The New Jersey Devils are on the playoff bubble with a quarter of the season gone, and much of their success is thanks to netminder Cory Schneider. If the Devils make the post-season, Schneider should earn serious consideration the Vezina Trophy.
For most teams, there’s a transition period from one starting netminder to the next. But when the New Jersey Devils acquired Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks in 2013, they assured they wouldn’t have to deal with searching for a replacement for Martin Brodeur. And while Schneider had already proven himself before coming to New Jersey, few could have imagined just how great he would play as a Devil.
When Schneider was in Vancouver, the signs of a star netminder were there. In just his second AHL season, Schneider became a first-team all-star, was named the league’s goaltender of the year and combined with Karl Goehring and Curtis Sanford to win the AHL equivalent of the William M. Jennings trophy. By 2010-11, Schneider was a full-time NHL netminder and by the 2011-12 campaign he was sharing the workload in Vancouver with Roberto Luongo, one of the best goaltenders in league.
Then came the 2012-13 season in which Schneider and Luongo were set to split time, but where instead Schneider took the reins and earned the starting gig. Even if Schneider and Luongo were close off the ice, the battle for the crease created one of the most tenuous goaltending situations of the past decade. But with all signs pointing to Luongo being on the outs in Vancouver, the Canucks shocked everyone by dealing Schneider to the Devils for the ninth-overall pick in the 2013 draft, used to select Bo Horvat.
Since getting to New Jersey, Schneider has taken his game to another level. And if he keeps this up, it seems as though it’s only a matter of time before yet another New Jersey netminder is taking home some end of season hardware.
Schneider is one of 35 goaltenders who have played at least 3,000 minutes at 5-on-5 over the past three seasons, which is about the workload one would expect of a starting netminder. Of those 35 goaltenders, the obvious names and recent Vezina Trophy winners rank among the best in the league in terms of save percentage. Montreal’s Carey Price, the 2015 Vezina winner, is at the top with a .939 SP. Tuukka Rask, 2013’s winner, ranks fourth at .934. And 2012’s winner, Henrik Lundqvist, is second with a .935 SP.
It’s worth noting those winners, too, because Schneider is fifth over the past three seasons with a .932 SP. On a nightly basis, he has been one of the best goaltenders in the league, but has been saddled with a less-than-great New Jersey club in front of him. But that could change this season.
The Devils, for the first time in the past three seasons, are within clear striking distance of a wild-card spot at this point in the season. In the past two seasons, the Devils have been no closer than five points out of a playoff spot by Nov. 27. This season, they’re just two points shy of a wild-card spot. New Jersey has played stellar hockey, has been defensively sound and is getting solid contributions from their entire lineup.
But the biggest contributor, no doubt, has been Schneider. He currently ranks fifth in goals-against average (2.05), eighth in SP (.927) and sixth in wins (10). Better yet, of the 28 goaltenders to play 500 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, Schneider has the fifth-best SP at .940. He’s managed that mark, too, on a team that’s been out-possessed in more than half of their games.
Excluding the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, no Vezina-winning netminder has won fewer than 35 games, posted a GAA above 2.22 or a save percentage lower than .920. At present, Schneider is on pace for 39 victories, a 2.05 GAA and .927 SP. If he were to win 39 games, there’s no doubt the Devils would make the post-season, but if his pace slips and he wins 30 to 35 of his starts, things could get dicey.
The fact is that no matter how great Schneider is or has been, the Devils will need to make the post-season in order for him to get consideration for the Vezina. One could have argue he deserved at least the slightest consideration for the award in 2014-15 — at least a single third place vote, even — but he didn’t get that on a basement Devils squad. Now, this season, he’s right back in the thick of things statistically, and the Devils look like a bubble team. And while Lundqvist and Washington’s Braden Holtby have stood out as potential Vezina candidates, maybe it’s Schneider who will be most deserving when the campaign closes.
(All advanced stats via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com)