While the Albany Devils were on their way to defeating the Utica Comets Sunday evening at the Times Union Center, a not-so-secret transaction took place under the radar: Maxime Clermont was recalled to the Albany Devils from their ECHL affiliate, the Elmira Jackals. Keith Kinkaid was on the bench, as Scott Wedgewood led the Devils to their 2-1 win over the Comets, after picking up a victory over the Adirondack Phantoms on Friday night and another win over the Norfolk Admirals Saturday. Kinkaid, after missing four games with an injury, was back to his stellar self and there was no inkling that an injury returned. Wedgewood was simply playing because Kinkaid needed a rest after playing back-to-back nights. But why was Clermont recalled? As it turns out, his recall was simply a roster technicality. He has been loaned to the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL but could not be directly sent there from another ECHL team and had to go through Albany first. However, the story for much of the night played out differently and even though the smoke over the crease has tenporarily cleared, the situation remains on fire.
The most obvious answer involved the New Jersey Devils goaltending situation with Cory Schneider taking the reigns as the number one goaltender in Newark and thus relegating the NHL’s all-time wins leader among goaltenders, Martin Brodeur, to the bench. Brodeur, who has made his position clear that he wants to play with the Devils but is open to being traded if that is what it takes to play, must be on his way out of New Jersey. Almost 24 years after being drafted by the Devils and nearly 22 years after making his NHL debut in a 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins at the then-named Brendan Byrne Arena, Brodeur is going to be wearing a different uniform at some point in the next week. Kinkaid is going to be the back-up to Schneider as the Devils march towards the playoffs. Then at some point over the summer Schneider is going to sign an extension and Kinkaid is happily going to be his back-up in the NHL. On the contrary, Schneider may turn around and say, “Thanks but no thanks,” to the Devils and will test the UFA market or get traded and Kinkaid will assume the number one spot. This is a very simple story that has been known ever since Schneider became a Devil on June 30th, 2013. But, in an organization with General Manager Lou Lamoriello at the helm, no story will ever be simple.
Keith Kinkaid is the goaltender that is going to be traded. This makes the most sense in this tangled web of trade theory. First off, it is not inconceivable to believe. Rick Kowalsky, head coach of the Albany Devils, feels Kinkaid is ready to play in the NHL. His stats (20-8-2, 2.24 GAA, .917 Save %) and the confidence he has displayed on the ice this season prove that Kowalsky is right. But if Lamoriello believed in Kinkaid he would have never traded for Schneider. During the 2013 NHL Entry Draft at the Prudential Center, Lamoriello knew Ilya Kovalchuk was leaving to go to Russia. He had spent weeks trying to coax the Russian superstar to stay in New Jersey. Even if he wasn’t completely sure, Lamoriello knew the Devils needed offense. They had Brodeur and Johan Hedberg for one more year as the New Jersey goaltending tandem while Kinkaid would mature to take over at the start of the 2014-15 season. But instead Lou essentially “drafted” Schneider. He did not, and does not, trust that Kinkaid can be “the man” in New Jersey. He did not even get to start when Brodeur was injured during the heart of last season. His only NHL action up to this point is a period of play against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 5th, 2013. The Devils stuck to Hedberg. Kinkaid is not being bred to be a back-up for New Jersey in Albany either. He is being raised to be a starting goalie. But then, why trade for Schneider? Simple. The Devils are breeding a starter to be used as trade bait. Schneider has another year on his contract and Lamoriello would not have signed Schneider if he did not believe he was going to be the goaltender of the future. There is no way Lamoriello sends over a top-ten draft pick to the Vancouver Canucks for a two-year rental, especially considering the Devils do not have any first-round draft pick in the upcoming 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Also of note is that Kinkaid’s contract expires after this season. He will be a restricted free agent but if he feels he belongs in the NHL he can make contract negotiations difficult for New Jersey.
Keith Kinkaid made 25 saves and was named the #1 Star of the Game as the Albany Devils defeated the Norfolk Admirals 4-1 on Saturday, February 22nd:
New Jersey needs a top-six winger. Brodeur will not fetch a top-six winger. Trading Brodeur does no good for the organization at the moment. Hence, the package deal that sends Kinkaid with a defenseman or a top offensive prospect for a proven top-six winger is now on the table. At the same time, Brodeur will remain in New Jersey as insurance in case Schneider goes down with an injury. Even if Brodeur approaches Lamoriello and asks to be traded, Lamoriello can still send Brodeur on his way and pick up a back-up goaltender via trade or free agency. Lamoriello wants to win and wants to win now. He will not go into selling mode with the Devils within striking distance of a playoff spot. The Devils defense is solid at this point and Schneider is the leader in the net. All that is missing is goals. Lamoriello doesn’t believe Kinkaid will ever be the number one goaltender in Newark and has simply raised him to solve his team’s offense issue, the same problem that plagued the Devils on draft day and the same problem that has plagued the Devils since they could not buy a goal in the latter half of last season. Even if Schneider doesn’t want to sign long-term with New Jersey, Lamoriello will make a move or rely on Wedgewood or Clermont as potential starters. Lamoriello is not giving the reigns to Kinkaid. That window closed when Lamoriello traded for Schneider.
Is this trade scenario more far-fetched than trading Brodeur? Maybe. But when Lou Lamoriello is the man calling the shots, anything is possible. This is why Keith Kinkaid will be the goaltender exiting the New Jersey Devils organization.
Leo is in his second year with THW. He covers the 3-Time Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils and the Albany Devils of the American Hockey League. You can follow Leo on Twitter, @LeoScaglioneJr.