Red Wings’ Goaltending Has Been Biggest Bright Spot So Far

The Detroit Red Wings have not had many bright spots so far this season. Outside of a Bobby Ryan “resurgence” and Troy Stecher becoming one of the most underappreciated defensemen in the league, there hasn’t been a lot for this team to hold its hat on. However, the one positional group that has caught my eye for most of the season has been Detroit’s goaltending. Led by two 30-year-old journeymen in Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss, I’m here to tell you who and what has made this team’s goaltending situation fascinating while also focusing on the future of the franchise. We’ll start with the incumbent and then our way down the roster.

A Lot to Like About Bernier’s Game

Bernier is an intriguing netminder for the Red Wings. In 13 games this season, he has a .910 save percentage (which is slightly below his .912 career save percentage) and a 1.2 Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA). In case you’re unfamiliar with GSAA, it’s a stat that tracks the goals this goalie prevented given his save percentage and shots faced compared to the average save percentage in the league on the same number of shots. Obviously, the higher the figure is, the better, so it’s been fairly positive for him this season.

Many of us, including myself, thought Bernier was the unsung hero for this team last season. When a team played as poorly as the Red Wings did last season (I don’t need to remind you of the stats), there wasn’t a lot to be excited about. He had a .907 save percentage and -3.7 GSAA in 46 games during the 2019-20 season while posting a 41% quality start percentage. Although it’s a smaller sample size, he already has a better save percentage and GSAA this season, along with a 66.7% quality start percentage. Plus, he just beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, so something must be going right.

Jonathan Bernier Detroit Red Wings
Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

You could make the argument that the Red Wings’ defense is better, and that’s why Bernier’s seeing better numbers. I don’t believe that’s the case as the newest member between the pipes is struggling, but I’ll discuss that a bit more later on. With Bernier, it feels like he’s adjusted quite well and is enjoying his time in Detroit. Before signing with the Red Wings in 2018, he played for three teams in the past three years and never started more than 40 games in any of those seasons. Having a team that has confidence and trust in you to be their starting goaltender must do wonders, and that’s partly why we’re seeing his best season so far in Hockeytown.

Coming to Gripes with Greiss

When you look at the 1-11-4 record of Greiss, your first thought probably is something along the lines of, “wow, that’s not good at all.” And that’s after Jimmy Howard had a record of 2-23-2 when he was in net for the Red Wings last season. However, just like pitchers in baseball, a win-loss record doesn’t tell the whole story about one player’s performance. So, while the lack of wins is disturbing, you have to look beyond the wins column to better understand his effort this season.

Before this season, Greiss signed a 2-year, $7.2 million contract with a $3.6 million AAV. It was a reasonable deal for someone that wasn’t expected to be a bona fide starter. Granted, the New York Islanders play under a more defensive style with head coach Barry Trotz than the Red Wings do, so it was somewhat expected that his numbers would dive a little bit with the move to Hockeytown. Coming off another disappointing loss to the Bolts on Tuesday (even with this amazing save), I can understand why people are not pleased with his stats.

Thomas Greiss Detroit Red Wings
Thomas Greiss, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

What fascinates me is that in the 15 starts Greiss has made this season, he’s posted a .900 save percentage or better in six of those games. In those six games, Greiss has just one win, coming on Feb 7th against the Florida Panthers. He’s also been in net for all of Detroit’s overtime losses this season, which isn’t necessarily a goalie’s fault when it’s 3-on-3. Now, he’s had some bad starts as well (I’d say three but maybe more) and has been pulled when he hasn’t been good enough. But more than Bernier, I feel like luck has been against the German netminder, and that’s partially to blame for his performance.

What Does the Future Hold for Each Player?

Bernier is a free agent after the season. Assuming he continues to put up the same stats for the rest of this season, I have to imagine teams are going to be interested in him. Considering we are in a suppressed market with several teams running on internal budgets, signing an affordable netminder who can start between 30-40 games a year makes plenty of sense for many. He has a cap hit of $3 million with a salary of $2.5 million this season. I can’t see him getting more than $3.25 million a year right now, so don’t be surprised if he re-signs with the Red Wings over the offseason.

Steve Yzerman, Christopher Ilitch
Steve Yzerman and Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc. after Yzerman is introduced as the new executive vice president and general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Trying to predict the future of Greiss is difficult. Next season, he has a cap hit of $3.6 million with a total salary of $4.4 million. He’s a bit more challenging to offer in a trade because of the salary, and unless certain teams have been watching the Red Wings specifically, telling a GM “he’s better than his stats show” isn’t exactly a great selling point. He’s certainly going to be exposed for the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft this summer, but similarly to Bernier, his numbers might be better in a normal season and regular circumstances next year.

The most unlikely option that could happen is that neither player is starting for them next season. It’s the least likely to happen since it means that someone acquires Greiss (since the Red Wings aren’t buying him out), and Bernier isn’t brought back. I feel like at least one of them, if not both, will be back next season, and it would be so unlike Steve Yzerman to make significant changes like that so soon. So, expect both goaltenders to be back with the team in 2021-22.

Final Thoughts

There hasn’t been a lot to like about the Red Wings. However, goaltending is one of the few bright spots on a rebuilding team. I’m hopeful that we see a Bernier return next season with the current economic climate and that Greiss can bounce back to how he normally plays. This team has plenty to look for to in the future, but presently, it’s the goaltending that gives me hope.