The New Jersey Devils are desperate to fix their problems at the goaltender position. There aren’t a ton of options in free agency, but there are some. Last season, there were a plethora of options. Phillip Grubauer was coming off being a Vezina finalist, Tuukka Rask is one of the best of this era, Petr Mrazek seemed like he had a lot to give, Frederik Andersen was a really good bounce-back candidate, Linus Ullmark seemed destined to get a decent deal, and there were Braden Holtby, Jonathan Bernier, and James Reimer were veterans with upside. This year’s class isn’t remotely as deep, and the top isn’t as good either.
There are four options at the top, and then there’s a precipitous drop-off after that. When looking at what the Devils need moving forward, the options are even more limited. Marc-Andre Fleury is the biggest guarantee of those four options. He, however, likely won’t even put the Devils on his radar. He almost retired when the Chicago Blackhawks tried to trade for him. Darcy Kuemper is trying to win a Stanley Cup, but he might have to do it sitting on the sidelines. Ville Husso is the other option, but we know how I feel about that.
The other option is Jack Campbell. I’ve said on the Let’s Go Devils Podcast that he’s one of my top options this offseason. He is a free agent, so the Devils wouldn’t have to give up anything to get him. He’s coming off a really good regular season. He posted a .914 save percentage after he had a .921 save percentage last season. He was tied with the Stars’ Jake Oettinger for 15th in the league.
The Devils would have killed for 15th in the league. That’s why it made sense for the Devils to spend a little extra to bring Campbell in the door. That’s why we wanted the Devils to target Campbell. Well, at least originally we did.
Then, we looked a little further into Campbell’s numbers. Thanks to Natural Stat Trick, we were able to reveal a little about Campbell that we didn’t like. He’s phenomenal at stopping the shots he’s supposed to. Out of 86 goalies who played at least 200 minutes last season, Campbell was 16th worst when it comes to high-danger save percentage at even strength.
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If the Devils keep Lindy Ruff next season (and all indications are they will), then the structure won’t change much. The philosophy for this team is to play fast, but that comes with issues. They give up plenty of chances, and many of those chances are really good. That’s why losing both their goalies was so crucial last season. They needed the best of Jonathan Bernier and Mackenzie Blackwood. They literally got the worst.
The Devils actually don’t allow as many high-danger chances as it seems. Their 666 allowed at even strength is the sixth-best in the regular season. Still, this isn’t something they should chance next season.
The Devils need a guarantee in net. That doesn’t exist in free agency. The best they can ask for is Darcy Kuemper, but he might get seriously overpaid because of the market. It’s the trade market where the Devils need to find upgrades. Free agency isn’t really their best option.