The goaltender position holds a sacred spot in the eyes of Devils fans. For 21 years, Hall of Famer, Martin Brodeur, graced the crease — assembling the most remarkable career of any goalie in the process. This may lead some to forget that there was a significant portion at the end where he struggled mightily. According to hockey-reference, Brodeur posted a save percentage that was either above or within 0.002 (0.2%) of the league average every one of his first 17 years. After that, he’d never do it again.
The first of those significantly below average years was 2010-2011. That year, the Jennings Trophy for the goaltenders of the team to allow the least goals — an award for which Brodeur was the reigning winner — was shared by the goaltenders of the Vancouver Canucks. The primary goaltender was, 31-year-old, all-time great, Roberto Luongo — the only goalie to have more career point shares than Brodeur. The second goalie was a 24-year-old, 1st rounder, out of Boston College, Cory Schneider. He would go on to post two more excellent seasons with Vancouver. According to Evolving-Hockey, during those 3 years, he had the highest dSv% (save percentage over expected) in the NHL (<-file). Put simply: He was the most efficient goalie for his last 3 years in Vancouver.
Then-Devils-GM, Lou Lamoriello, took note of this and, in the 2013 NHL draft, traded the Devils 9th-overall pick (used to select Bo Horvat) in exchange for the elite 27-year-old netminder. And early on, that trade looked like an absolute steal. The first three years of Schneider were exactly what the the Devils could have hoped. In fact, over the 6-year interval spanning his last 3 years of Vancouver and first 3 of New Jersey, Cory had the highest Sv% of any goalie in the NHL (50+ games started). This culminated in him finally receiving Vezina consideration (thought not enough) in the final of those seasons. During a period of time where the Devils never cleared 88 points in a season, Cory was the lone bright spot buoying us to respectability.
Screen fades to black. A lone narrator’s voice sounds:
“And then ... the 2016-17 season”
Schneider goal-allowing montage with cacophonous commentators ensues
In the Devils worst season in nearly 3 decades, Schneider had the worst year of his career. He had hit the dreaded three-oh in the age column and his stats reflected it. On a franchise that was clearly years away from competing, it was clear Schneider’s prime was coming to an end too soon for it to overlap with the Devils potential years of contention. I wrote about this in what was, at the time, a very controversial piece based on the comments section and other blogs (HockeyBuzz, Fansided). Since that piece, Cory ranks 46th out of 47 qualified goalies in goals allowed adjusted. His first three years with the Devils, he was among the best goalies in the league. The past three seasons, he has been among the worst goalies in the league.
Many will make the argument that he hasn’t really been healthy for the vast majority of that and if he were healthy he’d be much better. I’m sure that’s true. But he’s a 32-year-old goaltender in his third consecutive awful season and he has a consistent recent injury history — according to NHL Injury Viz, he’s missed 37 games in the last 3 seasons due to 4 separate lower body injuries. So at this point I think the exercise of debating what Schneider would be if he were healthy is pointless. Whether it’s due to nagging injuries or the slow inevitable decay of age — father time has claimed Cory Schneider’s game.
Another argument that I’ve seen is that if you watch his games, most of these goals weren’t his fault. I’m not sure that I grant that premise since I can recall several counterexamples, but let’s grant it for a moment. That doesn’t mean he should be letting them all in. Natural Stat Trick breaks down shots by danger and I’ve compiled Schneider’s performance the last 2 years vs the league’s.
First of all, the NHL average is 7.99 HDSA per hour and Cory’s was 7.75 so the notion that he is getting uniquely hung out to dry doesn’t hold much water. But the narrative that many of the extra goals he’s allowing are dangerous ones is! He’s allowed 0.17 more high-danger goals per hour than NHL average, 0.10 more mid-danger, and 0.06 more low-danger. The biggest difference is in the high-danger section, but that doesn’t absolve him.
In any given game, there are likely to be several shots on goal that, if the goalie were to allow it in, you could say “that one wasn’t his fault.” And you may be right. But this is the NHL, and these goalies save all of the shots they’re supposed to, and some that they aren’t supposed to. Cory ranks 52nd out of 58 goalies with 1000+ minutes the last two years in HDSv%, 38th in MDSv%, and 46th in LDSv%. Cory isn’t bailing us out when we need him to, and on more occasions than average, has given up a lame goal.
So what do we do about this? I’m grateful to Cory for the years that he was the sole reason the Devils remained watchable. I admire that, whereas Brodeur was a freakish athlete, Schneider was a rigorous fundamentalist. But this is a team that’s approaching the years it expects to contend. This is a business, and we can’t afford to sacrifice games while we let out 32-year-old goalie try to figure things out. After a really diappointing season where he got sent down to the ECHL to find his game, former 2nd overall goalie selection, Mackenzie Blackwood, is posting a 0.923 Sv% in Binghamton. It’s time to designate Cory Schneider for assignment, and bring up the kid to see if he can give us the games Cory can’t. Schneider is an aging, ineffective goalie, with four $6M years left on his contract, so I don’t expect him to get picked up on waivers, but if he is for some reason we should consider it gift.
Cory Schneider may have some good hockey left in him. But he should find it in Binghamton where he isn’t deepening the expanding wound of a season that’s slipping away.
Do you think the Devils should move Schneider down? If he stays up, what’s the strategy? Only play him in easy games? Just power through? Leave your thoughts below and, as always, thanks for reading!