Thursday, August 22, 2013
Detroit's contingency plan in net
By Tim Kavanagh
Thanks to their strength at each of the three positional levels -- forwards, defense and in goal -- the Detroit Red Wings appear to be poised for another run at the Stanley Cup, a concept explored by Hockey Prospectus in the Summer Skate entry on the Wings. But health is an issue for every NHL team, and that's especially true when it comes to goaltenders. So, what happens if there's another big injury for Jimmy Howard?
Howard hasn't had any major injuries during his NHL tenure. However, during the 2011-12 campaign, he was limited to just 57 games owing to a broken finger on his stick hand and a lingering groin problem. It's certainly worth pondering what the Red Wings would do if No. 35 is bitten by the injury bug.
The veteran backup backstop at the NHL level is Jonas Gustavsson, who is signed through the end of the 2013-14 NHL season. Gustavsson was dominant during his time in the Swedish Elite League, but has had difficulty in adapting his skills set to the North American game. After three up-and-down seasons in Toronto (mostly down), he appeared in seven games for Detroit in 2013, managing a 2-2-1 record with a 2.92 GAA and .879 SV%. Gustavsson is most likely not the answer if Howard goes down with a significant injury.
Instead, the Wings can turn to prospect Petr Mrazek, the No. 141 overall pick of the 2010 NHL Draft. Despite that modest draft pedigree, the 21-year-old has developed into one of the top goaltending prospects in the NHL. During his 42 games with the AHL's Grand Rapid Griffins in 2012-13, Mrazek generated a 2.33 GAA and .916 SV%. Perhaps more importantly, he wasn't overwhelmed during a cup of coffee with the Wings: he won his NHL debut, stopping 26-of-27 shots faced against the Blues, then allowed three goals on 24 shots in a loss against the Wild. Overall, that worked out to a 2.01 GAA and .922.
There's some thought that Mrazek and Gustavsson will battle for the backup duties in training camp, and this makes sense. On the other hand, it may be smarter from an organizational development standpoint for Mrazek to start the season in the AHL again, where he can actually get some playing time instead of sitting on the bench behind Howard (who will start over 80 percent of the Wings' games if healthy).