You picture Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland watching his pal in Dallas, Jim Nill, take flak for assembling a pricey yet “just OK” goaltending tandem and thinking to himself, “That cannot be us next season.”
Despite some late-season bouts of brilliance from the 32-year-old Howard, Petr Mrazek is Detroit’s No. 1 goalie — a point drilled home when Howard was named post-season starter only to lose his first two games with a .891 save percentage.
Replacement Mrazek shout out Tampa Bay in Game 3, and although he lost Games 4 and 5, the 24-year-old outplayed his higher-paid counterpart, posting a .945 save percentage.
Detroit is on the hook to pay Howard about $5.3 million annually through 2019-20. The veteran can supply a 10-team no-trade list.
Mrazek is a restricted free agent on July 1. Even if he’s willing to take a shade under Howard’s salary, Detroit could eclipse Dallas’s cap-compromising $10.4-million crease commitment — the league high.
You don’t trade away the better goalie, and with heralded 24-year-old net prospect Jared Coreau (an RFA the Wings plan to re-sign) on the rise, he should slide in behind Mrazek as Detroit’s No. 2 this season or next. The undrafted Coreau is a big body — at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, we’re talking Ben Bishop proportions — and a consistent winner with AHL Grand Rapids the last two seasons.
Buying out Howard is a pricey proposition, so Holland should look for trade partners.
Three teams stand out as most in need of a No. 1 to handle the load in 2016-17.
That Howard lost his starting gig to Mrazek under Babcock’s watch makes us doubtful that Howard will become a Leaf. That the Leafs have been buying freeing themselves of long-term deals to anyone over the age of 27 makes us doubly doubtful. And remember, last season Howard said he believed the “fresh voice” of Detroit coach Jeff Blashill would help the Wings.
After finishing dead last in goals against, a major off-season priority of the Calgary Flames — along with finding a coach — is goaltending. Calgary has roughly $21.6 million in salary cap space next season, and Flames president Brian Burke liked Howard enough in 2014 to name him to the U.S. Olympic team.
Not only is Carolina one of the few teams easily capable of handling Howard’s contract — GM Ron Francis has an estimated $32 million to play with heading into 2016-17 — but it may need to take on some heftier contracts to reach the cap floor.
Consider that Howard’s salary is actually more than $1 million cheaper than Ward’s was in 2015-16, and Francis could actually pay less for a slight improvement at the position. Howard and Ward are the same age, but the Detroit goalie has 189 fewer games of wear and tear plus a 0.05 advantage in career save percentage.
Of course, there are plenty of moving parts here, and clubs such as St. Louis, Anaheim and the aforementioned Dallas could look to shake up their goaltending situations.
Still, the Hurricanes — blessed with plenty of intriguing defence prospects and seven 2016 draft picks in the first three rounds — should be ready to receive a phone call from Holland.