For the past 20 seasons the New Jersey Devils have always had an elite goaltender in net as their last line of defense. Now going into the 2014-15 season, it appears as though that trend will continue for the foreseeable future.
The Devils signed their newest franchise goalie Cory Schneider to a 7 year, $42 million contract this offseason. Schneider had just one year left on his current deal until he became an unrestricted free agent, and Lou Lamoriello knew that locking up Schneider long term was his number one priority this offseason.
After being acquired for the 9th overall selection in the 2013 NHL Draft, Schneider certainly did not have an easy start to his Devils’ career. He was placed in the difficult situation of being the heir apparent to the greatest goaltender in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, and what made it even more difficult was the fact that Brodeur was still on the roster. Schneider had to constantly answer questions about his relationship with Brodeur, and how the two goaltenders were handling the situation of splitting time in net. Every time Schneider made a mistake and let in a bad goal, there would always be people calling for Brodeur to play more.
Ultimately, Schneider was able to rise above the goalie controversy distractions to put together a very strong season. In 45 games played, he posted a 16-15-12 record, a .921 save percentage, and was third in the NHL with an outstanding 1.97 goals against average. Many people will try to dismiss Schneider’s season due to the poor win-loss record, but a lot of that steams from a severe lack of goal support. Last season the Devils scored just 1.5 goals for every 60 minutes that Schneider was in net, the worst in the league for any goaltender. When you couple that with the fact he was never really able to get regular playing time until the later part of the season, it really is impressive to see the statistics that he posted.
But Cory Schneider certainly isn’t without question marks going into the season. The 28 year old goaltender still has never played more than 45 games in a season before. It’s not exactly his fault that he spent the first six years of his career backing up two great goaltenders in Martin Brodeur and Robert Luongo, but facts are facts and he needs to prove this season that he can handle a full season’s worth of starts. There were a number of opportunities last year for Schneider to take hold of the undisputed number one goalie job early in the season, but he always seemed to have a couple of mediocre games in a row that opened the door back up for Brodeur once again. Schneider also must improve his play in the shootout. It’s well documented that the Devils struggled in shootouts last season, but there were a few times where Schneider gave up an early goal and put the team in a hole. For a team that missed the playoffs by only six points, winning even 50% of their shootout opportunities would go a long way to making it into the postseason.
Filling the role of Cory Schneider’s backup this season will be either Keith Kinkaid or Scott Clemmensen. The 25 year old Kinkaid has been a top goaltending prospect in the Devils’ system for a few years now, and prior to the Schneider trade it appeared he was on track to be Brodeur’s replacement. The Devils re-acquired Clemmensen this offseason in a trade with the Florida Panthers to compete with Kinkaid for the backup spot. Clemmensen will always hold a special place in Devils’ fans hearts for his performance during the 2008-09 season when he helped save the team after Marin Brodeur got injured, but the past 2 years he has posted a goals against average over 3.00 and he really isn’t a viable option to play more than a handful of games. Personally I think it’s time to see Kinkaid up in the NHL, even if it’s in a backup role. He has nothing more to prove in the AHL and I have very little faith that Clemmensen can be even a serviceable option at this point of his career.
Overall I am very confident that Cory Schneider is going to breakout in his first full season as the undisputed starting goaltender. Watching him last season I was most impressed with how calm and steady he was in net. Very rarely did Schneider ever look out of position and scrambling to try and make desperation save, and his rebound control was excellent. I was always sure that if he saw the shot, he was going to stop it. Having that type of confidence in your goalie is not only beneficial to keeping pucks out of the net, but it goes a long way to lifting up your team. Players can play their game knowing that one mistake won’t cost them because their goalie will pick them up and make the big save. This is especially important due to the amount of young defensemen the Devils will have in their lineup this season.
Devils fans have had the luxury of top flight goaltending for the past 20 years in the form of Martin Brodeur. I’m positive that this trend will continue for at least the next seven years thanks to Cory Schneider.