Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard had the worst statistical season of his NHL career in 2013-14. Conversely, his backup partner, Jonas Gustavsson, turned in a career-best performance for Detroit, contributing significantly to extending its playoff streak to 23 seasons.
Regardless, the former is firmly ensconced in Detroit, and the latter may very well be suiting up for another NHL team for the 2014-15 season.
Don’t misunderstand the setup here—Jimmy Howard deserves to continue as Detroit’s No. 1 goalie.
Despite Howard’s somewhat disastrous season, in which he turned in just 21 wins in 51 starts, Howard’s record of routine 35-plus-win performances is far more indicative of his skill than what this past season would suggest.
There are surely those among the Red Wings faithful who will use this past season as an invitation to engage in the time-honored tradition of doubting, deriding or otherwise demeaning Detroit’s goalie. But that kind of criticism at this point is largely unfair given what Howard has done for this team since securing the top job in net in 2010.
Nevertheless, while Howard deserves the benefit of the doubt that he will snap back into his typical form next season, this summer’s plethora of goalies that can be had via free agency should not go untapped.
Indeed, this summer, players such as Ryan Miller, Martin Brodeur, Jonas Hiller, Tim Thomas, Evgeni Nabokov, Tomas Vokoun, Brian Elliott and the aforementioned Gustavsson, among others, are all without contracts for next year.
While some, such as Brodeur and Thomas—aged 42 and 40, respectively—could very well hang up their skates in the offseason, there is no shortage of former or current No. 1 goalies who will be fielding offers from new teams this summer.
There’s no question that Detroit general manager Ken Holland should be throwing some of those offers out there.
Detroit not only has a roster need for a backup goalie, but per CapGeek.com, it also has over $20 million in cap space to tap into in order secure the best goalie it can get.
Some have suggested that Petr Mrazek, the other goalie of note in Detroit this season, should be Howard’s backup next season. While Mrazek certainly presents as the Red Wings’ goalie of the future, there’s no reason to hasten his ascent prematurely when there are so many quality veteran options on the market this summer.
One of those, of course, is Gustavsson. After all, Gustavsson is a career backup, and though he may fancy a starting job elsewhere, his resume doesn’t warrant such a position. Simply looking to secure his services for next year and perhaps beyond could be a solid move by Detroit and one that would likely come at or around the $1.5 million price tag attached to Gustavsson this past season.
Still, while Gustavsson should be an option, evaluating who else could be had should be Holland’s first step before offering Gustavsson a new contract.
For as much as Howard deserves a mulligan on the season that was, there’s no guarantee that it was not a sign of things to come. If Howard continues to play below his established potential, having a solid 1A option on the bench could go a long way toward mitigating Howard’s effect on team success.
In the end, making a pitch for a player such as Hiller or Elliott—players who are capable of ably handling starting duties but amicably sharing the net—might be the Wings’ most strategic offseason move.
Whatever Ken Holland decides to do, he should take full advantage of the fact he will have a fistful of cash and well-stocked goalie shelves to pick from this summer.