After allowing a league-leading 3.73 goals per game this past season, it’s clear the Detroit Red Wings must find a way to become more effective at keeping pucks out of their own net during the 2020-21 campaign, whenever it actually begins.
While not all of those struggles can be blamed on the goaltending position, even though it was very poor, general manager Steve Yzerman has already started improving his team’s netminder situation, as he announced on Thursday they wouldn’t be bringing veteran Jimmy Howard back for a 15th-season. Following one of the worst statistical performances of his career – recording a career-worst 4.20 goals-against average and a .882 save percentage – the 36-year old will be forced to lace up his pads somewhere else next season.
Despite Howard’s departure, the Red Wings still have a veteran goaltender under contract through the 2020-21 season, as Jonathan Bernier has one year remaining on his current contract. Though he’s not the same player he once was earlier in his career, the 12-year pro was still able to perform respectively during his second season in Michigan.
Over his 46 appearances, the former 11th-overall selection performed to a 15-22-3 record, recording a 2.95 GAA, .907 save percentage, along with one shutout that came against the San Jose Sharks on New Year’s Eve. But considering the 32-year old rarely received much assistance from his teammates, the Red Wings have to at least be a little pleased with these results from their starting netminder.
Considering Yzerman controls just over $25 million in cap space for next season, he could certainly explore the free-agent market for an experienced goaltender, as this year’s class is expected to feature several talented goalkeepers. That said, they probably won’t be able to land any of the top names available, unless they’re planning to outbid every team by a wide margin.
Looking at the second-tier layer of goaltenders, it’d make plenty of sense for the Red Wings to target players like Aaron Dell, Cam Talbot, and Louis Domingue over the next few months. While none of them would likely perform All-Star results, and no one should be expecting them to play up to any high expectations either, each of them would serve as an inexpensive option for next season and they could potentially be dealt away at the trade deadline for a package of future assets.
Taking into account Detroit’s goaltending prospects, there’s a chance their front office might be able to avoid spending any additional money on an external netminder. Along with allocating resources to other areas of the team, promoting one of their top young goalies to the NHL could also provide Yzerman with a little more clarity on how he’ll need to handle that position moving forward.
Even though goaltenders Filip Larsson, 22, and Victor Brattstrom, 23, only have seven games of AHL experience between them, their age could suggest they’re ready to compete for a backup role at the highest level of competition this winter. Adding to this, each of these goalkeepers could be in mid-season form when they report to training camp, as they’re expected to be suiting up overseas for their respective teams over the next few months.
Starting with Larsson, the 6-foot-2 netminder has spent the last three seasons in North America, splitting time between the USHL, NCAA, ECHL, and the AHL. Despite his rough stretch with the Grand Rapids Griffins this past season, the former sixth-round pick was able to perform effectively during his brief time with the Toledo Walleye.
Through his 10 outings in the ECHL, the Sweden native earned a 4-6 record, producing a 2.72 GAA and a .910 save percentage. In comparison, the youngster made seven starts with the Griffins, creating a 4.01 GAA along with a .843 save percentage.
As for Brattstrom, he was drafted by Detroit during the sixth-round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, but has been forced to spend his last two seasons in Sweden because he didn’t sign an entry-level contract until earlier this year. With that said, his performance on the ice really took off this past season with the Timra IK of the SHL, as he dominated opposing teams throughout the entire campaign.
Over his 45 games, the 6-foot-4 netminder performed to a 33-12 record, creating a 2.13 GAA, .914 save percentage, along with three shutouts. If not for the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the SHL’s postseason, the left-handed catcher would’ve likely been poised for a strong and deep playoff run.
Along with Larsson and Brattstrom, the Red Wings also have goaltender Calvin Pickard, who’s under contract through next season, as another option to serve as the backup behind Bernier. That said, the 28-year old allowed 15 goals in three NHL games this past season, so he might not be the best player suited for that role.
With Yzerman considering all of his options, he and his staff still have lots of time to decide on how they’ll handle the team’s goaltending position this offseason, but it’s clear they have a few internal candidates who could compete for the backup spot during training camp. Still, the front office might decide to bluster their depth by signing an inexpensive veteran netminder on a short-term deal in the near future.