When Gary Bettman announced, over a loud chorus of "boos", at the Prudential Center that the New Jersey Devils had acquired goaltender Cory Schneider, it is understandable that the home-town crowd reacted with jubilation. Now, with a season with Jersey's Team under his belt, Cory Schneider is in the driver's seat for negotiations for a long-term contract. Many Devils fans are calling for General Manager Lou Lamoriello to do whatever it takes to bring back the Massachusetts-native. Many fans believe that Schneider is the heir to Martin Brodeur's illustrious throne. For a few years concern has gripped the New Jersey fan base as to how the greatest goaltender of all time was going to be replaced. Many of these worriers now feel that the Devils have the chance to avoid the dreaded gap between top goaltenders that would surely lead to poor campaigns.
These fans wait anxiously for Lou and Schneider to come to an agreement that will make avoid Cory becoming a UFA after next-season and keep him in Jersey long term. This sentiment in many ways is justified. Schneider was an elite goaltender this year with a 1.97 GAA (goals against average), lower than any other goalie who played a majority of games this season. In fact, since he entered the NHL in 2008, no goaltender has a lower GAA than the twenty-eight year old who has boasted a 2.12. His save percentage is far from poor as it stands at .925. Yet, with all of that being said, there is a part of Schneider that should raise some concern and make the Devils cautious about awarding him with a contract comparable to the other top goalies in the league. Schneider has never been a starting goaltender. Both this season and all of his seasons in Vancouver he has been at best a 1 A goalie never playing more than 46 games (which he did this year with NJ). No one knows how he will respond to being a starting goaltender who will be expected to play 60-plus games. No one can explain why with his great numbers he struggled to win this year putting up a 16-15-12 record. He was nothing short of poor in shootouts and whether the fault be his or his teammates, being winless in shootouts is not a quality the Devils should look for. Furthermore, he has yet to prove himself in the post-season. New Jersey has evolved into a franchise that accepts nothing less than playoff success and his 1-4 record in the playoffs with a 2.39 GAA raises alarms. With all of that being said, the Devils may be able to capture lightning in a bottle with the young goaltender. At times, he was nothing short of spectacular this season and has all of the tangible attributes that make-up a top goaltender. However, he has yet to demonstrate the intangibles that make-up a winning goaltender. As the summer approaches and the Devils are granted the chance to lock-up Schneider long-term, they have a lot to consider. Assuming Schneider intends to stay in New Jersey the Devils have many options. Do they give-in and declare Schneider the goalie of the future? Surely to do this they would have to throw a huge, long-term, expensive contract his way. Do they allow him to play out his contract and see if he can demonstrate the aforementioned intangible attributes that Brodeur demonstrated for two decades? Or do they begin to pursue other options, whether it be a big-time free-agent like Ryan Miller or Jaroslav Halak or do they give one of their young prospects like Wedgewood or Kinkaid a chance? The Devils are a team looking to rebuild and return themselves to their prominent years of the mid-nineties and early two thousands. This entire process begins between the pipes. With all of the questions regarding Schneider's game, there is no question signing him this off-season to a hefty extension is a high-risk decision. However, with the tremendous upside to his game, I believe that this is too great of an opportunity to miss. Lou Lamoriello must step out of his comfort zone and take a risk. The Devils cannot allow Schneider to reach free-agency and be swept away by a team like Pittsburgh or Washington. The have a chance to do what few teams can do. Go from one great goaltender to another without a gap in between and despite the risk the Devils must take that chance and lock-up Schneider, whatever the cost.