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FanFirst Friday: The Goalie Talk Just Won’t Stop Edition

The dog days of August have arrived, where NHL news slows to a crawl and even people who love the same team find things to argue about. For Devils fans, it continues to be the goaltending.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils
All my hopes stay pinned on this guy if things remain as-is for the New Jersey Devils.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the temperatures have hit records highs repeatedly outdoors, the hot stove of the NHL season has become as cold as can be. Outside of Kyle Dubas announcing that he’s basically omnipresent in all positions in Pittsburgh, NHL news has become hard to come by. And yes, the easy answer would be to go outside and touch some grass, but it’s just SO hot outside, I might melt in the process.

So I’ve stayed inside, continuing to listen to what few hockey podcasts and SiriusXM hockey shows I can and scan Twitter and other sources for news that the Devils might still do something to address their goaltending. I realize that it’s a fool’s errand and likely not happening before the season starts at this point.

I know. I probably need to stop talking about this for my own mental health. It’s almost a compulsion at this point and unhealthy. Yet I can’t seem to stop because the playoffs against Carolina last spring was so deflating after appearing like the Devils had found a long-term solution in Akira Schmid. And I’m not saying the Akira Schmid is not, in fact, him. I’m just fairly convinced that Vitek Vanecek, as much as I love the guy, is NOT him. And I don’t think I’m alone.

So I think ultimately I’m just frustrated that as good as Tom Fitzgerald has been this offseason, and believe me, he’s been absolutely stellar. He still simply can’t receive an A+ grade from me. For a team that has suddenly become a very popular pick amongst Cup contenders, holding hope that Akira Schmid will be the permanent answer is a huge gamble.

And yes, this is a Devils podcast, but I wouldn’t doubt if once prediction season hits, some of the folks will take the Devils as the favorite in the East. I hate the Devils being the favorites and I don’t believe they really should be, despite their VERY good forward lines. In fact, they might have one of the deepest groups of forwards in the entire league. I’ve covered the inexperienced defense before, even if Luke Hughes winds up being the only rookie to play on a regular basis. Kevin Bahl is still very young and unproven. So there’s a chance that the Devils defense might not be as good statistically as it was last year. And will Vitek recover from the broken man he appeared to be in the playoffs last year when he melted down not once but twice in two different series? You’d hope he would. But given how the Devils are currently constructed, he will likely face more rubber and more high danger chances.

Any way, I’m not going to go into Hellebuyck or Vejmelka or Gibson again. Heck, at this point, I’d take Halak as insurance and given Schmid more time to cook in Utica. Plus, Kevin Woodley, noted goaltending expert, said that despite the beginning of Halak’s year in NY, he was absolutely stellar the rest of the season. And he likely wouldn’t require much compensation given where he is and the openings across the league.

My main point is that I’d hoped that the goaltending would’ve been addressed by now, but maybe the Devils goalie experts believe that Schmid and Vitek splitting the season duties (I’ve said that it might just be that Vitek was worn down given how he played more than he ever did last year) would be good enough to get the Devils to the promised land of a Stanley Cup. It makes me nervous. It makes me uncomfortable. It makes me stress and I just fear that it’s going to be this way until I see Schmid rise to stardom. Or Vitek perform better than a beer league goalie come Stanley Cup playoff time.

Maybe I’m just neurotic. Maybe some other issue will be bigger for this team that I can’t predict right now (injuries is actually my biggest worry, believe it or not). But I get a year older every season and some of my fondest memories have been when the Devils have won the Cup. I’d love to see it a few more times before my time is up here. And my gut tells me that what the Devils have in goal simply won’t cut it unless Schmid can handle a huge workload and show that he’s not JUST a very good prospect. I mean there’s a chance Cole Brady or Jakub Malek or Tyler Brennan will be in the pipes when the Devils have their next championship team. But I simply don’t want to wait for it. It’s been a decade of pain. Devils fandom deserves a few years of pleasure.

So no, I don’t anticipate the goalie discussion will go away. Not unless Fitz does something before the season starts. NHL history is littered with goalies at the trade deadline who never worked out, so I don’t believe that’s an adequate plan. Again, I pray to the hockey gods after I’ve been a good boy every day that Akira Schmid is HIM. But it just strikes me as hoping a lucky rabbit’s foot will give you better odds in the lottery. OK, I lie, it’s a lot better than that, but in my neurotic mind, that’s what it feels like.

I know you’re tired of this. I am too and I kind of wish this column was all about celebrating our brand new Model H goalie (H is for Hellebuyck)! But it’s not so here we are. Oh and one last thing, I hope I’m wrong. I really, REALLY hope I’m wrong. So if you want to bring this post back if the Devils run Vitek and Akira and win the Cup, I will HAPPILY enjoy feasting on some crow. It’ll never taste better.

What about you? Are you having an uncomfortable August because the Devils didn’t really address their goaltending? Or are you a firm believer that Vitek and Akira can get this group to the top of the NHL mountain? Hopefully you’re the second part of this because the first one is already making my August a tad bit more glum.

Also, I promise to try and stop writing about the Devils goaltending for the rest of the offseason, unless they make a move or something happens. Key word being I’ll TRY.