Entering the 2019-20 NHL season, the New Jersey Devils had a lot of flaws. One of the biggest flaws was the goalies for New Jersey Devils. The Devils entered the season with Cory Schneider and MacKenzie Blackwood as the tandem. With Schneider showing signs of being his former self and Blackwood showing he could handle the NHL game, these were the two guys the Devils were rolling with. Former Devils general manager Ray Shero felt it was not necessary to upgrade the goalies for the New Jersey Devils as he had confidence in both guys to play well. That was one of Shero’s biggest mistakes as the Devils general manager.
Once the season is officially over the Devils need to think about the free agents they will need to target. Mainly the free agent goaltenders. With Jaroslav Halak re-signing with the Boston Bruins, one of the top free-agent goalies on the Devils board, they will need to look elsewhere. Because the Devils cannot enter next season with the same goaltending duo as this past season. Even Schneider not wanting to retire and performing better before the break, there are too many variables surrounding both guys. The Devils need a backup goalie who can be a starter and is reliable. Let’s take a look at the goalies the New Jersey Devils can go after in free agency.
Goalies The New Jersey Devils Need To Go After
Outside of Halak, who is the prototypical backup, Robin Lehner is the next best option for the Devils. He has become one of the best backup goalies in the league since overcoming all of his demons. That is a testament to how mentally strong Lehner has become. Even in his early days with the Ottawa Senators, Lehner showed he could be a starter in the league. There were some ups and downs with the Buffalo Sabres before his resurgence with the New York Islanders. It is unfortunate he was not able to stay with them. But in a salary cap era teams have to make sacrifices. That is something the Vegas Golden Knights will have to deal with this off-season. Lehner came over from the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline and continues to put up solid numbers.
Since the 2011-12 season, Lehner has not gone below .900 save percentage. He has embraced his role as a backup and knows it is on him to win games when his number is called. Lehner has appeared in 36 games this season starting 34 games recording 2.89 goals-against average with .920 save percentage. Those are excellent numbers considering the Devils backup goalies numbers are over 3.00 goals-against average and neither one has a .900 save percentage. Having a backup like Lehner relieves pressure for MacKenzie Blackwood, who it feels like is playing every single game because the Devils have no other choice. Not to mention this is a place wherein theory he can challenge for the starters role. Also, the Devils have room to give him the type of money he may be seeking.
If the Devils cannot land Lehner, another option for the Devils is Anton Khudobin. Khudobin is currently with the Dallas Stars and the backup to Ben Bishop. When Bishop has gotten hurt, Khudobin has filled in admirably for the Stars carrying the load. Like Lehner, Khudobin has shown the skill set to be a starting goalie in the league but has accepted his role as a backup goalie. Khudobin bounced around the league but made a name for himself with the Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, and Stars. He is having one of the best seasons of his career with the Stars before the season was put on pause. Appearing in 30 games, starting 26 of them, Khudobin has a record of 16-8-4 with a 2.22 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.
These are great numbers. When called upon he gets the job done and the team knows they can rely on him. That is something the Devils are lacking. Nothing against Schneider or Louis Domingue, both likeable guys, but you did not feel the team trusted them to get the job done. A guy like Khudobin knows his role and will be ready when his number is called on. Like Lehner, Khudobin can give Blackwood the nights off he needs, so he can be rested for his next start.
Another option for the Devils is New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss. With Ilya Sorokin coming over and Semyon Varlamov signed for another three years, there isn’t enough room for Greiss anymore. Originally a San Jose Sharks draft pick, Greiss bounced around a bit before finding success with the Islanders. His best year came in 2018-19 where he started 39 games winning 23 of them recording 2.28 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. While the 23 wins were not his career-high (26 was back in 2016-17 season), in that year along with Lehner, they helped the Islanders get back to the playoffs. Thanks to Greiss the Islanders got into the second round of the playoffs losing to the Hurricanes. Not to mention Greiss and Lehner won the William Jennings Trophy for having the lowest goals-against average.
With Varlamov being added to the fold, Greiss continued his stellar play before the season was suspended. While his numbers increased a bit, he was still showing the same set of skills that helped the Islanders the year before. However, the writing was on the wall with Varlamov coming in as he was taking the majority of starts. Unlike the previous year where it was a 50-50 split. Greiss knows it is time to move on. Even though Blackwood is the guy in New Jersey, Greiss can push Blackwood to be better. Not to mention he has the ability to be a starter again.
Another option on a short term deal is Corey Crawford. Crawford comes from a winning pedigree with the Blackhawks. Having won two Stanley Cups, and knowing what it takes to win, will help a young team succeed. Not to mention he will help Blackwood become a better goalie. Having a veteran presence in net helps a younger goalie become even better. We saw that in Winnipeg with Connor Hellebuyck and Steve Mason. Mason came in to be the starter after Hellebuyck had a tough year, but that only fueled Hellebuyck to be better and take the job. Having Crawford come in will push Blackwood the same way and get in him in the right mentality to be a starter in the league.
Even though Crawford has dealt with injuries recently, he will still be a good addition for the Devils. His 2.77 goals-against average and .917 save percentage is still better than Schenider’s numbers this season. You do not need him to play all that much, but you do need him to play enough to give Blackwood a rest from time to time. Crawford has the mentality to come in as a backup and win games, especially in those back to back situations.
Again if Jacob Markstrom or Braden Holtby are on the market, the Devils should look into them, but these guys will be looking for starting goalie type money. Plus these guys listed above will be cheaper considering the situation surrounding the salary cap for next season. The New Jersey Devils need to get better goalies, especially at the backup goalie position.
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