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It’s Time for the New Jersey Devils to Hand the Reins to Akira Schmid

With the way the goaltending splits have been so far this season, and the results (or lack thereof) it’s time for the Devils to give more starts and lean more heavily on Akira Schmid.

NHL: NOV 28 Islanders at Devils

Before the 2023-24 season even started, there was concern over the goaltending for the New Jersey Devils. The main issue seemed to center around if the team’s duo of Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid would be able to take the group from playoff team to legitimate contender. That concern quickly dissipated and was replaced by the much larger concern of both goaltenders’ play seemingly falling off of a cliff. As October turned into November and now with the season going on December, thigs haven’t drastically improved for either goalie.

Vanecek was penciled in to be the team’s starter, or at least their 1A, and he may be the biggest disappointment so far this season for the team. For a player who has been at least “league average” his entire career, his .879 save percentage in 14 starts (and 37 minutes of relief in one game) is frustrating to say the least. While Vitek has posted wins in eight of his appearances, his numbers seem to indicate that most of the time, the team in front of him is winning in spite of his performance. I can’t tell if he’s trying to battle through something, or if his confidence is just shot, but right now Vanecek is not the answer for the Devils to be a playoff team, let alone in the conversation of contending.

Then there’s Akira Schmid, who has had a much smaller sample size of eight contests (six starts), and while he has only contributed two wins to the Devils’ record, he’s sporting a better looking .896 SV%. What’s encouraging about Schmid is that his numbers are trending in a positive direction. While his last three starts have all been losses, two of them saw him still provide quality goaltending, stopping 31 of 33 shots against St. Louis and 26 of 28 against Columbus. Sure he had a bad game against Winnipeg (five goals on 30 shots against), but he also came in to relieve Vanecek twice, and again performed admirably. Against Washington, he did allow what would be the game deciding goal, but stopped 21 of 22 with the Devils almost coming back. Then we have Tuesday’s relief appearance, and while he only had to stop eight shots, he made the big saves when needed that allowed the Devils to come from behind and win.

If Vanecek stays in after allowing goal number four against the Islanders, I don’t think the Devils win. I think we would’ve seen even more pucks in the Devils’ net, and would have still lost even if they scored five. At 27, Vanecek is in his prime and doesn’t have a lot more developing to do; he is what he is, and what he is at least this season isn’t what’s needed for a team that had legitimate hopes to be contending for the Stanley Cup later this season. If he’s dealing with an injury and trying to play through it, someone needs to realize it isn’t working. If he’s has lost his confidence, then move him into the relief role to try and rebuild it.

Either way, it’s time for the Devils to roll with Akira Schmid; regardless of if the Schmid experiment succeeds or fails long-term, right now he’s the best option that the Devils have to get themselves back on track. His save percentage across the month of November is .917, which is roughly around league average, if not slightly above. Schmid is still young and will have the occasional bad game; heck, even the best goaltenders do, regardless of their age. At just 23, Schmid still has some growing and developing to do, although to sound like a broken record, I’m not sure how much Dave Rogalski is helping to develop any goalie that’s come through New Jersey during his tenure here. To get back on track, Akira has only played in 32 NHL games; he still has room to grow, yet at the same time has already shown some clutch and maturity in his game.

As I said above, maybe Schmid is or maybe he isn’t the solution for the Devils long-term. The hope is obviously that he is, but the possibility exists that he falters with a heavier workload. Regardless of the possibility he falters, it’s time to give him the reins. Vanecek has fumbled too many games away this season, and if the Devils hope to still be playing hockey in late April and beyond, then there needs to be a new regular between the pipes. Schmid has had a rough beginning to 2023-24, but is trending in the right direction. He’s been putting up better numbers in recent appearances, has been better than Vitek overall this season, and honestly at this point, what do the Devils have to lose? We’ve seen what Vanecek can do so far this season, and again, it isn’t working. Even if Schmid declines with increased work, it just puts us right back where we are now. Give him the chance, hope the team rights their wrongs in front of him as well, and let’s see Jersey’s Team start surging upward in the standings.

What are your thoughts on the Devils handing the starter’s role over to Akira Schmid; is it the right thing to do? Is it too much responsibility for a young, relatively unproven goaltender? Do you think the Devils should stick with Vanecek until he figures things out instead? Is there a realistic possibility outside of the organization (in the system or otherwise) that you think the Devils should look at? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!