Jonathan Bernier did all he could to keep the Detroit Red Wings in games during the 2019-20 season. But few goalies can do it all on their own — every team needs at least two trustworthy options in goal. It’s why the 1A/1B set-up has become a lot more common over the last few years.
With the expiration of Jimmy Howard’s contract, the Red Wings are lacking depth at the goaltender position behind Bernier. Luckily, there should be plenty of options available to them once the playoffs have concluded. These options range from stop-gap answers to potential long-term solutions.
Related: Detroit Red Wings’ 50-Goal Club
The Red Wings also have a sizable amount of cap space should they opt to pursue a more costly option. Simply put: there’s nothing, outside of a player’s desire to play in Detroit/with the Red Wings, that should inhibit general manager Steve Yzerman from landing the guy he wants. Just like Yzerman, let’s consider the Red Wings’ options for the 2020-21 season.
The 2018 Stanley Cup champion will become a free agent at the season’s end. The Washington Capitals are in an interesting spot in regards to their situation in net. Holtby turns 31 years old next month and will likely want a hefty contract to end his career on. The Capitals also have 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov, who likely would have been the Capitals’ starter for the playoffs had he not suffered an undisclosed injury prior to play resuming.
If Holtby leaves in free agency, it will likely be to go chase another championship. Teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes could be a fit for him. The Red Wings would likely have to grossly overpay him in order to bring him over, and given his recent play — a .905 regular season save percentage (SV%) over the last three seasons — that isn’t advisable.
First of all, Lehner looks to have usurped Marc-Andre Fleury as the Vegas Golden Knights’ top option in net. Yes, his contract is set to expire, but it shouldn’t surprise anybody if the Golden Knights look to lock-up the 29-year-old — especially if they go on the kind of playoff run they think they’re capable of.
Second, Lehner probably wants another opportunity to be “the guy” for a team, similar to what he had with the Buffalo Sabres from 2016 to 2018. The Red Wings are probably looking for a guy to work in-tandem with Bernier given how the latter played this season. Lehner is due for a big payday, and it doesn’t necessarily make sense for the Red Wings to be the team to give it to him.
The Vancouver Canucks are once again a playoff contender in the West. Part of the credit for this development goes to their starting goaltender, Jacob Markstrom. The key return in the (second) Roberto Luongo trade with the Florida Panthers, Markstrom has finally become the kind of goalie that he was projected as when he went 31st in 2008 (one pick after the Red Wings took Thomas McCollum.)
While the Canucks have a couple of solid goaltending prospects in their system, it would be unwise of them to hitch their playoff aspirations to an unproven young guy. Markstrom is their guy until he isn’t their guy. I would be shocked if he hits the open market.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are going to make some changes following an embarrassing showing against the Montreal Canadiens in the qualifying round. That likely begins in goal, where the Penguins have two guys capable of carrying the load.
Jarry is the fresher face, and is therefore the cheaper option of the two. Given the construction of their roster, they’ll want to save as much as they can when it comes to goaltenders. While the 25-year-old Jarry would be a great get for the Red Wings, it just doesn’t make sense for the Penguins to move on from him — unless the Red Wings made them an offer they can’t refuse (but that kind of offer would likely be an over-payment on the part of the Red Wings).
It wasn’t that long ago that Talbot was an absolute workhorse for the Edmonton Oilers during their 2017 playoff run. After a fall from grace, he has resurfaced with the Calgary Flames, and he has looked pretty good during their ongoing playoff run (.933 SV% at the time of this writing).
Now the question becomes whether or not the Flames opt to re-sign the 33-year-old. If he hits free agency, he would fit in as a veteran partner with Bernier. Perhaps a two-year deal would work for both sides? It would certainly buy some time while the Red Wings try to develop their own goalie prospects.
I’ve written a whole article about how this could work for both the Red Wings and the Penguins. If the Red Wings did land the pending restricted free agent, it would give Murray a chance to reset after a wildly successful beginning to his career led to some disappointing seasons afterward. It would also give the Red Wings a realistic candidate for their “goalie of the future” given that Murray is still just 26 years old.
In order to acquire Murray, the Red Wings would have to trade for him. Luckily, the price shouldn’t be too prohibitive for Yzerman to consider it. A second-round pick (the Red Wings have three in this year’s draft) and a mid-level prospect (they probably have too many of those as it is) could probably get it done.
Similar to the Penguins, the St. Louis Blues have two guys with experience as a starter in the NHL. Jordan Binnington won them a Stanley Cup. Allen is the guy Binnington stole the starter’s spot from. Realistically, something has to give.
Allen is 30 years old and has one more year on his deal. He and Bernier could battle for the Red Wings’ top spot next season, and the winner could get an extension while the other becomes trade bait. What would the Blues want in return for Allen? A second-round pick would definitely get a dialogue going. It’s up to Yzerman as to whether or not Allen is worth it.
That being said, Allen’s performance during the Blues’ playoff run could change the state of affairs in St. Louis…
As a somewhat underrated option in net, Khudobin has made a living in the NHL by providing solid backup goaltending throughout his career. Due to complications with Ben Bishop’s health, Khudobin has been “the guy” for the Dallas Stars during their ongoing playoff run. The results? Well, you take a look:
The 34-year-old represents another short-term solution as the Red Wings work to develop their own long-term solution in net. Khudobin’s track record suggests that he would provide Bernier with a challenge for playing time. However, if he wants to chase a Cup now that he’s in the final phase of his career, the Red Wings are not the team for him to join.
As long as Markstrom is the top guy in Vancouver, Demko will be stuck playing second-fiddle. The former second-round pick is still considered to be one of the best “high potential” backups in the NHL. With Michael DiPietro emerging as a top goalie prospect for the Canucks, it may make sense for Canucks general manager Jim Benning to move out Demko to make way for DiPietro.
Demko will turn 25 years old in December and has only played 37 games in the NHL; he is far from a proven commodity. But if given the chance, he could develop into a true starter in the NHL. The Red Wings could figure out a way to alleviate some of the Canucks’ forthcoming salary cap issues and request Demko as part of the deal.
With Semyon Varlamov and now Ilya Sorokin in the fold, the New York Islanders are highly likely to move on from Greiss, who has played on Long Island for the last five seasons. The 34-year-old German has a career SV% of .915 through 282 regular season games. For the Red Wings, Greiss could not only complete a solid tandem with Bernier, but he could also become something of a mentor for a certain defensive prospect in the Red Wings’ system.
If Moritz Seider, the Red Wings’ top pick in the 2019 draft, makes the leap to the NHL next season, it would be beneficial for him to have a veteran take him under their wing and help him get acclimated to the big leagues. Being a fellow German, Greiss could provide Seider with something of a role model. Another plus is that he shouldn’t be too costly for the Red Wings to sign — he’ll likely see a decrease from his current cap hit of $3.33 million.
Playing behind Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg has to be a pretty solid gig. The Vezina Trophy candidate plays a majority of the Jets’ games, while Brossoit has been there to spell him on the occasional night, as well as back-to-backs.
Through 40 games with the Jets, Brossoit has a quality-start percentage of 56% — a solid rate, but inflated by a career best rate during the 2018-19 season. For the Red Wings, Brossoit would have nowhere to hide. If the plan is to have Bernier carry the load, then Brossoit could be an option that doesn’t require a huge financial commitment.
Sometimes you’ve got to stick with what you know. Following Howard’s dismal performance this season, it’s unlikely that any team besides the Red Wings would be interested in signing the 36-year-old. Naturally, Howard would like the opportunity to end his career on a more positive note.
“This year left such a bitter taste in my mouth. I want to go out there and show people I can still play in this league – I know I’m capable.” Howard told The Detroit News. (From “‘I want to keep playing’: Jimmy Howard knows days in Detroit might be numbered” The Detroit News – 6/5/20)
Howard is another option that buys the club some time while they try to find their goalie of the future. Bernier and Howard seemed to work well together over the last two seasons. Though it’s not the most exciting option (and would likely set some Red Wing fans OFF) perhaps the Bernier/Howard tandem is the perfect bridge to the future of Red Wings goaltending.
The route that Yzerman takes with filling the Red Wings’ vacancy in net is going to reveal a lot about his plan going forward.
During his first year as the Red Wings’ general manager, he made bold moves to add players that could find a future with the Red Wings (ex. Robby Fabbri). He also made safe additions to provide veteran depth while the team’s prospects marinate (ex. Alex Biega).
His mid-season move to acquire Eric Comrie suggests that Yzerman has a desire to acquire a goalie with potential. Though that particular move didn’t work out, it would surprise few if he attempted something similar.
Whether Yzerman acquires a long-term or short-term option, one thing is certain: the Red Wings need to figure out what the future in net looks like.