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Yzerplan Vs. Fitzplan

Happy Holidays one and all! We’re all in the holiday spirit, even the NHL, which is taking a couple of days to enjoy this time of year.

However, while many around The League are enjoying eggnog and presents there are two teams whose General Managers are hard at work trying to improve their rosters. One is the Detroit Red Wings, who are governed by “The Yzerplan,” named after GM Steve Yzerman. The other, the New Jersey Devils, who, while it doesn’t have a catchy nickname, are governed by what I’ll call “The Fitzplan,” named after GM Tom Fitzgerald. Where do these respective plans currently stand as the sport takes a pause? Let’s find out.

Saturday night at Prudential Center, the Devils hosted the Red Wings in a pre-Christmas Eve matchup and the final result was a come-from-behind, 3-2 New Jersey victory that served its purpose of helping the Devils secure a crucial two points in the standings. Two goals from Timo Meier and the eventual game-winner by Tyler Toffoli helped the Devils snap a three-game losing streak and head into the holiday break with some momentum on their side.

Now that we know how the game played out, let’s get back to our exercise in comparing and contrasting “The Yzerplan” and “The Fitzplan.” To be clear, every team in the NHL has a plan of some sort. Not all of them are focused on rebuilding. The Devils went to the second round of the playoffs last Spring, so they’re by no means a “rebuilding” team. But as you’ll soon learn, these plans are not just about getting to the playoffs. No, they’re about building long-term, sustainable, and successful teams who routinely go deep in the postseason.

Steve Yzerman has been running the show in Detroit since April 2019. Tom Fitzgerald took over the Devils in January 2020; that’s less than a year difference. And during that time, both have made many changes to their franchises with the end goal being multiple Stanley Cup championships. 

As one person close to the Red Wings organization explained: “Steve (Yzerman) came in 2019, so this is Year Five. A lot of the draft picks and prospects who were here have been moved. He’s on plan. Outside of Chicago and Pittsburgh – and let’s take Vegas out of it too – most rebuilds take 10 years. 

“Before he was gone, Ken Holland used to say, a rebuild to compete, not just make the playoffs, but a rebuild to compete and maybe get through a round or two, is 10 years. And mostly, it is. St. Louis finally won The Cup in 2019. They’ve been around since 1967. The Leafs haven’t won since then. 

“So, if you’re rebuilding, it takes a while. I think he’s on plan, but last summer, I think, Steve said Ottawa and Buffalo were ahead of the Red Wings in their rebuilds. Well, look where they are now. Their prospects may be better, but where are they in the standings? Having seen that, Steve went out this (past) summer and added J.T. Compher, Jeff Petry, Justin Holl, and Alex DeBrincat.

“DeBrincat is part of the long-term (plan). Getting Daniel Sprong and getting consistent bodies has made this team much deeper. With the injuries they’ve had, now you can see that. The long of it is, with Ottawa and Buffalo, maybe they’re ahead of the rebuild prospects-wise. But young teams don’t win Cups. So Steve brought in some stopgap guys. 

“If you let guys settle in the American Hockey League longer, then perhaps they can. You can then compete with Ottawa and Buffalo. As of this date, towards the end of December, Yzerman is proving that. The Wings are competing with them because they’ve got older guys in here and they’re letting the kids be where they are.”

The Red Wings are not just competing with the Senators and Sabres though. They’ve got the whole Eastern Conference to worry about. After all, this is a league in which parity rules the day and only three Eastern Conference teams sit more than five points out of a playoff spot as of the writing of this article. Of course, two of those three teams are the Sabres and Senators, so perhaps the Red Wings should worry less about them and more about the other teams they’re competing with. 

One of those teams is the Devils and New Jersey’s plan of building a high-powered offense has come to fruition. The problem is, that the Garden Staters need some help on the blue line and in the net. “The Fitzplan” as I’ve dubbed it, has seen the Devils steadily acquire a significant amount of offensive talent through the draft. They have also benefited from the trade market by acquiring Timo Meier and Tyler Toffoli to beef up their forward group. It’s the backend where New Jersey is currently lacking.

“New Jersey’s goaltending is an issue, just like Detroit’s,” our person close to the Red Wings organization explained. “I think the Red Wings’ defense is stronger than the Devils’. But then again, you look at the picks. Simon Edvinsson is gonna play tonight. Lucas Raymond is way ahead of Alexander Holtz in the same draft (2020). The Devils got Nico Hischier first overall. They got Jack Hughes first. His brother Luke Hughes was a fourth overall pick. Holtz was 7th overall. Dawson Mercer was 18th. 

“I mean these are all guys who are playing and the Devils hit on them. The Red Wings haven’t drafted third overall since I think Keith Primeau in 1990. Seriously, their average pick was 36th or something for the last two-and-a-half decades. So if New Jersey isn’t way ahead of Detroit, they’re doing something wrong. The Devils have Hischier, the Hughes boys, Mercer, and Holtz, they should be way ahead.”

Yes, the Devils have currently hit on more of their draft picks than the Red Wings. That’s a good sign for “The Fitzplan.” But are the Garden Staters really “ahead” of their Motown counterparts? The fact the Devils went to the second round of the playoffs last Spring would suggest they are. They weren’t just a one-and-done playoff team. However, this season’s Red Wings are looking a lot like last year’s Devils.

“Detroit’s a deep team,” another individual with knowledge of both organizations said. “They’re good in lots of different ways, so I think the plan has worked out beautifully. Yzerman’s a very calculated person, but he’s aggressive at the same time. And that combination to me is very important. 

“The Wings use every area available to them. They don’t just wait on the draft to make the team better. Yzerman makes trades and he goes to free agency. There’s about 150 players every year who are free agents in the summertime. These are proven NHL players. So, a General Manager, if he’s got salary cap space and has managed it well, can go around and pick out those players and make his team better in the way he feels it needs to be. He’s not waiting for the three- to five years it’ll take after you draft 95% of all the players. It’s a way to get your team better, but again, you need that cap space.”

Certainly sounds a lot like last year’s Devils. So then, what’s the difference this year? The difference is New Jersey is noticeably thinner on the blue line and that has closed the gap between these two teams. Of course, that doesn’t mean “The Fitzplan” isn’t working or has taken a step back. 

No, it’s just a natural curve in a team’s development. Offense, defense, and goaltending don’t usually all come together at the same time for a young team on the upswing. One area will generally be further ahead than the others and it’s up to the GM and his staff to help bridge the gap. 

In time, New Jersey’s defense and goaltending will catch up with its offense. The same can be said for Detroit. Their goaltending will progress, as will the other aspects of the Red Wings game. 

For now, it’s best to take a wait-and-see approach as both “The Yzerplan” and “The Fitzplan” continue to unfold before us. After all, the Trade Deadline is a little more than two months away. So we will have to wait to see what Steve Yzerman and Tom Fitzgerald do next. If recent history is any indication, they’ll both end up making fairly significant moves that will help shape the course of their respective franchises for years to come.

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