The New Jersey Devils have made some massive roster upgrades this summer, capped off by the acquisition of Nikita Gusev earlier this week. No matter if you view it as a way to appease Taylor Hall, or a process to make Jersey’s Team competitive once again, this season’s Devils will be much better than last season’s Devils. The forwards have been upgraded, the defense has been upgraded, but what about the goaltending?
The team may have added by subtracting; as good of a guy as Keith Kinkaid is, he wasn’t moving the needle on the ice for the team, outside of perhaps his brilliant stretch leading to the 2018 playoffs. However, I want to focus on the goalies today in the light of outsiders’ viewpoints. Now sometimes these can obviously be skewed due to fans or writers commenting on players they don’t really watch and trying to sound as though they know about their subject. Conversely, there are also players who are “homers” and overvalue/over-hype players that are a part of the organization they root for. Both of these types of fans can be equally annoying.
Fortunately today, we’re not focusing on either of those types of commentators; today is more about what is not being said. As a hockey fan, I try to read as many news outlets as possible, be they Devils focused or simply a way to read more NHL news and opinions. Most if not all of the sites I frequent have a comment section, much like the one you may be planning on typing in just a little bit from now. Most opinions on the Devils offseason have been very, very positive, with some sources going so far to say they had the best summer of any NHL club; whether that is true or not will be seen this upcoming season, but there’s a similar trend in many of these articles and/or their comments.
The topic of goaltending comes up in regard to the Devils and yes I’ll agree there’s much to be proven in net this season. The odd thing is, no matter if it is a Devils’ fan defending the team, a rival trashing the team, or a fan of a team outside the division offering their thoughts, the topic of conversation is always Cory Schneider; few, if any are even mentioning MacKenzie Blackwood. Even in some articles I’ve read, the narrative centers around can Schneider rebound or Schneider has regressed, without even a mention of Blackwood, let alone the thought that he could be the team’s #1 this season and going forward.
How easily people seem to forget that Blackwood was the best performing goalie out of any who suited up for the Devils last season. While he only appeared in 23 games, he was tied for 12th in GAA of all goalies in the league to appear in 20+ games as a 22 year old rookie. While he will technically be a rookie again this season (due to NHL rules about number of games played), not only does Mac have some experience under his belt, but he also comes in with a vastly improved team in front of him. By the time Blackwood was promoted last season as well, the Devils were already spiraling into an injury-plagued, bad team; even with the usual injuries that will pile up across a campaign, the Devils still shouldn’t have as bad of luck as they did in 2018-19.
With NHL fans seemingly writing off Blackwood, I’m left to wonder if other teams are doing the same; are most preparing to see Schneider on most nights? Even so, his last few months and his performance at the World Championship give hope that he’s finally rebounding from all of his injuries and surgeries. Regardless of Schneider, the Devils drafted Blackwood for a reason, and while he may have struggled at points while developing in the minors (and in a few games last season), it’s not as though he’s been playing behind All-Star teams at any point. The Devils defense won’t be perfect this season, but with a young goalie filled with potential as Blackwood is, there’s no reason to believe he can’t replicate his numbers from last year with an increased workload. Between that, a more potent offense, an improved defense and few seemingly doing their due diligence on a player who could be the Devils’ #1 or 1A, the stars may be aligned for the Devils to have a very successful 2019-20.
The lack of discussion about him again signals to me that he’s not being viewed as a credible threat, or even being thought of as an option. I would understand worry about a sophomore slump for Mac; I would understand concern about him having a fluke season and regressing to AHL level or worse. What I can’t understand is how he’s not even in the conversation about possibly improving the Devils’ fortunes in net. People continue to ignore Blackwood and what he could be bringing to the table...and that lack of preparation and realization could be a good thing for New Jersey, their record and their ability to succeed this season. Underestimating this goalie and this Devils team could be the downfall of quite a few (or many) opponents.
What are your thoughts about the Devils’ goaltending and the lack of chatter around Blackwood; do you feel you have seen the same reports/comments or lack thereof? How do you feel about Jersey’s goalies in general for this upcoming season? Do you think Mac will post similar, if not better numbers this season? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!