New Jersey Devils: Is There Value in Targeting Connor Hellebuyck?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 20: Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on February 20, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 20: Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on February 20, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

In the 2023 NHL Playoffs, the New Jersey Devils had their hopes spoiled partially by some rotten Vitek Vanecek performances. Going into the season, Vanecek was a known commodity. Akira Schmid stole the show, but he’s still unproven, which begs the question – would a Vezina Trophy-caliber upgrade like Connor Hellebuyck make sense?

After the last 30 years, for better and for worse, no fanbase understands the importance of goaltending more than the New Jersey Devils fanbase. Martin Brodeur was as good of a goaltender as anyone could have hoped for, and wound up inspiring bundles of confidence in his teammates en route to becoming arguably the greatest goaltender ever.

The organization had hoped they found Brodeur’s heir in Cory Schneider many moons ago, but Schneider’s body failed him, which led to increasingly worse performances, inconsistency all around, and his eventual buying out from the organization. Schneider placed sixth in Vezina voting in 2015-16 and was well into negative numbers in Goals Saved Above Expected every season after that. But what if the Devils took that goaltending to an even higher level?

Over the last two decades, Vezina-caliber goaltending has proved to be very valuable in the playoffs. Brodeur won the Vezina four times in that span, and earned a Stanley Cup championship the same year he won his first trophy (2002-03). Other recent Vezina winners to have won a Stanley Cup include Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask (as Thomas’ backup), Braden Holtby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Dominik Hasek. Recent winners who appeared in a Stanley Cup final but did not win include Miikka Kiprusoff, Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, and Carey Price. As a starter, Rask lost to the St. Louis Blues in 2019. Only Rask, Lundqvist and Kiprusoff lost their series to teams without a Vezina-winning goaltender.

This leaves Igor Shesterkin, Jose Theodore, Ryan Miller, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Connor Hellebuyck as the five goaltenders who have not appeared in or won a Stanley Cup Final. Bobrovsky is slated to make his first appearance in a final on Saturday, June 3. Miller and Theodore are both long retired, and the New York Rangers would never allow Shesterkin to wear a black and red sweater. Hellebuyck recently made his frustrations with the Winnipeg Jets known, but should the New Jersey Devils swoop in?

Hellebuyck’s age and contract situation should cause the Devils to at least pause. Hellebuyck just turned 30 two weeks ago and has only one year remaining on his current contract with a cap hit of $6.166 million. Hellebuyck and the Jets haven’t won a game in the second round since 2017-18 when Hellebuyck was 24. The Devils just made the second round this year and are way ahead of ‘schedule’ in that regard.

In short, Hellebuyck is closer to the end of the road than the beginning, and his need of a new contract might make it harder for the Devils to re-sign important young players on entry-level contracts, like Dawson Mercer and Akira Schmid, assuming he’s not involved in a potential move for Hellebuyck.

Still, almost all of the aforementioned goaltenders enjoyed careers well into their 30s, and some into their 40s. Tim Thomas won his Vezinas at ages 34 and 36, and played until age 39. The sweet spot for goaltender break down and/or retirement seems to be around the 15-season mark. Rinne, Lundqvist, Price, and Rask called it quits at 15 seasons, while the likes of Miller, Brodeur, Fleury, and Hasek went beyond that. Hellebuyck currently stands at eight NHL seasons, which makes it even more important to contextualize the caliber of teams some of these goaltenders played for and gauge their success, or lack thereof, appropriately.

Next. New Jersey Devils: 5 Bold Offseason Predictions. dark

While the trade cost for an older goaltender with a year left on his contract is paramount, seven or more potential years of good-to-great Hellebuyck performances is too good a value to pass up.