Cory Schneider

Devils’ Schneider: NHL players concerned as pause lingers

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Veteran New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider said Monday that a growing number of players are concerned the NHL will announce a “drop-dead” deadline for returning to play as the coronavirus pandemic lingers with summer coming up fast.

The 34-year-old Schneider said some Devils are apprehensive because the NHL has said it would take three weeks of training before allowing games. That would take any restart into June.

“I think that’s everyone’s concern right now,” said Schneider, the team’s union representative. “It’s a lot of guys asking is there a drop-dead date? What’s the date that it’s just too late, that you can get a semblance of a season or a playoff.”

A late restart has the potential to cause a delay in the start of the 2020-21 schedule. Schneider said it doesn’t make sense to restart the season if the hiatus goes into June and July. The Stanley Cup is typically awarded in early to mid-June.

The NHL paused the season on March 12. League spokesman John Dellapina said last week officials are not publicly discussing any deadlines.

“We are following the guidance of medical experts and government authorities regarding when we can open club facilities,” he said.

The NBA, which stopped its season just before the NHL, cleared the way to open team practice facilities for individual voluntary workouts beginning May 8. The NFL is allowing teams to open their club headquarters to a limited number of personnel starting Tuesday. Both leagues have required state approval for such moves.

The Devils have a 28-29-12 record and 68 points, last in the Metropolitan Division. Schneider said he wants to play but is concerned about returning for six or seven meaningless games. Players would have to isolate themselves but still increase their risk to possible infection – and injuries.

“Is it worth it for us to spend five, six weeks to do something that ultimately won’t matter?” Schneider asked. “Personally, I would like to at least get out and get that feeling again. Nine or 10 months is a long time to not have played a game and not really ramp it up in that sense. My hope is that we get a chance to come back and play.”

New Jersey Devils: Biggest surprises and disappointments so far

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the New Jersey Devils .

P.K. Subban‘s tough season

The addition of Subban (via trade with the Nashville Predators) was one of the highlights of the Devils’ offseason. He is a big name, a superstar player, and even if he was starting to hit the downside of his career he was still an impact player as recently as last season.

Add in the fact he fit a huge need (a top-pairing defender) and that Devils gave up almost nothing of significance to get him, it seemed like a no-brainer move.

It just did not work out.

At least not for this season.

In his first year with the Devils Subban struggled through what is certainly the worst single-season performance of his career. Everything across the board for him is not only down, but is also pretty much at a career-low for him. A lot of things backfired for the Devils this season and did not go as planned, and Subban’s year is at the top of that list.

He is still signed for two more seasons at a salary cap hit of $9 million per season.

Nikita Gusev was exactly what they hoped he would be

This was the one big offseason move that worked as they hoped it would.

The Devils acquired Gusev as a restricted free agent from the Vegas Golden Knights and hoped he could provide some much-needed skill and production to their forward group. And he has.

At the time of the NHL’s pause Gusev is the Devils’ second-leading scorer (just one point back of Kyle Palmieri) and has already proven to be an outstanding playmaker.

Of the 334 forwards that have logged at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time this season, Gusev is 20th in the league in assists per 60 minutes (1.66) and sixth in the league in primary assists per 60 minutes (1.32). He has not only been the Devils’ best playmaker this season, he has been one of the best playmakers in the entire league. He only cost a couple of mid-round draft picks to acquire and has a very manageable $4.5 million salary cap hit through next season.

The end of the very brief Taylor Hall era

There were a lot of reasons for optimism this season for the Devils, from the drafting of Jack Hughes with the top pick, to the offseason additions of Subban, Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds. But one of the biggest reasons was the hopeful return of a healthy Taylor Hall.

Two years ago he was the league MVP and helped single-handedly carry the Devils to a playoff spot.

A year ago his season was decimated by injury, limiting him to just 33 games and the Devils just didn’t have the depth to overcome that.

Getting him back, plus all of the offseason additions, seemed as if it could have helped fix that.

It didn’t.

The Devils didn’t do enough to solve their goaltending issues, Subban had a down year, Hughes struggled through some rookie growing pains, and the team itself just wasn’t anywhere near as good as it was expected to be. Their dismal start — driven by an inability to hold onto multi-goal leads early in the year — put them in a position where they had to make a decision on Hall. From the very beginning of the season there was uncertainty about his future with the team given his contract status as an unrestricted free agent after this season. The decision was eventually made to trade him to Arizona in December, igniting an in-season fire sale that also saw Andy Greene, Blake Coleman, and Simmonds all be sent elsewhere.

Hall ended up spending three-and-a-half years in New Jersey, and while he lived up to expectations the Devils were never able to consistently build something around him.

Cory Schneider‘s strong finish

It is not much, but it is worth at least mentioning the way Schneider returned to the Devils’ lineup in February and put together what was probably his best four-game stretch in years.

At his peak Schneider was one of the NHL’s best goalies and one of the most overlooked top-tier players. But things had started to fall apart for him the past couple of years.

The way he finished the season after returning to the lineup was a brief reminder of what he once was and a small bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Devils.

More:
Looking at the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils
What is the Devils’ long-term outlook?

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Friday full of NHL upsets

Bernier leads Red Wings to one of NHL upsets Friday The Buzzer
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NHL upsets on Friday

It’s not every day (Fri-or-otherwise) where the Red Wings and Devils both win. Not in 2020, at least. Upsets were close to a theme on Friday, though, highlighted by the Devils ending the Blues’ eight-game winning streak.

Also, the Red Wings squeaked by the Blackhawks. Maple Leafs fans were left steaming mad (especially at Mitch Marner) after the Ducks frustrated them. While they count as milder upsets, the Canucks beat the Avalanche, and the Jets shut out the Golden Knights. Finally, the Flames beat the Coyotes, which was at least upsetting in the sense that the loss really, really hurts Arizona’s dwindling chances.

One knock against the upset angle: all six home teams won.

Three Stars

1. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames

Tkachuk generated an assist on all three goals in Calgary’s narrow, regulation win against the Coyotes.

Really, it’s not surprising that the pesky star thrived in a playoff-type game. Two of Tkachuk’s three assists were of the primary variety, including the game-winner by T.J. Brodie. Tkachuk improved his 2019-20 totals to 38 assists and 60 points in 68 games. It doesn’t look likely that Tkachuk will match his career-high of 77 points from last season, but he might be able to set a new mark for helpers, as he generated 43 in 2018-19.

Taylor Hall was involved in all of Arizona’s scoring, generating a goal and an assist. Being traded from New Jersey made for more relevant hockey, but Hall will need draft lottery-level luck to appear in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

2. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

The pattern generally continues: when the Jets succeed, Hellebuyck is usually leading (blocking?) the way. Hellebuyck stopped all 29 of Vegas’ shots for his league-leading sixth shutout of the season. Reaching six shutouts also ties a career-high for the 26-year-old.

It’s unclear if Hellebuyck will win the Vezina for 2019-20, but if another goalie’s been more important to his team, it’s not by much.

There were other strong goalie performances on Friday, which shouldn’t be surprising since upsets and strong netminding often go together. Cory Schneider made 31 saves, Jonathan Bernier generated 32, Cam Talbot had 32, and John Gibson produced 26 — just to mention the standout winners.

Only Hellebuyck finished with a shutout, however.

3. Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings

Bernier deserves a nod as the best goalie behind Hellebuyck from a Friday of NHL upsets … probably. (Again, there was some sharp goaltending.)

Despite playing well in his past two appearances, Bernier took the “L” each time. In fact, he’s been in the loss column quite a bit lately, with Friday’s win being merely his second since Feb. 11. Only Patrick Kane could score against Bernier on Friday.

The Blackhawks’ already slim playoff hopes took a big hit thanks to Bernier’s brilliance.

Highlight of the Night

Speaking of Bernier, he flummoxed Alex DeBrincat during this exchange:

The Push for the Playoffs after Friday heavy in NHL upsets

East:

East standings after Friday
via NHL.com

West:

West NHL standings after Friday
via NHL.com

Scores

NJD 4 – STL 2
DET 2 – CHI 1
WIN 4 – VGK 0
CGY 3 – ARI 2
VAN 6 – COL 3
ANA 2 – TOR 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blues’ eight-game winning streak ends vs. Devils

Blues see eight-game winning streak end vs. Devils
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The Blues saw their eight-game winning streak end in an unlikely place: New Jersey. St. Louis saw its run close out after the Devils beat them 4-2 on Friday.

Takeaways after Blues see their eight-game winning streak end vs. Devils

  • Sometimes the unlikely happens. Sometimes that includes unlikely successes from players with unlikely names. Dakota Mermis, an undrafted 26-year-old defenseman, scored his first NHL goal in New Jersey’s upset win. In doing so, he proved that he doesn’t just exist in the rough draft in a Hollywood script. (I’m thinking “rushed sequel to Point Break.”)
  • Jesper Bratt made a pretty sound argument that he likely deserves more ice time.
  • I mean, unless … you know, the Devils actually want to lose more often.

On that note, they might want to ponder some contrived ways to keep Cory Schneider on the bench and in a baseball cap more often.

Schneider began the 2019-20 season on the trajectory that’s become all-too-uncomfortably-familiar lately: as someone who might not be an NHL goalie, let alone a $6M one. He was 0-6-1 with a hideous .852 save percentage through Jan. 18.

Lately, Schneider’s looked like a new goalie, though. He’s now 3-0-1 over his last four starts, stopping 31 out of 33 shots against the Blues. At this rate, the Devils might heat up enough to see their draft lottery odds sink below those of the slipping Sabres.

(Also, Schneider nabbed an assist on that Mermis goal. Strange game, indeed.)

Blessing or curse for New Jersey to heat up?

Seeing the end of an eight-game winning streak leaves the Blues with precious little room to breathe against the Avalanche for the top spot in the Central. St. Louis only holds a two-point edge (90 to 88), while Colorao has one game in hand after also losing on Friday (67 games played vs. 68 for the Blues).

  • Circling back to that earlier draft lottery point, the Devils are also 6-2-2 over their last 10 games.

Inevitable(?) Taylor Hall joke: does Hall’s draft lottery luck count when he’s no longer playing for a team, but the pick involved was related to a Hall trade? Asking for a rather Coyote-like friend.

  • Either way, the Devils’ relative competence will inspire another round of existential debates about tanking.

Should the Devils be happy to grab some wins while closing out a disappointing season? Is this round of too little too late also going to be self-destructive?

Maybe Schneider isn’t the goalie you want to drive that tank. Consider that, in 2018-19, he was terrible before the All-Star break (strangely, the same .852 save percentage in the same number of games [9] as this latest pre-All-Star run) and then caught fire after (.921 save percentage during his last 17 games of 2018-19).

It’s too small of a sample size to say anything for sure, but maybe the Devils and/or Schneider linger as upset threats? They certainly did so on Friday, as the Blues saw their eight-game winning streak come to an end.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Hockey community rallies for Nashville tornado relief

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• People are stepping up to help those affected by the Nashville tornadoes. That includes the Predators’ Alumni Association donating $20K, but not just that team. Both the Wild and current Wild owner/former Predators owner Craig Leipold are donating $25K apiece in tornado relief efforts. The NHL announced that it is matching that $50K for tornado relief as well. Fantastic stuff stemming from that terrifying natural disaster. (The Tennessean)

• How did the Lightning turn their season around? Can this season’s team compare to the 2018-19 version that stomped through the regular season, and what about the playoffs? (ESPN)

• Some of the Lightning’s turnaround boils down to Andrei Vasilevskiy getting on track. This post looks at a similar trajectory for Mike Smith, who is heating up while Mikko Koskinen stays steady. Between the two, the Oilers have enjoyed reliable goaltending lately. (Oilers Nation)

Bryan Rust‘s breakout season boils down to combining his talent with the Penguins giving him a better opportunity to succeed. (Pensburgh)

• The Maple Leafs look better by a lot of metrics since Sheldon Keefe took over, but goaltending hasn’t been panning out. How much might it help to lighten Frederik Andersen‘s burden? (Rotoworld)

• Speaking of underlying numbers, these smile upon the chances for both the Wild and Hurricanes making late-season playoff pushes. (NHL.com)

[HURRICANES FACE FLYERS ON NBCSN ON THURSDAY; WATCH IT LIVE]

• Now, while goaltending has been letting the Leafs down lately, GM Kyle Dubas views defense as a “long-term need.” (TSN)

• Are the Flames on the verge of a goalie controversy? (Sportsnet)

• In standing firmly behind Claude Julien going forward, Habs GM Marc Bergevin is also gambling on himself. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• No, Valeri Nichushkin hasn’t generated the kind of offense that was expected of him as the 10th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. Nichushkin has, however, become a useful play-driving forward as he settles into a still-fairly-new niche as an Avalanche supporting cast member. (The Hockey News)

I mean, look at these almost-off-the-charts Evolving Hockey RAPM charts for Nichushkin:

Kevin Fiala continues to be a catalyst for the Wild’s surge. (Pioneer-Press)

• Breaking down the Flyers’ elite penalty kill. (Broad Street Hockey)

• What’s been different about Cory Schneider during his latest return back with the Devils? (NJ.com)

• Hm, it’s been a while since the Senators experienced some drama … (The Score)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.