For the first time in 3 years, the Devils goaltenders combined age is not greater than 75. The legend, Martin Brodeur, is still the face of this organization, and will play a large part on this team. There is, however, a new deputy in town. In fact, deputy doesn't do him justice. We'll call him 'Sheriff 1A'. There will be no moose calls in New Jersey this year. The organization bought out the final year of well respected, well liked, and all around good guy, Johan Hedberg, after acquiring Cory Schneider in a draft day trade. This move alone has created some excitement for the future around the goalie position. Just months ago, it was not even possible to mention the terms 'goaltender' and 'future' to a Devils fan, without inducing some sort of nervous breakdown. Now, the future is so bright, I might consider wearing protective eyewear....or something like that.
At the ice level, goaltender was pretty much the only position that realistically had no competition whatsoever for roster spots heading into this season for the Devils. All in all, the Devils invited 6 goaltenders from the organization to camp: Martin Brodeur, Cory Schneider, Keith Kinkaid, Scott Wedgewood, Maxime Clermont, and Anthony Brodeur. It is arguable that even the AHL spots were pretty well set going into camp, with Kinkaid and Wedgewood the clear favorites to win those roles. So, yeah, not a lot of intrigue or mystery surrounding this one. Everything has played out exactly as expected. Brodeur and Schneider will start the season in New Jersey. Kinkaid and Wedgewood will be the two in Albany. Although this is not actually determined yet, I think its pretty clear, based on the fact that both have stayed with New Jersey for the entirety of camp. Although Clermont is with the Albany group right now, its fair to assume he will most likely be assigned to an ECHL team. Anthony Brodeur has already returned to his junior team, Gatineau.
In a pre-season filled with interesting roster competitions, this was not one of them. Still, there is a certain excitement and buzz among Devils fans (rightfully so) over new acquisition Cory Schneider. Schneider has not been here long, but he should be the future for this organization. After a fantastic pre-season, where his only goal against occurred in the final minute of his third game, I know I am excited to see what he can do during the regular season. In a show of reverence to a legend and face of the organization, Pete DeBoer has already called Cory 'a fantastic 1A'. That he is. That he certainly is. Schneider is more than a fantastic 1A. Although he has still played under 100 NHL games in his career, he seems to have the makings of a fantastic #1. And that's probably where he will end up, I think sooner rather than later. I'll get into more about that shortly, but first lets take a look back at how all of the goaltenders currently with the organization fared in their respective 2013 seasons.
Looking Back to 2013 and Looking ahead in the Minors
Here are the stats for all of the goaltenders in the system who played at the professional level last year:
Starting with the NHL players, I think both Schneider and Brodeur had good 2013 seasons in their own rights. And while Marty had a pretty good season, all things considered (age, the team in front of him), his save percentage was barely over .900, which is not really an acceptable number for a #1 goaltender. Schneider on the other hand, had what I would consider a pretty great 2013 season. He finally claimed the starting job in Vancouver, getting 2/3 of the starts. He posted a .927 sv%, which is an excellent number. Really the most encouraging thing is that all signs point to this not being a fluke for Cory. Now at 98 career games, .927 is actually spot on with his career save percentage. So, there is no reason to have any other expectation for him at this point.
On a feel good sort of note regarding the younger netminders, Keith Kinkaid got his first NHL action and didn't fare so badly. He actually impressively stopped Steven Stamkos on a breakaway attempt. If there was ever a trial by fire for a young man in his first ever NHL game, I think a Stamkos breakaway is certainly it. Highlight reel memory moment aside, I would say Kinkaid had a good but not great year in his second pro season. He appeared in roughly the same amount of games, and his save percentage didn't really improve at all from 2011-12 to 2012-13. I think you would like to see some sort of progress in this category as the player develops. Kinkaid should see the same amount of games this season in Albany, and I am looking for him to take the next step and post a save % somewhere above .910. He should be the call up in the event of an injury to either Schneider or Brodeur.
Scott Wedgewood made it through his first pro season unscathed and better for the experience, but slightly heavier from all those McDonald's on the bus dinners. Although his numbers for last season were not fantastic, the organization seems to think he made progress in his first pro season, and I tend to agree. He basically played every game for Trenton for the majority of the season, and got into 3 games for Albany. He played in front of a very bad Trenton team, so his counting stats weren't fantastic. However, word on the street is that a lot of nights Wedge was the only thing keeping Trenton in the game. I am looking for roughly the same thing from him this year as I am Kinkaid, albeit with a few less games played. Wedgewood will probably play about 30 of the Albany contests, and if he can also post a save % above .910, I would find that encouraging.
I'm not really sure what to expect out of Maxime Clermont this year. His ECHL numbers are pretty pedestrian for last season. They are actually somewhat similar to Wedgewood's. It would seem he will probably play in the ECHL again, although where is still unclear. He needs to also get that save percentage above .900 if he wants to have a realistic shot of playing at the next level (Albany) full time in the future.
Anthony Brodeur will be getting his feet wet in the Q (QMJHL) this upcoming season as a new member of the Gatineau Olympiques. This will be a nice step up in competition for the young Brodeur, who has pretty much had a whirlwind of a summer. Let's see how the first season of major junior's treats Anthony, and re-evaluate at the end of the season.
Looking ahead: The outlook at the NHL level
Martin Brodeur is still the number 1 goaltender on this team. The coach has already made that clear, and rightfully so. Out of reverence for Marty's contributions to this organization and status as one of the all time greats, multiple record holder, incumbent title holder, etc. etc., it is his spot to lose. For both Marty, the organization (and at some level the fans), this transition to Schneider as the true #1 has to be somewhat organic. The play on the ice has to dictate the change, and I think that is exactly what will unfold over the first several months of the season. I expect Schneider to begin pushing Brodeur from day one. He already has started, somewhat, with his near perfect pre-season. This is a great thing, for several reasons. Brodeur has not been pushed by anyone in...ever. His job as the alpha was never in question with Moose in town. What I am expecting is for Schneider to perform at such a high level that there will be no choice but to see, feel, and accept the transition. This is the only way it's going to work.
Basically, you don't just take the most important player in the history of a franchise and remove him from a role he has had a stranglehold on for 20 years without a compelling reason to do so. My prediction is that Cory Schneider creates this compelling reason to do so, and goes on to start about 60% of the Devils games this season. I am hoping for, and anticipating, about 48 games for Schneider and about 34 games for Brodeur. I expect the split of games to be much more even early on, with Cory taking the reigns more and more as the season goes on. Marty has, unsurprisingly, faced an injury that kept him out of action for a stretch each of the past few seasons. If that happens again this season, that could be the window of opportunity for Schneider to ditch the "A" after his 1.
In my opinion, Cory Schneider has the potential to be a top-5 goaltender in the NHL right now. If he continues to turn aside shots at the pace he has for his first three NHL seasons, he could be a big difference for a team that may struggle to score goals at times and looks poised to be involved of a lot of close, low scoring games. Among our group here at ILWT, I know I am not alone when I say that Martin Brodeur is probably my all time favorite hockey player. Still, its pretty clear to me that this transition scenario I've described above is what needs to take place for the present and future success of our franchise.
Now I'd like to know what you think about our goaltending situation for this year. Do you agree that it looks a lot better than it did several months ago? What do you think of the development of the younger goaltenders within the system? How would you like to see the split in games between Brodeur and Schneider this season? Please drop by to leave your answers to these questions and any other topically appropriate comments in our hangout section down below. Thanks, as always, for reading.