Detroit Red Wings: Goaltenders Battle For Backup Spot

Scott MillerAnalyst IJuly 15, 2008

After leading the Detroit Red Wings to a Stanley Cup, Chris Osgood is without a doubt the starting goaltender for the Wings this upcoming season.

But with the retirement of Dominik Hasek, who will back up Osgood?

Really, there's two options—recently signed goaltender Ty Conklin, or 24-year-old Jimmy Howard.

Conklin, who is 32 years old, was never drafted by an NHL team but signed in 2001 by the Edmonton Oilers. He has played for Edmonton, Columbus, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh throughout his short career.

Conklin has never really had a starting job anywhere in the NHL, but in his second season with Edmonton he played 38 games, and finished with a record of 17-14-4, a GAA of 2.42, and a save percentage of .924. He also had one shutout.

But most people will remember Conklin for his stellar play with the Penguins this past season. When starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury became injured in December, Conklin took over the starting job, and won his first nine starts. By the time Fleury returned, Conklin had compiled a record of 17-4-5.

By the end of the season, he had played 33 games, for a record of 18-8-5, a GAA of 2.51, a save percentage of .923, and two shutouts.

Then there is Jimmy Howard. He was drafted by the Wings back in 2003, 64th overall. He has limited NHL experience, playing eight games over two seasons (2005-06, 2007-08), with a record of 1-4, a GAA of 2.56, and a save percentage of .915.

However, he has played three seasons in the minors with Grand Rapids. In his first season with the team, he played 38 games, and had a record of 27-6-2, a GAA of 2.58, and a SV% of .910. He was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team that season.

In his second season, he finished with a record of 21-21-3, a GAA of 2.70, and a save percentage of .911. He also had six shutouts.

And then there's this season that just passed, in which Howard showed he is a solid goalie. Although his team had a bad year (13th in their conference), he had good numbers (GAA of 2.83, save percentage of .908). He played in the AHL All-Star Game and also won Goalie of the Month in December (AHL).

So, who do I think will win the backup job? Unfortunately, as much as I want Howard to get it, I think Conklin will. He's proved he can play well when a team's starting goalie goes down with an injury, and has much more NHL experience under his belt than Howard.

So, Howard may have to play one more season with Grand Rapids—but I wouldn't be surprised if one day he's the starter for the Wings, because he's a young goalie with tons of potential.