Cory Schneider is the undeniable workhorse of the New Jersey Devils. In fact, he was the most worked goaltender in the NHL at the time of his injury. Even as of this past Wednesday, he was still tied for the lead for most goalie starts in the league. Of course that link is out of date now, showing the numbers as of this morning, but you can still see just how many starts he has received as compared to the other top goalies, and it is a lot.
While this was imperative for a Devils team that was in the playoff hunt for the majority of the season, now John Hynes can lay off of him a little. Especially with his injury now, there is still a week before he will be reevaluated. At that point, unless he is 100%, he will not be brought back. There is no reason to continue to throw him out there night after night if there is a chance of risking more damage. Even if he is 100%, there are still way more reasons to rest him more. For fans wishing the team to get a better pick, the most obvious reason to sit him would be so that the Devils lose more. While Hynes cannot coach with that in mind, it is a thought nonetheless.
Another reason to rest him more and let him fully heal would be to see what Keith Kinkaid truly has to offer. Keith has generally been a quality backup behind Schneider over the last two seasons. Last season, his first as a full time backup in the NHL, he played in 19 games, starting 13 of them, and had a 6-5-4 record for a bad Devils team. His save percentage was pretty good at .915, and his 2.59 goals against average was not awful. This season his numbers have dipped a little. He has 13 starts so far, with a 6-6-1 record, a .909 save percentage, and a 2.55 GAA. He has been wildly inconsistent, with excellent performances like his 2 shutouts against Los Angeles and San Jose, and some awful starts, like getting rocked 1-6 by Pittsburgh last week.
Despite all of that, however, it is hard to judge how well someone will perform as a workhorse goalie in the NHL when they never actually get regular starts. Kinkaid does not see the ice on a regular basis. He may get a couple starts per month, at most, and even then they come at random times, perhaps during a back to back set or during a stretch of 3 games in 4 nights. I would assume that it has to be difficult to be consistent when you are not seeing the ice on a constant basis.
Given that in mind, the time is now to show that he can be a legitimate starter in the NHL. Say Cory ends up being kept out for the rest of the season, that would be another solid month for him to prove that he can be consistent and reliable when given starts on a regular basis. Even if Cory is only out another two weeks, that is still a solid handful of games by which Kinkaid can make a statement.
This all becomes especially true given his contract. Kinkaid is on a two year, backup, ‘show-me' deal basically. He is making $700 thousand this year, and gets a $50k raise for next year. If he can show during the course of this contract that he is worthy of more money, worthy of a contract that a starter would get, now would be the time. Who knows what next year will bring? If Mackenzie Blackwood continues to improve, he will be taking Kinkaid's place in a couple years. Keith needs to prove his worth and find a gig with more playing time by the time this current contract is up. What better time to do that then now, with a couple weeks as the legitimate number 1 given Cory's injury?
Kinkaid really needs to show that he can be consistently solid, especially because what he has shown so far this year is anything but. When he was given two consecutive starts back in October because Schneider was on paternity leave, he put up inconsistent performances. He played well against Nashville, saving 17 of 18 in a loss, but he did not perform well at all in the other game, giving up 4 goals on 26 shots to Washington. Recently, he has also been up and down. He gave up 4 goals to Nashville in the 5-4 overtime win, then two games later got trounced by Pittsburgh for 6 goals against on 30 shots. A bad impression during this stretch. However, he then goes into San Jose on Thursday night, and without many Devils fans watching, pitches a perfect 3-0 shutout with 30 saves. If he wants to prove he can be a #1 somewhere, he needs to start producing quality outings on a consistent basis. The shutouts are amazing and show his potential, but when they are seen alongside horrible performances like we saw against Pittsburgh, that is not good enough. He does not need to start producing Schneider numbers, but if he can get back to the .915 save percentage from last year, and keep his GAA under 2.5, it would get other teams to start looking at him. And again, those numbers should come with consistently quality outings, not one night as Jekyll and another as Hyde.
In the end, this all will most likely not help the Devils in the long run. Cory will be back next season healthy and ready to go, and will once again be relied on heavily. Kinkaid will be back to his minimal starts. And if New Jersey is anywhere near competing for a playoff position next season, Kinkaid will not be traded for picks, assuming he has any value to other teams. If the Devils are making a run, he will be a necessary component to pick up points when Schneider needs a rest. So after next year, there is a strong chance that he could move on to another team to look for a starting gig. But while he is here, it behooves the New Jersey front office to see what they really have in Kinkaid. Does he possess the skills and confidence to be a #1 goaltender in the NHL? Or will he become a career backup type? The more the front office knows, the better it can address what to do with him next season and potentially beyond. Maybe they want to bring him back another year or so after next, and give him some more money. Maybe not. But now is the time to see, when the starts are coming on a regular basis.
What are your thoughts on the matter? What are you looking for from Keith Kinkaid during this stretch while Schneider is out? Do you think he has the skills and abilities to become a legitimate number 1 goaltender, or do you think he may be better suited as a career backup? Do you think he gives the Devils a quality chance to win on any given night? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.