The Grind Line: Solving the Red Wings’ Problem In Net

What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. This week Tony Wolak, Devin Little, Patrick Brown, and Kyle Knopp are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

The state of Detroit’s crease is not good. Sure, Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss bailed the team out night-after-night, but don’t confuse the two for all-stars. Plus, Bernier is a pending free agent and Greiss only has one year left on his contract.

Additionally, the Red Wings don’t have any goalies in the prospect pipeline pressing for NHL duties. Nor do they have a bonafide “goalie of the future” in the system.

Clearly, there’s work to be done.

In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, The Hockey Writers’ Red Wings coverage team outlines their plans to bring stability to Detroit’s crease, whether that’s through free agency, trades, the draft, or some combination of the three.

Tony Wolak: Throw Darts

My plan to address Detroit’s lack of sustainable goalie depth has three phases:

  1. Acquire prospect Hugo Alnefelt from the Tampa Bay Lightning as part of a salary cap/expansion draft deal along with one of Tampa Bay’s expensive contracts.
  2. Draft Aku Koskenvuo and/or Aleksei Kolosov in the 2021 NHL Draft.
  3. Sign Linus Ullmark to a three-year deal.

I’ll level with you. This is not the year to take a big swing on a goalie – whether that’s through the draft or free agency. The Red Wings’ rebuild just isn’t there yet. 

Potential Detroit Red Wings free agent target Linus Ullmark.
Linus Ullmark in net for the Buffalo Sabres (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In Alnefelt, Koskenvuo, and/or Kolosov, Detroit can add to their stockpile of goalie prospects, increasing the odds that one of their lottery tickets will pay off. Alnefelt, in particular, is a top-10 goalie prospect league-wide and will likely come over to North America for the 2022-23 season – right when the Red Wings are expected to push for a postseason berth.

As for Ullmark, the netminder put up respectable numbers as part of an awful Buffalo Sabres team last season. His .917 save percentage (SV%) and 5.45 goals-saved above average (GSAA) would have led Detroit’s goalies this season. It’s clear he knows how to defend the crease behind a lackluster up-and-coming team.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft Guide

Devin Little: Cossa at No. 22 (Fingers Crossed!)

I am nervous about taking a goalie sixth overall, even though Jesper Wallstedt is one hell of a goaltending prospect. Luckily, he’s not the only goalie in this draft with high-end potential. Projected to go later in the first round is Edmonton Oil Kings goaltender Sebastian Cossa, and I would love to see the Red Wings draft him at 22nd overall.

Potential Detroit Red Wings draft pick Sebastian Cossa.
Sebastian Cossa of the Edmonton Oil Kings (Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oil Kings)

He will take time. I think it’s about three years before we can talk about him playing for the Red Wings, but by that time Detroit’s core should be in place and the team should be on their way up. It would be like when Carter Hart took over the starting role for the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2019-20 season. Even though he had his struggles this season, ask any Flyers fan how they feel about their goaltending situation, and they’ll tell you that they are still excited and have a ton of faith in Hart. 

If Cossa isn’t there at 22, it’s time to throw some darts like Tony said. Wallstedt and Cossa aren’t the only goalies worth taking a shot at in this year’s draft. Even if it’s not one of those two, the Red Wings need to continue to draft and develop their own talent.

Patrick Brown: Do it. Draft Jesper. Do it!

Okay, so I took a little flack for not going bold enough last week, so try this on for size: Take Jesper Wallstedt with the sixth-overall pick in the draft. Sure, it may be slightly overvaluing the netminder, but certainly not by much. I get the Red Wings’ lack of scoring and porous blue line remain top priorities, but with some offense (see: Lucas Raymond, Jonatan Berggren) and defense (you know who) heating up in the pipeline, now’s a great chance to take a shot at a franchise goaltender. If the stocked cupboard pans out, the remaining missing pieces can be added via free agency or trade.

Potential Detroit Red Wings draft pick Jesper Wallstedt.
Jesper Wallstedt at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Wallstedt presents a really good opportunity for the Red Wings. The 18-year-old Swede is 6-foot-3 and clocks in around 214 pounds with plenty of room to grow into his adult frame. In 22 SHL games with Luleå HF this past season, he was 12-10-0 with a .908 SV% and 2.23 goals-against average (GAA). Again, this is a teenager in a league of men we’re talking about.

Look, he’s obviously not a “can’t miss” prospect, but the fact remains that he checks off all of the boxes, is technically sound across the board, and almost certainly won’t be available when the draft comes back around at No. 22. Though Yzerman hinted previously he didn’t have a goalie in his top 10, everyone knows all bets are off once he sets foot on the draft floor.

Related: 2021 Red Wings Prospect Rankings

Kyle Knopp: Chris Driedger Has Potential

Let me begin by saying that I was very happy with the way the tandem of Bernier and Greiss performed this season. If Yzerman were to decide to bring Bernier back on another one year term, I would be just fine with that. In fact, I almost wish this situation were reversed – Beriner was under contract for another season and we were looking at replacements for Greiss. 

Jonathan Bernier Detroit Red Wings
Should the Red Wings move on from Jonathan Bernier? (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Granted, not all the fault can be pinned on Greiss this year – he didn’t get much goal support through the first half of the season. However, by losing the younger of the Wings’ two goalies, it would be wise for Yzerman to look to make a move that solidifies the crease over the next few years. While going after Freddy Andersen would create stability in net, at 31 years old he would still be aging out by the time the Wings are in playoff contention. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I will be happy if Yzerman takes Wallstedt at sixth, Sebastian Cossa at No. 22, or any potential outcome in between. Even with drafting another goalie this year, the Wings still need to find a netminder that can carry them from the transition period of a mid-stage rebuild to a team that is poised to make a run at the playoffs. With that in mind, I think the Wings should sign Chris Driedger from the Florida Panthers. The 6-foot-4, 27-year-old led all Panthers netminders with a 2.07 GAA and .927 SV% in the regular season — while also receiving the least amount of goal support from his team

If it weren’t for the emergence of Spencer Knight and the money invested in Sergei Bobrovsky, Driedger would be in line to be Florida’s starter. Instead, there is now an opportunity for Detroit to land a number one goalie that will allow time for the Wings draft picks to mature. 

How would you address the Red Wings’ goaltending situation? Comment below.

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