How Should The New Jersey Devils Approach Their Goalie Issues

It's no secret that the New Jersey Devils need goaltending help. The question is what the best way to go about acquiring that help.

New Jersey Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41)
New Jersey Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41) / John Jones-USA TODAY Sports
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It has been the number one topic of discussion in "Devils Land" this season, and here we are again talking about goaltending. Whenever they seem to have found a solution, it all comes crashing back down shortly thereafter.

After a respectable 2022-23 season, Vitek Vanecek has become quite literally the worst goalie in the NHL. And let's not forget the hope we all had for Akira Schmid following his ungodly performances last season and in the playoffs. My, how things can change in a year. Despite an OKAY 17-9-2 record, Vanecek has an abysmal 3.26 GAA and a 0.887 SV%. Meanwhile, Schmid is rotting away in the AHL with a 3-4-4 record, a 3.45 GAA and a 0.889 SV% with the Utica Comets. Safe to say neither looks like a solution right now.

Reports are coming out on the daily in regards to the Devils interest in a goalie, and we've recently covered some of their options too, but there's a more nuanced conversation to be had. What really is the best way for the team to approach getting a new goaltender?

Do they go make a big swing in-season?

At this point in time all signs point towards Jacob Markstrom being the Devils main target. They recently got an up-close view of him stop 37 of 40 shots en route to a Calgary win over the Devils. The 34-year-old Swede has had a fantastic career and has been lights-out for Calgary. This season, Markstrom has put up a 2.56 GAA and a 0.914 SV% to go along with a 14.6 Goals Saved Above Expected, fourth best in the league.

It makes sense why the Devils would want to add a player like that to their team despite his age. However, does adding him, or even another high-end goalie on the market such as John Gibson or Elvis Merzlinkins, make a ton of sense right now?

There are a few ways to go about answering that question. The easy answer is yes, it does make sense. There's a clear need to upgrade and the Devils still have a chance to make the playoffs, and an upgrade in net should get them there. However, when you dissect it from a few different angles, the answer isn't as clear.

For starters, the cost of acquisition is a big concern. The price for a top-tier goalie is always high, and most teams looking for a starter are typically not negotiating from a position of strength. And this cannot be more true for the Devils. Earlier this season, Ducks GM Pat Verbeek and Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekäläinen watched as their starting goalies shut the door on the Devils while Vitek and company let in just about everything. And most recently, Calgary Flames GM Craig Conroy watched Markstrom do the same.

Teams know that Tom Fitzgerald is desperate to upgrade in net and could (and should) try to take him out to the woodshed in negotiations. They'll likely ask for a first-round pick in addition to a top prospect or young roster players, and Fitzgerald will have to weigh up if it's worth mortgaging some of the long-term future.

The other aspect of a big goalie trade to consider is timing. As it stands, Markstrom, Gibson, Merzlinkins, and maybe Jusse Saros are the only names on the market. Maybe the Devils would be better off if they waited until the summer, when more names may become available and when trades are easier to make. For all we know, a goalie who no one has been thinking about may become available and be a better long-term fit for the organization. Even if that isn't the case, a trade for one of the aforementioned goalies may be easier to make in the summer because that's just how it works. Either way, Fitzgerald isn't negotiating from the most advantageous position right now.