Considering that they currently average 3.79 goals-against per game, it makes sense that the Detroit Red Wings brought it upon themselves to take a look at their goaltending situation. What maybe doesn’t make as much sense is how they went about addressing it.
With just a month left in the season, Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman signed free agent goaltender Magnus Hellberg to a one-year pact that concludes at the end of the 2021-22 season. The Swedish netminder spent the last five seasons playing in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) over in Russia, and raised his profile with 24 shutouts through 169 games, and a collective save-percentage (SV%) of .928. With stats like that, it’s easy to see how he caught the attention of an NHL GM.
“When the opportunity came up to finish the season here, it was a no-brainer for me,” Hellberg told the media. “I felt really excited and inspired to come here and show who I am.”
And yet, with Alex Nedeljkovic and Thomas Greiss still on the roster, there’s no guarantee that Hellberg will play a single minute for the Red Wings before the end of their season. There are just five games left in Detroit’s season, and both goalies they entered the season with seem to be finishing strong. So then the question must be asked: what was the point of signing Hellberg?
Red Wings Utilize Final Month as Audition Time
Throughout the Red Wings’ lineup, you will find players whose 2022-23 season plans are still up in the air. Some players like Mitchell Stephens and Jake Walman are trying to show that they deserve a roster spot on next season’s team. Others, such as Marc Staal and Greiss, are doing what they can to show that they’ve still got the goods to play in the NHL, whether that’s for the Red Wings or another team once free agency opens up this summer. With their focus shifting to next season, the last month of this season has essentially become an early training camp for the Red Wings as their front office and coaches determine who should stay and who should go.
That extends to the goaltending situation. Aside from Nedeljkovic and Greiss, only American Hockey League (AHL) starter Calvin Pickard has seen the crease for Detroit this season. Out of those three, only Nedeljkovic is under contract for next season. With top goaltending prospect Sebastian Cossa still some time away from challenging for an NHL spot, the second and third spot on Detroit’s goaltending depth chart is wide open for anybody to claim.
That’s where Hellberg comes in.
There are multiple ways a player can show who they are. The obvious way is on the ice, where production and on-ice chemistry is key. Another way is off the ice, and this is where players really find out who their teammates are. Whether it’s in the weight room, the cafeteria or the locker room, this is where teammates talk to each other. Just because a player performs well on the ice does not necessarily mean that they will be a beloved member of the team – an easy example of this is Edmonton Oilers winger Evander Kane.
In signing with the Red Wings for the remainder of this season, Hellberg has the opportunity to show that he fits in with the Red Wings’ current group. His résumé in the KHL – the second-best hockey league in the world – speaks for itself; if he can come in and be a positive force in the locker room and during practice, chances are that he’ll secure a contract for next season too.
Heck, maybe he’ll see some game action too.
Red Wings to Address Goaltending in Offseason
It’s no secret that the Red Wings have struggled to keep the puck out of their net this season. While plenty of blame should fall on Detroit’s defensive group, Greiss and Nedeljkovic should also carry some blame as they combine for a SV% south of .900. While addressing the defense will probably be Yzerman’s top priority this offseason, the Red Wings could also use a boost in goal.
This season was Nedeljkovic’s first full season in the NHL, and Greiss is 36 years old. Pickard, the team’s third-string goaltender since 2019, is 30 years old and holds a SV% of .853 through 12 games with the Red Wings. With a SV% of .915 with the Grand Rapids Griffins this season, Pickard is destined for another year in the AHL next season, whether that’s with Grand Rapids or another team.
The opening for Hellberg is there. Greiss more than likely won’t be back next season, and Pickard may be forced out if Detroit decides to give time to fresh faces in the AHL. The second and third spot on the depth chart are ripe for the taking, and this brief time with the Red Wings to conclude this season should give Hellberg the inside track on one of those spots.
As for what to expect from Hellberg here in North America, it is important to note that he was the 38th pick of the 2011 draft, originally selected by the Nashville Predators. After playing one more season in Sweden, he crossed the pond and played the next five seasons in North America, split between the Predators and their farm system, and the New York Rangers and theirs. Through 187 AHL games, he holds a record of 89-71-20, recorded 14 shutouts, and holds a SV% of .914.
All of this is to say that Hellberg likely isn’t coming in to wrestle the starting role away from Nedeljkovic. In fact, there’s a decent chance that he ends up replacing Pickard rather than Greiss (Hellberg only has four games of NHL experience to his name.) Instead, this singing gives Yzerman and the Red Wings a head start on revamping the organization’s goaltending picture, even if it is through unconventional means.
Real Answers for Red Wings’ 2022-23 Goaltending Lay Ahead
The truth is we won’t know for sure what to make of this Hellberg signing until the Red Wings sign two contracts:
- Hellberg’s 2022-23 contract
- Another goalie
These two deals will shed some light on where Hellberg will be next season. If the Red Wings were to sign a goaltender like Braden Holtby, for example, then odds are that Hellberg would become the starter in Grand Rapids next season. If Detroit re-signs Pickard and that’s it, the 31-year-old Swede probably heads into next season as the Red Wings’ backup goalie.
What seems like a sure thing is that the Red Wings didn’t just bring Hellberg in to practice with the team. What also seems obvious is that the Red Wings must figure out a way to bring in a goalie that can give the team good, consistent goaltending so that they do not have to lean too heavily on Nedeljkovic. Perhaps Hellberg is that guy, perhaps he is not. But if I were a betting man, I’d wager that Hellberg factors into Detroit’s plans for the 2022-23 season because why else would he get a set up this awesome?
Hellberg has designs on making the Red Wings’ goaltending picture look a little better next season – both in fashion and in the numbers. Whether or not he is able to is completely up to him.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.