Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Cory Schneider, prophetic Devils and opportunities squandered

"He's a number one goalie in this league... He's that good."

The above quote is credited to Czech centre and omni-Devil, Patrik Elias.  Without knowing the proper context, one might easily assume that the New Jersey forward had been asked by some draft-day reporter to assess his newest teammate.  Elias' lofty praise for Schneider, however, dates back to February 24, 2012, after the former Canucks netminder backstopped his team to a 2-1 win in New Jersey.

At a time when Schneider was still an overqualified backup, he turned aside 30 of his future teammates' shots, standing opposite Martin Brodeur.  Aptly enough, Elias finished his post-game interview by adding, "There will be 29 teams in line to get him when the time is right."

Schneider with now ex-teammates during a 2012 pre-game warmup.
Thoroughly outplayed by Schneider, the NHL's all-time goaltending great offered his opinion of his up-and-coming counterpart: "A lot of teams will look at the guy to be a next coming... The team that'll be able to grab him will find themselves a number one goalie."

Prophesy, you Devils.

It seems difficult to imagine now, but it wasn't that long ago that a trade involving Schneider was an inevitability rather than the curveball it represented Sunday afternoon.  That said, it's not as if Elias and Brodeur were speaking with great clairvoyancy, but it is interesting nonetheless to see how highly Schneider was regarded, even in the less-exposed East -- and especially within the team that inevitably acquired him.

Whether or not the Devils were among the aforementioned 29 teams at the 2012 trade deadline remains a question, but it's clear that he was on at least Elias's radar.  Ditto for Cory's newest mentor.

Brodeur may like to eat his words now regarding Schneider's inevitability as a clear-cut number one, but even the league's all-time winningest goalie has an expiration date.  And while retro-Brodeur made a near-championship calibre appearance just two playoffs ago, the four-time Vezina winner hasn't had a regular season save percentage north of .908 since 2009-10.  So after three seasons of largely deferring the crease out of respect to the greatest of all-time, New Jersey now has a legitimate transitional strategy.

Were it not for a certain contract about eight years too long, such might be the case in Vancouver.  Thanks to Sunday's head-scratcher, however, the Devils' storied crease is shored up for the foreseeable future.  Meanwhile, Vancouver's has now been reduced to, at best, a guessing game.

How long until Luongo's legs tire?  To be fair, this past season's workload isn't the most representative sample, but Lu's .907 save percentage in 2013 is unsettlingly comparable to Brodeur's statistical decline.  Looking now at our Schneiders-to-be, how long until Eddie Lack's development takes that suddenly-urgent next step -- if at all?  Is Swedish import Joacim Eriksson the second coming of Henrik Lundqvist?  Or is he simply Vancouver's reincarnation of Jonas Gustavsson?

For now, it appears that Mike Gillis has traded one crease conundrum for another, though time will soon tell.  Perhaps once Luongo's best years are fully behind him, there will be enough offence between Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk that the Canucks can simply West Coast Express their way through the league -- minus the playoff atrocities, of course.

It's funny though.  What with all the talk of the closing window and the aging core, here I was thinking that clearly... clearly... with two elite-level goalies, when one of them finally did get dealt, the return would at least help facilitate that one last run.  A third-line centre to fill that Malhotra-sized hole the Canucks have had since March 2011.  A legitimate finisher for the the top six.  A roster player.. period.

I have all the excitement in the world for a potential Bo-and-Hunter era.  But allow me to join in the refrain when I say that for the loss of a franchise cornerstone -- however short-lived that title was for Schneider in Vancouver -- I shouldn't be this unsatisfied.

You're welcome, Patrik Elias.


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