By Steve Lichtenstein
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I don’t know anyone who will dispute that goaltender Cory Schneider has been the Devils’ best player in these past two seasons.READ MORE: House Passes Equality Act, Bolstering Legal Protections For LGBTQ Americans
His well-below-average numbers in the gimmicky shootouts aside, Schneider has been very, very good on a team that gives him very, very little margin for error. How he has amassed 26 wins for the lowest-scoring team in the NHL this season has been a marvel.
Schneider was deserving of both 2016 All Star recognition and selection to Team USA in September’s World Cup of Hockey.
Since taking over the full-time job when legendary Martin Brodeur bid adieu to New Jersey prior to last season, Schneider has posted save percentages of .925 (fifth in the NHL) and .923 (ninth).
Unfortunately, Schneider’s terrific sliding save on Dallas center Jason Spezza’s attempt at the left goalpost on Friday may have been his last one of this Devils’ season.
Schneider injured his right knee on the play. Coach John Hynes reported on Sunday that he suffered a grade-1 MCL sprain.
The Devils, like all NHL teams, are often so cryptic when it comes to any boo-boos to their players that they can keep the full extent of them secret from the best hackers in China. So the fact that Hynes was specific with his description this time probably means that Schneider will be out longer than the two weeks when he is to be “reevaluated.”
In that case, Schneider’s misfortune is also an opportunity. Not just for 26-year-old backup Keith Kinkaid, but also for the Devils.
Yes, I’m talking about whether the Devils should look to trade Schneider over the summer.
I know it’s blasphemy in New Jersey, where building around the franchise goalie has been the only way the Devils have successfully conducted hockey business.
However, the Devils as currently constructed are far inferior to the teams they are facing, Schneider’s otherworldly play notwithstanding. They are not, as some suggest, “one or two” players away from postseason worthiness.
Better to sell high on Schneider this summer to maximize his value and accumulate assets. His $6 million salary cap charge for the next six seasons is not outlandish — nine other NHL goalies make as much or more.
The Devils should look hard at this coming postseason’s flameouts to find a match for Schneider. Remember, former Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello surrendered the ninth overall pick at the 2013 draft for Schneider, who at the time was at best a “1B” goalie with Roberto Luongo in Vancouver and a pending free agent after the 2013-14 season.
Surely Schneider is worth a lot more now.
And the Devils have so many other areas to address.READ MORE: Queens Woman Undergoes Liver Transplant After Doctors Link Mystery Infection To Nose Piercing
New Jersey’s 29-21-7 mark over the first two-thirds of the season was a mirage. So many guys were playing far over their heads under rookie coach Hynes and Schneider bailed out most mistakes.
A relentless work ethic will only get you so far, however, and since that high-water mark the Devils have seen their compete level surpassed by more talented opponents gearing up for the playoff chase.
New Jersey’s 6-1 defeat at home to the Penguins on Sunday was its eighth in its last 10 games.
Which was not the way Kinkaid, who will likely get the lion’s share of the load for the Devils’ final 15 games, would have liked to have begun his promotion to the starting role.
Kinkaid stood up after the game to take the blame for the Devils’ demise, but in my mind he was not the primary culprit. Kinkaid was let down by the incompetence of his defensemen, particularly Jon Merrill.
The 24-year-old has struggled mightily in the last six games he has dressed, posting an aggregate minus-10. Against Pittsburgh, he was on the ice for four goals against, including the backbreaker when he tripped over his own blue line with the puck with less than five minutes remaining in the second period. That allowed Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin to walk in alone on Kinkaid. Malkin’s second goal of the night gave the Penguins a 4-1 lead.
Thursday’s game in Nashville notwithstanding, that is normally an insurmountable deficit for this punchless team.
Hynes attempted to shake up the forward lines at the game’s onset, but he really doesn’t have the horses. His promotion of 33-year-old Tuomo Ruutu, who has now played 23 games this season and has recorded as many points as I have, to the first line with Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri reeked of desperation.
That experiment lasted only a period, but the Devils still mustered little offense the rest of the way, with only a Palmieri goal to show for their measly 18 total shots against goalie Matt Murray, who was making just his sixth career NHL start.
Kinkaid doesn’t have Murray’s luxury of backstopping a team with two superstars such as Malkin and Sidney Crosby, but he just might take advantage of this opportunity to a make a name for himself — as opposed to the Eddie Murphy character in the movie within the “Bowfinger” movie.
As a sophomore, the former Union College star took his club to the 2011 NCAA tournament before losing 2-0 to eventual champion Minnesota-Duluth. Kinkaid then signed an entry-level deal with the Devils. After toiling in relative anonymity in Albany, he gained 19 games of NHL experience as Schneider’s backup last season.
Kinkaid’s 2015-16 stats took a hit on Sunday, but going into the game he was 5-5-1 with a 2.48 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.
Not great, but not awful.
Now we’ll finally get a chance to see what he can do with a regular workload. The showcase will continue during the Devils’ tough three-game swing out west, beginning on Thursday in San Jose.MORE NEWS: COVID Impact: Advocates Say Pandemic Causing Rising Mental Health Issues, Suicide Rates And Exploding Opioid Crisis
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