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Cory Schneider is a confident, self-assured guy.
The 28-year-old has every reason to be, too. He’s been married 14-or-so months and is coming off a season in which he posted career highs in games, saves and minutes and his 1.97 goals-against average was third-best of all qualifying NHL netminders.
Plus, for the first time in his life, Schneider is a starting goaltender in the NHL. Between Martin Brodeur’s departure from New Jersey, and Schneider’s new fat contract, there’s no disputing that fact.
“We know Cory is the No. 1,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said Thursday. “He’s ready for it; he’s paid his dues. I think the group believes he’s one of the top goalies in the league.”
For each of his first six NHL seasons, that wasn’t the case. There was the controversy in Vancouver that led to his trade on draft day 2013. Then there was the strange 2013-14 campaign in which Schneider showcased he was worthy of starting but was forced to play second fiddle to Brodeur’s farewell to New Jersey tour.
“I think it makes things a little easier, from my seat, when you have a clear-cut situation like it is this year,” DeBoer said.
Schneider has not let distractions alter his consistent play, but now we’ll find out if he’s capable of doing the same when the workload is on him.
“I think the mindset is a little different,” Schneider said Friday. “I’m coming in with a little more confidence. I’m just trying to a establish a tone for myself, and for the rest of the guys, to let them know I’m excited and eager with being the No. 1 guy.”
There were reasons the Devils missed the postseason in 2013-14 — they were shut out 10 times and, of course, those 13 shootout losses — but Schneider didn’t appear to be one of them. But although his numbers were good, Schneider was frustrated at his inability to pick up enough wins, and points, to get New Jersey to the postseason.
“I’d love to get us to the playoffs, that’s step 1, and how you do that is by winning more games,” Schneider said. “The other numbers were good, but I think I take pride in winning games, and last year was a funny year. I am hoping to win more games. If that means my numbers are worse, so be it.”
But if the Devils are going to make the playoffs this year, they’ll likely need Schneider’s numbers to be the same as last season; they’ll just need more.
In his prime, Brodeur would regularly play 70-plus games per season and post All-Star caliber numbers. Schneider played in back-to-back games three times last season, but if he were called upon to do more, could he do so?
“As long as I’m able to play, I would love to play as many games as they want me to,” Schneider said. “I felt better, last year, the more I played. A couple of those back-to-backs, I felt better the second night.”
Living up to Brodeur’s lofty standard is near-impossible — after all, how many other goalies have won four Vezina Awards, and helped their club claim five Jennings trophies, five Prince of Wales trophies and three Stanley Cups?
But the Devils don’t shell out multi-year deals to just anyone, and the reported seven-year, $42 million deal puts the onus on Schneider. It’s time for him to prove he is capable of living up to the hype, cost and organization’s enormous expectations.
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