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Is Cory Schneider Done Being Elite?

Or does the former Vancouver Canucks netminder have more to give with a rising New Jersey Devils team?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at New Jersey Devils
Apr 16, 2018; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider (35) spits during a break in the first period of game three of the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Suffice to say that sometimes New Jersey flies under the radar in Vancouver.

Perhaps it’s because they are overshadowed by New York teams in their market. The more likely reason is that they haven’t been relevant for a while.

The New Jersey Devils were out of playoff contention for five seasons after returning to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012. However, one of their most notable acquisitions was supposed to change that.

Everyone is aware of Gary Bettman’s “I think you’re gonna want to hear this” call from the draft floor in 2013. Of course, his announcement ended up being the surprise trade of Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for the 9th overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Since then, Schneider had yet to suit up in a playoff game for the downtrodden franchise, until Monday night that is. For the first time since 2012, Schneider earned a playoff win as the Devils knocked off the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2.

All things considered, Schneider should have been the starter for the Devils in Game One versus the Lightning. I’m not saying that because of his recent performance, but because he’s the guy that the Devils pay the big bucks to man the crease.

He decidedly lost that job to relative-unknown Keith Kinkaid down the stretch. That might have happened in the blink of an eye for any outsider, but how did Schneider end up losing his job to a goalie that was never the long-term answer in New Jersey?

What Went Wrong for Schneider?

Following his trade from the Canucks, Schneider continued to post strong numbers despite the Devils perpetually missing the playoffs. For three straight seasons in New Jersey, Schneider posted a .924 save percentage and a 2.14 G.A.A. in 172 games between 2013-2016.

Those numbers put him in the elite goalie conversation. He was even named an All-Star in 2015-16 for his strong performance in net.

Then in 2016-17, his game began to slip.

There’s no definitive rhyme or reason for Schneider’s drop in play. Perhaps he was sick of his defence letting him hang out to dry every night. Perhaps missing the playoffs year after year caught up to him.

Andrew Gross of northjersey.com had some interesting notes about Schneider during his player reviews following the 2016-17 season.

Despite his off year, Schneider still had six seasons of solid hockey under his belt prior to 2016-17. Wouldn’t you know it, he came out of the gate looking like the Schneids of old to kick off the 2017-18 season.

Up until December 27th, Schneider led the surprising Devils with a 17-6-4 record with a 2.49 G.A.A. and a .923 save percentage. It sure looked like his previous mediocre performance was a mirage.

Then with the snap of a fingers, he went from bonafide starter to raging question mark.

Fresh off of a 6-0-1 run, Schneider lost six straight games, giving up four goals or more in each contest. He then exited the lineup for about a week thanks to a stomach virus, before returning for two games on January 22nd and 23rd.

He lost both of those games, and was sidelined with a groin injury until March 1st. He continued to lose games, and ended up being replaced by the red hot Kinkaid.

From Dec. 27th onwards, Schneider went 0-10-2 with a sub-.900 save percentage. He wouldn’t win again until defeating Tampa Bay on Monday night.

Can Cory Still Be Elite?

At 32-years-old, there are questions to be had about a goalie who’s play has slipped in two straight years, and one who is beginning to battle injuries.

That being said, there are many reasons to believe that Schneider is still capable of being a number one goaltender. Groin issues are often ongoing, and there’s probably a case to be made that he wasn’t 100% both before and after the injury. He was also one of the best goalies in the league for the first half of the season, and it’s unlikely he fell off of a cliff just because.

Schneider is a goalie with a decent track record of being a bonafide number one goaltender at the NHL level. Unless his nagging groin issues start to present a bigger problem, the Devils should still have a goalie that keeps them in most games.

On the flip side of that, there’s also reason to believe that this groin issue is still bugging Schneider. He went down in a heap during the third period of Game Three. Schneider finished the game was was moving around gingerly (no pun intended) before the game concluded.

The other thing to consider is that the Devils goalie of the future, Mackenzie Blackwood, is by no means ready to jump into the NHL. He posted subpar numbers of a bottom-feeder Binghamton Devils team, and ended up finishing the season in ECHL.

The answer in short is that as long as Schneider stays healthy, there’s no reason to believe that he can’t still be an elite number one goaltender. A 35-year-old Pekka Rinne is the favourite to win the Vezina trophy this year. With that considered, Schneider should still have a lot left in the tank.

Although they face a stiff test against the Lightning, this is Schneider’s time to prove that he belongs in the elite goalie conversation, as long as he can stay healthy.