For the second time in as many weeks, the New Jersey Devils claimed a goaltender from waivers. Last week, they picked up Eric Comrie. Today, they claimed Aaron Dell from Toronto per this Tweet by Pierre LeBrun. This claim is far more beneficial to the state of the Devils’ goaltending depth. This is because Dell is far closer to being a proper backup goaltender at the NHL level than both Comrie and Scott Wedgewood.
Dell is 31 years old and spent the last four seasons in San Jose as a backup goaltender. Over those four seasons, he has made at least 20 appearances per season, at least 17 starts per season, and posted up an overall save percentage of 90.8% over all four of them per NHL.com. While that is not a great save percentage on its own, it is far superior to what Comrie did in very limited action over the last four seasons and the last time Wedgewood saw NHL action two seasons ago. Furthermore, his even strength save percentage in each of those four seasons was better than his overall save percentage and only one of those seasons was truly bad (89.9% in 25 games back in 2018-19). Special teams either drove it or sunk it, respectively. While they are not something to necessarily celebrate, they are far better than the other options in the Devils’ system.
The fact that Dell has experience as a backup goaltender alone should put him ahead of Comrie and Wedgewood. He knows his role will be to come in and provide a decent performance while Mackenzie Blackwood has a night off. If he plays great, then great. But the goal is to not get lit up to a point where the coaches cannot trust you and have to look elsewhere. Dell has met that goal relative to Martin Jones from 2016 to 2020. He can do it again behind a better goaltender in Blackwood for 2020-21.
Dell’s performances were enough to warrant a contract from Toronto back in the offseason to add to their goaltending depth. The scuttlebutt was that he was good enough to get claimed on waivers. He was seen as a risk to get claimed and he was today. His one-season contract of $800,000 has no real impact on the Devils’ cap. I would not be surprised if he gets an extension just to fulfill any Seattle expansion draft requirements. Or just to keep him as the #2 as Gilles Senn and others (Nico Daws? Akira Schmid?) continue to develop.
Regardless of what the future holds, the New Jersey Devils are now a better team today than they were yesterday. Maybe not significantly better, but they now have a viable goaltending tandem at the NHL level. In the wake of Corey Crawford’s retirement, the Devils’ options were thin. They claimed Comrie with the intention of putting him on the taxi squad so Senn can just focus on the AHL. This meant Wedgewood was the #2 option, which was still a dicey proposition as he has not played in the NHL since 2017-18 and it went rather poorly when he did play in that season. And neither Comrie or Wedgewood were coming off great AHL seasons either. Having either in the crease for a game would have been a big risk. Now, giving Blackwood a night off may not be so risky. Now, the Devils have someone who had decently performed as a backup role to be their backup goaltender. The team’s success for 2021 will still lean heavily on Blackwood. But seeing Dell spell him for a game here or there means the Devils can still theoretically compete in it.
We shall see what happens next with Wedgewood, Comrie, and, by extension, Senn and Evan Cormier. I suspect one - Cormier - may end up the ECHL soon enough, and one of Wedgewood and Comrie joins Senn with Binghamton. I think Comrie and/or Wedgewood could clear waivers if they end up being demoted. While the Devils claimed Comrie, that was more out of needing anyone to help fill the depth chart in net. Still, the Dell claim was a very good one. The New Jersey Devils now have a NHL-level goaltending tandem again. It will be some time before it happens as Dell now has to go through quarantine (so is Comrie, in fact), but they will have one in 2021.
What is your reaction to today’s waiver claim? What do you think the Devils should do with their other goaltenders? What do you think of Aaron Dell in general? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this news in the comments. Thank you for reading.