With the trade deadline just a few hours away, all eyes are on Marcus Johansson and where he will land. While he’s the New Jersey Devils top trade chip on the market, especially following the trade that sent Ben Lovejoy to the Dallas Stars, there’s one more potential Devil that could be dealt at the deadline, and that is Keith Kinkaid.
After his strong second-half play that helped the Devils reach the playoffs last season, Kinkaid has gone downhill by a country mile. His strong play from last season, mixed with an injury that kept Cory Schneider out of the lineup at the beginning of the season, meant the starter’s role was his from the beginning of the season. Although at first Kinkaid continued his backstopping brilliance, things began to change for the worst a few weeks into the season. Schneider’s equally disappointing play, up until his recent revival, have made the Devils’ goaltending all season be a question of “well, they both suck, but who sucks less?”
Kinkaid’s contract is expiring at the end of this season, and it’s no question that Devils fans don’t want him back. Especially with the small mid-season audition from Mackenzie Blackwood, the Devils seem to be ready to hand over the goaltending reigns. Before Kinkaid becomes a free agent, wouldn’t it be nice if the Devils got something, or literally anything, for him?
Well, that idea may not be as crazy as it sounds. No matter how bad Devils fans claim Kinkaid to be, even though that doesn’t require much exaggeration, there’s always a market for backup goalies. There are at least a few over-cautious teams that have questions in their own net and would gladly trade a late-round pick for just a little peace of mind come playoff time. This year one of those teams might be the Calgary Flames.
The Flames are in a definite buyers position, being the top-seeded team in the Western Conference. They have gotten through a successful, yet inconsistent, rebuild in the post-Jarome Iginla days. They’ll make the playoffs one year, only to miss it the next, and have the pattern repeat itself, and has for the past four seasons.
All throughout the rebuild, especially after the retirement of Mikka Kiprusoff, the Flames have always had trouble finding their goaltender of the future. Since then they’ve gone through a goalie carousel that included the likes of Jonas Hiller and Brian Elliott. Those questions seemed to be put to ease when they traded for Mike Smith from the Arizona Coyotes. He made a name for himself as being an underrated goalie on an ineffective and unsuccessful Coyotes team, aside from the 2012 Western Conference run.
The 2018-19 season has not been kind to Smith. His struggles in goal looked more like the Calgary teams that were on the bubble of the playoffs rather than a top seed at the start of the season. It was when David Rittich took the starter’s role that the Flames became the team to beat in the West.
A backup goalie that gets pushed into the starters role to lead his team to the playoffs? Where have we heard that story before?
Smith has returned to form with better stats since his demotion, but what if Rittich can’t keep producing? What if he cracks under the playoff pressure? What if Smith falls into the patterns and slump that hurt his play at the beginning of the season? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a third option?
Enter Kinkaid, who has shown flashes of brilliant goaltending when the occasion calls for it but isn’t consistent when he’s tested with the workload of a number one starter. By no means do the Flames think they would be trading for the next Martin Brodeur, or that they’d be getting a 2006 Cam Ward style run out of him, but he’s an inexpensive insurance policy. Remember Kinkaid’s numbers took the steepest decline when he became a full time, not temporary, number one. The stress of that role overwhelmed him, and adding to the fact he was a backup goalie, at best, to begin with didn’t help either. In Calgary, Kinkaid would be the undisputed number 2, or even 3, and that’s just the way it should be.
Kinkaid’s job with the Flames would be to win a game or two, and a presence on the bench so Rittich can breathe a little easier. That might not be worth much, but it’s maybe worth a fifth or sixth-round pick. I’d say maybe a seventh-round pick, but Kinkaid’s NHL experience ups his value just a little bit to escape the last round.
If the Devils are offered anything better, they should take it and run.