Jimmy Howard has been with the Detroit Red Wings since the 2005-06 season just after my 9th birthday. The second round pick has been the starting goaltender for the Wings for roughly half of my life. He has had his ups and downs, but has usually proven a top 15 goalie. Injuries have limited Howard to just 63 games over the past two seasons and his play has slipped as a result. The aging Howard was supposed to play a mentor backup role to Petr Mrazek but, due to inconsistent play, he started taking the lion’s share of starts and played some of the best hockey of his career. Despite injuries, Howard posted a .927 save percentage and a 2.10 goals against average.
Petr Mrazek has been inconsistent throughout his NHL career. He was a 5th round draft choice in 2010 and played his first full season with the Wings in 2014. He quickly pushed Howard for the starting job. With the playoffs beginning, Detroit needed to make a decision on who would start the first round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Mrazek got the nod and played brilliantly in a 7-game loss. He finished the series with a .925 save percentage and a 2.11 goals against average. After starting the 2015-16 season with a 50/50 share of the games with Howard, Mrazek took the net and played his best hockey of his career through February. His play then drastically slipped partly due to injuries down the stretch. He played well in the playoffs and came into 2016-17 season as the starting goalie. Mrazek put together his worst season of his young career, posting a .901 save percentage and 3.04 goals against average on a bad team.
There have been reports that Ken Holland was looking to move one of the two goaltenders this summer. Teams like Calgary, Philadelphia, Winnipeg, and Buffalo are possibly looking for a starting goalie. The reasons for trading either Howard or Mrazek are very different. Trading Howard would show confidence in Mrazek’s ability to be an NHL starter. It would also clear up $5,291,667 from their payroll for the next two seasons, which is handy with Tomas Tatar, Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin, and Anthony Mantha all up for new contracts in the next two seasons. Trading Mrazek should only happen if a real solid deal that improves the Red Wings comes along. He is a highly skilled young goalie with number one potential. Let’s look at what both goalies are worth.
Howard is 33 years old and has a history of injuries. This puts his trade value much lower than Mrazek’s. His salary is a little higher than it should be, but certainly not abnormal for a number one goaltender. This past season showed that, if he can remain healthy, Howard still possesses the ability to play top end hockey. A team that is looking for a goalie with experience and a proven track record of success should look toward Howard. He is arguably the 2nd best goaltender (excluding Mrazek), behind Marc-André Fleury, that will be available this summer.
The market for goaltending is a bit better than it has been in the past couple of years. I still do not think Howard will fetch a very high return. I would accept a 2nd round pick for him. Ben Bishop was traded from Tampa Bay to Los Angeles along with a 5th round pick for Peter Budaj, defense prospect Erik Cernak (a 2015 2nd round pick), a 2017 7th round pick, and a conditional 2017 draft pick. Maybe the Wings could couple Howard and a 3rd round pick to move up in the second round to draft a player they like. The least I would accept for Howard is a 3rd round pick and a decent (Tyler Bertuzzi level) prospect.
Mrazek is 25 years old and has shown the ability to play at an elite level in the NHL. The only draft pick I would trade Mrazek for is the Flyer’s 2nd overall selection and the opportunity to select either Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier. Every other trade I would accept would have to be for an established young NHL player.
Columbus traded Ryan Johanson for Seth Jones and Tampa Bay just traded Jonathan Drouin for defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and a 2nd round pick. These are the types of trades that I would consider with Mrazek (just to a lower extent). If Calgary offered Sam Bennett and a 2nd round pick, I might take that.
Overall, Mrazek should not be traded this offseason. He should be the goalie the Red Wings protect in the expansion draft and is the goalie of the future. He is young and can use the expected next couple of Red Wing’s down years as a chance to improve and become a reliable full time NHL starter for when the team is ready to compete in the postseason again. A trade for Mrazek should absolutely be used to make the team better and return a player that is young with high potential. A Howard trade should not be forced and traded for nothing, but the team should be listening on offers this summer. He is aging and will probably be well beyond his prime when the Wings’ are ready to compete again, so why not get some assets for him while they can?