Being a Red Wings goaltender hasn't been a long term situation over the last seven years.
After Dominik Hasek rode in from Buffalo to capture the 01-02 Stanley Cup (and retiring after the season) the Wings locked up Curtis Joseph to play in front on Manny Legace. Despite a good showing in the regular season, the Wings suffered an early exit. In comes Dominik Hasek once again, who lasts just long enough (14 games) to muck up the situation, which resulted in CuJo playing for the Wings' AHL affliate (Grand Rapids) temporarily.
He was gone after yet another early playoff exit, Hasek headed off to Ottawa, and the reigns were handed to Legace and the returning Chris Osgood, with Legace playing roughly 60 percent of the regular season games in 05-06.
However, a shocking first round exit to Cinderella Edmonton had Legace packing his bags for St. Louis in the offseason. I, for one, thought Legace could have played better, but the team in front of him didn't make it any easier.
The 06-07 season brought us the tandem of Hasek and Osgood. Hasek had a stellar season with 38 wins and a 2.05 GAA, and Osgood was sufficient with 11 wins in 19 games started. Though ousted in the Conference Finals by eventual champion Anaheim, Detroit was very capable of winning the series and by no means let it go easily.
The same tandem manned the pipes this year with similar success. Detroit has clinched a playoff spot, and both goalies have shown that they are capable of being the No. 1. Who knows what will happen in the playoffs, but I predict at least a Conference Finals appearance for the Wings.
And now we come to this offseason. Hasek, for as good as he's been at the tender age of 43, should hang up his skates. Although still a perfectly capable goaltender, he has been plagued with nagging injuries this season which have caused him to miss time.
If he does stay in the league, even if not with Detroit, it should be in a backup role. The lighter load of games would be well suited to his condition, but I don't think Hasek would be willing to be a No. 2.
For speculator's sake, let's say that Hasek is not with the Wings next season, even if he goes to another team. I'm sure most of us have heard the rumor of Ryan Miller coming to Detroit in a trade since he is an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2009. I think it would be great for Detroit to bring in a talented young goaltender who's also a hometown boy.
However, where does this leave Jimmy Howard? He's been decent when called up to the big team, but is it fair to judge his future after only eight games, six of which were starts?
I see one of three things happening for next season (keep in mind that Osgood is locked up).
Either Hasek stays, Miller comes in, or Howard comes up. It would be a shame to see Howard have the Al Montoya experience (waiting in the minors, then getting traded without much real experience), but I think Ryan Miller would be the right choice. A young goalie of his caliber could break the uncertainty of Detroit's netminding situation by manning it for six or seven years, which would be a welcome change, at least for me.