Can Mackenzie Blackwood turn back the clock? Pre-pandemic, Blackwood was seen as the goalie of the future for the New Jersey Devils. After several injury-plagued and, at times, bad seasons for the Devils, they were ready to turn the page. The San Jose Sharks acquired Blackwood’s signing rights days before the NHL draft for a 2023 sixth-round pick. Blackwood would go on to sign a two-year deal worth $4.7 million. ($2.35 million AAV) when the league’s new year opened up.
Last season for the Devils, the former second-round pick played 22 games with 20 starts. He posted a 10-6-2 record with a .893 SV%. His goals saved above expected (GSAx) was -.9, which would be a small miracle compared to what the Sharks saw last year. James Reimer finished with a -11.9 GSAx, and Kaapo Kahkonen posted a -24.6 GSAx in all situations. The Devils were a great team last year, and the Sharks were not. Blackwood will have to try and find his game with a lesser roster around him.
Blackwood has struggled with injuries the last few seasons, including an MCL and multiple groin injuries. These have seen his games played drop from 47 in 2019-20 to 22 last year. The key to Blackwood’s turnaround will be his ability to stay healthy. Another big reason to look at why Blackwood could turn his career around is the pace of play. The Devils were a very run-and-gun team that wanted to push the pace of play. Blackwood iced the puck -32.7 times above expected, the 28th highest in the league. Vitek Vanecek was second at -177.65. Kahkonen and Reimer ranked 103rd and 104th in the league. Icing the puck nearly over 40 times more than expected. In 2019-20 season, when Blackwood posted his best season, he iced the puck 27.78 more than expected. With the Sharks playing a slower pace, Blackwood could be in a better position to succeed.
Where does Blackwood fit?
Mackenzie Blackwood is another one of General Manager Mike Grier’s reclamation projects. Blackwood is worth the risk of a sixth-round pick because he has put up good tape, and if he can stay healthy, the Sharks could have an answer in the net. Unless a team has a superstar in the crease, it’s usually a pretty even split between goalies. Last season, Reimer started 43 games, and Kahkonen 37 games for Head Coach David Quinn, expect a similar breakdown this year. Expect Blackwood to get the slight majority of the starts and Kahkonen to get the rest. With Eetu Makiniemi earning a couple of NHL starts at the end of the season.
Blackwood is a worthy gamble for the Sharks to take as they continue their quest to find a franchise goalie. He turns 27 in December and could still be an answer for the Sharks while a player like Magnus Chrona continues to develop, and the Sharks look to draft a goalie in next year’s draft. Blackwood is the Sharks’ best goalie entering the season despite the issues that he’s had staying healthy. This is more of a statement on the Sharks’ lack of goalie talent that could be argued as the worst in the league.
What’s next for Blackwood?
Since Blackwood just signed a two-year deal with the Sharks after being traded, don’t expect Blackwood to go anywhere this season. The key for Blackwood and the Sharks is to see if they can answer the question: is Blackwood a potential answer? While the Sharks could be in the market for a goalie in the offseason, depending on what happens with Kahkonen and Makiniemi, continuing to look for answers isn’t the way to sustainable answers. The Sharks need to find something in the net sooner rather than later.
Bold Prediction: Mackenzie Blackwood regains his form and ends the season with a .905 SV%.
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