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Expiring New Jersey Devils Entry Level Contracts in 2024 Part 3: Akira Schmid

New Jersey Devils goaltender Akira Schmid is entering the final season of his entry level contract in 2023-24. This post explains his situation and explores what the market may look like for a RFA goaltender based on signings since July 2022.

New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils - Game Seven
Akira Schmid (R): Winner of a Big Game. Igor Shesterkin (L): Loser of a Big Game.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Back on April 13, Akira Schmid replaced Mackenzie Blackwood after Blackwood gave up a fourth goal of the game on his 11th shot to Washington. Schmid stopped all 20 shots as the New Jersey Devils made a big comeback to win in overtime, 5-4. It would be Blackwood’s last game in a Devils uniform and it secured Schmid’s spot on the playoff roster. After two shellings by Our Hated Rivals, Akira Schmid was called upon to start Game 3 in the World’s Most Overrated Arena. Schmid not only prevailed in a 2-1 overtime win but would receive starts in the rest of the series. This culminated in two shut out wins at The Rock, putting the Devils up in the series with the first one and winning it with the second one. Schmid, The Torpedo (and also Schmido), was the hero. It did not go well for him against Carolina, but little went well for the Devils against Carolina.

So much so that rumors have swirled about the Devils getting a goaltender. A big name goaltender. A goaltender with pedigree. A goaltender who can Win Big Games. The Devils have had interest in the likes of Connor Hellebuyck, who wants out of Winnipeg, and John Gibson, who is talented but has been wrecked on an awful Anaheim squad. I am not a fan of these rumors. Especially since Hellebuyck or Gibson have as many Game 7 wins in their careers as Akira Schmid does. You have to go back aways for both: Gibson prevailed in 2017 in his one Game 7 in a 2-1 victory; and Hellebuyck has won one (1) Game 7 of a series and it was a 5-1 win back in 2018. Sure, they did well, but they did not shut out their hated rivals - much less in consecutive home games.

Even if General Manager Tom Fitzgerald does not end up pulling the trigger now for a goaltender, Akira Schmid’s future is still unclear. Some clarity needs to be provided soon as his entry level contract (ELC) is up after the 2023-24 season. Is he truly the goaltender he was in 2022-23? Is he going to fall back in his performances and leave the position in some doubt? And even if he does well, how does management see him? These are all questions, among others, that are going to be in my mind as Schmid plays out the third season of his contract.

What Akira Schmid Has Done So Far

You know about the recent heroics. Here is a walk through of his path since he was drafted in 2018.

2018-19: Schmid came over to North America, initially to join the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League. After one appearance gone terribly, he was cut. He got two games with Corpus Christi of the NAHL before joining the Omaha Lancers in the USHL for the season. Schmid posted the best save percentage by all qualified goalies with a 92.6% in 37 games. Schmid also represented Switzerland at the WJCs - which did not go well given his 87.8% save percentage in three appearances. Still, Omaha looked to be a good spot for him.

2019-20: It would not last for Schmid in Omaha. Injuries and an 89.1% save percentage posted over six games meant he was on the block in the USHL. He was traded to Sioux City on January 3, 2020. Schmid only got into seven games and posted an 88.8% save percentage before the pandemic cut that season short. Hardly what the Musketeers expected.

2020-21: Schmid was so over. Then he was so back in 2020-21. With Sioux City, Schmid was healthy and played in 36 games. He posted the league’s best save percentage with a 92.1% and was strong in a short playoff for the Muskateers. Schmid was named the USHL Goaltender of the Year. Even better: Fitzgerald signed him to an ELC in May 2021.

2021-22: Schmid joined Nico Daws in Utica. The move up to the AHL went well for Schmid as he posted a 91.1% save percentage as a rookie, 17th best among qualified goalies. A long call-up for Daws meant Schmid got into 38 games too. Schmid would get a call-up for six appearances with New Jersey. With an 83.3% save percentage and a -6 GSAA in those six appearances as per Natural Stat Trick , Schmid was absolutely not ready for the NHL. When Daws returned to Utica, he took over as the main goalie. Despite the NHL debut going so badly, it was a solid rookie season - even if it seemed that he was #4 on the depth chart.

2022-23: Until he was not. Schmid was called up to replace an injured Blackwood in November 2022. A bit of a surprise as Schmid did not do so well in Utica given he would post a 90.5% save percentage in 23 games that season. Daws also struggled compared with last season given his 90.4% posted over 33 games. Schmid joined the Devils and immediately showed he was a far calmer and more effective goaltender than he was in 2021. Schmid would ultimately get into 18 games with New Jersey and post an overall save percentage of 92.2% and a GSAA of 5.36 as per NST. Both better than Vitek Vanecek (who played in 52 games) and far better than Blackwood (who played in 22 games). I covered his playoff as a whole at the beginning of the post. An absolutely wonderful second season of pro hockey. Even with Big Game(TM) experience earned and now under his belt.

It was so wonderful it is fair to question how sustainable it was. Sure, Schmid did great as a call-up goaltender. Good enough to take Blackwood’s job and essentially save the Devils from what would have been an embarrassing playoff loss to Our Hated Rivals. But is it enough to make him the #1B goalie for a whole season? Could Schmid be this good for 20-40 games of more regular work? As great as last season was, it still just was 18 regular season games and 9 playoff games - 3 of which were ones against Carolina one would like to forget (Game 5 was good, it went to OT at least). And unless Vanecek goes away in a trade - which is quite possible - then Schmid will still be relegated to a lesser spot. Which may be fine for him to prove he can do.

Sure, Schmid is also waiver ineligible and he can go down to Utica. But I do not see the purpose in doing so. What does he have to prove down there after what he just did in New Jersey? What message does that send to the Comets: You can do great in a call-up and even be a playoff hero and that still is not enough for a roster spot. That would be a bad message. A few months ago, I would not have even thought of this possibility outside of it being technically a possibility. (Aside: No, technically anything is not the best.) But the possibility is a little more real now, especially if Fitzgerald opts to acquire a goaltender for New Jersey. As much as I do not like it, I have to admit it.

Ultimately, this is the twist on Schmid’s expiring ELC. Sure, how he does in 2023-24 will go a long way in determining his next deal. That is true for just about anyone coming off a contract. In Schmid’s case, how management sees him is going to be critical. Even if Schmid does well, do they see him as a future starter or #1A goalie? Or is he more of a reliable backup? Or is he just a guy they think got hot in spots and in April and has yet to show he is worthy of being a regular NHL goaltender? The difference in those perception equals money. A lot of money, in fact.

Let’s Look at Some Recent RFA Goalie Signings

Since July 1, 2022, there have been 32 goaltenders who were restricted free agents (RFAs) have been signed to new contracts per CapFriendly. Some are goalies coming off of entry level contracts who have yet to establish themselves as anything more than call-ups, #3 goalies, and/or minor-leaguers. The likes of Justin Annunen or Michael DiPietro or Devin Cooley among others. The majority of those 32 signings are that caliber and they all signed for deals close to the league minimum of $775,000. Assuming they are in the NHL, that is. A lot of them are two-way deals for a reason.

Had Schmid not have the 2022-23 season that he had, he would likely be among them. But he did have a great season and barring any goaltender transactions by the Devils, he is likely to start in New Jersey in 2023-24. To get a sense of what he could potentially earn, let us look at the ten RFA goalies who signed for at least seven figure cap hits since July 2022.

  • Alexandar Georgiev – He spent his ELC seasons backing up Igor Shesterkin. He posted overall save percentages of 91%, 90.5% and 89.8% in successive seasons, with 33 appearances in the worst year plus two good playoff appearances. Before 2022’s free agency, he was traded to Colorado. The Avs gave him a contract of $3.4 million/season for three seasons and became their starter. Georgiev did quite well last season with an overall save percentage 91.9% in 62 games.
  • Samuel Montembeault - Florida drafted him as an overager in 2015 and signed him to an ELC in 2016. He spent the first season in major junior hockey and went pro with Springfield in the AHL, where he posted an 89.6% overall save percentage in 41 games. In his third season, he spent most of it in Springfield and posted an 89.9% overall save percentage in 39 games. He also made his NHL debut with Florida and played in 11 games in 2018-19, posting an 89.4% save percentage. Not great but he did get a one-season contract for 2019-20. He got in 11 games with Springfield and posted a much better 91.8% overall save percentage. He made 14 appearances for Florida and posted an 89% save percentage, which was not great. But, still, he got another minimal contract. He spent all of 2020-21 with Syracuse in the AHL, playing in 13 games and posting an 89.8% save percentage. Montembeault got another one season, minimum contract and then was placed on waivers before 2021-22. Montreal claimed him. While an 89.1% overall save percentage was not good, he stayed with the Canadiens and played in 38 games. It was enough to get a two-season deal for $1 million per season each. He just finished up a 40-game season where he broke 90% at the NHL level. He also did well for Canada at the World Championships.
  • Kaapo Kähkönen – It took a while for him to get available for a contract, but Minnesota did sign him to a two-season ELC in 2018. The first season for Kähkönen ended up entirely in Iowa of the AHL: 39 games, 90.8% save percentage. In 2019-20, Kähkönen did better with Iowa with a 92.7% posted in 34 games and made his NHL debut with a 91.3% save percentage over 5 appearances. His reward was a two-season league minimum deal. He remained in Minnesota for 2021 with 24 games played and a 90.2% save percentage. In 2021-22, Kähkönen stuck with Minnesota for 25 games and a 91% save percentage. He did not last as the Wild traded him to San Jose in March. Kähkönen’s time as a Shark for that season went well with a 91.6% save percentage over 11 games. Mike Grier decided to pay Kähkönen well (which may have also been why the Wild moved him?). Kähkönen received a $2.75 million per season deal for two seasons in July 2022. At first glance, it does not look good as he put up an 88.3% save percentage in 37 games. Then again, San Jose was really bad last season. At least Kähkönen has his money.
  • Vitek Vanecek – You know him. Here is a summary anyway. Washington drafted him and signed him to an ELC that ended up lasting five seasons with two of them sliding. All of it in the minors as he worked his way up to be a tandem goalie with Hershey in the AHL. At the end of the deal, Vanecek was re-signed to a three-season contract for $716,000 per season. The first season of that deal was spent in Hershey, where he posted a 91.7% save percentage in 31 games. The next two were almost entirely in Washington. He posted up a 90.8% overall save percentage in both seasons: 37 games in the first, 42 in the next. Vanecek was splitting the net with Ilya Samsonov outside of the playoffs. Needing a goaltender, the Devils traded for Vanecek at the 2022 NHL Draft and Fitzgerald later signed him to a three-season contract worth $3.4 million per season. Vanecek was the starting goaltender for New Jersey in 2022-23 - until the playoffs. Then Schmid took over.
  • Jake Oettinger – Dallas drafted him in 2017 and signed him to an ELC out of college after 2018-19. He spent the first season on that deal in Texas - the AHL team. He posted a 91.7% save percentage in 38 games. In 2020-21, Oettinger was brought up to Dallas and stayed there. He played in 29 games and posted a 91.1% save percentage. In 2021-22, Oettinger broke out. He appeared in 48 games, posted a 91.4% save percentage in the season, and had an awesome first round with a 95.4% save percentage in seven games. While the playoff run was short, it earned Oettinger quite a bit. Dallas re-signed him to a $4 million per season contract for three seasons on September 01, 2022. He spent the first season on that contract as the unquestioned starter for Dallas. He appeared in 62 games and posted a 91.9% last season. While he went deep in the playoffs, his 89.5% overall save percentage left something to be desired. Still, it’s Oettinger’s net in Dallas.
  • Spencer Knight - One of the youngest on this list at age 22. He was drafted by Florida, spent two seasons at Boston College, and then signed his ELC with Florida at the end of that second season in March 2021. He jumped right in with Florida with 4 games played and a 91.9% save percentage across those four games. He even made two playoff appearances and posted a 93.3% across both. While Knight saw a little time with Charlotte in the AHL in 2021-22 (11 games, 90.5% save percentage), he mostly spent the 2021-22 season with Florida. 32 games and a 90.8% save percentage, which is not great but the Panthers brass thought very highly of him. They signed Knight to a $4.5 million per season extension for three seasons before the 2022-23 season. Knight would get into 21 games with the Panthers in 2022-23 and posted a 90.1% save percentage. Knight would enter the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program during the season and he is seemingly looking to get his career back on track as his extension kicks in for next season.
  • Daniel Vladar – Vladar was drafted by Boston in 2015, signed to an ELC in 2016, had one season slide, and it ended in 2019-20. Vladar spent his ELC seasons all in the minor leagues with the Providence Bruins. With mixed results: more time spent with Atlanta of the ECHL in the first two seasons, an 89.8% in 2018-19 with P-Bruins, and a 93.6% in 2019-20 with the P-Bruins. The latter was impressive at the AHL level and it earned Vladar a three-season contract at the league minimum. He would made his NHL debut on that contract with 5 games with Boston in 2020-21. The 88.6% save percentage means it did not go great. Time spent in Providence and HC Dynamo Paradubice was better for him. In 2021 Received 3 season NHL min. deal after. Played in 5 games with Boston in 2020-21 with a 88.6%. Boston moved Vladar to Calgary for a 2022 third round pick in late July 2021. With the Flames, Vladar would play entirely in the NHL. In 2021-22, he put up a 90.6% in 23 games. Not bad but it impressed Calgary management to give him a $2.2 million per season extension for two seasons in October 2022. Vladar proceeded to put up an 89.5% save percentage in 27 games for Flames. Not great as the extension kicks in for the 2023-24 season.
  • Pytor Kochetkov – Kochetkov was drafted by Carolina in 2019. After two seasons, he was freed up from his KHL contract to sign a NHL ELC for 2 seasons. Kochetkov started that deal on a loan to the KHL in 2021-22. But he would come to North America for good in that season. He played in 3 Carolina season games with a 90.2% save percentage, 15 games with Chicago (AHL) with a great 92.1% save percentage, called upon to play in 4 playoff games that went badly given his not-nice 86.9% save percentage, and excelled in 6 playoff games with Chicago (AHL) given his 95% save percentage. 3 Canes games with 90.2% and 4 playoff games that went badly. 15 Chicago games with 92.1% and 6 playoff games at 95%. Injuries to Antti Niemi / Frederik Andersen meant 24 games for Kochetkov in Carolina where he posted a 90.9% save percentage. He started hot and cooled off, and still got a bag from Carolina with a $2 million per season extension for four seasons in November 2022 during that call up. With Chicago (AHL), Kochetkov played in 26 games and posted a 90.3% save percentage. With Niemi and Andersen returning for Carolina, it is possible Kochetkov will be a highly paid goalie in the AHL until called upon to fill in for either of them.
  • Stuart Skinner – Edmonton drafted Skinner in 2017 and signed him to an ELC for the 2018-19 season. The first season was mostly with Wichita of the ECHL with some spot appearances in Bakersfield. The second season saw him mostly with Bakersfield of the AHL with some spot appearances in Wichita. The third season saw Skinner make one NHL appearance and put up a 91.4% in 31 games with Bakersfield in 2020-21. Skinner was re-signed for two seasons at the league minimum. Skinner continued to rise. He spent most of 2021-22 with Bakerfield and put up his best season yet: a 92% save percentage over 35 games. Skinner was called upon to play in 13 games for Edmonton and he did well with a 91.3% save percentage across them. Last season, Skinner took the net over from Jack Campbell. He was doing well and did well in the season with 50 games played and a 91.4% save percentage. Skinner was given a $2.6 million per season extension for three seasons in December 2022. Skinner looked good for being decent in comparison to Campbell. Then the playoffs happened and he posted a miserable 88.3% save percentage in 13 games. Edmonton fans sigh.
  • Connor Ingram – Yes, Arizona spent some money. Ingram’s path was a long one. Drafted in 2016 by Tampa Bay and signed to an ELC in April 2017. He spends the first two seasons of it with Syracuse, posting a 91.4% in 35 games in 2017-18 and a 92.2% in 22 games in 2018-19. In June 2019, Ingram gets dealt to Nashville for a 2021 seventh round pick. The final season of his ELC is spent with Milwaukee of the AHL. Same story, still does great in the AHL with a 93.3% save percentage in 33 games. When the pandemic hit and he was out of contract, Ingram went to Sweden and suited up for 9 games with IF Björklöven over the Allsvenskan (the second tier of Swedish hockey). It does not go well with a 89.8% save percentage. Nashville signs him to a three season deal for just under $734,000 per season in March. He suits up for Chicago of the AHL and does not do great in 5 games. Alas. 2021-22 would go much better for Ingram. He played in 54 games with Milwaukee and posts a 91.5% save percentage. Ingram also makes his NHL debut with 3 appearances with Nashville. Not great ones mind you, but he got a taste of the NHL. He also lost his waiver eligibility for the 2022-23 season. Nashville put him on waivers ahead of the 2022-23 season and Arizona claimed him. They also played him: 27 games and a 90.7% save percentage on a pretty bad Coyotes team. Goes on waivers in October 2022 and gets claimed by Arizona. Gets 27 GP in Arizona in 2022 behind Karel Vejmelka, puts up a 90.7%, and he earned a sweeter deal. Ingram was given a $1.95 million per season contract for the next three seasons.

What can we learn from these 10 signings? Basically: if the team sees you as a backup or #1B quality goaltender, then the contract is likely going to be around $2 million per season. This could be a little less like Ingram ($1.95 million). This could be a little more like Vladar ($2.2 million). San Jose giving Kähkönen $2.75 million and Montreal giving Montembeault $1 million are extremes that factor in their team’s situations, but the number appears to be around there for the RFA goalie signed to be the team’s secondary option.

For those goalies seen as #1A goalies or starters, more money will be offered. Georgiev and Vanecek each cleared $3 million and Oettinger and Knight were given $4 million per season or more. Some were bets and some have worked out, but that is the level to go with for a potential starter.

It is also worth noting that all of these contracts are 2-4 seasons long. None have been signed long-term with Kochetkov being the lone exception with a four-season deal. I would anticipate that a second contract for a RFA goalie will likely be 1-3 seasons long, depending on performance and role.

Additionally: I would not recommend taking an extension in the middle of a season, especially if they are having a hot run. Kochetkov at least has term on his side but he could out-earn $2 million per season if/when he gets a regular spot in Carolina. Skinner possibly could have commanded more money by the end of the season. Then again, his playoff was so bad that perhaps his earning power suffered. Still, Skinner out-doing his far-better paid teammate with a $2.6 million per season hit is a benefit to Edmonton - not a favor to Skinner.

With respect to Schmid, this paints a picture of what his next contract could be. If he does well and the Devils see him as a legit #1B option, then he will be paid closer to $2 million per season. If he does well and the Devils see him taking the crease from Vanecek more often or after Vanecek’s contract ends, then that second contract could be in the $3-4 million range. This is important for Fitzgerald and his staff to consider. If Schmid can provide the most of the value of a Big Name Goaltender for less of the cost, then that is an additional benefit for managing the roster. Likewise, if Big Name Goaltender has to be acquired, then he needs to earn the increase of the cap that otherwise could go to Schmid (or held by Vanecek).

Concluding Thoughts & Your Take

That pretty much sums up the situation for Schmid. First, he needs to do well - which is obvious. Second, he needs to convince management he is someone to be kept in New Jersey. Not Utica. Not as trade bait. Not as a #3 goalie. How he does plus how management sees his role on the team will determine that second contract. The difference in that perception could be worth millions; it is not something to easily ignore.

And it is not something to ignore that this is a key part of roster and cap management. There is no one true way to build a contender, but a lot of them have benefitted by getting great value from players on cheap contracts like entry level contracts. Hence, why I focused on these expiring deals for 2024. It will play a big part of what gets built beyond 2023-24; and what the team expects of these players for 2023-24. Part 1 covered the six in Utica; those could be depth players in the future or even currently depending on how things go. Part 2 covered Dawson Mercer, who is at the opposite end. He will get a contract; but will it be a lucrative long-term contract or a less lucrative and shorter “bridge” deal? That is the question. Schmid is in his own situation. He could and should get a raise but he has to earn it and how management sees Schmid’s fit on the team over the next several seasons will drive his next contract.

If I had to guess based on what he has done so far, I think the Devils would prefer that raise to be on the level of Kochetkov and Vladar. Not for four seasons like Kochetkov, but I think a three season deal at around $2 million per season is manageable and, if needed, moveable. I think if they see him as a Devil, then it is as Vanecek’s backup. But as this past season and playoff run showed, a lot can change and it can change quickly.

Now I want to know is what you think. What do you think the Devils will do with Akira Schmid? What do you expect him to do in 2023-24? How do you think the Devils see him and what do you think they should see in Schmid? How much and how long would you re-sign Schmid for? What would you need to see to make that contract offer? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Schmid and his near future as a Devil in the comments. Thank you for reading.