Goaltending and the New Jersey Devils...name two terms more associated with each other right now. In seriousness, after watching the team implode in net during their second round exit this past spring, fans have clamored for an upgrade since pretty much before the series against the Carolina Hurricanes ended. Jared looked yesterday at options (and also some non-options) that the Devils could attempt to pursue via trade to upgrade before opening night.
Today, I’m kind of going in the opposite direction; I’m going to look at who I think the Devils run with if things stay, as an old friend used to say, “status quo.” We’ll compare our two current roster goaltenders in Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid, and predict who I think gets the larger percentage of starts, be it by a close or large margin.
- Age Entering 2023-24 Season: 27
- 2022-23 Regular Season Stats: 52 Games Played (48 Starts) 33-11-4, 2.45 GAA, .911 SV%
- 2023 Playoff Stats: 7 Games Played (4 Starts) 1-3-0, 4.64 GAA, .825 SV%
- Age Entering 2023-24 Season: 23
- 2022-23 Regular Season Stats: 18 Games Played (14 Starts) 9-5-2, 2.13 GAA, .922 SV%
- 2023 Playoff Stats: 9 Games Played (8 Starts) 4-4-0, 2.35 GAA, .921 SV%
If we’re going to go solely off of how each performed last season, I think it’s important we remember here that Vanecek was one of the many reasons why the Devils made the playoffs in the first place. He was brought in to compete with/push Mackenzie Blackwood, and technically he did that...though I’d also argue that it was Schmid’s emergence that pushed Blackwood the rest of the way out of New Jersey.
Vanecek’s save percentage being lower can be at least somewhat attributed to his much larger workload, as can his goals against average. However, SV% is also more of an individual stat, and there were some games where Vitek got good defense and still let in some bad goals. Schmid performed better statistically, but is largely untested, having only appeared in 33 total career NHL games including playoffs - that’s less games than Vanecek started last season!
What concerns me, and probably most of you readers as well, is just how badly Vanecek crumbled in the playoffs. While his career record going in wasn’t great, he somehow posted worse stats, and got replaced by a rookie who took the starting role from him. Even in his lone playoff win in Game 3 against the Hurricanes, he posted a crummy .867, letting in four goals; if the Devils offense hadn’t shown up for that game, the series would most likely have ended in a sweep. I appreciate that Vitek got us to the dance, but after this postseason, I don’t have faith that he can get the job done and pick up 16 postseason wins.
Schmid, meanwhile was lights out minus one bad game in round one. While the second round saw him turn in some of, if not the worst performances of his Devils career so far, he did put together a great performance in Game 5 despite the loss in overtime. While he still needs more battle testing in the postseason, I’d like to think that Akira settled in, adjusted to his opponent, and watched some tape to figure out how to improve, which resulted in the aforementioned Game 5. There’s just not enough evidence to be sure quite yet though...after all, many of us (myself included) were ready to anoint Blackwood the team’s goalie of the future after roughly the same number of games as Schmid. Let’s not make that mistake twice, shall we?
Much as I’d rather say roll with the future, I think Vanecek’s track record and regular season consistency will see him earn the nod as the 1A goaltender to start 2023-24. While Schmid did well to swim when needed in the postseason, the grind of a regular load during a full season is something he’s not accustomed to just yet; putting him into too many games right away could negatively affect his development.
I’m going to cheat a bit with the whole “large/small margin” because I think that by mid-season, if Akira keeps progressing as he ahs, we could see a role reversal. That is to say that Sdhmid would seize the lion’s share of games, just as Vanecek did when sharing the net with Blackwood last season. It might take an injury, a cold streak, or just Schmid consistently turning in good performances, but if he continues to trend as he has, he could become the Devils’ go-to option as points become more and more important later in the regular season.
As for the playoffs? Well, when we get there, Schmid comes in a year older and with some experience now; hopefully it leads to more series like the one against Our Hated Rivals and less like the one against Carolina.
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts about the Devils’ goaltending; do you think Vanecek gets the nod based on the way he performed in the 2022-23 regular season? Do you think Schmid enters the favorite due to his postseason play? Do you think the edge will go to whoever has a better training camp/preseason? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!