This season, the Detroit Red Wings’ goaltending duo of Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier were under siege nearly every night. In the case of Howard, he had a ghastly 2-23-2 record and a save percentage (SV%) of just .882%. Bernier fared a bit better, with a SV% of .907%, but was mostly helpless given the ineptitude of the team in front of him.
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Howard seems to have played his last game with the Red Wings, and perhaps in the NHL entirely. Bernier, who turns 32 years old in August, has one season left on his contract, and is far from the long-term answer the Red Wings seek in goal. Despite his team-MVP status this season, he could find himself wearing another team’s jersey by the time the 2021-22 season comes around.
For a rebuilding team like the Red Wings, the long-term answers at each position are far from entrenched. For all we know, current top-line center Dylan Larkin could be a second-line center by the time the team contends for the playoffs again. It is general manager Steve Yzerman’s current task to find players that could become permanent solutions throughout the lineup. Perhaps the biggest hole in the organizational depth chart is in goal.
The Athletic Drops a Bomb
Josh Yohe, who covers the Pittsburgh Penguins for the popular sports journalism site The Athletic, recently interviewed Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford and discussed the team’s situation in goal. Despite employing Matt Murray, who won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the team as their starter in 2016 and 2017, it was fellow 25-year-old Tristan Jarry who took the ball and ran with it for the Penguins this season. Jarry even represented the Penguins at this season’s All-Star competition.
With both goalies needing a new contract at season’s end, the Penguins could find themselves in a financial bind as the salary cap looks to remain flat heading into next season. This is a similar situation to the one that led to the Penguins moving long-time starter Marc-Andre Fleury to the Vegas Golden Knights and keeping the younger (and cheaper) Murray.
“I’d have loved to have kept them both. Both great goaltenders, both championship goaltenders,” Rutherford told Yohe. “But with Marc-Andre’s cap number, it was just too hard to do without disrupting the rest of the team. And we may be in that place again. The cap isn’t going up. No way is that happening. But we don’t know precisely what it will be. And we know we have very good goalies in our system. So, we have to make some tough decisions coming up.” (From “Jim Rutherford Says Trading One of His Goaltenders Might Be Inevitable” The AthleticNHL – 5/5/20)
Enter the Red Wings
It is incredibly rare that a goalie has two Stanley Cup championships to their name by the time they’re 22 years old. In the case of Murray, he was technically classified as a rookie for both seasons due to the games-played threshold for rookies, a very unique feat that may never be repeated. With just 199 games to his credit, he has built an impressive résumé in a short amount of time.
There’s no doubt that Murray will be the more costly option for the Penguins. He is the one they will be looking to move on from in an attempt to cut costs. Luckily for them, the Red Wings look poised to have plenty of cap space this offseason, as well as a need at the position.
The cost is key here. Given that trading Murray is a near-necessity for the Penguins, they literally can’t afford to be too picky with what they can get in return for him. That’s not to say that they’ll give him away for anything though. Given that they build their team around a juiced-up top six and then cheap depth with upside, they could target guys like Taro Hirose and/or Evgeny Svechnikov from the Red Wings.
Pros and Cons
For the Red Wings, the idea of dealing future assets can leave a bit of a bitter taste in fans’ mouths. After all, the team should be hoarding prospects and picks, hoping that a few of them become something notable for the team’s future. It would be incredibly painful to see anybody the team deals for Murray reach their potential with another team — especially the last team to deny them another Stanley Cup championship.
Murray has also seen his performance slip due, in part to an array of injuries. Thus, his maximum games-played total is a meager 50 games. In fact, Murray missed the first two rounds of the team’s 2017 Stanley Cup run due to injury. There are legitimate worries that he could be too fragile to rely on as a de facto number one goalie.
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On the other hand, Murray would give the Red Wings something they currently do not have: an NHL-caliber goalie under the age of 30. With none of the team’s goaltending prospects knocking on the door quite yet, the team could use a young face to carry the load for a few years, with the potential for many more years beyond that. Not to mention, Murray would also bring championship experience to a team that suddenly lacks it.
Yzerman spent all of the 2019-20 season making deals to acquire players that had the potential to grow into a prominent role with the Red Wings. It was that mentality that saw the team acquire winger Robby Fabbri from the St. Louis Blues, and he quickly found a home in the team’s top six. Murray may have fallen out of favor with the Penguins, but he could find a home with the Red Wings and become the rock the team can lean on in the crease.
Fortune Favors the Bold
It would be easy for Yzerman to simply sign a guy like Cam Talbot to a short-term deal in the offseason, acknowledging that the team is still a while away from making waves in the league. In a perfect world, the team would have a prospect that seemed a year away from challenging for an NHL spot and a guy like Talbot could bridge that gap. Unfortunately, due to Filip Larsson’s struggles in the AHL this season, the Red Wings don’t live in a perfect world.
Instead, Yzerman should pursue an option that has the potential to be more than just a stop-gap. He already tried to do just that this season when he acquired Eric Comrie from the Arizona Coyotes for a defensive prospect. Unfortunately, the Comrie experiment didn’t work out for the Red Wings, but it shows that Yzerman realizes the shortcomings of the team’s depth chart in net.
If Yzerman can work out a fair deal, adding an NHL-proven goalie like Murray would do wonders for the team in the present, and potentially into the future. It’s not everyday that a young, two-time Stanley Cup champion becomes available and he perfectly fills a hole on your team. It would be a bold move, and that’s pretty much Yzerman’s M.O.
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.