NHL Free Agency: Detroit Red Wings Continue Search for Jimmy Howard's Back Up

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IJuly 4, 2011

DETROIT - SEPTEMBER 26:   Ty Conklin #29 of the Detroit Red Wings waits for a shot in a pre-season game against the Boston Bruins on September 26, 2008 at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. The Bruins defeated the Red Wings 2-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

No, it wasn't Kevin Bieksa and James Wisniewski, but, with the signing of Mike Commodore and Ian White, and the retention of Jonathan Ericsson, the Detroit Red Wings have secured their blueline for the 2011-12 season.

None of these three are marquee names and, in the case of Mike Commodore, the Wings have a bit of a wild card on their hands who may or may not turn out to be a disaster, on or off the ice.

Ian White could turn out to be the sleeper hit of the summer should he realize his full potential as a tough, but diminutive, offensive defensemen.

In Ericsson, the Wings have a known quantity and expect that he is capable of being a solid defender with scoring upside.

He's also capable of being totally ineffective offensively and a liability in his own zone.

Detroit is hoping Ericsson's big pay raise over the next three years will convince him it's time to commit to being the former on a regular basis.

While a depth forward could still be on the Wings' radar, the team is securely set in that department and isn't likely to spend much time looking for another pivot or winger.

The one glaring hole in Detroit's roster is perhaps one of the most underrated positions in all of hockey - No. 2 goalie.

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 11:  Goaltender Marty Turco #30 of the Chicago Blackhawks in goal against the Dallas Stas at American Airlines Center on February 11, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Though he's still got a bit of a ways to go in his career as a starting goalie, Jimmy Howard has established himself as Detroit's undisputed No. 1 man in net and is really no longer in need of a back-up to "push" him in the right direction.

Still, Howard isn't going to play 82 games per year and the Wings need someone to spell him for 20-plus games a season.

Chris Osgood says he still wants to play second-fiddle to Howard and has made it clear to Ken Holland that he's looking for another year in red and white.

However, Osgood's injury history and declining play over the past two years, combined with the fact that he is 38 years old, means that retaining Osgood is going to be a huge gamble.

Ken Holland will need to decide if the team will be better served by seeing No. 30 in net or up in the rafters next season.

My personal preference is for the latter.

As alternatives go, players like Ty Conklin and Marty Turco seem to be two of the most obvious options.

Conklin spent one season with the Wings in 2008-09 and performed better than Osgood did as the starter during the regular season, posting six shutouts and 25 wins in 40 games played, the best season of his career.

DETROIT, MI - MARCH 30:  Joey MacDonald #31 of the Detroit Red Wings watches the puck while playing against the St. Louis Blues at Joe Louis Arena on March 30, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

As St. Louis has already signed goalie Brian Elliot to a two-year deal to spell starter Jaroslav Halak, it's clear that Conklin isn't in their plans and it's only a matter of time before somebody signs him to a contract.

The other possibility could be Marty Turco.

Once considered one of the best goalies in the league, his reputation as such has long since diminished.

His one-year deal with Chicago last year was supposed to be a strong move towards defending their Stanley Cup title.

As it turned out, Turco, rather quickly, lost the starter's job to upstart Corey Crawford and is not likely to be brought back for a second stint in the Second City.

At 35, Turco isn't poised to recover his career as a starting goalie, so he's likely resigned himself to the fact that his only shot at staying in the NHL is as a full-time pine-rider and part-time starter.

Beyond these two, the options become severely limited via the free-agency market as the remaining netminders are marginally qualified to be in the NHL in any capacity beyond third-string call-up.

Speaking of third-string call-ups, Detroit's No. 3 guy last season, Joey MacDonald, may still be a viable option as a full-time back-up as he performed well in limited duty last season.

However, were I Ken Holland, I'd take whatever actions necessary to make the following happen:

Sign Ty Conklin to a two-year, $2 million deal and then secure Joey MacDonald to a three-year, two-way deal that will see him assume the lead role in Grand Rapids' net, available for immediate call-up should the need arise.

The Red Wings are nearly set with their roster, but make no mistake, deciding on who to fill the No. 2 spot in net is more important than one might think and it may be a while before Holland makes this move.

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