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Does The Matej Machovsky Signing Mean A Goaltender Trade Is Coming?

As if the Red Wings goaltender situation wasn’t controversial enough, they went and signed Czech goalie Matej Machovsky to a one year deal for 2017-18. This is interesting because Detroit currently has $9.3M tied up in their NHL goalies, an AHL goalie who is ready to be a full-time back-up in the NHL, and an ECHL goalie ready to make the jump to the AHL.

The goalie conversation is a hot topic in Detroit. Should the team trade Howard, who is still capable of being a starter but prone to injury? How do you unload a $5.3M contract like that? Should they trade Mrazek, who is young and full of potential? They could get a huge return for a goalie like that. In either case, Coreau would be up full time in the NHL and sharing the starts with the other goalie.

Before yesterday, this was all hypothetical talk, but now with the signing of Machovsky, there is another goalie in play leaving many thinking a move is coming as soon as this offseason. From what I can see, there are three situations that can spawn from this move:

1. A Goalie Will Be Taken In the Expansion Draft

Whether the team knows it or is just hoping for it, they could be preparing for whichever goalie is left exposed to be taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in the impending expansion draft. This, of course, depends on which goalie is left exposed. There is a greater chance of Petr Mrazek being taken than Jimmy Howard if left unprotected. If they leave Mrazek unprotected, Vegas could jump at the chance of stealing a young goalie with elite potential for free. Imagine a Matt Murray/Petr Mrazek tandem… that would be insane!

But Vegas will be looking to be competitive immediately and a 33-year-old veteran goaltender who’s prone to injury with a high cap hit is not the route they’ll be looking to take. Not when they’ve got one of Marc Andre Fleury or Matt Murray available in Pittsburgh plus the back-up goalie of their choice off any team in the league (Raanta, Budaj, and Saros come to mind). Don’t forget that Ben Bishop, Brian Elliott, and Steve Mason are available free agents. Vegas has a lot of options available to them in the starting goalie category and Jimmy Howard is too expensive to be a back-up. They likely wouldn’t take him if left unprotected.

Detroit could be incentivizing Vegas to take Howard with a couple of draft picks. For a team that may need to hit the cap floor, having a +$5M goalie contract on the books may not hurt too much and the contract expires in the 2018-19 season so it’s not like they’d be weighing themselves down for too long. And Detroit has an abundance of 3rd round draft picks that are surely available as trade chips.

Personally, I don’t see this happening. Looking at Detroit’s roster, the Golden Knights will likely find more value in taking a Darren Helm or Riley Sheahan over a Jimmy Howard even if Howard did come with a few draft picks. So if not for expansion, bringing in Machovsky could mean that the Wings have a trade in place for one of their starters.

2. Howard or Mrazek Will Be Traded

Let’s talk about Mrazek first. As a young goalie who’s shown flashes of elite play, he’d net a good return for the Red Wings. The bigger question for me, though, is what happens to the Red Wings goalie situation if Mrazek is traded. Howard once again becomes the undisputed starter, but he’ll definitely miss time throughout the season due to injury and maintenance. And let’s not forget that Howie, too, is a streaky goalie with inconsistent numbers from season-to-season.

So with Mrazek gone, Coreau becomes the full-time back-up to Howard next season, and will split starts with him in 2018-19. Then, Howard leaves at the end of his contract and Coreau becomes the starter.

Here’s the problem with this scenario, though. It is far too soon into Coreau’s NHL career to tell if he’ll be a good goalie or not. He’s only played in 14 NHL games and, frankly, hasn’t put up the best numbers. The Red Wings should not trade Petr Mrazek.

Jimmy Howard, on the other hand, is definitely a piece the team should be looking at moving. Taking his cap hit off the books would be a huge relief and Jared Coreau can handle back-up duties just fine. But the Machovsky signing doesn’t mean this move is imminent. Look at it from the other team’s perspective: Howard is a 33-year-old, injury prone, inconsistent goalie with a cap hit north of $5 million. Sure, he has stretches of good play, but it’ll be tough to get 50 games out of him. If anything, he’d be brought in to mentor a young starter showing signs of potential.

So any team willing to take Howard off Detroit’s hands will be doing Ken Holland a favour and don’t think they don’t know that. In order to move Howard, it’s going to cost Holland in the form of prospects or draft picks, something he is not in the business of trading right now. At the trade deadline, Holland admitted that he is  in sell mode, looking for draft picks to rebuild (okay, he didn’t use that word, but that’s the idea) the team through the draft. He shouldn’t send out pieces of the team’s future to get rid of a $5 million cap hit, at least not when that cap hit isn’t really preventing him from re-signing the players he needs to re-sign.

So that being said, there’s a good chance that in 2017-18 the goalie situation in Detroit stays the same.

3. Nothing Changes

The likeliest scenario is that Machovsky finds himself in Grand Rapids backing up Coreau. The Wings have two goalies with expiring contracts this offseason in Adam Pasquale, who will be a UFA, and Jake Paterson, who will be an RFA. Pasquale was signed to a one-year deal last season to back up Coreau. The Wings are going to let Pasquale walk and Machovsky will take his place.

As for Paterson, he’s been playing great in the ECHL for the Toledo Walleye. His .918 save percentage this season was fourth best among league goalies. Next season, the team is going to start to transition Paterson up to Grand Rapids, slowly acclimatizing him to the speed of the game at the pro level. So if Howard or Mrazek gets hurt next year, Coreau gets the call-up to Detroit which means Paterson gets the call-up to Grand Rapids. This is all in preparation of him making the full-time jump in 2018-19. By this time, Machovsky’s contract will be up and Paterson will be either the full-time backup to Coreau or the Griffins starting goalie.

For proof of this, just look at the term on Machovsky’s contract. If the Wings knew of an NHL trade coming for one of their goalies, they wouldn’t sign Machovsky to a single-year contract as a solution to a longer-term problem. He is just a single-season plug until the team feels Paterson is ready to make the jump to the AHL full-time.

The Howard contract really is an anchor on the cap, so it’s natural to jump to the conclusion of trading him, but the reality is not so simple. To get rid of it, it’s going to cost the team assets. For now, they need to sit on the cap hit and hold on their future assets and prospects. Nothing that they’ll get for Howard will immediately turn them into a contender next season. Be patient. We’re in for quite the rebuild.