As the 2022-23 season draws ever closer, goaltending continues to be a hot topic of discussion for the New Jersey Devils. While last year’s team certainly had it’s warts in many areas, it is almost universally agreed upon that goaltending was the biggest impediment that prevented the team from taking a step (or more) forward. The Devils wound up using seven different goaltenders last season due to injuries, and none of them played particularly well for any given stretch. Some of them were unprepared rookies (Akira Schmid and Nico Daws), at least one was probably still playing hurt (Mackenzie Blackwood), and a pair of them (Jon Gillies and Andrew Hammond) just weren’t, and still aren’t, NHL caliber anymore.
The Devils have struggled in net ever since injuries mounted for Cory Schneider, with short stints from Blackwood in 2018-19 and 2019-20 being glimmers of hope that the Devils had found their next net minder. In reality, the position has remained a question mark, which led to the Devils signing Corey Crawford two summers ago and Jonathan Bernier last offseason. The former retired before ever playing a game in a Devils uniform while the latter appeared in ten contests early, missed the rest of the season with injury and somehow was statistically STILL the best goalie to play for the team last year.
So the Devils opted to try something different this offseason; they went out and signed a younger, somewhat unproven player rather than a veteran. Vitek Vanacek would be traded to the Devils by Washington as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights; the two sides, however, would agree to a three year deal before arbitration arrived. Vanacek’s new deal would see him earn a sizeable raise (from a cap hit of $716,667 up to $3.4 million) while also taking him to unrestricted free agency at the end.
Meanwhile, there have been rumors churning that both the Devils and the incumbent Mackenzie Blackwood are not happy with one another. So are the Devils preparing to move on from Blackwood when he reaches free agency again after 2022-23?
Now to quickly stress the most important word from above again, these were/are rumors which have not been confirmed. Additionally, a lot of said rumors have died down since their initial reports, meaning they were/are untrue, or both sides have put them aside for the sake of the team’s upcoming campaign. Blackwood allegedly was not happy with how the team handled his injury. Apparently he was dealing with injury issues in December, but came back to play late in that month and into the beginning of January before being shut down until the last week of the regular season On the other side, the Devils were apparently upset with Blackwood regarding his initial Covid-19 vaccination hesitance as well as the disagreement of how to handle his injury.
Considering the timing of the rumors being “reported” I’m willing to bet there was some exaggeration that blew the issues out of proportion. So let’s assume this was the case, and while maybe things aren’t perfect, things are good between both sides. The Devils still might be preparing to move on from Blackwood for a variety of reasons. One is said injuries; if Blackwood isn’t durable and can’t stay healthy, the Devils need a capable goalie who can. Two, they’ve invested three years in Vanacek and if they see him even as a marginable upgrade, the team can go out and sign another goalie to compete with him as there are some interesting free agent options come next summer.
I think the only way we see Blackwood back in New Jersey next season is if he returns to the form of 2018-19 and 2019-20. If his stats remain where they’ve been the past two seasons, why would the Devils re-sign Blackwood and possibly have to give him a raise? If he and Vanacek can’t find success as a tandem, won’t the Devils want to go out and look for a clear upgrade? Blackwood is on the hot seat this season to prove he can be the #1 goalie that both he and the Devils thought he was on the path to become. If he can’t, then the Devils organization and fans may see back to back summers where the team trades their first two selections from the 2015 draft.
What are your thoughts on the Devils’ situation with Mackenzie Blackwood; do you believe the team is preparing itself to move on from him at the end of this contract? Do you think that it is too early to tell until we see the 2022-23 team? Are you concerned about the amount of money the team may have to tie up in goaltending if Blackwood establishes himself as a true #1 this season? Do you believe the rumors surrounding the discord between player and team to be true or exaggerated? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!