To the eyes of Brian Daccord, Cory Schneider mans the crease wearing a crisp Canali suit and holding a briefcase.
“Cory is a businessman,” said Daccord, Schneider’s longtime goalie coach and president of Stop It Goaltending. “He’s not an artist. He’s a businessman. He’s not emotional. He doesn’t get up, he doesn’t get down. He doesn’t make rash decisions on or off the ice. He’s very consistent. He’s very stable. I think that is the ultimate starting goalie in the NHL right now.”
This has been a unique summer for Schneider. For the first time in his NHL career, the Marblehead native is entering a season as the No. 1 goalie. It’s one of the major reasons why the Devils will be back in the playoffs in 2014-15.
After leaving Boston College in 2007, Schneider spent three seasons developing his professional game in Manitoba. He served as Roberto Luongo’s understudy in Vancouver for the next three years. Following his 2013 trade to New Jersey, a deal that helped cave in Mike Gillis’s career as Vancouver’s general manager, Schneider had to share the net with Martin Brodeur.
In 45 games last year, Schneider went 16-15-12 with a 1.97 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. But it was an uncomfortable situation. In tribute to the game’s best goalie, the Devils gave Brodeur (19-14-6, 2.51 GAA, .901 save percentage) too many starts. Brodeur’s inconsistency and New Jersey’s shootout ineptitude (0 for 13) were two primary reasons why the Devils, a top-five possession team, finished in 10th place in the East.
Now that Brodeur is gone, the 28-year-old Schneider will be The Man, a role that’s been deferred for at least two seasons. Schneider’s career save percentage is .925, better than SergeiBobrovsky, Henrik Lundqvist, Tim Thomas, and Ryan Miller , four of the last five Vezina Trophy winners. Schneider is ready for the workload.
“Knowing that if you have a bad night that you’re going to be in the next night, that’s awesome,” Daccord said. “It allows you to go play without fear that if you have a bad night, you’re not going to play for three weeks. That’s a huge thing. You’re going to have train wrecks. It’s going to happen. But knowing that when you have a train wreck that you’ll be back in there, that’s unbelievable. That’s a great feeling.”
Schneider will face pressure with the added responsibility. He’ll also have to improve in the shootout. Last year, Schneider posted a miserable .552 save percentage (13 goals allowed on 29 attempts). In comparison, former Vancouver teammate Eddie Lack turned back 21 of 25 shootout shots (.840 save percentage).
But general manager Lou Lamoriello shouted his confidence in Schneider with his checkbook. On July 9, the Devils signed Schneider to a seven-year, $42 million extension, effective 2015-16. Only Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, Tuukka Rask, CareyPrice, and Cam Ward will have a higher average annual value. It’s a significant investment in a goalie who’s never been a No. 1. But Lamoriello is paying for future performance.
Three weeks later, Lamoriello threw down with another critical extension. New Jersey locked in Andy Greene for five more years at $5 million annually. It’s an excellent price for an excellent defenseman. Greene is similar to Paul Martin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Jay Bouwmeester. They’re efficient, low-maintenance, dependable, do-it-all left-shot defensemen who’ve earned the highest trust of their coaches. Last year, Greene dressed in all 82 games. He scored eight goals and 24 assists while averaging 24:34 of ice time per game, most on the team. Greene controlled the puck more than he chased it.
Greene was second among team defensemen in scoring (Marek Zidlicky led with 42 points, including eight of 12 goals on the power play) while playing a shutdown role. He averaged 3:33 of playing time per game on the penalty kill and 2:21 on the power play. The 5-foot-11-inch, 190-pounder, undrafted out of Miami University, uses his brain to make up for the muscle he’s missing.
“Andy comes to the rink, does his job day in and day out, never takes a practice off, never looks left or right, is always focused on what he’s doing,” Lamoriello said during a conference call on Wednesday. “To me, that’s a top-flight defenseman.”
Lamoriello goofed when he turfed Claude Julien near the end of 2006-07. In Boston, Julien’s grown into one of the best in the business. But when Florida was foolish enough to sack Peter DeBoer in 2011, Lamoriello was quick to bring him to Newark. DeBoer is an excellent coach. Like Julien, he preaches systems and structure. The Devils roll four lines. He doesn’t dress a tough guy. There’s a tight fit between Lamoriello’s vision and DeBoer’s execution. DeBoer’s insistence on detail manifests in a forward crew that makes opponents fight over postgame ice bags. The Devils play a heavy, persistent, and overwhelming style of offensive hockey.
The Devils will bring back some firepower in 2014-15. Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique are a good 1-2 center combination. They’ve got skill and thunder on the wings in Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, and Michael Ryder. Lamoriello signed Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat.
But the organization’s identity, going back to Brodeur’s sweet spot, has always been defense and goaltending. The Devils have aces at both positions. That goes a long way toward guaranteeing hockey at the Prudential Center in the spring.
Ward retains Daccord to consult in Germany
Brian Daccord also serves as a goaltending consultant for Mannheim in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga. Daccord will remain in the position under new coach Geoff Ward, formerly Claude Julien’s assistant for seven seasons. Daccord, who is based in Woburn, plans to join Ward in Mannheim this month for some on-site work before the DEL season begins.
One of the biggest differences between German and North American hockey, according to Daccord, is the way the 100-foot-wide sheet affects defensive play. In Germany, defensemen regularly hit the deck to defend odd-man rushes. It’s considered a last-ditch maneuver in the NHL because forwards are good at picking their way around flat-on-the-ice D-men.
“The down-low seam pass or the cross-crease pass doesn’t exist because the defenseman lies down,” Daccord said. “On a two-on-one, very rarely will you see the defenseman standing up at the end. At some point, he’s going to slide.”
Daccord won’t be the only familiar name working in Mannheim. Old friend Glen Metropolit signed a one-year contract with Mannheim on Tuesday. Metropolit, who scored 11 goals and 22 assists for Boston in 2007-08, spent the last five seasons in Switzerland. During the lockout, Metropolit was linemates with ex-teammate Patrice Bergeron for Lugano. The two also played for Team Canada in the Spengler Cup.
Ward will also be coaching Jamie Tardif, who dressed in two games for the Bruins in 2012-13. Tardif scored 18 goals and 19 assists in 51 games last year for Rochester, Buffalo’s AHL affiliate.
One of Ward’s assistants will be former Bruins prospect Jay Leach, a four-year Providence College player and AHL journeyman, who retired after 2012-13. Leach was the Providence Bruins’ captain in 2006-07.
Rangers’ spending leaves them a bit short
It was a given that the Rangers would buy out Brad Richards upon the conclusion of their Cup run. They needed to apply the 34-year-old’s annual cap hit toward their restricted free agents: Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, and John Moore.
They did just that by saying goodbye to Richards, reclaiming the center’s money, and sending it right back out the door to Brassard (five years, $25 million), Zuccarello (one year, $3.5 million), and Kreider (two years, $4.95 million). They will re-sign Moore before the start of camp.
The rearranging of money ($6,666,667 in from Richards, $5.825 million for 2014-15 out to the three RFAs, with the difference earmarked for Moore) may be a wash. But it doesn’t mean the Rangers will be as good as they were last year. They’ll probably be worse.
The Rangers will always be competitive with HenrikLundqvist in goal. Ryan McDonagh will be a Norris Trophy finalist some day. Rick Nash is a puck-hungry behemoth. These are star players.
But what made the Rangers the best team in the East was their depth. Their best line was their No. 3 unit of Brassard, flanked by Zuccarello and ex-Bruin Benoit Pouliot. During the final, Zuccarello was arguably New York’s best player. The hydrant-shaped dynamo was always around the net. It helped that Pouliot, Brassard, and Zuccarello didn’t see much time against the Kings’ top pairing of Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin. Pouliot’s play earned him a five-year, $20 million bonanza with Edmonton. That’s a lot of coin for a 27-year-old who’s never been a regular top-six forward.
Brassard, a left-shot center, is skilled and smart. In 2006, there weren’t many complaints when Columbus drafted Brassard sixth overall, ahead of Kyle Okposo (No. 7), Claude Giroux (No. 22), and Milan Lucic (No. 50). The extension should cover Brassard’s most productive years. But as much as Richards was overpaid, he filled an important position as New York’s second-line center. Richards played against tougher opponents than Brassard. Now, Brassard will slot in behind top-line pivot Derek Stepan. Brassard’s competition will be better. For Brassard, whose most productive season was 2010-11 (17-30—47 in 74 games), it will be harder to find the time and space that allowed him and his wingmen to possess the puck and create chances.
Among their regulars, Kreider projects to improve the most. The 23-year-old Boxford native can fly and thump. His hockey sense hasn’t caught up with his physical gifts, but experience will make Kreider more dangerous. The former Boston College standout could develop into a top-line left wing such as Max Pacioretty or James van Riemsdyk. But some of the Rangers’ go-to players are at risk of decline. Martin St. Louis hasn’t hit the wall yet. He keeps himself in terrific shape. But 39 is not a kind age for a winger who grinds against giants.
Dan Girardi regularly fought the puck during the final. This will be the first season of Girardi’s six-year, $33 million extension. It does not look like a contract that will age well.
The Rangers gambled by acquiring St. Louis from Tampa Bay. It almost worked. Had the Rangers gotten lucky in any of the three overtime games against the Kings, they’d be raising a banner at Madison Square Garden in October.
But the risk was losing two first-round picks in the trade. They also had to say goodbye to Richards, Pouliot, Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, and Derek Dorsett. That produces a far worse headache than the Cup hangover.
Before they lifted the Cup, Muzzin, Slava Voynov, Dwight King, Tyler Toffoli, AlecMartinez, Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Kyle Clifford, Tanner Pearson, Jonathan Quick, and Martin Jones had another thing in common: They all developed in Manchester, N.H., under the watch of former coach Mark Morris. Because they improved in the AHL, they were ready to contribute once they arrived up top. The Kings expect that process to continue with the guidance of Mike Stothers, hired last month as Manchester’s head coach after Morris was not re-signed. Stothers, most recently coach of Moose Jaw in the WHL, has ties to the Kings. Stothers coached in Owen Sound when Michael Futa, LA’s vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel, was the Attack’s GM. Stothers was also a teammate and coaching colleague of John Stevens, Darryl Sutter’s right-hand man (and likely successor) behind the LA bench. In juniors, Stothers’s charges included Quinton Howden, Morgan Rielly, Bobby Ryan, and Wayne Simmonds. “Players develop in a winning environment,” Stothers said during his introductory press conference. “You want to be competitive. I think it can be done with the right balance. Every organization’s dream and aspiration should be to win a championship. LA’s done it twice in the last three years. Players have developed, gone up, and contributed. That’s what you always want to have.”
The Leafs made another savvy signing by adding ex-University of New Hampshire forward Daniel Winnik on a one-year, $1.3 million contract. Winnik, 29, was a bottom-six grinder and penalty killer for Anaheim last year. Winnik scored six goals and 24 assists in 76 games while averaging 15:23 of ice time per game. The left-shot Toronto native is a good skater and can play center and wing. Off the ice, Winnik participated regularly in contract negotiations during the 2012-13 lockout. His addition makes it even more unlikely that ex-Bruin bruiser Colton Orr will break camp with the varsity. The 32-year-old Orr (110 penalty minutes last year) is still one of the league’s toughest fighters. But Orr’s 0-0—0 line and 5:22 average TOI in 2013-14 are numbers that send smoke pouring out of new assistant GM Kyle Dubas’s computer. Randy Carlyle might need convincing, but Orr’s playing days in Toronto should be over.
Martin Brodeur remains unemployed, which is not surprising when you’re 42 years old, coming off a .901 save percentage, and still think you can be a starter. But that’s the kind of thinking that made Brodeur the best in the game. He believed he was better than everybody else, and proved it . . . A cruise through the inimitable www.hockeydb.com revealed that Linus Arnesson, the Bruins’ 2013 second-round pick, was a teammate of former UNH standout Steve Saviano. The Reading native scored 11 goals and 17 assists in 52 games for Djurgardens, which played in the second tier of the Swedish Elite League. Saviano and fellow Reading homeboy Sean Collins ripped up Hockey East for UNH in the early 2000s . . . The 2014 Joint Statistical Meetings are taking place through Thursday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Wednesday’s schedule includes Statistics on Ice: Advances in Methods for the Analysis of Ice Hockey. Speakers include Michael Schuckers (St. Lawrence) and Brian Macdonald (United States Military Academy), who have done excellent work in analytics . . . Endicott College broke ground Tuesday on the Raymond J. Bourque Ice Arena. The facility is expected to open before the 2015-16 school year . . . Shawn Thornton will host his fifth annual Putts & Punches for Parkinson’s Golf Tournament on Aug. 11 at Ferncroft Country Club in Middleton. For information, visit www.thorntonfoundation.org.