When the New Jersey Devils traded the No. 9 overall pick in last year's draft for Cory Schneider, it was obvious that he was going to be their goalie of the future. It was just a matter of when they were going to be ready to move on from Martin Brodeur, perhaps the greatest Devil of them all.
As it turned out, they were a little too slow to cut the cord this past season, at times to the detriment of the team. They made it pretty clear on Wednesday that the crease in New Jersey now belongs to Schneider.
The Devils announced that they have signed the 27-year-old goalie to a long-term contract extension that is a reported seven years in length and worth $42 million, which comes out to a salary cap hit of $6 million per year. That matches the cap hits for Ryan Miller (Vancouver) and Corey Crawford (Chicago), and places him below Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, Tuukka Rask, Carey Price and Cam Ward on the NHL leaderboard.
It's also yet another deal for a goalie that goes beyond six years, something that has been becoming quite a trend in the NHL over the past couple of years.
More often than not, they don't seem to work out for the team.
Working in New Jersey's favor is that Schneider has been one of the most productive goalies in the NHL over the past four years. His .928 save percentage over that stretch is tops in the NHL among goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games. Getting that type of performance in place of what they have received from Brodeur on a regular basis over the past couple of years (some of the worst goaltending in the league) would a massive upgrade in net and could be the difference in quite a few points in the standings. It might even be the difference in making the playoffs and missing out again.
The only concern is that for as productive as Schneider has been, it's still a relatively small sampling of games.
Goalies of any age and experience level are for the most part unpredictable beasts that will torment and surprise you every year. Sometimes goalies that you think are bad will suddenly put together an All-Star season. Goalies that you think are great suddenly become ordinary. It's a brutal market and sometimes even the best general managers and talent evaluators in the game miss (and miss badly) on them and make regrettable investments.
More than anything, you want the biggest possible sampling of play when it comes to evaluating these guys and investing in them. For all of Schneider's success in the NHL, he's pretty much always done it in a limited role. He's never really been the go-to guy over a full season.
Sure, he's started big games and for stretches been the goalie his team leans on, but he has always been one half of a platoon, whether it's been with Roberto Luongo in Vancouver or Brodeur during his first year in New Jersey.
Only once in his career has he played more than 40 games in a season and for his career he has still faced fewer than 4,000 shots.
The NHL only tracks save percentage data back to the late 1980s, but since then only four goalies seem to compare to Schneider's career to this point. The only goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games before their 28th birthday, faced fewer than 4,000 shots and posted a save percentage greater than .920 are Schneider, Marty Turco, Jonas Hiller and Ben Bishop.
How do we feel about that list?
The jury is still very much out on Bishop at this point, but Turco and Hiller did not come close to maintaining their early success as they received more playing time. After recording a .920 save percentage in his first three years, Hiller followed that up by dropping down to .914 in the four years that followed, which is pretty much a league average performance.
Turco was absolutely dominant over a three-year start to his career that saw him put a .928 save percentage on the board (while facing 2,561 shots), but then completely fell off the map after that and was able to manage just a .905 save percentage over the remainder of his career. He topped .910 in a single season just twice in eight years and was never above .913.
This isn't to suggest that Schneider is destined to follow the same career path and that he is doomed as a full-time starter. It's just that it's a pretty rare situation for a goalie at this point in his career with so little experience to get such a massive contract.
The Devils are taking the gamble that what they have seen so far is the real Cory Schneider.
If it is, then they probably have a pretty good investment on their hands.
And if it's not? Well, it will just be another chapter in the crazy, unpredictable book of NHL goalies and another lesson for general managers to learn from.