The New Jersey Devils need a goalie. The team has received an .883 save percentage this season, better than only the Seattle Kraken’s .881. Currently, they’re rolling with a tandem of Andrew Hammond and Jon Gillies that have 94 NHL games between them, despite being 34 and 28 years old respectively. Earlier this month, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet put it clearly on the 32 Thoughts podcast:
They’re going to have to find a goalie. They’re really going to have to find a goalie. What the Devils are selling to their fans, and some of their players, and they’ve said it publicly to the media is: ’our underlying numbers say we’re a better team. We just can’t stop the puck.’ Well you can’t keep coming with that narrative.
Friedman goes on to note that Mackenzie Blackwood’s injuries this season have been an important part of the disappointing season that has taken place. The young netminder was on Team Canada’s long list for the Olympics at the start of the season and looked like the obvious choice long-term in the Devils’ net. The Sportsnet insider goes on to explain that maybe it is time for a fresh start somewhere else, though that would certainly not solve the issues in New Jersey moving forward.
That’s what makes the last few games of the season so interesting for the Devils, and Blackwood in particular. Head coach Lindy Ruff told reporters including Mike Morreale of NHL.com again today that the plan is still to get Blackwood back into a few games before the end of the year. New Jersey has just six games left including tonight against the Buffalo Sabres, and has Blackwood still listed as day-to-day, though he did appear at the optional morning skate today.
Is there a chance that the Blackwood-Jonathan Bernier tandem return for 2022-23? Sure, as they are both signed through next season before being scheduled for free agency in the summer (RFA status for the former). But there will also be a strong desire to take a big step forward for the Devils next season, given how well some players have performed. Jesper Bratt recorded his 70th point of the season a few days ago, Nico Hischier has a career-high with 58 points, and Jack Hughes (when healthy) has looked every bit the first-overall pick. The team can’t be let down by bad goaltending again, not while they’re investing so much into free agents like Dougie Hamilton to try and contend for the playoffs.
While both Nico Daws and Akira Schmid saw NHL action and look like promising prospects, it’s hard to trust a pair of 21-year-olds who recorded .893 and .833 save percentages. Gillies and Hammond haven’t done much better, and are unrestricted free agents at the end of the year.
So while games at the end of a bad season rarely mean much of anything, Blackwood’s return would be significant.
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