The Detroit Red Wings entered the free agency period looking to fill the void left by Brian Rafalski’s retirement as well as add a backup goalie. By signing Mike Commodore and Ian White, along with the opportunities that Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith will get this season, the Wings feel they have a solid defensive unit.
Since the defensive signings the Wings have been focused on adding a backup goaltender for Jimmy Howard. There were not very many goalies available that would fit what they were looking for.
Tomas Vokoun was on their radar prior to his signing with Washington. The contract offers were similar but he had a better chance to start in Washington than he did in Detroit.
What options are left for the Wings?
MacDonald has been re-signed by the Wings as the third-string goalie.
As a backup he was serviceable, but definitely not a goalie you could rely on long term if Howard was hurt. People tend to look at his 2.58 goals against average as good, but looking deeper shows an alarming trend. In games that he started, his goals against average was over 3.2. This means he does well jumping into a game but starting is not his strength.
In looking for a backup, the Wings need to have confidence that whoever it is could handle the starting job if Howard was to be out injured for any length of time. With MacDonald that does not appear to be an option.
Conklin has already spent one successful season in Detroit as a backup. Holland has confirmed that there have been some talks with Conklin’s agent about bringing him back.
He spent two seasons in St. Louis, but this last season was not good. Now the Blues were not good as a team this year, but Conklin's rocky season leads one to wonder. Was it one down year, or the start of things to come?
With Conklin, they would get a player that will accept that backup role, but would also be able to step into the top spot if needed and handle it well.
It appears that bringing Osgood back would be the preferred choice for the team. If he had finished the season healthy, this deal would have already been completed. Osgood missed most of last season after having a sports hernia operation.
He repeatedly told the team he would be able to make it back, however several setbacks kept this from happening. By April he was on the ice practicing every day, but the team decided it was too late to risk playing him.
The Wings GM Ken Holland has talked about having a face-to-face meeting with Osgood to break down his intentions for next year. At this point, it appears Osgood needs to do some persuading of Holland about his health and commitment for next season. While it is not a lock that Osgood will be back if he wants, it does appear that he is the odds-on favorite.
His wealth of experience and mentoring abilities are a huge asset to the team and starting goalie Jimmy Howard.
CBSsports.com has quoted Wings GM Ken Holland as saying “I have gotten calls from teams, looking to trade a goaltender."
The Wings have many talented players that other teams would love to have. The question is, will the price be too high to for a backup?
One possible option may be New York Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov. He tried to sign with the Red Wings last season but the Isles picked him up off waivers. Nabokov did not want any part of the Isles and refused to report to the team. The Isles still own his rights and with goalies Rick DiPietro and Al Montoya already on the roster it would be wise to trade him for a player that actually wants to play.
Nabokov was willing to come to the Wings for a partial season to chase the cup but he may not want to play a full season as a backup.
With other teams interested in trades, it will be a question of whether the cost will be worth it.
Both of these are big-name backup goalies who have proven that they can play in the NHL. In bringing either one of these players in, the first question would need to be: can they accept that they are the backup?
The next immediate question is if Howard can handle having a big-name backup. The starting job is unquestionably his, but if he were to stumble or get into a slump, would looking over his shoulder at either one of these players make it worse?
It is no knock on Howard wondering this, after all he does only have two years of starting experience. While he did play good both seasons, his first year was better than his second. Will year three be another step back, will he maintain or will he improve? It is difficult to determine what effect bringing in a player the caliber of Turco or Emery would be. It is doubtful that the Wings will go this direction.
Some may question that Osgood is also a big-name goalie, and no doubt with his 400-plus wins and Hall-of-Fame career, he is. The difference is that there is already an established relationship between Howard and Osgood, where Osgood has taken on a very valuable role of mentor. Would Turco, Emery or another veteran goalie be willing to play such a role if needed?
In the end it comes down to Osgood or Conklin. The best hope is that Osgood’s health is great and that he can convince Holland that he still has enough passion and drive to play another season. With only a few more wins he can jump to eighth on the all-time wins list. That, combined with the chance for his fourth Stanley Cup, should be enough for him want to come back.