The New Jersey Devils as a whole took a much needed step forward in the 2022-23 season. As the playoffs went on, however, once of the team’s Achilles heels reared it’s head again when the goaltending began to falter. Though Akira Schmid turned in some respectable performances, including Game 5 in Carolina, Vitek Vanecek was brutal, to the point where not only was Schmid the starter, but some fans were looking for an overall upgrade to start 2023-24.
If the Devils want to find another player close to the age of their core that they can lock up for a few years, there’s four options that fit the bill and could be intriguing as unrestricted free agents. We’ll take a look at the positives and drawbacks of each of these possible options today while also making a determination at the end for what the Devils could/should do.
Age Entering 2023-24 Season: 27
2022-23 Regular Season Stats: 16-7-1, 2.50 GAA, .914 SV%
2023 Playoff Stats: 11-4-0, 2.17 GAA, .932 SV%
Hill is probably going to be entertaining a lot of offers from teams needing goaltending this season, as well as hearing back from his current Stanley Cup Champion team the Vegas Golden Knights. While he was not the starter for Vegas when the playoffs began, he ultimately seized the starting role when his partner struggled (more on him later) and wound up taking the Knights all the way to the first Cup in franchise history. Sure, there were a lot of other players contributing along the way, but without Hill, the Knights probably don’t get out of round two.
What’s worrisome about Hill is that he doesn’t have a large body to confirm his reputation from these playoffs. He’s only appeared in 101 regular season games, mostly for Arizona, and he’s been a backup for all five seasons where he appeared in more than 10 games. Some team might offer him a stupid amount of money that he would be foolish to turn down, only to see him wear down and/or be less effective when playing in a starter role.
If the Devils are truly searching for an upgrade, I think it’s worth reaching out to Hill’s camp to see what his asking price is. Most of Vegas’ roughly 8.5 million in cap will probably be offered to Hill if they want him to come back, and at that price the Devils should look elsewhere. If he’s looking for something reasonable, and wants term, I think again the Devils could try to bring him in to supplement and probably supplant Vanecek or Schmid.
Age Entering 2023-24 Season: 29
2022-23 Regular Season Stats: 18-14-4, 2.87 GAA, .915 SV%
2023 Playoff Stats: 2-4-0, 3.77 GAA, .892 SV%
Korpisalo is an example of a good regular season goalie playing even better in the regular season with an actual team in front of him. Playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets to start 2022-23, Korpisalo posted respectable numbers, while increasing them after a deadline deal that sent him to LA. Spending his career to this point in mostly a backup role, Korpisalo’s career can be described as inconsistent at best. The bright spot here is that he more than likely will come cheaper than a player like Adin Hill, and he could repeat a season like this past one with a better team than Columbus of 2022-23 in front of him.
The worry here for Devils fans should be twofold: one being that Korpisalo regresses as there have been years of him having subpar numbers even with a better team in front of him. The second worry is him not being much of an upgrade over Vanecek/Schmid, as his regular season save percentage was better than Vanecek’s but his goals against average was worse. Korpisalo also posted poor playoff stats; not Vanecek bad, but pretty bad still, which is the Devils want to go further in the playoffs, they may need to look elsewhere. If the Devils are looking for a player to pair with Vitek, however, Korpisalo may not be a bad option.
Age Entering 2023-24 Season: 30
2022-23 Regular Season Stats: 7-0-3 2.17 GAA, .927 SV%
2023 Playoff Stats: 5-2-0 3.18 GAA, .894 SV%
I did say we’d get to Hill’s partner later, and at least for the playoffs, Brossoit was it, as he was starting the postseason in the crease for Vegas. Logan Thompson (still under contract with the Knights for one more season) played the lion’s share of regular season contests, but was unavailable come the playoffs. Brossoit was more than respectable when in net during the regular season, but was another player to suffer from “Vitek Vanecek Syndrome” and saw his numbers plunge in the postseason.
Brossoit played well enough in the five games that it took Vegas to dispatch Winnipeg, but then struggled mightily in limited action against the Edmonton Oilers. Even in the game he won, he only posted a .852 SV%, however it would be an injury that took him out of the series and led to Hill taking command. With only 117 NHL appearances and fairly average career numbers, it’s debatable as to whether or not Brossoit would be an upgrade over what the Devils already have. He’s another inconsistent player, as his season by season stats show, so while his numbers this season were good, again he was a backup and isn’t a clear boost.
Age Entering 2023-24 Season: 28
2022-23 Regular Season Stats: 24-13-7, 2.90 GAA, .909 SV%
2023 Playoff Stats: N/A
Jarry is an interesting option for a couple of reasons, with the first being that signing him arguably weakens a rival team in the Pittsburgh Penguins that already seem to be struggling to stay relevant in a very competitive division of the NHL. The fact that Jarry is the only goalie on this list not to appear in the playoffs at all last season could mean that he’s hungry to get back and could come at an affordable price tag for a team like the Devils who are better poised to be competitive in the remaining prime years of Jarry’s career.
An additional difference between Jarry and the others on this list is that for the past four seasons, Jarry has been either a 1B or 1A based on his number of appearances/starts rather than a backup. His numbers were down a bit last season, but we can’t sit here and pretend that Pittsburgh was a powerhouse that was cost a playoff spot by poor goaltending either. I also don’t think Jarry will be looking for much more than he made on his last deal ($3.5 million per season) so even with a small increase, I feel he winds up commanding less than, again, Adin Hill. The goalie market is pretty thin though, and teams like the Devils that might be looking to make an upgrade could wind up seeing inflated prices as a result.
The most honest thing that I can say about this year’s class of unrestricted free agent goaltenders is that it’s thin. Of the 47 UFA goalies available, 17 played zero NHL games this season, and seven more played five games or fewer. There’s another chunk too that are well older than the Devils’ core, and statistically aren’t very attractive options either. If I were part of New Jersey’s management team, and I was told I had to do something to attempt to upgrade in net, Jarry is the option I would be looking to entice. A lot of attention/money is going to be directed towards Hill, and I think he’s going to sign a contract that the team he joins (or stays with if it’s Vegas) winds up regretting in a few years, if not sooner.
Jarry should be more affordable and career-wise, has been more consistent/better than Vanecek, who as of now is probably still slated to be the Devils #1 or 1A. Jarry’s playoff numbers do worry me a bit over his career, but again, Pittsburgh has been a team that has been declining over the past few years due to them being successful for an extended period of time before. A fresh start behind an up and coming team could be what Jarry needs to show more postseason success.
Overall though? I think the Devils should stick with what they’ve got. Akira Schmid showed promise, and I think it’s worth giving him at least one full NHL season in tandem with Vanecek, who certainly shouldn’t be kicked to the curb either after a very successful 2022-23 regular season. If there were a more enticing free agent option out there, maybe the Devils look to make a move; I just don’t see anyone with both the track record and the stats to merit the expenditure.
What are your thoughts on the unrestricted free agent goaltenders available this summer; are any of these four appealing options in your mind for the Devils to pursue? Is there anyone else that you think would be better worth the contract? Are you happy to roll with Vanecek/Schmid next season as I am? Do you think the Devils look to trade for a goalie under contract or trade/offer sheet a restricted free agent goalie? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!