BINGHAMTON – Binghamton Devils General Manager Tom Fitzgerald discussed the offseason and a new-look team coming into the 2019-20 season.
Q: What was the biggest area of concern heading into the offseason that you wanted to address?
A: I think with organizations, everything has a trickle-down effect and when bodies are lost to injuries up top, it effects the American Hockey League team and when bodies are lost at the American League level, you need to draw from somewhere. The biggest area of concern was to rebuild the depth of the organization. With additions in New Jersey, such as Wayne Simmonds, P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev and drafting Jack Hughes, you’ve got NHL guys that will push bubble AHL guys down. When you add John Hayden—big bodied skater—to a roster, then it pushes another person down. What it comes down to is, Ray [Shero] will have the luxury of not having to put anyone on [the New Jersey roster] unless their play in rookie camp and [training] camp tell us that they are NHL ready and then we’ll deal with that. We have the luxury of over-cooking them in the AHL. If they’re sent to Binghamton, we want to make sure that their attitude is in the right spot and we help them find their game or continue to grow their game, so we can get them back to the NHL.
Q: How much does it help to have guys on AHL contracts—going between the AHL and ECHL—that already know the system, rather than maybe signing a PTO.
A: It’s a little different from the NHL to the AHL or the AHL up to the NHL. With training camp started, we definitely will see how we want to play with Alex Lowe and his staff. Hopefully, there’s some carry over with system, but we’ll never hold them to it because it’s a different league. You’re dressing one less body—10 forwards, six defenseman and a goalie. I think it’s 16 and two is their rule, so it’s harder to practice with pace, to play with pace. You might get some guys who have to pace themselves because there aren’t enough bodies. From the competitive sense of where we’re at, we want competitive players. We want guys who can really skate and get after it. Those guys will help Adirondack, which in turn, will help us. We have a bigger camp this year. We have a lot of guys on NHL and AHL contracts and we added more bodies for competition for those bottom spots. We had three exhibition games this year, which gave a better look at some of these guys and maybe we tag them as an AHL two-way and bring them into the family. It’s going to allow us to evaluate future Binghamton Devils.
Q: A lot of guys last season saw NHL time that were in Binghamton. With spots closing up in New Jersey, who do you think might step up to the big club that saw a lot of time here last year.
A: I think there is going to be major competition. You can’t forget about adding [Jesper] Boqvist to the mix. He’s either on our team or he’s got to go back to the Brynäs in the Swedish Elite League. I don’t want to name names because there are too many to name. It puts the organization at an advantage of building from the grassroots. We’re talking about drafting players here. Players that we drafted, players that we chose to sign, players that we are ingraining our culture, performance standard, and what we expect from them and now it’s up to the players to tell us if their job is going to be in New Jersey or if it’s going to be in Binghamton. So, the depth that we have and the number of homegrown kids is something that we are very proud of and we’re going to need guys to come up and fill roles. Whoever earns it—I don’t care if you’re a first rounder or Jesper Bratt, a sixth-rounder. If you come in and show us that you deserve to play and start in New Jersey, then you’re here.
Q: You added some veteran defenseman this offseason. How do you think that will help with not only the blue line, but also the young goalies?
A: Adding Dakota Mermis and Matt Tennyson on defense will definitely help with slotting and hopefully slotting in the right spot. Adding [Julian] Melchiori, who’s played some NHL games and who we know can contribute at the AHL level, will help push competition and properly slot guys. Michael Paliotta gives us eight defenseman and the young guys are going to have to fight for ice time. Like I’ve always said—and I’m going to be consistent—if they’re not playing in Binghamton, they’re not sitting in Binghamton. They are going to play in Adirondack and we’re going to grow them down there, so when they come up they are ready and can contribute. That is what our organization is striving to do and that’s what we’re going to do. What I’d actually like to do if look for one more [defenseman], most likely an American league, two-way type guy so we have nine. I feel comfortable with nine because we’ve got eight in New Jersey and we have to decide what to do with Ty Smith. The depth and the competition are exactly what our culture is and we didn’t have the competition last year because we didn’t have the bodies and this year we do. I think it’s going to make an immense difference for our coaching staff and in that locker room and it’s going to make a big difference on the ice with the results.
Q: You lost some big players over the offseason but also added players who can score and veteran players like Conner, Street, etc. Do you like the mix of forwards up front now?
A: For sure, that’s part of building and that’s part of the balance in developing and winning. You need older guys to guide these young kids. You can’t have them guide themselves because they only know what they know. They’ve only experienced very little. Maybe they’ve played a lot because we didn’t have the depth. I think having the numbers for our coaching staff to pick from is important to make proper decisions in the lineup that night.
Q: In net, fans were able to see Evan Cormier last season. We’ve seen Eamon McAdam with Toronto last year, but someone that fans might not know about is Gilles Senn. What can you tell us about him?
A: We were high on him during his draft year and we drafted him as an older kid. He’s played in the Swedish Elite League for quite some time now. He’s a big kid. He’s an angles goalie. He’s a blocker. He wants to come on over and play in North America and he knows this is where he has to start to get to the NHL. We’re not putting any expectations on him because we are cognizant of the potential [rink] differences, especially in Binghamton, which is probably the smallest North American rink in professional hockey because of the neutral zone. There could be an adjustment period, but we’re here to work with him and we wouldn’t have signed him if we didn’t believe he had NHL upside. And then Cormier. He’s going to get a chance to battle for a starting job [in Binghamton] and adding McAdam it gives him that competition. The common denominator here is: we’ve put together good, competitive situations and when there are competitive situations, it drives athletes to be at their best and that’s what we want. We want our athletes to compete for a start, a power play, a penalty kill, a last shift in a game to preserve a win or a last shift to be on the ice. It’s all competition. If a guy isn’t playing well, were going with the hot hand.