One of the reasons the New Jersey Devils made the playoffs last season was the remarkable performance of goaltender Keith Kinkaid, who went 21-7-2 since the calendar turned to 2018. With Cory Schneider sidelined while recovering from offseason surgery, the 29-year old net-minder has an opportunity to pick up where he left off. Despite his uninspiring postseason performance, there’s no doubt Kinkaid has earned the team’s trust to man the pipes until Schneider returns.
While I won’t determine whether or not Kinkaid is already having a good season after just one contest, he held his own against the Oilers last weekend, and made some Olympic saves at pivotal moments during the game. Let’s Assume Kinkaid gets the Devils off to a great start and eclipses his early 2018 form. Not only would it bolster Kinkaid’s value as a player, but further rebuke any claims last season’s performance was a fluke, while putting Ray Shero in an interesting position.
Kinkaid is entering the final season of a two-year contract he signed in 2016, after which he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. If you’re Ray Shero, do you risk losing him for nothing, or gauge interest from other teams needing a reliable net-minder? Given Kinkaid’s departure would surely downgrade the Devils in net, would it be worth moving him if Schneider resembles the player he was prior to his injuries, or Shero uses Kinkaid to acquire an impact player that improves the team enough to lighten their reliance on goaltending?
Although he’s older than they were at the time of their trades, a good indicator of what Shero can get for Kinkaid could come from looking at trades of backup goalies who (at the time of being dealt) were perceived as being capable of taking on a starting role in recent years. Antti Raanta was 28 when he was shipped to the Arizona Coyotes, along with Derek Stepan in the 2017 offseason. The Rangers got defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and Arizona’s 2017 first round pick. Robin Lehner was 24 when he and David Legwand were traded to the Buffalo Sabres for a first-round pick in 2015, while Martin Jones was 25 when the Los Angeles Kings traded him and a first-round pick for Milan Lucic—and was then flipped by the Bruins to San Jose for another first-round pick. More recently, the Washington Capitals sent 26-year old Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche for a second-round pick—the return being watered down in exchange for providing cap relief by taking Orpik.
Kinkaid may not fetch a first-round pick, but I don’t think Shero would be seeking that kind of return. He’ll likely seek a player that can make an immediate impact, in an area of the roster the Devils are lacking. My thinking is their No. 2 center slot may be one place a package based around Kinkaid could be used to improve. Pavel Zacha currently occupies that spot, however he’s had no more than eight goals and 25 points in his two NHL seasons. The Devils are undoubtedly relying on Zacha to elevate his game this year, and to start turning into the player he was projected to be when drafted sixth overall. A good time frame for Zacha’s trial in this role could be the amount of time it takes for Schneider to return. If Zacha continues to produce the same results as last season and it’s affecting the team’s overall performance, the timing could be right enough for Shero to make the move.
Right now, there aren’t many teams in need of goaltending that can provide an ideal situation for Kinkaid. Roberto Luongo is out for the next couple of weeks, but James Reimer will hold things down in the meantime. Matt Murray is out with a concussion for the Pittsburgh Penguins. If he winds up being out for an extended period of time, Pittsburgh would probably welcome another option in net aside from Casey DeSmith. Although they’re a division rival, Shero has traded with the Penguins before, and—along with Coach Hynes—is very familiar with the organization.
It’s very possible (and likely) more teams will find themselves looking for a goalie due to circumstances like injury or underperforming as the season progresses. Shero has always been very reserved with goalie movement, and prefers to have stability in net. Having said that, in his years of being a general manager, Shero has never had both a trade chip goaltender in addition to an established starter at his disposal. This is a situation I normally wouldn’t even give the time of day to, but Shero’s tendency to make trades and move players when least expected, along with Kinkaid being in a contract year, are reason for intrigue.