Lindy Ruff Announced as New Coach of New Jersey Devils
The NHL season is set to resume for 24 of the league’s 31 teams with the first games coming on August 1 in the qualification round. While that covers three-quarters of the league who are getting ready to hit the ice and try to chase the Stanley Cup, there still is news going on surrounding the seven teams that aren’t taking part in the expanded postseason field this season. It was announced Thursday afternoon that the New Jersey Devils have found their next head coach, confirming a report that was circulating Wednesday.
New Jersey announced that they had brought 60-year-old Lindy Ruff, who spent the last three seasons as an assistant with the New York Rangers, in as their new head coach. In addition to the Ruff hiring, the Devils stated that they had revealed the interim tag from GM Tom Fitzgerald, who took over the reins when Ray Shero was let go on January 12. David Blitzer, the co-owner of the Devils, stated that Fitzgerald had done a solid enough job in a short period of time that he deserved the full-time gig: "It was evident that Tom was the right person for this job. We're very excited to remove that interim tag."
Ruff beat out a field of candidates that included interim coach Alain Nasreddine, who took over behind the bench on December 3 when John Hynes was fired, along with Peter Laviolette, Gerard Gallant and John Stevens, all who have had success as head coaches in the league. Nasreddine acquitted himself well in the interim role, carrying the Devils to a 19-16-8 mark after taking over the team. Despite his efforts, New Jersey finished below .500 and missed the playoffs for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.
Ruff had plenty to say about his new team after being hired.
"I am excited to get back in the lead chair and guide the future of this team. This is a fantastic opportunity to lead a group of great young talent and strong leadership to the next level. Tom and I will sit down together and build a plan for the coaching staff and I will start to get to work on familiarizing myself with the players and staff. I look forward to bringing this core together, developing our players and putting us on a trajectory that can lead to sustained success in a timely manner. It's an exciting time to be a part of the Devils' organization, and I have the desire and fire to get us on the road towards the Stanley Cup Playoffs and beyond."
Ruff has coached 19 seasons in the NHL as a head coach with two different teams. He spent the first 15 years of his career with the Buffalo Sabres, the same team that drafted him in 1979, and where he spent the first nine-plus years of a 12-year playing career. Ruff took over the reins in the 1997-98 season and led the team to eight playoff appearances in his 14 full seasons behind the bench. That included a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 1998-99 season, where they fell to the Dallas Stars in six games in a series that ended with Brett Hull’s controversial goal in triple overtime of Game 6. Buffalo made the conference finals in three other seasons but couldn’t get back to the Finals. He was fired 17 games into the 2012-13 season with the team 6-10-1. Buffalo hasn’t made the postseason since he left town.
As it turned out, the team that beat Ruff and the Sabres in that 1999 Stanley Cup Finals ended up hiring him as their head coach. He lasted four years in Dallas, from the 2013-14 campaign through the 2016-17 season, leading the Stars to the playoffs twice in that span. Dallas had a winning record in three of the four years under Ruff but parted ways after the team went 34-37-11 in the 2016-17 season. He then took over as an assistant coach under Alain Vigneault in 2017-18: when Vigneault was let go, he stayed on under David Quinn the last two years.
Overall, Ruff owns a .561 points percentage as he is 736-554-78-125 in his career. He is seventh all-time in games coached and stands sixth in victories. Two of the coaches ahead of him are Hall of Famers in Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour, while Joel Quenneville, Barry Trotz and Ken Hitchcock have a chance of being enshrined at some point as well. Quenneville and Trotz are still active coaches in the league and both of their teams will be in the postseason next month. Ruff has coached in 120 playoff games in his career, recording a 66-54 mark in those contests as well.
It’s clear that the Devils felt they needed an experienced hand behind the bench going forward with so much youth in the mix. Ruff definitely fits the bill and will get the most out of the young talent that New Jersey has. He has a chance to make an impact here: he just needs to capitalize on that opportunity.