New Jersey Devils fire coach Lindy Ruff, name Travis Green interim replacement

FILE - New Jersey Devils head coach Lindy Ruff, center, looks toward the ice during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., Feb. 10, 2024. The Devils have fired Ruff. Assistant Travis Green has been named as the interim replacement. General manager Tom Fitzgerald made the stunning move with less than 30 games left in the NHL season. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown, File)

FILE – New Jersey Devils head coach Lindy Ruff, center, looks toward the ice during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., Feb. 10, 2024. The Devils have fired Ruff. Assistant Travis Green has been named as the interim replacement. General manager Tom Fitzgerald made the stunning move with less than 30 games left in the NHL season. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown, File)

The New Jersey Devils fired coach Lindy Ruff on Monday and named assistant Travis Green as the interim replacement for the rest of the season.

General manager Tom Fitzgerald made the surprising move with just over 20 games left to play. The Devils have lost five of seven to fall further out of playoff contention, seven points back of Metropolitan Division rival Philadelphia and eight back of the two Eastern Conference wild-card spots.

Ruff, 64, was in his fourth season with the team. The Devils reached the second round of the playoffs last year before losing to Carolina and had preseason expectations of making another run.

“I hold our entire organization to the highest levels of accountability to focus on being a competitive team that expects to be a perennial playoff contender,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we are not currently at that level, and I needed to make this decision.

“This was an extremely difficult conversation to have with Lindy based on the relationship that he and I have. He was the right coach to develop our young players on the ice, and above all else, he is a tremendous person.”

The Devils gave Ruff a multiyear extension before the start of the season, which was his last under his previous contract. Chants of “Fire Lindy!” could be heard at home games during a rough start and again more recently as New Jersey’s struggles continued, following a rout of the Flyers outdoors at the Meadowlands on Feb. 17.

Green, who was in his first year with the team as an associate coach on Ruff’s staff, takes over Tuesday at the morning skate ahead of the Devils’ next game, which is against Florida. A former teammate of Fitzgerald’s during their playing days, Green spent parts of five seasons as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks from 2017-21.

“Travis has key experience running benches at the junior, AHL and NHL levels and knows that there are no shortcuts to success,” Fitzgerald said. “He is a high-demanding individual who is familiar with the group and excited about working to get us back on track.”

Ruff was in his third head NHL job after coaching Buffalo to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999 as part of a long stint with the Sabres and four years with Dallas from 2013-17.

He’s the seventh NHL coach fired this season among the league’s 32 teams. All of Ruff’s other assistants will remain in place.

The Devils have two games left this week before the trade deadline Friday, when Fitzgerald has more decisions to make about the short- and long-term future of the organization. Leading goal-scorer Tyler Toffoli, acquired last summer from Calgary, is a pending free agent, along with veteran defensemen Colin Miller and Brendan Smith.

Part of Ruff’s downfall turned out to be New Jersey’s inability to keep the puck out of its own net. Goaltenders combined for a save percentage of .891, second-worst in the league, and the Devils have allowed the sixth-most goals per game.

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