The New Jersey Devils’ goaltending situation continues to reach new lows.
Following the Devils’ 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, goaltender Vitek Vanecek leaped Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov with an NHL-worst -13.42 goals saved above expected, via MoneyPuck.
Vanecek is dead last among the 87 goaltenders that have played an NHL game this season in the statistic, and it’s seemingly not going to get any better.
The Lightning rung Vanecek up on Thursday for four goals on just 20 shots. Vanecek made 16 saves accruing a -1.72 GSAx.
In other words, the Devils should have won last night.
Moneypuck shows that although Luke Glendening scored two goals, and one was an egregious error by Luke Hughes, an average goaltender is likely bailing out the Devils on at least one of the low-danger goals. Glendening’s first goal had a 6.4% chance of being scored and his second just 6.5%. And the overtime winner by Darren Raddysh? The chances of the average goaltender allowing that goal was 3.1%. All of those low-danger shots went in.
Here’s the thing. Yes, there are injuries, however, there’s a long-standing debate as to whether the Devils need to upgrade the defense or the goaltending. In all honesty, they probably need to do both sitting just two points out of the wild card and their playoff aspirations have not changed.
In the 2022-23 season, the Devils received “average goaltending” from Vanecek. The Czech goaltender ended the year with 5.1 GSAx. That’s a massive 18.42 GSAx difference from one year to the next, resulting in Vanecek being the NHL’s worst goaltender in the statistic this season.
The Devils opted to reassign Akira Schmid to the AHL Utica Comets. In fairness, he hasn’t been good, either. But, he’s been better than Vanecek. Schmid’s accrued a -3.8 GSAx in 15 games this season which ranks him 65th.
Unfortunately, Schmid’s luck down in Utica hasn’t been much better. In four games, the Swiss goaltender owns a 3.06 GAA and .893 SV% with the Comets. The team playing in front of him hasn’t been great. However, neither has Schmid according to those with eyes on Utica.
Samsonov was the latest goaltender to suffer the consequences of insufficient goaltending. The Russian goaltender was legitimately the NHL’s worst goaltender before Vanecek took the mantle and was promptly waived for reassignment. Instead of working on his game at the lower level, Samsonov mentally reset following the “wake-up call.”
Goaltenders in other organizations have suffered consequences for less. Jack Campbell certainly wasn’t good in Edmonton. He was reassigned to Bakersfield after just five NHL games this season. He ranks as the 64th-worst goaltender in the NHL with a -3.6 GSAx.
The Carolina Hurricanes did the same with Antti Raanta who ranks as the 83rd-worst goaltender in the NHL with a -9.1 GSAx.
Perhaps Nico Daws will be a little better than what the Devils can currently deploy. He’s seemingly brought a calmer, potentially more dependable approach to the Devils’ crease. However, New Jersey doesn’t currently have an internal fix.
How much longer can the Devils leave points on the table? They’re two games shy of the midway point of their season. General manager Tom Fitzgerald should probably find an upgrade sooner rather than later.