The role of the goaltender is the most important position in hockey. Even if you have a good team in front of you, a bad goalie can really hamper your chances (paging the Nashville Predators). Likewise, a very good goalie can make a bad team look great. Carey Price swept the awards table last year for this exact reason.
The Wings have an interesting situation in net. They have a goalie in Petr Mrazek who was at one point of last season a Vezina candidate, but injuries held him back. Then there’s Jimmy Howard, who the team is trying to get rid of, but his contract and the weak goalie market meant that there was almost no way that they were shipping him out. So, they’re stuck in the exact same situation as last year: with a young goalie of the future who they want to run with, but they’re stuck with Howard for three more years.
Both players have similar backstories. They both were drafted relatively late, with Howard going 64th overall, and Mrazek going 141st. They both went the traditional Red Wings route, and developed in the minors, with Howard spending four years in Grand Rapids, and Mrazek spending two and a half years. Finally, they both had to surpass the long time starter for their roles, with Howard beating out Chris Osgood, and Mrazek beating out Jimmy Howard. Whether Mrazek will lose the job in a few years, we have yet to find out.
LAST YEAR’S STATS
Last season was Mrazek’s first year as the clear cut starter. He handled it magnificently, as he put up excellent numbers throughout the season, with a .921% save percentage and four shutouts. At even strength, he had a .931% save percentage while facing 29.44 shots against per 60 minutes. The Wings played well in front of him too, as he won 27 of the 54 games he played in (he started 49). If not for his groin injury, he may have been a Vezina nominee. He was also excellent in his three playoff games, as it took to the final minutes of game five for Mrazek to allow an even strength goal. Despite that, he lost two to the three games.
Howard had an okay season, and he was decent down the stretch for Detroit when Mrazek got hurt, helping the team
back get into the playoffs. He had a .906% save percentage and two shutouts, and the Wings only won 14 of the 37 games he played in (he started 33). At even strength, he had a .920% save percentage, while facing 30.15 shots against per 60. Because he helped the team get into the playoffs, and Mrazek hadn’t played much for the last few weeks, Howard started in the playoffs, but didn’t perform well.
THIS YEAR’S PROJECTION
Goalies are always very tough to project, as the littlest things can make a big difference. Unlike a player, where an injury rarely sees that player lose their current role, a goalie can easily lose the starting job when out with an injury, especially in a situation like Detroit’s, where the backup has experience as a starter.
In a perfect world, Mrazek is the team’s starter for the whole year, playing most of the games, and giving the Wings the best chance to make the playoffs. Whether the rest of the team lives up to that while determine whether they actually do. Howard will be solid when called upon, but play minimally, and possibly get traded to a team that loses a goalie to injury.
However, Mrazek could get injured again, and Howard could take over and be good enough to look like a starter, and continue to hold back Detroit from actually giving Mrazek the net for good.