Should New Jersey Devils Target Jake Oettinger?

To kick off the offseason, the New Jersey Devils wasted no time bolstering their goaltending situation by trading for former Washington Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek. It remains to be seen whether or not Vanecek and oft-injured incumbent starter Mackenzie Blackwood can anchor the net and become a viable starter on a young team with aspirations to compete for a Stanley Cup. Should GM Tom Fitzgerald and the Devils start to look elsewhere for a partner for Vanecek?

Mackenzie Blackwood was once one of the most enviable goaltending prospects in the NHL. Just two seasons ago, Blackwood broke through and established himself as the Devils’ starting goalie in 2019-20 and played at a fairly high level at the age of 23, albeit inconsistently. Since then, Blackwood has had two injury-marred seasons in which he has failed to play more than 35 games, and in the games he did play, he didn’t play particularly well at all. Over the last two seasons, Blackwood’s Goals Saved Above Average is -17.4 – that’s… not good. In 19-20, that number was 7.3, which is slightly above-average and generally pretty good for a 23 year old.

Now 25, Mackenzie Blackwood faces a career crossroads. Blackwood has 1 year remaining on the bridge contract he signed in 2020, and the Devils already brought in direct competition for him in the form of Vitek Vanecek, who, while not elite, can be a reliable starter and a top tier backup. After many years of Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider, should the Devils really settle for less in this playoff drought?

The Dallas Stars’ young star goalie Jake Oettinger was arguably the story of the first round of the playoffs. While Oettinger’s regular season numbers all mostly point towards average play, he still compiled a 30-15-1 record as the youngest starting goalie in the league. For reference, Braden Holtby’s numbers were actually almost identical in a smaller sample size- a .913 save % and 4.1 goals saved above average in 24 games versus Oettinger’s .914 and 9.8 in 48 games.

Should the New Jersey Devils trade a fortune to get Jake Oettinger?

Despite this, Holtby only managed to go 10-10-1 before his injury pressed Oettinger into full-time action. While Oettinger’s performance in the regular season might pale in comparison to Vezina Trophy winners like Igor Shesterkin and Andrei Vasilevskiy, his 30 wins in 2022 trump the career highs of both Vanecek and Blackwood. Whatever ‘Otter’ did after taking over, it’s clear that the team performed much better with him between the sticks instead of Holtby, showcasing his skill, leadership and cool-headed demeanor early in his pro career.

In addition, the Dallas Stars really weren’t a great team as a whole. They were the only playoff team to have a negative goal differential, and got walloped by the Calgary Flames in the first round while Oettinger’s individual performance dragged the Stars through 7 games, though ultimately coming up short against the once-cup favorites.

At the moment, the Devils’ cap space situation complicates things as much as the Stars’ cap situation does. Blackwood was 23 when he signed his bridge deal, and Oettinger is 23 now but wants to be paid, bridge deal or not.

Saad Yousuf’s article explains that Oettinger and his wishes are a bit of an albatross, as goalies in the NHL usually are. It would be difficult to put a definitive valuation on Oettinger, especially as it seems Oettinger and the Stars have mutual interest in remaining together, but it’s clear that Oettinger isn’t willing to be flexible in terms of salary.

The Devils would have some hoops to jump through just for this year in terms of cap, but attaching assets to dump either Tomas Tatar or Andreas Johnsson, as well as moving Blackwood to make room in between the sticks, shouldn’t be too difficult. It remains to be seen whether or not the Devils would be willing to give up on Mackenzie Blackwood in the first place – his 19-20 season is on par with the season Oettinger is coming off of, minus the stellar playoff performance. It might be easier to offer sheet Oettinger than offer the Stars a trade directly in any case – if Oettinger accepts, the Stars might have a hard time trying to match the deal, and the Devils potentially secure their franchise goalie for the foreseeable future.