The New Jersey Devils have been much more fortunate than other teams because they have not had to worry about the most important position on their roster: goaltending. The team has had the luxury of having a world class goaltender in Martin Brodeur for the past 22 years.
However, we witnessed last season, how an injury to Brodeur can have a huge adverse effect on the Devils. The fan base of the team, myself included, has long asked the question: “What is the future plan for the goaltending position?” The front office has not adequately answered that question to this point. I do not think it will be addressed in the upcoming NHL Draft this weekend either, especially in the early rounds, the Devils need to upgrade offensively before they concern themselves with drafting a potential goaltender of the future.
The Current Goaltending Situation
I have some concerns, and I know other Devils fans that share these concerns, about the age of our current goaltenders: Brodeur and Johan Hedburg, who is only one year younger than Brodeur. I had concerns about this situation going into the shortened 2013 season with the lockout. Those concerns were realized when Brodeur went down with an injury and Hedburg had to play a lot more than anyone anticipated with fewer off days because of the condensed season.
I think that Hedburg is a solid backup goalie, but on the other hand, he did allow many soft goals last season which hurt the Devils in some close games which they ended up being on the losing end. I think the Devils have to start developing a goaltender for the days when Brodeur is no longer in a Devils uniform. I think that transition should start this season and not next season, as some other reporters have speculated.
I agree with some other sentiments out there on the blogs, and the major hockey news sites, that the answer to this question may not exist currently within the Devils minor league system. I also maintain that the Devils may have to take an unusual path for this organization by obtaining the goaltender via trade or free agency.
The Potential Future Candidates
Initially, I heard the Devils were interested in potentially trading for Jonathan Bernier, it was widely reported on the internet including www.si.com. Then it was announced that the Toronto Maple Leafs had agreed to terms to acquire Bernier. This creates a domino effect because with the addition of Jonathan Bernier, the Maple Leafs could potentially trade James Reimer who is the incumbent starting goaltender there. So the candidates from outside the organization are:
- James Reimer
- Ben Bishop
- Jaroslav Halak
Reimer has one year left on his current contract with Toronto and is rumored to be unhappy about the addition of Bernier to the team (www.si.com). In that case, I would not think Reimer would resign with Toronto, so rather than risking him leaving via free agency, I think they would trade him before the deadline this season.
However, I do not know if that is the way for the Devils to go in this case, I have no idea what Toronto will be looking for in compensation for Reimer. The current roster makeup of the Devils makes their only realistic offer being trading a defenseman and maybe another prospect, or a later round draft pick. The Devils are going to be unlikely to trade any offensive player because of the scoring crunch, offense is at a premium within the organization. This is where I think this path for Reimer hits a snag, is the compensation.
The Devils will also need some type of assurance from James Reimer that he would sign an extension to stay in New Jersey, it would be a disaster to give up assets and he leaves via free agency at the end of the season. I think the Devils would have to stipulate that the deal would be contingent on a negotiated extension prior to completing the transaction.
The next name I have heard mentioned is Ben Bishop, who was traded during the season from the Ottawa Senators to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning have Anders Lindback currently as their starter, and the theory in the media is that Bishop could be obtained, but it would also be via trade. On a personal note, I saw Bishop play against the Devils this past season and he was very impressive, but again he is a young goaltender (27 years old) with a lot of upside. That is going to cost the Devils assets that I do not believe they will part with easily.
In my opinion, the goaltender most likely to be moved, which I think the Devils could obtain is Jaroslav Halak from the St. Louis Blues. The Blues have a log jam at goaltender with their starter, Brian Elliot, Halak, and newcomer Jake Allen, who played well in 3 starts last season. Halak is 28, with 7 years of NHL experience, and is a lot better option than what the Devils have in their minor league system at this point. The Blues want to move him because of his salary ($4.25 million) he is the highest paid player on the team and he is no longer starting (www.si.com).
The reason why I think the Devils could possibly obtain him is the Devils have a great deal of salary cap flexibility to be able to obtain a player with that type of salary cap hit. Other teams would love to obtain Halak, but would have to make other transactions first to free up enough cap space to make the move possible to stay under the cap. The Blues are also a small market team that do not want to take on a lot of salary in return for any trade package for Halak. I think this deal is potentially feasible for the Devils to upgrade the position.
The In-House Candidates
The Devils have limited potential for the goaltender of the future in their own system but those players are:
- Jeff Frazee
- Keith Kinkaid
- Scott Wedgewood
One result of the Brodeur injury was that it opened the door for an NHL regular season audition essentially for both Kinkaid and Frazee in 2013. I actually think one of the bigger plays by the goaltending this season was the Kinkaid save on Steve Stamkos in the game against the Lightning. I also think that Frazee showed that he needs at least 2 more years of playing time at the AHL level to be ready to be a backup at the NHL level.
Scott Wedgewood is a bit of an unknown, but he also needs time at the AHL level to get some seasoning. The Devils do not have that kind of time. The only in-house option that could be potentially ready in two years to step into the starting role is Keith Kinkaid.
In the end analysis, I would love to see what the other fans think of my observations. What should the Devils do? If they stick with their traditional organizational approach it will be to promote from within the organization, and I think that means that Kinkaid would at least get a crack at the job.
I just would like to see some kind of resolution to the question that myself and other fans have asked for years: What is the plan when Brodeur retires? We have been very fortunate to watch Marty all these years perform at a very high level, but everything comes to an end at some point. The Devils are near that crossroad, and they must make a decision now that will impact their future in a profound way.