Inconsistency has certainly been the common theme of the Detroit Red Wings this season. Their goalies have been no different – Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek struggled mightily at times this year and looked unbeatable in others.
After Mrazek was dealt, Jared Coreau was called up and hasn’t looked like an NHL goalie in limited action behind Howard, who has had his own difficulties as of late. The defense in front of them has been porous, especially during the recent 10-game losing streak, but can’t fully be blamed for faulty goaltending.
So, with the Red Wings in rebuild mode, how does this subpar play impact their roster management decisions moving forward? Who will tend the twine in Hockeytown next season and into the future?
New Red Wings Goaltender of the Future
With Mrazek no longer in the picture, Detroit’s “goalie of the future” position is vacant. Howard is in his mid-30s and there’s not a lot of talent in the immediate prospect pipeline. Relatively raw, young prospects Filip Larsson and Keith Petruzzelli are at least five years away from NHL action and have quite a bit of development ahead of them.
To bridge the gap, the Red Wings could acquire an NHL-ready, top goaltending prospect from another organization this offseason. Calgary’s Jon Gillies, Vancouver’s Thatcher Demko, and Washington’s Philipp Grubauer all have starter potential but have an established starting goalie ahead of them on the depth chart.
Perhaps Detroit could dangle Gustav Nyquist to add a quality goaltender who may be able to do what Mrazek couldn’t: wrestle away the starting job from Howard for good. An acquisition of this nature would give the Red Wings stability in net for the next half-decade until Larsson or Petruzzelli prove they can cut it in the NHL – or another viable option presents itself.
Temporary Solution Free Agents
Given his unsatisfactory play since being called up from Grand Rapids, it’s unlikely that the Red Wings will keep Coreau beyond this season. He’s an unrestricted free agent who could be cheaply re-signed but may be set free this summer or claimed off waivers before this season ends.
To replace Coreau, the Red Wings could bring in another free agent to compete with Howard next season. A cheap, one-year deal would be preferable given the little cap space to work with and next summer’s outstanding free agent class. But as long as Detroit’s key restricted free agents—Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Andreas Athanasiou—are signed, there’s nothing wrong with paying a little more to bring in a better goalie on a one-year deal.
Among the goalies scheduled to hit the market this summer, Antti Raanta and Carter Hutton appear to be the top options, but will likely be re-signing with their present teams. Kari Lehtonen, Cam Ward, Jaroslav Halak, and potentially Mrazek are the next, more expensive tier of free agent netminders. Beyond those four, Reto Berra, Jonathan Bernier, Anton Khudobin, and Ondrej Pavelec would be cheap, solid veteran options. One of these goaltenders on a one-year contract would suffice, though Halak or Bernier would be preferable.
Another viable option is the Islanders’ Christopher Gibson. The netminder is only 25 and represents a low-risk, high-reward option for the Red Wings. A late bloomer, Gibson has had a couple cameos with New York and put up above-average numbers this season behind a defense that rivals Detroit’s in terms of incompetence. If the Finnish goaltender does not re-sign with the Islanders before July 1, Detroit could opt to sign him to an inexpensive and have a winner-takes-all backup goalie battle with Coreau—who would also need a contract—in training camp. Placing the loser on waivers—and risking a claim—would certainly be acceptable if both were signed to two-way contracts.
There is plenty of room for improvement in the organization. Goaltending is no different. Without a “goaltender of the future” or anything close to that distinction, the Red Wings are in a difficult spot if they wish to contend in 2020.
Acquiring a young goaltender with starting potential or signing a veteran to push Howard next season are two ways to address this issue, though a long-term solution would be ideal given their prospect depth – or lack thereof. If the Red Wings decide to pursue a veteran on a one-year contract, both he and Howard could be rental trade bait at next year’s trade deadline and could potentially be used to acquire more draft picks to aid Detroit’s rebuild.