With that deserved sendoff, the Devils officially cut ties with star-crossed Cory Schneider yesterday, putting him on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final two years of his six-year contract. Given what kind of person Cory is everyone hates that it had to end this way, but given the fact he has gone from being one of the best goalies in the league to an unreliable, injury-prone backup making $6 million a year, a divorce was inevitable in the end whether it was this offseason or next. His departure is even more melancholy because his tenure here was filled with what ifs and might have beens.
Not to mention things started out great, as all marriages do and with a theatrical twist to boot as then-GM Lou Lamoriello traded for Cory at the 2013 NHL Draft in Newark with Gary Bettman’s memorable announcement complete with the ‘I think you’re going to want to hear this’ teaser stopping the boos while he spoke. When the announcement was made of the Devils trading the #9 overall pick to Vancouver for the well-regarded Schnieder, it sent the home crowd into a shocked roar.
It looked as if the Devils had their replacement for Martin Brodeur for the next decade. As the NFL’s 49ers went from Joe Montana to Steve Young or the Packers went from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, many thought it would be that kind of transition for the Devils in goal. As we know now, seven and a half years later it just wasn’t meant to be. Not that things started off badly although having Cory on the roster with Marty winding down his career was always going to make for an awkward transition in the first year. Cory did well enough on the ice (1.97 GAA, .921 save percentage) but only got 45 starts as a sporadic rotation helped neither guy in the long run.
Although Cory kept up his level of play for the first two years of the extension he signed after 2014, things only got worse around him on the ice as the team bottomed out in 2014-15. Injuries and a declining team started to take their toll in 2016-17, but Schneider did get off to a strong start in 2017-18 for a resurgent Devils team before he got hurt again, and the bottom fell out when he returned from injury as he couldn’t win a game or stop the puck. Eventually he lost his job to Keith Kinkaid, although he did pull himself together and came off the bench to get the Devils’ only playoff win as they lost in five games to the Lightning. At his nadir Cory was winless in 27 straight regular season starts between 2017-18 and 2018-19, but to his credit never made excuses or blamed anyone else for his struggles.
Even last year was one final frustrating kick in the teeth for Cory, as he played well enough at the end of 2018-19 to get his job back heading into the 2019-20 season, but after a solid camp and first two periods on Opening Night again he got hurt, and again his game went down the drain after that. Not only did he lose his job but he also got demoted for a second straight season down to the AHL. Hopefully whereever Cory lands he’ll be able to stay healthy enough to contribute.
Aside from buying out Schneider there hasn’t been much to report yet in free agency. Late-season defensive fillin Dakota Mermis signed with the Wild and plugger Kevin Rooney signed with the Rangers of all places. I actually wouldn’t have minded either coming back in the right role but Fitz clearly wants to put his stamp on this team, which he continued to do with his trade of a fifth rounder to Columbus for injury-prone defenseman Ryan Murray – who once upon a time was drafted second overall (2012). Murray should be a solid low-cost addition to the top six when he plays although he’s only signed through 2020 and at nearly $5 million so the Blue Jackets were looking to clear cap as much as anything.
So far it seems as if most of the big free agents – aside from the goalies – are in a holding pattern while role players are wisely trying to get cap dollars before they dry up with teams’ budgets going down and the cap remaining flat. We’ll probably be looking for a backup goalie to replace Cory, among other potential needs.