It looks like New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider has gotten his game back, just at the worst possible time.
Now, no one can deny Schneider’s timing overall. His .919 save percentage points to an immensely successful career up to this point. It’s just that up until recently it looked like it might be drawing to a premature close.
Two sub-par seasons in a row prior to this effectively led to him losing his No. 1 position to the since-traded Keith Kinkaid. He then won it back, however temporarily, during the playoffs last spring. By and large though, Schneider has been a shell of the goalie the Devils once acquired for the pick that would become Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks.
It only seems like a bad trade because of recency bias. Because, for all of Schneider’s failings over the last few seasons, there were just as many during which he had been lights out for the Devils. Many before that for Canucks, as he played behind Roberto Luongo. The Devils needed a new No. 1 with Martin Brodeur’s career winding down. Schneider delivered. Simple as that.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t given the reins right away. In fact, Brodeur played nearly as many games as Schneider in his first season with the club in 2013-14 (39 vs. 45). That’s in spite of a marked discrepancy in skill in favor of Schneider (a .921 save percentage vs. .901 for Brodeur) and it’s precisely the type of situation the Devils should want to avoid heading into next season as they try to bring along Mackenzie Blackwood.
Schneider vs. Blackwood
Granted, Schneider doesn’t have the same history with the Devils that Brodeur did. So, he may not be given the benefit of the doubt Brodeur had consistently gotten, before he became an unrestricted free agent and signed with the St. Louis Blues. Schneider does have three years left on his contract after this one, though.
Who wants to bet the Devils are more inclined to roll with the veteran goalie making $6 million instead of the 22-year-old who will only be a restricted free agent in 2020?
No one would be able to blame them, as it makes financial sense to get the most out of your investment as possible. Up until Schneider recently went 4-1 with one shutout and a .960 save percentage over his last five games, it looked like they had though. Now, it’s almost as if the Devils have no choice but to ride his hot hand, right out of a shot at their second high draft pick in three seasons as each Schneider win gets them further away from last place.
To be fair, no one really buys out the contract of a player who’s performing. Maybe the Devils should consider buying out Schneider, though. Consider how it would have made all the sense in the world a few short weeks ago as Schneider was rehabbing his abdominal strain in the American Hockey League. All the while, Blackwood was finding his way in the NHL as his and Kinkaid’s replacement, posting a 6-4 record, 2.37 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
The Case to Buy Out Schneider
It admittedly makes less sense to do it now, but consider that the buyout period is a finite period of time that takes place before the start of next season. All Schneider’s recent play has done is muddy the waters with regard to the quality of the goalie they’ve got starting for them now. Remember that recency bias? It’s a killer.
Granted, Blackwood’s stat line corresponds to a small sample size, but it’s double the size of Schneider’s recent successful stretch. And, as great and underrated as Schneider has been for the Devils over his tenure with them, it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to realize he has many more bad days than good ahead based on his age (33), his injury history and his overall performance going back a few seasons.
This is like the Brodeur situation all over again, with one big difference. Schneider is unfortunately no Brodeur with regard to longevity, as Brodeur had posted statistically exceptional seasons up until age 38. That seems less than probable for Schneider, especially if the Devils would be resigned to keeping him only to mentor Blackwood.
Ideally, yes, the Devils would be able to have a goalie to split the load with Blackwood and help mentor him next season, or even as just an insurance policy. Veteran goalies are readily available via free agency and at a fraction of Schneider’s cost, though. Buying Schneider out even with the projected $2 million hit until 2024-25 is the only real option for the Devils, who are in one of the better salary-cap situations in the league.
Blackwood’s Proven Himself
Maybe that means the Devils can afford to keep Schneider in the fold, but do they really want to risk throwing away another season due to bad goaltending just so they can justify his salary? In the process they would either risk Blackwood’s development by not giving him enough games in the NHL… or waste an entire year of his stellar play keeping him in the AHL as they sign another goalie to be the No. 2 behind Schneider, when that No. 2 should be backing him up instead.
Rest assured, the $4 million in cap savings from a potential buyout would be better served signing help for elsewhere in the lineup. After all, Blackwood’s simply proven himself capable of shouldering the load in net to a greater degree than Schneider.
It’s entirely possible Schneider has rediscovered his game, in which case that’s sincerely awesome for him. Not so much for the Devils though, when they seem to have a goalie who’s been just as good if not better, making significantly less money.
The solution should be simple: Buy Schneider out and let him bet on himself with a one-year show-me contract elsewhere, after which he should be able to get his career back on track by earning another deal. Everyone wins, including the Devils in the standings most likely in large part due to Blackwood.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.