A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post that seemed especially well-timed since Jack Hughes basically went off since it posted. He’s played six games since I put up the Hughes appreciation post and he put up six goals and four assists for ten points. The team has gone 4-1-1 in that stretch, beating teams like the Rangers and Pittsburgh and Carolina.
In light of those results, I want to bring back and appreciation post. But this time it’s someone I’ve been dead wrong about thus far. When the Devils traded for Vitek Vanecek this past offseason, I was not in love with the move. I was hoping for other goalies to enter the chat and challenge Mackenzie Blackwood for starts in New Jersey. John Gibson was someone I’ve thought about for a couple of years now. And yes, his stats are absolutely horrific but I think goaltending, more than any other position in hockey, is 95 percent mental and I’d love to see anyone attempt to play goal behind that current Ducks roster and not lose his damn mind. I felt like Gibson was a prime candidate for a change of scenery bump and reset. Even if Gibson wasn’t an option because of his monstrous cap hit, I thought the Devils could target Anthony Stolarz as a B option. Stolarz had a great season last year and is a New Jersey kid.
Even if it wasn’t Gibson or Stolarz, I thought maybe a Ville Husso would be another fine option. I thought it would be a natural since Husso was in the Blues system when Martin Brodeur was there and if anyone could lure him to Jersey, Marty could. Alas, he signed in Detroit and while he got off to a ridiculously great start, he’s plummeted back down to earth in recent weeks.
The rumors abounded during the offseason that the Devils were kicking the tires on Jack Campbell, who wound up with the Edmonton Oilers. And I wasn’t as crazy about this one, but I felt like maybe Campbell and Blackwood would be able to be a fine 1A and 1B situation. Campbell has seen the floor fall out on him in Edmonton, where he’s lost his number one job to Stuart Skinner.
Stories even surfaced after the fact that the Devils attempted to pry Alexander Georgiev away from the New York Rangers before he wound up in Colorado.
If I’m being 100 percent honest, back then, I would’ve prefer almost any other options BUT Vitek Vanecek. I don’t know what it was about Vanecek that had me feeling so uninspired, but I just wasn’t happy that the two options to fix a VERY broken Devils goaltending situation were an always-injured, often very inconsistent Mackenzie Blackwood and the Washington Capitals fall guy for their shortcomings over the past couple of seasons. Interestingly, Vanecek could’ve been part of the solution in Seattle in year one of that new franchise, but he wound up being traded back to the Caps after being claimed in the expansion draft by the Kraken. Hey, that worked out pretty well for the Devils when that happened with Nate Bastian, right?
I’ve never been happier to be so very wrong about something. Vanecek doesn’t have otherworldly numbers this season, but frankly, he doesn’t need to. He’s only 26th on Moneypuck’s goals saved above expected rankings this year. Though he is seventh in goals against average and 19th in save percentage, he’s been an absolute breath of fresh air compared to the clown car manning the Devils crease in 2021-2022. No offense to any of the seven goalies the Devils used last year, but frankly, it was abysmal, leading to many to claim that the Devils were on the cusp of greatness but the #justthegoalie hashtag was born.
Vitek has stepped up in every way imaginable thus far to fill that void for the Devils. Yes, it’s only the 41-game mark of the season, but I often said this past offseason that the number one question mark in relation to the Devils was the goaltending position. Vitek has become the answer thus far. He’s won 16 games and only lost five in regulation. He’s made big saves at big moments to keep the Devils in games that they would’ve most definitely lost last season. Both the Rangers and Canes games likely would’ve gotten away from this team last year and ended 6-2, 5-4 or something like that. But Vanecek makes those stops at times that so many forget about after a game ends. And he’s just so damned wholesome.
So realizing the power that putting up an appreciation post for Jack Hughes had, I’m hoping the same luck rubs off on Vitek and he has a great second half to the 2022-2023 season. I truly hope he’s the long-term answer for the Devils and that he carries them to their first playoff appearance in five seasons. It’d be nice to see VV on top for a long, long time. VV Top. I like the sound of that.
Tell me, how much do you love seeing a Devils goalie make a save once again? And how much do we love it even more than it’s a guy that’s as easy to root for as VV Top?