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Unsung Heroes: Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald doing more for his players

In hockey, whether someone’s position lies in upper management, watching from the press box, or playing the game, one thing is consistent – relationships. We always hear “sports is just a business”. Players and personnel are forced to separate their emotions from reality when it comes to vital decision-making. Look no further than that what the New Jersey Devils did as an example.

This past Wednesday, Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald put his emotions aside as he traded away two beloved veterans, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac.

The Devils and Fitzgerald

New Jersey Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald has routinely made key moves that have not just benefited his club, but also the players he has traded out.

While this particular trade works out for both parties, it could not have been an easy decision for Mr. Fitzgerald. Zajac has worn the red and black for the entirety of his 15-year NHL career, while Palmieri has been the Devils’ best offensive producer for the better of the last six seasons. Although both these players had different roles on the ice, their presence off the ice was similar.

Both will surely be dearly missed in Jersey.

When asked about the trade by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, Mr. Fitzgerald responded as if he wore a “C” on his suit jacket:

Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald: "I hope the pick we get is the 32nd pick. I hope both of these gentlemen win the Cup." — Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) April 8, 2021

Talk about leadership from the top down.

Fitzgerald showcased something here that he did last season as well that did get enough attention. Last season, after general manager Ray Shero was fired by the Devils on January 12, Fitzgerald received the interim tag. A little over a month later, he asked the captain and 14-year Devil Andy Greene to waive his no-trade clause. He was traded to the Islanders as Fitzgerald wanted the then 37-year old to have a chance at winning.

History repeating itself

Palmieri and Zajac will both be unrestricted free agents after this season. Palmieri was a top priority for a few teams, and the Devils may have received more if Fitzgerald waited until April 12, at the NHL Trade Deadline. Teams may have paid more out of desperation.

I do not believe that Zajac was a piece in the initial trade conversations with former Devils’ general manager and current boss of the Islanders, Lou Lamoriello. Fitzgerald may have seen an opportunity to include Zajac since the Islanders wanted a depth player as well.

Zajac, 35, now gets to once again compete for a championship. Given his age, time is surely running out to accomplish the end goal for all NHL players – hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Back to back years, Fitzgerald found a way to better his hockey club and make sure that his former players were in a position to win with his trades. No-trade clauses played a role but his decisions show more than just a person looking at the numbers. It shows a heart. The players who have left indeed appreciate it, and the players currently playing on the club should as well.

From his decision last year to his decision Wednesday, Tom Fitzgerald should be recognized as an unsung hero.

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