Franchise goalies don’t grow on trees, and with the legendary Martin Brodeur nearing the end of his career, the New Jersey Devils did an admirable job of snatching up Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks at the NHL Entry Draft in June. Unfortunately, with the recent resurgence of Brodeur, the Devils find themselves with a bit of a goaltending controversy.
Heading into the season, many fans and media members considered Brodeur to be well beyond his prime and ready to serve a backup or platoon role for the first time in decades. Brodeur’s poor play in the preseason and in the opening games of the regular season only served to affirm that consensus. However, since late October, Brodeur has returned to elite form, elevating his season statistics to a 7-5-2 record with a 2.06 GAA and a .916 save percentage heading into Wednesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
It remains to be seen whether or not Brodeur can maintain such impressive numbers, but it appears as if critics wrote Brodeur off a bit too quickly.
Where does Brodeur’s bounce-back leave Schneider? Riding the pine, despite putting up an equally-impressive GAA and save percentage as Brodeur. While Schneider (2-5-3, 1.87 GAA, .925 save percentage) bit his tongue until now, seeing Brodeur named as the Devils starting goalie for the third straight game on Wednesday prompted him to speak up. Schneider told NHL.com staff writer Mike Morreale that he was “surprised” and “frustrated” to learn that Brodeur would be between the pipes on Wednesday.
“I’m trying to work hard and do what I can, but I’d just like to see the ice a little bit more is all,” Schneider said. “Marty is playing really well. He’s got the net and he’s running with it. I know it’s part of the game … it’s just something where I just want to play more.”
Schneider has every right to speak out, particularly because Brodeur was named Wednesday’s starter despite taking back-to-back losses in the prior days. Devils Coach Pete DeBoer will surely do his best to appease both of his team’s top-notch netminders as the season continues. However, Schneider’s comments on Wednesday are cause for concern for some Devils fans and could be an indication that he isn’t exactly thrilled to have ended up in New Jersey.
Can you blame him? After toiling in the shadow of Roberto Luongo for three seasons, Schneider has ended up in a nearly identical situation. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but Brodeur’s stellar play has shuffled Schneider to the back burner once again.
If Brodeur retires after this season – the last on his contract – the Schneider scenario becomes much more simple. There will be a starting job with Schneider’s name on it for 2014-15, and, as Ilya Bryzgalov knows all too well, finding a team that needs a starter isn’t exactly easy.
However, if Brodeur isn’t ready to hang ’em up after this season and decides to return for another year or two, that could spell trouble for the Devils by potentially impacting Schneider’s decision on whether or not to re-sign with New Jersey when his current contract expires.
Even if Brodeur concedes the starting role in 2014-15 and agrees to be the team’s backup, will Schneider feel comfortable with his hold on the starting job? After all, Brodeur had already tabbed himself as the team’s backup earlier this season, only to end up catching fire and taking the reins as DeBoer’s go-to guy, supplanting Schneider to the bench.
Devils fans have embraced Schneider, but that may not be enough to keep him in New Jersey past next season. Aside from the battle with Brodeur for ice time, consider the state of the Devils franchise. Even with Ilya Kovalchuk, the team often struggled to find offense, and Kovalchuk’s offseason departure only compounded the Devils’ goal-scoring woes. What’s to keep Schneider from seeking out a big money contract on a more offensive team where he’s guaranteed plenty of playing time? The Devils are far from bottom-dwellers, but the team isn’t exactly a perennial playoff contender either. Schneider very well might think the grass is greener elsewhere and leave New Jersey after the 2014-15 season when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
It was a risk that GM Lou Lamoriello took when he traded the team’s 9th overall pick for Schneider, a move that seemed almost fool-proof at the time. Now, things aren’t looking so cut and dry, and only time will tell if Lamoriello truly has found the franchise’s next long-term goalie.
There is still plenty of time before Schneider will need to make this decision, and too many variables to warrant hitting the panic button quite yet, but it’s still an interesting situation to keep an eye on.
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