Ever since Cory Schneider’s return to regular starts for the New Jersey Devils on February 7th, he has been playing fairly well. This, of course, has come as somewhat of a surprise to many. For the last couple of years, his play has been nothing like what led Lou Lamoriello to trade the 9th overall pick for him back in 2013. The last two seasons before this one, he had a .907 and a .908 save percentage in respective seasons, and even with the resurgence recently, still holds a .898 save percentage overall this season.
Since that 2/7 return date, however, he looks much more like the Schneider of old. In fourteen appearances, thirteen of them starts and one relief appearance, there have been some clunkers to be sure, and no one can deny that it must be brutal trying to play goalie in the NHL with an AHL-caliber team in front of you. Thursday night’s game against Boston is definitely proof of that, where he certainly played well as much as he was able to, but he still ended up with a poor .846 save percentage in the stat book thanks to no help in front of him.
However, even with the poor play around him, he has some good numbers to show for it. Across those 14 appearances, he holds a .920 save percentage, slightly better than his career save percentage of .919. If you took that .920 number and extrapolated it over the course of the season, it would put him above goalies such as Marc-Andre Fleury (.919), Braden Holtby (.919), Devan Dubnyk (.917), Connor Hellebuyck (.916), Sergei Bobrovsky (.914), Jake Allen (.913), and of course many others. And again, some of those goalies are playing with high quality teams in front of them, teams with strong chances to make deep playoff runs. Cory has been playing with a team on a clear tanking path.
Furthermore, among the thirteen starts, in accordance with Rob Vollman’s quality start stat, Schneider has 8 quality starts. 8 out of 13, a .615 quality start percentage, an excellent number. And again, remember that he has played well on nights he has not ended with particularly strong stats either, given that sometimes, the goals are unstoppable when there is minimal defense in front of him.
Of course, despite his strong play, it has not led to a real increase in wins and points for the team, a good sign for those rooting for the tank. His 5-7-2 record since February 7th works out to 12 out of a potential 28 points, a 0.429 point percentage. Overall, with 7 games to go, the Devils have 63 points in 75 games, a 0.420 point percentage. Both of those are clearly pitiful numbers, and the season-long number not really much lower than Schneider’s number when playing recently. There is only so much a resurgent goalie can do.
Therefore, in the short term, the improved play from Cory really has not changed much in the outcome of this season. It might if it comes down to two points or so separating the Devils from Detroit and Los Angeles for those spots in the standings, as you could argue he might have gained the team a couple extra points with his strong play down the stretch, but that would be about it. Having pick 4 versus pick 2 could mean a great deal down the line, or it might not.
However, does it mean anything for next year or beyond? Looking at Cap Friendly, Schneider, 33 years old, is under contract for three more seasons at a $6 million cap hit per year. If he has a renaissance in his playing ability to last a couple more seasons, that would be wonderful for the team’s prospects in the short term, but who can say if his play recently will hold moving forward, or if it is just a mirage?
If it is the latter, then it becomes more of a problem for the team. If Mackenzie Blackwood turns out to be the next lockdown starter for the team, that would work out well, because he is only on his ELC through the end of next season, making about $700 thousand next year. Between Schneider’s $6 million and that, the Devils would not really feel the effects of an albatross contract next year. Once Blackwood needs to be re-signed, that number would rise, but as an RFA, he would not break the bank of the team even then. Of course, all of that is assuming Ray Shero looks to spend money soon to shore up holes instead of leaving over ten million in available cap space. And if Blackwood does not pan out, or anyone else in the system, and Shero needs to sign a free agent or make a trade, who knows how much money could be locked up at the goaltender position with Schneider’s deal as well.
Whatever the case, it is nice to see Schneider performing at a higher level, like we used to see. How it affects the team in the short term and long term is tough to really predict, with so many unknowns, most importantly revolving around his ability to maintain this strong play. But for now, watching him play like his younger self, it is hard not to smile a little bit.