Before the season began, many experts – including us here at Devils Army Blog – were pointing to goaltending as a major success indicator for this season. So far, it seems as if we were right to be skeptical, as the goaltending position for the Devils has been dreadful. Both Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood have struggled mightily, and in return have the Devils tied for last in the NHL.
If the Devils have any hope to turn their season around, they must address the goaltending situation pronto. And if the beginning of this season has been any bit of an indicator, the solution may not be within the organization. This article will examine just how bad the current situation is and some possible options to help mend the wound the Devils call their goaltending situation.
Any hockey fan who has even paid the slightest attention to the NHL this year knows the Devils’ netminders have struggled. The current duo of Schneider and Blackwood have combined for a 2-5-3 record, a 0.859 save percentage, and a 4.00 goals against average. To give some perspective, the league average save percentage and goals against average are 0.908 and 2.89, respectively. Overall, the Devils rank dead last in the league in each of these categories. To further describe how bad the Devils’ goaltending is, they also hold the league’s worst 5-on-5 save percentage at .865.
It is worth noting that the league average for save percentage typically sits between .911 and .915, meaning goaltending league-wide is due to progress to a more formidable number. However, the question lies: how much better will it get for the Devils?
With the recent performance of Schneider – seven goals allowed on only 23 shots – he seems to be no longer a viable option to help right the ship. Mackenzie Blackwood was great before posting .750 save percentage against the Coyotes on Oct. 25th. However, he simply has yet to put together a consistent string of starts to signify he can take the reign as the number one. With this in mind, it may be time for the Devils to explore the trade market.
Possible Options for the Devils
The Arizona Coyotes own the league’s third-highest team save percentage in the NHL at .923. This is largely in part to their fantastic duo of Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta. In what seemed to be a goalie by committee early on, Kuemper has taken the reigns as the number one. To demonstrate this point, Kuemper has started eight games while his counterpart, Raanta only four.
Given this fact, you ought to wonder if the Coyotes would let Raanta go for the right price. If this is the case, general manager Ray Shero must pick up the phone. Raanta has been one of the league’s more underrated goaltenders, as he has posted a save percentage above the league average in five of his seven seasons. Raanta also holds a stellar career even-strength save percentage of .927. The 30-year-old netminder should be on the top of the list of potential remedies to the Devils’ goaltending issues.
The once highly touted Florida Panthers’ prospect — Jacob Markstrom — took some time to settle in at the NHL-level. However, it seems as if he can finally be counted on to churn out solid performances. After posting — what seemed like at the time — an outlier of a .915 save percentage, Markstrom has sustained this success and has not seen a save percentage lower than .910 since 2014. This trend looks as if it is going to continue as the 30-year-old has a 5-2-1 record, a .915 save percentage, and a 2.59 goals against average through eight starts this season as a Vancouver Canuck.
With promising young phenom Thatcher Demko currently sporting the second-highest save percentage in the NHL, and options in the AHL available, the Canucks may be open to trading Markstrom. If this is the case, the Devils should inquire, as his above league average sustained success at the position fits the Devils’ needs nicely.
The Buffalo Sabres’ product is the youngest netminder on this list. However, do not let that fool you, as the 26-year-old has a career save percentage of .912, which is right at the league average. He also holds a career even-strength save percentage of .917, which is right on-line with the other candidates on this list. These numbers are quite remarkable given the fact he has been a part of the countless terrible Buffalo Sabres’ teams.
With Carter Hutton serving as the Sabres’ number one goaltender, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in the pipeline as the Sabres’ future, Ullmark is worth checking in on. He would certainly give the Devils a netminder who has produced solid numbers recently; something the Devils have not gotten from their current duo.
Casey DeSmith has the least amount of experience on this list. Due to this fact, he also may be the riskiest option. However, the 28-year-old has churned out fantastic statistics at the AHL-level and also in his 50 career NHL appearances.
So far this season, DeSmith owns a .880 save percentage while serving as the number one goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre. However, he does own a career AHL save percentage of roughly .918, which is fantastic given the fact AHL save percentages are typically lower than the NHL average of .912. In his NHL appearances, he has posted a .917 save percentage over 50 games played. His even-strength save percentage of .929 is an even more encouraging sign.
As mentioned above, DeSmith would be the riskiest option, but also be an option with tremendous upside. Being only 28 years old gives the potential for him to be an answer to the Devils’ goaltending woes for a longer period of time. Also, given his limited experience, the price tag on DeSmith may not be all that high, as the Penguins currently have a Matt Murray/Tristan Jarry tandem in NHL.
Ryan Miller is largely known for a spectacular career with the Buffalo Sabres. Due to this fact, many may not know that Miller is currently churning out his best career numbers while serving in a lesser role out west. Over the past five seasons, he has posted an even-strength save percentages of .926, .924, .941, .928, and .935, respectively. His sustained success at the ripe old age of 39 is baffling.
Given his trend of good play does not look like it is going to end this season, as he owns a .929 save percentage and a 2.10 goals against average, general manager Ray Shero should give Miller a look. Now, a move for the 17-year veteran would be a short-term fix, as he is likely to retire shortly. However, he would instantly upgrade a Devils’ goaltending unit that desperately needs it.
Through the statistics above, it is readily apparent that the current duo of Mackenzie Blackwood (.871 save percentage) and Cory Schneider (.847 save percentage) are not getting it done. And although their combined 4.00 goals against average is due to progress closer to the conventional league average, the Devils must at least explore alternatives.
The shortlist above are just a few options general manager Ray Shero can explore. Given the Devils are light on draft capital, as well as assets other teams may want, a trade may not be a viable option. Either way, the Devils must get better goaltending sooner than later.