Goaltending has been a hot-button issue in New Jersey over the past year, ever since the Devils traded the 9th overall pick for Cory Schneider at the 2013 NHL Draft. The question of how the Devils would deal with the passing of the goaltending torch from Martin Brodeur was a big one, and the noise surrounding it would only grow as the season wore on. The handling of the situation was far from ideal, with Schneider stopping a whole lot more pucks than his counterpart, yet only getting a shade over half the starts. Frustration was voiced by Brodeur throughout the season, and also by Schneider at one point. The situation became a distraction at times, and the pros of the situation were widely outpaced by the cons by season's end.
Now before you run away, this isn't another Brodeur vs. Schneider post. No, that old chestnut has been pounded into a fine dust by all of us here at ILWT over the past season. This is about which direction the Devils will go with goaltending situation next. I think the general consensus among fans is that the status quo probably isn't the best idea. Between the cost, the sideshow it created, and the fact that the Devils ended up 22nd overall in goaltending with the way they handled things, it seems best for all parties if the Devils and their legendary goaltender part ways. But if and when that does happen, the Devils will have to find a serviceable replacement to fill the backup role behind Cory Schneider. They will likely get at least a decent chunk of games, with Schneider's career max games played still being in the 40s. Can they fill the position from within, or will they dip into free agency to find their number two guy?
Keith Kinkaid - Kinkaid is an RFA, so technically he needs to be re-signed first, but coming off of his best season to date in the AHL, it seems like a pretty safe bet that he will at least be given a qualifying offer by the team. Him taking a step forward in the A this season is certainly encouraging, but is it enough to be confident in his ability to make the leap to the NHL? The Devils will likely be relying on a backup to start around 20 games (or more in the case of an injury). Are they confident that Kinkaid can handle those minutes? This past season was his first where he was able to best a .910 save percentage for Albany, but his improvement at least shows he could be on his way. I could live with KK being the guy they go with, especially with a potentially snug cap situation on the horizon. There are definitely risks if he does end up flaming out in the big leagues or Schneider goes down with an injury, though.
Scott Wedgewood - A couple years back, Wedgewood was getting some discussion as a possible eventual heir to the goaltending throne in New Jersey. At this point, it looks like he's got a lot of progress to make if he hopes to even make the NHL as a backup. I think I'd probably like to see a guy crack .900 in the AHL before I'm considering him for an NHL roster spot.
For the UFAs, I decided to exclude guys who will ostensibly be aiming to be starters next year. Obviously, the Devils are not in the market for a guy like Ryan Miller. There is also the option of trading for a guy, but I'm not necessarily crazy about the idea trading away assets to acquire a backup goalie. Some of these guys may be re-signed by their incumbent teams, but I picked out some possibly viable options on CapGeek's UFA finder.
Alex Stalock (Career Stats | Salary History)- Stalock is coming off of a very nice season as the backup for Annti Niemi in San Jose. He put up a very impressive .932 sv% in 24 appearances for the Sharks this season. Beyond that, his resume is certainly limited. He's been in the Sharks org for a little while now and never really had eye-popping numbers in the AHL and rarely saw action with the big club until this season. One always has to be weary of a guy whose value on the market is probably peaking a bit, but at the very least, he's shown he could be a potentially viable NHL goaltender.
Chad Johnson (Career Stats | Salary History)- Johnson is another guy on the young side who was impressive in a backup role behind a more established goalie this season. Like Stalock, he has limited NHL experience prior to this season but shined when the crease was his thus far. His numbers didn't end up too far behind likely Vezina winner Tukka Rask, so he probably caught some eyes in the process. The fact that every goalie seems to do well for the Bruins might raise some eyebrows, but the last backup to depart Boston, Anton Khudobin, put up a pretty strong season in Carolina this year, so it may not just be a system thing. Still, a guy with limited experience coming off a career year may not always be properly valued.
Ilya Bryzgalov (Career Stats | Salary History) - I know, I know "Bryzgalov? Really?" but before you summarily dismiss the guy, he doesn't seem like the worst choice as a backup. He's been basically an average NHL goaltender over his career, which is about what a team should be looking for in a backup. After the train wreck of a situation in Philly, he put up better numbers with the spotlight off of him in Edmonton and Minnesota (albeit still not great). If he can be had on the cheap, I think he's a guy you look at as a backup. If Schneider does go down for some reason, the Devils are likely in bad shape either way, but with the team's recent history of preferring a "veteran presence" they might be more comfortable with a guy who has been a starter in the NHL before. Plus, who wouldn't be excited for Jaromir Jagr having a post-game Bryzgalov roast any time he starts?
Al Montoya (Career Stats | Salary History) - Montoya is a career backup and has spent most of his time on NHL teams with crummy goaltending. Not exactly a glowing endorsement of his skills, but he has at least held his own at the NHL level with a career .910 sv%. His AHL numbers are also middling at best, so his upside seems somewhat limited. He's coming off of a pretty solid year for the Jets though, and will likely be one of the more inexpensive options out there if the Devils choose to go outside of the organization for a backup.
Devan Dubnyk (Career Stats | Salary History) - Dubnyk is a guy who definitely intrigues me among this group. He is coming off of a disastrous year for the Oilers/Predators/Canadiens where he was traded and then waived a couple times. He put up an .891 sv% for the season, which, I don't think I need to tell anyone, is terrible. But his three prior seasons were all pretty solid in front of a series of terrible Oilers teams. In three seasons as a 1 or a 1A, he put up a .916, a .914, and a .920. Perhaps he is just broken at this point -- goalies are fragile/crazy people, after all -- but taking a flyer on a guy whose value is rock bottom and actually has a decent track record doesn't seem like the worst move to me. Heck, the Devils might be able to get him on a two-way deal at this point.
Others - There are certianly a number of other backup options out there in free agency. Thomas Greiss had a decent year in Phoenix. Journeyman guys like Ray Emery and Curtis McElhinney will possibly be floating around. If the Devils are looking to stay as old as possible, Evgeni Nabokov will likely be out there too.
So there are some of the options the team has for the backup spot moving forward. It would be great if the team feels Kinkaid has the skills to finally jump to the NHL as the #2 guy behind Cory Schneider. The options out there for backups in free agency isn't exactly what I'd call a bumper crop, but there is probably some value to be found out there for the right price. If they can bring in a veteran (like, say, Dubnyk) on the cheap and have Kinkaid waiting in the wings as a Plan B for if they falter, I think that would be my preferred scenario.
So what do you think about the backup situation heading into next season? Do you think Kinkaid is ready? Would you prefer to see someone brought in from the outside? If so, then who? Do you still think there's a chance we see another season of Brodeur? Have at it with your take on the situation in the comments section below, and thanks for reading.