A day after the NHL Entry Draft and a day before free agency opens, the Devils made news by announcing that they would be placing Cory Schneider on unconditional waivers for the purposes of a buyout. Barring the unlikely event that someone grabs him and his contract off of those waivers, that means he will be bought out at noon tomorrow, effectively ending his Devils career.
Schneider had two years remaining on his deal at an annual value of $6M. The Devils will pay two thirds of his remaining salary over double the remaining term, resulting in a buyout cap hit of $2M over the next four years.
The move will close out a somewhat snakebitten seven years as the Devils’ (for the most part) starting goaltender for Schneider. Schneider arrived via a surprise blockbuster deal at the 2013 NHL Draft that saw the Devils — then helmed by GM Lou Lamoriello — trade the 9th overall pick in the draft for the then-27-year-old netminder. Schneider had been one half of an ongoing goalie soap opera involving the Vancouver starting job between him and Roberto Luongo for the previous few years. Most figured Luongo would be the one on the move, but with his age and long contract submarining his value, Mike Gillis elected to move Schneider, in one of the more memorable Devils draft moments in history. I can still vividly remember Gary Bettman, at the podium for the Devils’ selection, cutting into the serenade of boos from the New Jersey crowd to say “I think you’re going to want to hear this...”
Schneider was brought in as a successor to the legendary Martin Brodeur, but the Devils just couldn’t quite overcome the optics of relegating their two-decade franchise cornerstone to clear backup duty, so we were treated to the situation of a goalie with a .921 save percentage (Schneider) sharing effectively equal playing time with a tandem-mate posting a .901 (Brodeur). The Devils had a solid team but a confluence of factors including the goalie splits and an almost unfathomable 0-13 record in the shootout kept the Devils out in Schneider’s first year. After that, the Devils roster would rapidly crumble, but playing in front of an at-the-top-of-his-game Schneider, the team would limp to half decent finishes that kept them from rock bottom and largely out of the Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews sweepstakes in successive years.
Schneider would then post his worst season as a pro in 2016-17 with a .908 sv%, allowing the Devils to bottom out and ultimately win the lottery to take Nico Hischier. Injuries would start to pile up following that season and that once-pristine save percentage would get worse and worse over the coming three seasons, hitting its climax when Schneider went the entire calendar year of 2018 without a (regular season) victory. As the Devils started to amass talent again through trades and the draft, Schneider’s game simultaneously deteriorated rapidly, in part due to constant injuries, most notably to his hip. Aside from a few isolated stretches of strong play, Schneider’s last three years in New Jersey were largely a disaster, ultimately leading to this buyout of the seven-year contract extension he signed in 2014.
There will be more time to dwell on Schneider’s legacy in New Jersey later, but for now, his tenure in New Jersey will be remembered as one constantly marred by bad timing and bad luck. When Schneider arrived in New Jersey, he came to a team on the very last legs of a spectacular two-plus-decade run of success. Through a combination of bad drafting, aging, trade deadline mortgaging, and high-profile departures of stars, the Devils bottomed out in the mid-2010s to a hole they continue to try to climb out of. The peak of Schneider’s career, which was quite spectacular from a statistical standpoint, coincided with this bottoming out. But just as the Devils were starting to build things up, Schneider’s body and skills would begin to fail him, becoming one of the team’s biggest problems, instead of the only thing keeping them respectable.
Through it all, though, Schneider always came across as an absolute class act (if you’ll pardon the cliche). When he was an elite goalie in front of a dreadful team, he never badmouthed the overmatched skaters he was saddled with. And when his performances declined, he never made excuses or blamed a simultaneously-declining defensive group in front of him. If anything he almost seemed like not enough of a headcase to be an NHL goaltender. I know I speak for most Devils fans when I wish him best of luck at this next stop in the NHL if he is able to secure one (as long as it’s nowhere in the Mid-Atlantic). And if that ultimately doesn’t work out, his stints behind a desk on the NHL Network in the playoffs make it seem like he’s probably got a bright broadcasting career lined up after retirement either way. Best of luck, Cory, your timing was terrible.