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Is It Time for the New Jersey Devils to Pull the Plug on MacKenzie Blackwood?

The New Jersey Devils starter has struggled mightily this season; is it time for them to give someone else a try, be it for this season or beyond?

Arizona Coyotes v New Jersey Devils Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils have played pretty good hockey so far in 2022, to the point where it was masking a lot of the issues that still plagued the team. A lot of those issues, however, resurfaced in last night’s ugly, ugly loss to the Arizona Coyotes. Particularly concerning was yet another bad performance from starting goalie MacKenzie Blackwood, who allowed four goals on just 17 shots. I spent a little time a couple of weeks ago pondering if the Devils should go out and get another goaltender to aid/compete with Blackwood, and while I settled on yes at that time, I was not ready to write Blackwood off.

This week, after watching last night’s dismal performance, I think I’m ready to end the Blackwood experiment, at least for this season. I say for this season because there are rumors swirling that he has spent a chunk of the season playing hurt or at least not at 100%. If that’s the case, him soldiering on with Jonathan Bernier done for the season is admirable, but it’s not the right move by him, by the team, or for anyone involved. If he’s not hurt, well then even more reason to move forward with trying literally anyone else the team has in the organization right now.

Blackwood’s save percentage on the season now sits at a career worst .894, which is seventh worst in the league among goalies who have appeared in at least 10 contests this season. In terms of advanced stats, he’s third worst of any of the 97 goalies to play in the NHL this season in terms of expected goals saved above average (-11.73) and fourth worst (-9.35) in actual goals saved above average. I want to sit here and support the team’s starting goalie, but we’ve reached the point where Blackwood might be (is?) actively costing the team games.

If I were involved with the Devils organization right now, I would be working on getting Nico Daws and Akira Schmid some games at the NHL level. I know it is not ideal to rush prospects, but Blackwood is not playing well and Jon Gillies is a stopgap at best. Maybe you throw Gillies to the wolves when the team plays some of the NHL’s better performing squads and gives either Schmid or Daws a look when the Devils play teams (like the Coyotes) that they should be beating this season. Management wasn't afraid to call the kids up when they were needed to at least back Blackwood up; both have gotten into a few games as well, so what’s the harm in trying one or both of them in limited action again?

To go back to an earlier point from this piece for a second, if Blackwood is playing hurt/sore, it’s time to shut him down and get him back to 100%. Having him playing at less is not doing the team any favors, and even if his absence means the Devils drop a string of games, it’s not as though his presence right now is preventing that. A break to get MacKenzie healthy would do both him and the team a lot of good. If this is him playing at 100%, then the Devils and Blackwood both have a problem. The Devils will need to start looking for a starting goaltender who isn’t performing below expectations and Blackwood as a result might need to be looking for a way to extend his career in the NHL. A smaller change that could be tried would be a new goaltending coach; Blackwood is still young and might respond differently to someone else working with him.

No matter what the scenario is, I think the Devils need to at least give Blackwood a temporary break; his confidence is visibly shot, and they need him to regain his swagger if they want to even hope for better results from him. Whether they put him on IR to recover if he’s hurt, or if they just give him some time to watch while backing up Gillies (or a call-up if they decide to go that route) the Devils need to pull the plug, at least for the short term. If Blackwood doesn’t bounce back this season, or next preseason, then the team is going to have to take a long, difficult look at whether or not MB29 is the true successor to MB30.

To close, as usual, we’d like to hear from you, the readers, regarding today’s topic: do you think the Devils should pull the plug on MacKenzie Blackwood’s 2021-22 season? Do you think the experiment is over for the team in general? Do you think an injury or broken confidence is to blame rather than skill? Would you want to see a goalie coach change before a goalie change? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!