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New Jersey Devils NHL hockey team general manager Ray Shero talks with the media after practice in Newark, N.J., Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. Shero was fired by the Devils on Sunday.

The Canadian Press

Ray Shero has been fired as the New Jersey Devils’ general manager after a four-plus year tenure that saw the three-time Stanley Cup champions make the playoffs only once.

Owner Josh Harris announced the change less than 90 minutes before the struggling Devils were to face the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Prudential Center on Sunday. The owner said the move was effective immediately.

Speaking at a hastily called news conference outside the locker room, Harris said assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald would handle Shero’s duties with the help of Devils goaltending great Martin Brodeur.

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“It’s never a good time to do this but once you make the decision, you have to act on them,” Harris said. “We thought this was the right thing to do for the franchise.”

The change comes a little more than a month after Shero fired head coach John Hynes in the wake of a horrible start to the season and the trade of 2017-18 NHL MVP Taylor Hall to Arizona shortly after the Hynes firing.

New Jersey, which has made the post-season once since the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, came into the season with high expectations. Hall was returning from a knee injury that limited him to 33 games last season. Nico Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 17-18 draft, was entering his third season and he was joined by fellow centre Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft.

In addition, Shero traded for one-time Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban, signed Wayne Simmonds as a free agent and acquired the rights to Nikita Gusev, who had been playing in the KHL in Russia.

The season didn’t go as planned. New Jersey lost its first six games and the team was 9-13-4 when Hynes, now the Nashville Predators coach, was fired.

Interim coach Alain Nasreddine has the team playing a little better.

Harris said he spoke with Shero on Sunday afternoon and informed him of the decision. It happened less than 24 hours after the Devils beat Washington 5-1 in one of their best games of the season.

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“We don’t do these things lightly. We take a long-term approach,” Harris said of his tenure with Shero. “But the reality is we are now in our fifth season and we’ve made the playoffs once. It was just time for a change.”

Harris hopes the team will be competitive again in the near future, noting the franchise has a lot of draft picks and cap space.

Harris said the Devils, who are next to last in the Eastern Conference standings, would launch a search for a new general manager.

Fitzgerald was caught off guard by the firing.

“I drove in for the game and was asked to speak to our leadership group,” he said. “This has been a whirlwind couple of hours for myself. I know how much a whirlwind it’s been for everybody here. I never thought I’d become a general manager like this.”

Harris said the Devils were committed to Nasreddine and will consider Fitzgerald for the full-time GM job.

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