Of all the areas that the Red Wings need to improve on the ice, the crease isn’t one of them. With Petr Mrazek looking like he’ll be a top end goalie for years to come, Jimmy Howard providing long term, expensive depth, and Jake Paterson and Jared Coreau having the potential to be future starters, there are things that the Red Wings need to worry about more, like replacing Pavel Datsyuk, and replacing Nicklas Lidstrom (because they still haven’t done that yet).
But let’s say, hypothetically, that they got rid of Howard’s contract, but weren’t ready to give Paterson or Coreau an NHL gig yet. Then, they would need a goalie. So, let’s explore some of the Red Wings potential options in net.
Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kari Lehtonen – While these are all solid back up options, none of these fits Detroit’s goalie needs. They’re all basically Jimmy Howard’s, except for Bishop, so they’d be expensive backups that might just cause trouble with Petr Mrazek’s development. Plus, you’d have to give up assets to get these guys, which doesn’t make sense considering there are better backup options in free agency.
5. ANTON KHUDOBIN
Khudobin is a goalie who just two years ago was heralded as one of the better goalies in the game, as from his entrance into the league in 2009 to the end of the 2013-14 season, he had the fifth best 5v5 save percentage among goalies with a minimum of 300 minutes at 93.43% withe the Wild, Bruins, and Hurricanes. However, in the last two seasons. he’s fallen to 75th, with a 90.28% save percentage with the Hurricanes and Ducks. Why would the Red Wings consider him then? Well, because of his recent play, it would be really easy to sign him to a team friendly deal. Also, he’s not known that well as a starter, as the most games he started in a season was 2013-14, with only 34, so there’s no worry about him challenging Mrazek for the starting role. Now, he’s definitely the riskiest option, as he could show up, and be one of two goalies. He could be the goalie he showed at the start of the career, and become a very good option for back-to-backs, and nights when Mrazek is tired. Or, he could be the goalie we’ve seen the last two years, be a liability in net, and force Mrazek to start more nights than he should. Khudobin is definitely an option, but unless the other four options are unavailable, I wouldn’t consider him. Also, he wouldn’t consider it either, considering that he’s shown interest in returning to Russia, unless he’s given a starting role.
4. CALVIN PICKARD
The only RFA on the list, Pickard is an excellent option for depth in net. Arguably the best goalie in free agency, considering age, cost, and performance, the only reason he’s this low is because he’s an RFA, so he’d cost assets, and even if you gave him an offer sheet, Colorado is most likely to resign him, considering that the likely reason that they traded Berra was that he was unnecessary in the tandem. So, you’d just be destroying a relationship (and a good one too, since Colorado is one of the easier teams to fleece). So, barring a trade, he’s a highly unlikely option. But, he’s still worth a look, since his 93.87% 5v5 save percentage is the fourth best in the league over the last three years, so he could be a solid option if the Red Wings want another bullet in the chamber on the off chance that Mrazek doesn’t pan out.
3. JHONAS ENROTH
The longtime Buffalo Sabre goalie, Enroth has since jumped around the league since he was traded at the deadline last year for being too good for the Sabres. Making stops in Dallas and Los Angeles, the days of Enroth trying for a starting job are likely over. However, his 44th best 92.24% 5v5 save percentage boasts a solid resume, and seven seasons of experience probably classifies him as a veteran goalie now. He’d be a cheap, reliable option, and he wouldn’t push for too many starts, which is perfect for Mrazek.
2. CHAD JOHNSON
Speaking of Buffalo Sabres goalies, Johnson is another great option in net. While many people soured on him in 2014-15, when he had a brutal .889 save percentage with the Islanders, he has otherwise been a very consistent goalie. Johnson’s 92.26% 5v5 save percentage is the 41st best in the league, not far off from Enroth. The only reason he places higher is because Johnson had a similar season to Enroth (.920%, compared to Enroth’s .922%), despite playing behind a significantly worse defense, and playing much more games. Also, Johnson has shown that he can handle a starting role in the event of injury, as seen this season when goalie partner Robin Lehner had an injury prone season. And he’ll come cheaper than our number one candidate…
1. JAMES REIMER
Reimer is by far the best option in the free agent market. The longtime Leafs goalie is the only goalie with legitimate starting goalie experience, Reimer posted numbers early on in the season that had a few people considering him for the Vezina. However, he tailed off a bit near the end, particularly when he was traded to the Sharks and saw very little playing time, although he did have three shutouts during that time. Plagued with inconsistency, although most of his bad seasons were either due to injury, or being undeservedly forced into a backup role under Randy Carlyle. Other than that, he’s been excellent, usually by dragging bad teams into potential playoff teams. Hell, he helped make this year’s Leafs, the worst in the league, look like a playoff team. Also, he’s used to playing behind bad defense, so he’d feel right at home in Detroit.
While these are all excellent goalies, it’s highly unlikely that any of these guys are considered strongly by Ken Holland. They’ve already confirmed that Howard will be backing up Mrazek next season, and with all the cap space they have now, getting rid of Howard just for cap space would put the team in a different kind of trouble – the cap floor.