificial lamb to send a message that poor results will no longer be tolerated.
Something very much in the control of the head coach is the lineup on a nightly basis. This year, Lindy Ruff has played Mason Geersten in 25 games. In those 25 games, Geertsen has accumulated zero points, just 12 shots on goal, only 58 hits and a measly 7 shots blocked. The whole point of having this 6 foot 4 inch 227 pound man on the ice is to provide a physical presence as a power forward. Geertsen does not bring that, or anything else, to the table. He can’t skate well enough to keep up with any one else on the ice so he is incapable of getting into the play to help produce offense. He doesn’t position himself well defensively so that mixed with his poor skating means he doesn’t get the chance to throw that many hits or block any shots. He just takes up space on the ice, but not in a way that stops the other team or helps the Devils. Hes had a few fights this season but almost all of them have been essentially meaningless. He is fighting just to fight in an attempt to justify his spot on the roster, not to intimidate the other team or stick up for the Devils star players. Ruff keeping this guy in the line up over players like AJ Greer or Frederik Gauthier is pretty embarrassing. Both Greer and Gauthier are big bodies like Geertsen but are better skaters and have more offensive instincts than Geertsen. There is no way keeping Geersten on the roster all season has made the Devils the best version of themselves and that falls on the head coach.
Several important young players on the Devils roster have not developed nearly as well as was hoped for or expected. Janne Kuokkanen has taken a step back this season with 17 points (6G 11A) in 56 games, compared to his 25 (8G 17 A) points in 50 games last year. Defenseman Ty Smith has taken a big step back offensively from his rookie year while not improving his defensive game at all. Rookie Alexander Holtz, (pictured above) has only played 7 games for the Devils as of this writing and produced zero goals and just two points. The seventh overall pick in the 2020 has struggled in his limited NHL time yet excelled in the AHL, putting up 51 points (26G 25A) in 52 games for Utica. Holtz has shown to have an elite shot in Utica but has not been given much of chance to use it in the NHL, playing mostly in the bottom six with no decent playmakers to help set up his incredibly fast and accurate shots. For a team that lacks scoring depth, struggles to score consistently, and as has had goalie problems, all of these players developing into reliable NHL regulars was needed desperately this season. Yet, these three key pieces haven’t been able to meaningfully and positively contribute to the Devils this season. That failure falls in large part on the head coach being unable to help these young players develop.
Assistant coach Mark Recchi is still employed and still responsible for running the Devils power play. Mark Recchi has been the assistant coach in charge of the Devils power play for the last two seasons. Last season, the Devils power play was 28th in the NHL at 14.2%. This season, the Devils power play is still 28th in the NHL with a success rate of 15.8%. A mild increase in success but not much impact on the overall state of the team or the respectability of the power play. For further proof that Recchi has been a disaster of a coach since taking over the Devils power play, let’s look at the “net power play percentage” over the last two seasons under Recchi. For those that don’t know, as defined by NHL.com, net power play percentage is a team’s power play goals for minus their shorthanded goals allowed divided by their power play opportunities. 100% means they scored on every power play and never allowed a short handed goal. The percentage can be negative if the team allows more shorthanded goals than they are able to score on the power play. So, since Recchi took over the Devils power play two seasons ago, the Devils net power play percentage is 10.1%. That is dead last in the NHL over that two year stretch. This season alone, the Devils have allowed 14 short handed goals against, which is double the league average of 7 (hockey-reference). The results are clear. The Devils power play was a disaster last year and has been a disaster this year. Yet, for some unknown reason, Ruff has kept Recchi on his staff. If Ruff won’t can Recchi, then Fitzgerald should fire Ruff.
Are these reasons good enough to cost Ruff his job? I think they are and I think they will cost him his job but that still remains to be seen. My next article, if Ruff isn’t fired by then, will list some reasons that Ruff deserves to keep his job, so keep your eye out for part two of this argument. Follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth