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NY Post
New York Post
2 Dec 2023


NextImg:The NHL has a goaltending problem

Akira Schmid had never started back-to-back games over the course of the 24-year-old Swiss netminder’s young NHL career. 

But someone within the Devils’ hierarchy thought it would be a good idea to come right back to him Friday night in Newark against the Sharks after facing 47 shots the previous night in Philadelphia in the Devils’ 4-3 overtime defeat. 

Five goals on 17 seventeen shots from San Jose in an empty net-abetted 6-3 defeat, this served as yet another illustration of the Great Goaltending Shortage around the NHL. 

Because the choice was to either go with Schmid in a compromised situation or to give the assignment to Vitek Vanecek, which in and of itself has represented a compromised situation for New Jersey. 

Substandard goaltending threatens the Devils’ ascension, even if the team plays defense the way it did two or three years ago. 

Akira Schmid of the New Jersey Devils replaces Vitek Vanecek #41 during the second period against the New York Islanders at Prudential Center. Getty Images

Save percentages around the NHL have been frightful. The Devils’ tandem’s .873 save percentage ranks next to last in the league, ahead of only Carolina’s all but unbelievably bad .866. Edmonton fired its coach with the third-worst save percentage in the NHL (.874), and Minnesota fired its coach with the fourth-worst (.879). 

The league’s collective .903 save percentage, down from .012 over eight seasons, is at its second lowest since 1995-96. The .901 save percentage in 2005-06 was a direct result of the adoption of the new-age rules following the canceled season that produced an explosion of power plays and power-play goals. 

The question now is whether there has been a deterioration of goaltending skill in this age of scientific technique or whether the exponential increase in offensive skill is overwhelming defensive structure? 

Teams practice less often every season. Hence, there is less time to teach defense and play away with the puck. Kids rarely serve apprenticeships through which they are tutored on the finer details. There’s a lot of shinny out there. 

Akira Schmid of the New Jersey Devils stops a shot during the first period against the San Jose Sharks. Getty Images

But there is also a goaltending crisis. Maybe teams will be able to come up with their version of Adin Hill, who by the way has taken the Cinderella story past midnight in leading the league with both a .935 save percentage and 1.87 GAA for Vegas. 

But at this point, owning a credible tandem is likely a team’s greatest asset. And say what you will, Lou Lamoriello has always seen to it that his team’s goaltending is in order. 

That is no different on the Island. Backup Semyon Varlamov may have great value on the trade market, but it is not as great as his value to his team while recording a .926 save percentage that ranks fourth in the NHL as the understudy to Ilya Sorokin (.913). 

Toward the end of November when Boston’s Milan Lucic was arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife at their home, the Bruins issued a statement that began, “The Boston Bruins have been in communication with the Lucic family, offering our support and assistance.” 

Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic stands during his arraignment on Nov. 21, 2023, in Boston Municipal Court. AP

A week or so later, when Chicago’s Corey Perry was found by the organization to have “engaged in conduct that was unacceptable … and [violated] internal policies intended to promote professional and safe work environments,” his $4 million contract was terminated by the Blackhawks. 

This represents no defense of Perry, whose unidentified conduct unbecoming created a cottage industry of salacious social media rumors before (and after) the 38-year-old apologized for his unidentified behavior and pledged to receive counseling for alcohol abuse. 

But the lack of an objective standard and the arbitrary nature of contract termination is why the NHLPA will be obligated to file a grievance against the Blackhawks. This is not new. It comes up every time a contract is terminated for alleged cause. It comes up every time the folks on Ninth Avenue rubber-stamp a termination. 

Again. Within a two-week period, one prominent veteran was arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife and another prominent veteran (apparently) behaved terribly interacting with a third party but was never under criminal investigation or criminally charged. 

The Blackhawks terminated Corey Perry’s contract. Getty Images

Only the latter’s contract was terminated. 

How does that work? 

Not everything about hockey is ugly, though. 

Not everything about the culture is toxic. 

For though the Perry Saga dominated much of the discourse this week, Keith Jones’ Flyers and head coach John Tortorella operated on a much grander stage by giving a 9-year-old cancer patient a day to remember. 

Owen Micciche, diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer when 6 months old and the captain of the Genesis Hockey Club of Pennsylvania, was on the home bench with Tortorella for the first period of the Nov. 28 Hockey Fights Cancer Night match against Carolina. 

Owen Tippett of the Philadelphia Flyers skates with local youth hockey player Owen Micciche during warmups prior to his game against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Wells Fargo Center. NHLI via Getty Images

That is after the youngster announced the opening lineup in the room and took a rookie warmup lap with Owen Tippett. 

There are times that hockey gets it right. This is an example of that. 

This was a night to remember. 

When the Jets returned as Winnipeg 2.0 after having absconded from Atlanta 2.0, they were greeted with wild enthusiasm with the fan base generating 332 consecutive sellouts. 

Now, 12 home games into their 13th season, the Jets have not sold out once. They have drawn seven audiences of fewer than 12,000, hitting their high on Nov. 30 with 13,611 against the Oilers. 

Winnipeg ranks dead last among the 31 teams with professional arenas with an average attendance of 12,002, which is a 14.5 percent decrease from last season’s 14,045 per. The Jets also rank 31st in percent of capacity at 80 percent, ahead of San Jose’s 79.5 percentage. 

The Winnipeg Jets have battled with attendance woes. NHLI via Getty Images

That is despite the fact that management invested $119 million (U.S.) in Connor Hellebuyck’s and Mark Scheifele’s twin seven-year contract extensions just at the season’s start. 

The folks in Winnipeg and around the league say there is no need to panic. I say this reminds me of the Milwaukee Braves. 

Who? 

Exactly. 

When Max Domi sucker-punched somebody much bigger than he and subsequently was pounded by said Sam Bennett for his trouble before mocking the Florida winger’s shaved head, it was a reminder that he couldn’t spell class if you spotted him the “a-s-s.” 

Apple, tree, etc.