Petr Mrazek has emerged into a potential Vezina Nominee, maybe even Vezina winner. This is a fantastic development for the Wings. You have to think they’d hoped he’d eventually take the reins from Jimmy Howard and run with it. However, I don’t think anybody would have thought it would happen this soon and in such dominant fashion. The now 24-year-old is exceeding expectations in just about every possible way. As beneficial as Mrazek’s emergence has been for the Wings, it does create one issue; what do you do with Howard now?
To say Jimmy has had a rough 2016 would be an understatement. He is still a very capable goalie with a possibility of recapturing his form, albeit likely not with Detroit. That now begs the question, if not with Detroit, then who?
I’ll preface this by saying, I do not think he will, nor do I think Detroit should trade him at the deadline. I think if he’s going to be moved, it will be in the offseason. It’s not easy to trade a player with three years left at 5.3 million per mid-season, especially at this stage in the year. We can all make arguments about when the ideal time to move him is, but the Wings need a strong back up in the stretch run just in case St. Petr suffers a prolonged injury.
Here are five potential destinations. These don’t come from “sources”; these are the teams that make the most sense in my mind. I’m also not going to speculate on what the return would be since there are way too many variables to form an accurate guess.
Calgary Flames. The most obvious statement here is that their goaltending has not been good, and they would like to upgrade. Even the most cynical Wings fan would have to admit that Howard is an upgrade to what Hiller, Ramo & Ortio have given the Flames this year. The most important thing to note, however, is that Hiller, Ortio & Ramo all do not have contracts lined up for next season. Hiller & Ramo being UFAs. It may also be relevant to note, they are a non-conference team.
Carolina Hurricanes. Cam Ward’s 6.3 Million dollar cap hit comes off the books this summer and Carolina has turned into a surprisingly not-terrible hockey team this year. They will have the cap space to play and will likely be aggressive in trying to take the next step in improving their team. They do have Eddie Lack under contract for two more seasons, but he only carries a cap hit of 2.75 million. Given that he hasn’t exactly set Carolina’s world on fire this year, an upgrade is a definite possibility.
Philadelphia Flyers. I should note that after we get past Calgary & Carolina, I struggle to find good reasons why any of these teams should or would trade for Jimmy. There are reasons. Just not strong reasons. Philly is always a trade market wild card for a multitude of reasons, although I expect that trend to subside with Ron Hextall now in place. However, they’ve never seemed quite satisfied with Steve Mason. Michal Neuvirth is having a stellar season but, for the most part, is known as a career backup. Both have expiring contracts in 2017. Detroit will still need a backup for next season if Jimmy does indeed depart. Neuvirth could easily come back the other way, and Philly suddenly has a proven goaltender with term.
Toronto Maple Leafs. Yes, I’m going here. Jonathan Bernier is unstable, and they may lose James Reimer to unrestricted free agency. They’re in the middle of a rebuild, and they have Oprah type money so they could afford to carry Jimmy’s salary and cap hit for at least a couple years. It would also provide them some semblance of stability in at least this one position. Babcock is familiar with Howard, although that could be good or bad since he’s familiar with good and bad Jimmy.
Vancouver Canucks. Stop laughing. Okay, I admit this a real stretch, but I smell a rebuild coming. I was tempted to put St. Louis or the Islanders here but they are both successful teams with multiple options in net. Vancouver has various options as well but only for one more season each. I don’t want to say that Ryan Miller’s been a disappointment, but Vancouver is very starved for prospects outside of the big club and Detroit has more than they know what to do with. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Detroit & Vancouver swing a blockbuster deal for prospects, picks and goalies. After all, Jacob Markstrom could be a solid, cost-effective backup. Still, I’d put the odds on this one at sub 1%. They’re mainly here because I didn’t want only to give four potions. That would be awkward for everybody. Who ends a list at four?
The Winnipeg Jets are often brought up as a suitor, but I’ve left them off of my list. Connor Hellebuyck is looking like he could be Winnipeg’s Petr Mrazek. They’re in such a similar situation to the Wings right now, I don’t see why they would even consider adding Jimmy.
The Buffalo Sabres are another oft-speculated suitor that I don’t see working out. Robin Lehner has churned out some pretty solid numbers this year. Factoring in what they gave up for him, I think they’re going all in with him. For now at least.
The Edmonton Oilers are long shots as well everyone did see they extended and gave Cam Talbot a significant raise, right?
It’s not exactly a thriving trade market right now unless a contending team suffers a catastrophic injury to their starter. Hey Montreal, you should have called in November! The point being, I think us Wings fans need to brace collectively ourselves for two likely scenarios. We need to prepare for the possibility of Jimmy returning to the Wings next season, or we need to accept the fact the team might trade him for virtually nothing but cap space.