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How to Break Up Goaltender Starts

Last year, both Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid got their share of starts. Kinkaid was better in the regular season, but Cory was better in the postseason. This year, how might John Hynes and the coaching staff break up the goalie starts?

Carolina Hurricanes v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Since Lou Lamoriello traded for him during the 2013 NHL Draft here in Newark, and then after the retirement of Martin Brodeur, Cory Schneider has been the main man in net for the New Jersey Devils. For the first few years he was here, his numbers were excellent, and 100% supported the large majority of starts that he received. After Brodeur went to St. Louis, that following year Schiender started a career-high 68 games for the Devils (this being the 2014-15 season). He followed that up with 58 starts and then 59 starts the following two years.

Throughout that time, the backup behind Schneider has been Keith Kinkaid. During those years, he was unequivocally the #2 goaltender on the roster, receiving slightly more starts as each season went along, but never more than 23 that he received in 2016-17. For the most part, the numbers between the two during those seasons strongly supported this distribution of starts. Especially in 2014-15 and 2015-16, Schneider was the clear cut better goaltender, and during those years was one of the best goalies in the NHL, period. Kinkaid, on the other hand, was producing middling stats worthy of a backup. 2016-17 saw a reversal of trends for Cory, who had a seriously poor season overall, but Kinkaid remained much the same, with a save percentage near identical to the one he produced in 2014-15. At the time, while the season Schneider had was certainly troubling, there was no serious reason to consider Kinkaid for more starts.

Last year, however, with the injury and then poor play upon return by Schneider, Kinkaid was pressed into #1 goaltender duties for quite some time, and his play largely improved with that added responsibility. From after the all-star break until the end of the season, when Kinkaid was undoubtedly the #1 goaltender in New Jersey, he had 13 starts above a .925 save percentage. While that was not all-star caliber, it was enough to keep NJ in the playoff hunt and ultimately provide the team with a playoff berth.

When you look at some more advanced statistics, you can argue that between the two, Kinkaid had the better regular season. This was true on the surface, with a .913 save percentage from Kinkaid versus a .907 for Cory. Also, when you look at GSAA, or goals saved above average, Keith again perseveres. Both were negative sadly in GSAA/60, but Schneider was worse. His number was -0.083, while Kinkaid’s was -0.025. Those numbers look super small and fairly inconsequential, but look at them in terms of this chart from Sean Tierney to get an idea of how those numbers compare to the other goaltenders in the league. Kinkaid was super close to having a positive number there, while Schneider was clearly in the negative. For those numbers to have a little more clarity perhaps, instead of looking at it in terms of GSAA per 60 minutes, you can just look at it in terms of total GSAA on the season. There, Keith was at -0.78 while Cory was at -2.51. A larger and more noticeable gap for sure.

Of course, when you bring contracts into it, things change slightly. Kinkaid is in the middle of a 2-year, $2.5 million deal, a clear backup deal. Schneider, however, is due to make $6 million a year for another 4 seasons. That is clear starter money. While it is certainly stupid to play someone as a starter simply because of their contract, you can bet that Cory will indeed be given every chance to recapture his pure #1 status ahead of Kinkaid. And beyond the contract, this can also be due to the fact that in the playoffs, it was Schneider who was clearly the better goalie, and the one ready for the spotlight. While Keith did well in the regular season leading up to the series against Tampa, he faltered badly in games 1 and 2. When Cory was brought in, he performed much better. That will certainly play into how goalie starts are broken up at the start of the season.

In the end, what is clear is that the Devils are in an interesting position when it comes to their goalie situation versus their overall team situation. The Devils are seemingly a team on the rise. A young squad with lots of potential and lots of cap room to move forward and become a pure Cup contender sooner than later. Their goalies, however, do not showcase that. Schneider was in his prime a couple years ago, but is now 32 and has put together two sub-par seasons in a row. Is this decline for real, or can he turn back the clock? Then you have Kinkaid who has shown some strides and could potentially become the goalie of the future, but despite 38 starts a season ago, did not show the pure #1 skills that the team would need of him in a deep playoff run.

That is what makes the question of how goalie starts will be divided this upcoming season an interesting one. Do you go back to giving Schneider heavy starts, knowing that he has the skills, has showcased them, and clearly has the mettle to handle playoff pressure? Or, do you go with the younger goaltender in hopes that he makes strides after showing some promise last season? Of course, how this plays out during the season will depend on how they actually perform come October, November and so on. But at the start of the season, John Hynes needs a plan of action, and I am not sure how he will attack it. Given how close the Devils were to missing out on the postseason last year, it was obvious that every win counts, even in October, so having a clear plan to address this question is vital.

To me, it seems that the steady, consistent goaltender that will be in net during this team’s true competitive years coming up is probably not on the roster currently. And if he is, I would have to think it is Schneider, despite his age and recent struggles. He has proven he can be a #1 goaltender in this league, and a top 10 one at that. Being over 30, he might not have 5 of those years left, but if he has two of them left, they would be right now. Kinkaid, while being younger, is still 29, not exactly in his early-to-mid 20s. Ideally, Schneider gets back into top form for the next season or two while Mackenzie Blackwood develops more and eventually becomes the #1 replacement. That is asking a lot of course, but as a former 2nd round pick, it is not out of the cards I would hope. At only 21 years old, he has time to really improve his game.

For this season though, I think Schneider has to get the edge heading into October, even though Kinkaid had the better regular season. If he plays really well at the start of the season, then you have your clear #1 and the pecking order goes back to normal. If he does not play well at the start, however, the maybe going to a more 1 and 1A setup might have to become a thought. Have them split starts more evenly, or even give Kinkaid the nod. We know Kinkaid is good for around a .915 average save percentage. If Cory cannot play above that, and he should be able to, then I don’t see him getting a 50 start pace anymore.

That is my thought about how things might look in net come the start of the regular season. What do you think? Do you think Schneider should get the edge in starts come October, or do you think Kinkaid deserves the edge? Do you think either of them is the true goaltender of the future for this team? How do you think the division of starts might look next year, barring any unforeseen injuries? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.