The New Jersey Devils have one major assignment this offseason, and that is to find a reliable goaltender. The lack of stability in the crease has hurt the team since October, as seven different goalies played throughout the season. The hope of seeing the tandem of Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier never truly came to fruition as the two only suited up for three games together.
The season began with the tandem of Bernier and Scott Wedgewood, and fans had to wait until Nov. 5, 2021, to see Blackwood make his season debut. Unfortunately, his return meant the team had to put Wedgewood on waivers. We all know how that story went as the Arizona Coyotes claimed the 29-year-old. Exactly two months later, the team suffered another blow when the Devils announced Bernier would miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery on his right hip.
Since then, Akira Schmid, Nico Daws, Jon Gillies, and Andrew Hammond rotated in and out of the crease while Blackwood recovered from heel surgery. It’s been a trying season, and everyone is ready to move on and finally find a solution to a problem the organization has had since Martin Brodeur retired.
As we head into the offseason, New Jersey has four goaltenders on their roster. Both Jon Gillies and Andrew Hammond are unrestricted free agents and will most likely not be part of the team come October. Bernier has one year left on his contract, but his health is a concern as some goaltenders have been unable to fully recover after hip surgery. That leaves Blackwood, who will be a restricted free agent (RFA) at the end of next season. The organization will do everything in their power to avoid going through the same situation next season, and while I’m not a huge fan of a 1A-1B goaltending rotation, it may be necessary, at least in the short term. Here’s a look at the goaltenders who would do well playing alongside Blackwood.
Spencer Knight – Florida Panthers
This is probably the most unrealistic option of the bunch, but when you are in a desperate situation, you make desperate phone calls. Spencer Knight was the Florida Panthers’ 13th overall pick in 2019 and made his NHL debut last season, playing four regular-season games and winning them all. He earned the coaching staff’s trust and played two games in the postseason against the Tampa Bay Lightning, winning one. He is under contract for one more season before he becomes an RFA.
This season, Knight appeared in 31 games for an 18-9-3 record. At 21-years-old, he is the same age as the Devils’ young core, and I would like to see a goaltender who could grow alongside stars like Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. Knight fits the bill, and while he has not yet had the responsibility of a starter, he could be a solid option in a 1A-1B scenario with Blackwood. Is it likely that fans will see Knight in a Devils jersey in October? Probably no. But Fitzgerald has nothing to lose by making a call to Florida’s general manager Bill Zito.
Ville Husso – St. Louis Blues
Ville Husso will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) this summer and should be a top candidate for New Jersey. The 27-year-old made his NHL debut during the 2020-21 campaign, starting 15 games. This season, he emerged as one of the top goaltenders in the league with a record of 25-6-6.
The 6-foot-3 goaltender has won Blues fans over, and many are hoping the organization will re-sign him and move on from Jordan Binnington, who led the team to a Stanley Cup in 2019. Ahead of this year’s trade deadline, Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli reported Armstrong offered Binnington to teams that needed help in the crease. He is making $6 million per season and has a full no-trade clause, so it was no surprise that the offer generated no interest, especially with Husso being the better of the duo as a pending UFA.
This season, he has a goals-against average of 2.47, ranked ninth in the league, and a save percentage of .921, which is sixth. Devils fans know how hard it is to find a good goaltender, and with PK Subban’s contract coming off the books, now is the time to make a splash.
Alexandar Georgiev – New York Rangers
With the emergence of Igor Shesterkin, it looks like Alexandar Georgiev may find himself on the outside looking in. He is a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and the organization may be looking to move him. He is 26 years old with a 14-10-2 record this season with the New York Rangers. I spoke to my colleague Rachel Nones, who covers the team, and she believes they will be looking to move him even though he has been playing better as of late compared to earlier in the season.
I would be interested to see how he would do free of Shesterkin’s shadow. We have seen before that a change of scenery can do wonders for a player, and it is worth it to give Georgiev a look. The Devils made a trade with the Rangers in 2018, acquiring Michael Grabner, and New Jersey has a few trade pieces to offer their rival that could result in a win-win for all parties.
John Gibson- Anaheim Ducks
It is safe to say fans have had their eye on the Ducks’ goaltender for quite some time. At 28 years old, he is the oldest of the four but has proven capable of providing maybe the most stability. He has been on a rebuilding Ducks team and has been vocal about not wanting to play for a team in a rebuild. This leads to the question: are the Devils ahead of the Ducks in becoming a contender? A quick glance of the standings will see Anaheim ahead of New Jersey, but it’s hard to judge Nico Hischier and co. with the number of injuries the team dealt with this season.
Devils defenseman Ryan Graves has told the media that the team is closer to contending than most realize, and it is hard to argue with him. For the first time in a long time, there is a reason to be excited, thanks to the play of the team’s young players, both on offense and defense. A goaltender like Gibson could expedite things in New Jersey, similar to what Shesterkin has done in New York.
Blackwood made his return to the ice on Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators, making 29 saves in a 5-4 overtime loss. Ideally, the Devils would find a goaltender under 30 years old who can share the net with Blackwood next season. Fitzgerald has tried to bring in a veteran for the past two years, in Corey Crawford and Jonathan Bernier, and it has not worked out. I would like to see the team take a different approach, and as much as I do not like the 1A-1B goaltending scenario, it will be necessary for next season as Blackwood tries to get back to his 2019-20 form.
While it may not seem like it, the Devils have a few different options. Fans can hope the tandem of Blackwood and Bernier can rebound next season, but Bernier will be 34 years old and coming off of hip surgery. New Jersey could keep things interesting and attempt to trade Blackwood or keep him as a solidified number one and look for a competent goaltender to compete with him.
Let us know what you would like to see happen this summer in the comments below.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.