The New Jersey Devils shook up their goaltending situation yesterday morning, calling up the recently acquired Louis Domingue from the AHL. But that wasn’t the only moved they made, as they placed veteran netminder Cory Schneider on waivers to send him to the AHL.
Schneider, 33 years old, has struggled mightily this season, as he has a .852 save percentage (SV%) in five starts. With a busy schedule to end the month, head coach John Hynes sees a stint in the AHL as a way for Schneider to get back on track.
“The way the schedule comes now, we didn’t see him getting into a lot of games in the next couple of weeks. When a player, particularly a goalie, if you’re not going to have an opportunity to play, it’s hard to get the game reps and confidence that you need,” Hynes told Mark Ciampa of NHL.com.
Domingue, who spent the last couple of seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, now gets a chance to earn the job as Mackenzie Blackwood’s backup. Here’s how all this affects the Devils’ goaltending situation for the foreseeable future.
Schneider’s Eerily Similar Start to 2018-19
If Schneider’s struggles seem rather familiar, it wasn’t long ago where he went through a similar tough stretch. In his first nine starts last season, he had a .862 SV% and went without a win. But unlike this season, Schneider was coming off hip surgery in May 2018 to correct an issue that had been nagging him since 2016-17.
It took a while for Schneider to get going after surgery, but he looked quite comfortable to end 2018-19. He had a .921 SV% over his final 16 starts on a team that was decimated by injuries. He followed that up with a strong showing for Team USA at the World Championships, where he finished with a .920 SV% in six games played. His run of solid performances continued into this past preseason, as he had a .952 SV% in four games played.
Unfortunately, it’s been a rocky road for Schneider since the regular season started. His goals saved above average (GSAA) of minus-9.73 is third-worst in the league, with Sergei Bobrovsky and Jonathan Quick being the only two with a worse GSAA, while Schneider’s SV% is the worst in the league among goalies with more than 250 minutes played.
The Devils did not get off to a great start, but there isn’t a way around Schneider’s stats. It also didn’t take much to notice he was struggling if you watched him play. He was having trouble making routine saves, and the quickness he once had was missing.
Schneider’s dealt with several injuries over the last few years, too. He played in just 40 games during the Devils’ run to the playoffs in 2017-18, due to hip and groin injuries. In addition to his surgery, Schneider missed close to a month and a half last season because of an abdominal strain, limiting him to just 23 starts. That’s a lot of missed time due to injuries, and at 33 years old, it seems to have taken a toll on him.
Devils Opt for Blackwood and Domingue Tandem
The Devils wouldn’t have been able to make yesterday’s moves without Blackwood’s emergence. He finished last season with a .918 SV% in 21 starts, and it sure looked like he had the potential to be the team’s goaltender of the future. That prospect looked a bit shaky over his first few games of 2019-20, but he’s been on a roll over the last month.
Blackwood is 7-3-1 in his last 11 starts, with a .921 SV% over that span. His GSAA in those 11 starts is 4.08, ranked 12th best in the NHL for goalies with at least 250 minutes played. He’s given up 26 goals, which is just a notch above his expected goals against (xGA) of 24.27. He’s played like a no. 1 goaltender, and it’s no coincidence he’s responsible for all seven of the team’s wins.
Yesterday’s moves make it clear the Devils are ready to move forward with Blackwood as their starting netminder. But like any first-string goalie, he’ll need a backup who can give him a night off, and that’s where Domingue will play a role. He began his career with the Arizona Coyotes and had a .906 SV% in 84 games with them. He was traded to the Lightning on Nov. 14, 2017, just a couple of weeks after he was placed on waivers by the Coyotes.
Domingue thrived as a backup with the Lightning. He played in 38 games with them and had a .910 SV%, which is just around the league average. He had been playing in the AHL this season after the Lightning placed him on waivers during the preseason. And even after the Devils acquired him, he got some action with the Binghamton Devils (AHL), where he had a .918 SV% in four starts.
Given Domingue’s numbers dating back to last season, it makes sense to call him up now. It’s tough to win consistently without two goaltenders in today’s NHL, and Blackwood will need a break with the team’s upcoming schedule. If Domingue can perform as he did with the Lightning, then the Devils should have a steady tandem going forward.
Devils Wasted Schneider’s Best Years
When the Devils acquired Schneider in 2013, he was at the height of his game. He had a .927 SV% as Roberto Luongo’s backup in 98 games with the Vancouver Canucks and was primed to be a starter in the NHL. With an aging Martin Brodeur on the roster, general manager Lou Lamoriello needed to find a successor for Brodeur, and Schneider proved to be the right choice.
Unfortunately, he never had a competitive roster around him. The lone exception was the 2013-14 season when the Devils decided to split starts between Brodeur and Schneider. That may have ultimately cost the Devils a playoff spot, as Brodeur finished with a .901 SV% in 39 starts to Schneider’s .921 SV% in 43 starts.
The Devils’ roster only got worse in the seasons after, even as Schneider continued to dominate — he had a combined .925 SV% from 2014-2016. It was the 2016-17 season where Schneider began to show signs of decline — he had a .908 SV% and hasn’t topped that number since. By that time, Lamoriello had left for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Ray Shero was already more than a year into rebuilding the team’s roster as Devils’ GM.
Maybe Schneider’s days with the organization are numbered. Maybe they aren’t. But even if it’s the latter, the days of him being the goaltender he was from 2011-16 are a thing of the past. It’s a shame he never had more talent around him during those years because the Devils never got the most out of a goalie who was among the league’s elite. That doesn’t take anything away from Schneider’s greatness because he’s not the one who built the roster. But it will always leave one wondering what the Devils could have been during Schneider’s prime.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick