Before the start of last season, Keith Kinkaid signed a 2 year, $1.45 million contract to be the designated backup goaltender for the New Jersey Devils behind all-star Cory Schneider. It was a move that was generally praised, if not overly lauded. Keith was in his mid-20s, still had room for growth, and was coming off a season where he had a .915 save percentage in 13 starts plus other relief appearances. The two year deal was great because it meant that he would be able to showcase his skills over these two years and try to sell that he could be a starter somewhere. And if he could not show that, well he could always most likely get another deal to stay a backup.
Last season, while he did spell Schneider more often, it did not lead to better numbers. He was not a detriment, he did not have sub-.900 save percentage numbers, but he was not quite as good as he was the previous year. Over 20 starts and a couple relief appearances, he posted a .904 save percentage and a 2.81 goals against average, both numbers worse than the year prior. He even strength save percentage was a little better at .908, but still it was nothing to get excited about, although his special teams save percentages were actually better than Schneider’s, albeit in a much more limited sample. In comparison, Schneider had an even strength save percentage of .933 last season in 58 starts, with a .924 save percentage overall.
This season, with the high number of back-to-back sets that the Devils will see (as always), it can be reasonably expected that Kinkaid will see another 20 starts or so. If Schneider stays healthy the entire season that number may drop a little, but I would not expect to see Cory play more than around 65 games or so. So even then, the Devils will be relying on Kinkaid for at minimum 15+ starts.
While that may not seem like an incredibly high number of games, it is not an insignificant amount either. 17 starts is just over 20% of the entire season, so we can say that within a couple starts, Kinkaid may end up manning the net for 1 out of every 5 regular season games. They cannot simply be thrown away because Cory is not playing. Kinkaid will need to play well, and I believe that he will need to be better than he was last season, returning to his 2014-15 form at the worst, if the Devils really want to improve and push for a wild card position.
Given his .904 save percentage last year, the Devils’ record with him in net was a very mediocre 9-9-1. Of course, the team was a very mediocre 27-25-6 with Schneider in net too, so that may not say too much. But this season, there should be some expectations for this team to improve over its performance from last season. The rebuild may still be on, but things should be improving at least somewhat. And part of that improvement should be more wins, and wins under Kinkaid will matter.
Let’s face it: as Mike wrote, the best we can hope for is a mediocre offense from this team this season, and that in itself may be a lofty goal given the 30th rank the team held last season. Given that knowledge, it means that most wins will need to be of the 2-1 variety, maybe 3-2 or somewhere around there. Simply put, the goaltending will need to be great. With Cory, we know that we will see greatness most nights. With Kinkaid, we may not see greatness, but we need to see more than mediocre, which is what .904 is. .915 is good, and that improvement in him this season could very well lead to a couple more wins. Turning a 9-9-1 record last year to a 11-6-2 record this year would be a 5 point improvement in the standings, and I do not believe that to be an unreasonable expectation for Kinkaid. Again, he is only 27, and still has room for growth. We have seen flashes of brilliance from him. He did post two shutouts last season, and I still remember watching him stuff Steven Stamkos in his first game in the pros. The ability is there.
In the end, that 5 point improvement in the standings may not seem like too much, but if that improvement is coming solely from the games that Schneider is not playing, then good things are happening. Last year NJ had 84 points. Add 5 from backup goaltending, and you’re at 89. If Schneider can improve his record to add 7 points, now you’re at 96, which is wild card potential. And in all honesty, if Schneider can produce another .933 even strength save percentage this year, he should end up with a better record than 27-25-6. That was really the product of a bad offense in front of him, and if it improves at all, that record will certainly improve.
To me, while I feel like offensive improvement will be tough, even with the addition of Taylor Hall and hopefully production from Pavel Zacha and perhaps a fully healthy Michael Cammalleri, improvement from Kinkaid should not be the difficult part. For the Devils to improve and really go from a rebuild to a competitive team, they need improvement in almost every facet. Offense needs to see the most improvement, but backup goaltending should not be entirely overlooked either. Starting goaltending is as solid as they come, but as I said, I highly doubt that Cory will reach 70 starts. 65 would be the most I would guess, and it could even be less. The 20% of games where Cory is not playing, the Devils should not settle for mediocre goaltending. Just because Kinkaid is a backup does not mean that he should be alright with mediocrity, the team should not be alright with it, and we as fans should not be alright with it. A better season from him would mean a better season from the team overall, and perhaps would further the boost towards playoff potential.
What do you think about the Devils’ backup goaltending situation this season? Do you think that Kinkaid can improve this year? What are your expectations for him? How much better does he need to improve so that the Devils can become more competitive? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.