Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.
Statistically speaking, last season was Cory Schneider‘s worst as a professional hockey goaltender, usurping the previous year of his then-worst numbers as a netminder in the NHL.
That’s an unfortunate trend for a goalie with four years left on a seven-year, $42 million contract and someone who the Devils have placed a lot of faith in to be a rock behind a team that’s gone the youth direction in front of him..930
Schneider caught the injury bug in a bad way last season. After starting off the year posting good numbers, he plummeted after Christmas, forced to miss weeks with a lower-body injury.
In that time, Keith Kinkaid emerged as a capable replacement to Schneider. Kinkaid played so well, in fact, that he took the starter’s job from the $6 million man until relinquishing it in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Kinkaid’s play was pivotal down the stretch and helped the Devils win a fierce battle for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Schneider didn’t win a regular season game in 2018, losing all 10 games he started with a 0-9-1 record. It was only after he took over from Kinkaid following the latter’s struggles in the playoffs that Schneider bounced back, posting a .950 save percentage in the games he played against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
To be fair to both goalies, the Devils offered no run support in the postseason, but Schneider showed well and perhaps looked as if he finally out his regular season in the rearview.
[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off a breakthrough | Three questions]
Offseason surgery could play a factor as well.
Schneider revealed that he had been playing with a bothersome hip injury for more than a year, one that got fixed after he went under the knife in May.
“It was something that had kind of cropped maybe a year and a half ago, a season and a half ago,” Schneider said on the Devils All-Access Podcast. “It’s just something that nags and it there, but you don’t ever feel like it’s bad enough that you need to sit out for six months, because there’s no real good time to do it, unfortunately.”
Schneider is questionable for training camp as well as the opening of the regular season with a five-month recovery timeframe.
A fully healthy Schneider is an elite goaltender in the NHL and worth every penny of his large contract. If Schneider can bounce back from a couple of bad years with injuries, the Devils could be in very good shape given what they were able to do last season despite not having him.
They need him to. The team is moving in the right direction, providing Schneider doesn’t continue to move backward.
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck