I am extremely excited to share my first edition of Kristy’s Devils Mailbag. I reached out to New Jersey Devils fans on Twitter asking for questions, and you did not disappoint. Today, I will discuss head coach Lindy Ruff, the goaltending tandem, and my advice for someone hoping to break into sports media.
Q: How Long of a Leash Does Lindy Ruff Have This Season? At What Point Would Management Step in to Make a Change?
At no point has Devils general manager (GM) Tom Fitzgerald expressed a lack of faith in head coach Lindy Ruff. In fact, during his latest media availability, Fitzgerald mentioned that he believes part of the reason Andrew Brunette chose New Jersey was because of what he can learn from Ruff, who won the Jack Adams Award in 2006.
That said, season after season, we’ve seen the coaching carousel because, as we all know, it’s easier to replace a coach than a team. However, the Devils will have to severely underperform for Ruff to lose his job. I understand many fans think the Devils need a new voice behind the bench, but Fitzgerald and the organization’s young core seem to be happy with their head coach.
The good is they are now in a win-win situation. If Fitzgerald feels a need to make a change behind the bench, Brunette has proven he is more than capable to step up as he was named a Jack Adams Finalist this past season. In my opinion, if Ruff is going to be replaced, it would need to be early enough in the season that the Devils could still realistically fight for a playoff spot.
Q: How Do You Feel About the Blackwood/Vanecek Tandem This Season?
Fitzgerald has tried and failed, through no fault of his own, to find a suitable partner for Mackenzie Blackwood. For two seasons, he signed an experienced and reliable goaltender to share the net with the Ontario native, and it has been incredibly unsuccessful. A tandem of Blackwood and 26-year-old Vitek Vanecek is intriguing as the team moves forward with a 1A/1B setup.
Blackwood will be looking to redeem himself after finishing last season with a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.39 and a save percentage (SV%) of .892. His heel injury kept him off the ice for most of the season, but looking ahead, he is ready to be the team’s go-to guy in net.
“Next year, I have to take it a bit personally that I want to be the guy who is relied on,” he said during his exit interview. “It’s a lot of internal pressure. I want to be that guy. I want to be the rock. I want to be the guy who plays all the games.”
As for Vanecek, he has been consistent the past two seasons with a GAA of 2.69 and 2.67, and a SV% of .908. If he can bring that consistency to New Jersey, I think the team will be in good shape. There will be a lot of competition for the starting role, which should bring the best out of both goaltenders. All in all, I am excited to see how this plays out.
Q: What Do You Think of the Future of Severson & Graves at the Deadline?
I think Damon Severson has become the most intriguing player on the Devils’ roster. Fans like to give him a hard time, but the fact of the matter is that he is coming off the best season of his career and has led all skaters in ice time since the 2018-19 campaign. He is a right-handed defenseman, which makes him a valuable trade chip and, in this league, a team needs to give up something in order to get something in return. If the right offer is made, Fitzgerald could very well move Severson. However, I would not be surprised if he is offered an extension as he is a leader in the locker room.
The thing fans may not realize is that Ryan Graves was on New Jersey’s radar for about two years before the trade occurred. The blueliner just wrapped up his first campaign with the Devils and led all skaters with 135 blocked shots, and offensively had his best season, with 28 points. Fitzgerald has spent time and focus building up his blue line with size and mobility. Knowing that, I don’t see the Yarmouth native being on the move any time soon.
Q: Could We See a Trade Involving JT Miller Coming to New Jersey and Damon Severson Heading to Vancouver?
I will start by saying never say never when it comes to the NHL. I will be the first to admit that I was not on board when rumors swirled that New Jersey was in on JT Miller, but I have since come around to the idea after doing a deep dive into his season. As I mentioned, Severson can be a valuable trade chip in acquiring a piece the team needs.
In a recent article by Harman Dayal, Miller’s agent, Brian Bartlett, made a point to say there is a path to an extension with the Canucks, and he and his family absolutely love Vancouver (from ‘J.T. Miller’s agent discusses Canucks future: ‘There’s a realistic path for an extension,’ The Athletic, 07/20/22). As time goes on, it seems that Vancouver will be able to lock in their star forward, but New Jersey does have plenty to offer between a coveted right-handed defenseman and endless prospects. That said, if the Canucks decide to move Miller, i think it will happen closer to the trade deadline.
Q: Do You Think We’re in on Any Other Top-Six Forwards or Are We Done for the Offseason?
It is clear Fitzgerald has been making calculated decisions and will not make a move simply to do so. If the right player comes along, he will work the phone, but I don’t believe there is desperation to do so. Over the next few days, the team has an arbitration hearing scheduled, which will be their primary focus.
There are still some notable free agents available, and New Jersey has plenty to offer if a trade presents itself ahead of training camp. I think there will be another trade before the players return to New Jersey, but I don’t know if it will necessarily be for a top-six winger. For Fitzgerald, it needs to be the right player and the right opportunity will have to present itself.
Q: How Did You Come Up With the Name Skating in Stilettos?
Believe it or not, I did not come up with the name! I always knew I wanted to start a blog or passion project (as I called it) and had a lot of trouble coming up with a name. One day, I was watching warmups at Prudential Center and a security guard struck up a conversation with me. Over the season we developed a good friendship, and he noticed I always wore stilettos to the rink. He knew I was looking for a name for my blog, and he said, how about “Skating in Stilettos.” I instantly became obsessed, and the rest is history.
Q: What’s Your Biggest Advice for Someone Trying to Do What You Do?
I took an extremely unconventional path to get to where I am today, so take my advice with a grain of salt. The best advice I can give to someone is to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. In my experience, you do not learn within your comfort zone, and for this job, it is so incredibly important to keep evolving and growing.
Thank you so much for all your questions and keep them coming via Twitter and Instagram. If you submitted one that I did not answer, it will be part of my next mailbag. The next edition of Kristy’s Devils Mailbag will be out on Sept. 1.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.