Six and a half years ago is a long time, but somehow it does seem like just yesterday when I was at the Rock for the 2013 NHL Draft as Lou Lamoriello pulled a fast one on everyone and traded the #9 overall pick for highly regarded goalie Cory Schneider in a transaction that was (typically) totally secret from everyone until that moment, even though the teams had agreed to the trade the previous night. What made this memorable other than the general shock and excitement was the classic Gary Bettman troll, when he went up to the podium to announce the trade and is met with the requisite boos he then comes back with ‘I think you’ll want to hear this’…referring to the trade details. When he did reveal the details, the entire arena exploded in approval. For years everyone was complaining that Lou had no succession plan for the great Martin Brodeur, but with one fell swoop here was the hope of our future – the guy who was going to be Andrew Luck to Peyton Manning or Steve Young to Joe Montana – the guy who kept the legacy of great Devils goaltending going.
It’s with this backdrop that today is still a melancholy day for me. Despite my angst and dissapointment over Cory’s play the last two years, and the inevitability of this moment once Mackenzie Blackwood took the starting job with both hands along with the acquisition of Louis Domingue as another goaltending option to hedge against Cory’s continued struggles I still find myself a bit sad today. I’ve been saying for months if not the last year or so that this franchise was going to have to move on from Cory…but now that it’s here with the announcement of Cory being formally waived this afternoon to Binghamton (and likely ending his Devil career) I’m stuck thinking of what could have beens and should have beens. It feels like the end of an era somehow, but an era of what?
Cory is one of the most star-crossed athletes I can remember, and it began in that initial awkward season where he was here to replace Marty, who was still here on the last year of his contract. By almost all accounts, Cory had a terrific first year with the Devils – a 1.97 GAA and .921 save percentage in 45 games. What he didn’t do…was win. He only had sixteen wins, while Brodeur somehow went 19-14-6 despite far worse splits (2.51 and .901) in his final full season. Yes, winning is what matters above all else but how can you fault a goalie for not winning when he gets approximately 1.5 goals a game in ‘support’ the way Cory did that first year? Cory’s numbers that year and the next two looked empty somehow without the wins to back them up, or any kind of hope for playoff berths after the shootout-induced failure of 2013-14 (thirteen shootout losses kept us out of the playoffs that year).
2013-14 16-15-12 1.97 GAA .921 SPct
2014-15 26-31-9 2.26 GAA .925 SPct
2015-16 27-25-6 2.15 GAA .924 SPct
By most accounts he lived up to the billing he had of being a young goalie on the come of being great and signed a seven-year extension after that first season as a Devil, but as the team continued to deteriorate around him, it’s obvious Cory was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And quite frankly, after word came out that we were about to lose Ilya Kovalchuk to Russia and that Lou knew about it before it became public knowledge, you have to in hindsight question the logic of using the #9 overall pick to trade for a goalie when the team around him was already starting to deteriorate. Marty and Patrik Elias were both on their last legs, Kovalchuk and Zach Parise were out the door and the rest of the team was getting older and slower. We were all blinded by optomism when the trade was made and relieved Lou had finally come up with a ‘succession plan’ for Marty, but knowing what Lou knew then it should have been obvious that the plan should have been to rebuild and get younger but hey, just like us he couldn’t help it – he didn’t want to say uncle when we’d had 20 years of almost uninterrupted success at that point.
After wasting three of Cory’s prime years on bad teams, the bottom started to fall out for him too in 2016-17 with hip and groin injuries getting the better of Cory as he dropped to a 2.82 GAA and .908 save percentage on a horrendous Devils team. Things did pick up briefly for a time in 2017-18, obviously more for the team but even Cory himself had a strong start to the season as the Devils found themselves in an unexpected playoff position, but the injury bugaboo struck Cory again in the winter, and when he came back nothing seemed to go right – namely a historic winless streak of twenty-one straight regular season games that extended deep into 2018-19. Cory’s troubles led to the Cinderella run of backup Keith Kinkaid, who along with Hart winner Taylor Hall saddled the team on their backs and led them to the promised land of a playoff berth.
Thankfully Cory did have one last shining moment in the playoffs that year, when Kinkaid crashed back to reality after the first two games in Tampa Bay, Schneider got his opportunity for redemption in Game 3. Despite a groin injury suffered in the third period of that game, Cory somehow willed himself to make multiple saves on that play and finish a virtuoso performance, earning a win that certainly did matter – even if it didn’t technically end the winless streak which was a regular season stat.
Sure it was the only game the Devils would win in the playoffs that year (and since 2012) but Cory acquited himself well the rest of the series too. Unfortunately after hip and groin surgery that offseason, he started 2019 in the same funk he ended the 2018 regular season, unable to win a game or stop a puck. Rock bottom against Vegas wasn’t pretty in early December when I was witness to an awful three goals allowed in less than ten minutes and Cory streaming down the tunnel clearly despondent and upset with himself. For all the ripping Cory has gotten over his actual play…he’s beyond reproach on the subject of whether he cared or not, and always taking accountability for his own failures even when things weren’t actually his fault.
After a couple of months on IR and getting an extended conditioning assignment in Binghamton, Cory returned and split time with rookie Blackwood and though the team was once again in a hopeless cause Cory’s own play started to pick up again, particularly after he ended the regular-season winless streak with a relief win against the Wild. With three years left on his contract including this season, Cory didn’t so much as earn another chance this year as he was given one out of neccesity, but after a decent finish to the season, a good World Championship showing on the US team and a promising preseason there was a sliver of a hope Cory could rebound and at least have another stretch of good hockey.
Sadly that ended on Opening Night, which served as a perfect prism for how star-crossed Cory has gotten. His strong first two periods when the Devils led 4-1 were quickly overshadowed by how he had to leave the game with cramps, then the team collapsed so he couldn’t even get a win out of that either. Allegedly, the cramps were no big deal but given Cory’s numbers this year I’m not sure there wasn’t more to it than that. With an unsightly 4.59 GAA, .852 save percentage and nary a win in six games there really was no recourse left for the Devils. Especially after yet another backup – Blackwood – took Cory’s job with Domingue playing well in the AHL since his acquisition, something had to give. Particularly after Blackwood played in a travel back-to-back after a 38-save extravaganza Friday night. Obviously something did give.
What’s next for the classy yet star-crossed goalie? Likely a stint in Binghamton for the rest of the year barring injury or Domingue being just as bad, before the final two years of his seven-year contract almost inevitably get bought out. As much as it hasn’t worked out for Cory here I can’t take any joy in his career disintegrating. It just wasn’t going to work for him here, especially after the ghastly end of 2017-18 but I hope he does get another chance somewhere else. Maybe former coach Alain Vigneault puts in a good word and he gets a shot as Carter Hart’s backup, or he goes back to Vancouver. Those would be the ideal solutions.
We know what’s next for the Devils, the net is clearly Blackwood’s going forward and deservedly so. Hopefully Domingue gets a shot sooner rather than later to provide a backup we’re going to need in the long run to keep Blackwood fresh the rest of the season.