By: Will Burchfield
Whether it happens within the next few weeks or the next few months, the Red Wings plan to part ways with one of their two goaltenders. According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the Jimmy Howard-Petr Mrazek tandem won’t be part of the picture entering the 2018-19 season.
“It’s absolutely guaranteed that one of Mrazek or Howard, in my mind, won’t be back with the Red Wings next season,” McKenzie told NBC Sports.
The impetus for Detroit is financial. Howard and Mrazek cost the Wings about $9.3 million against the cap, a number that will slightly increase next season if the team qualifies the restricted free agent Mrazek at $4.15 million. The duo hasn’t performed well enough to justify that kind of expenditure, nor is the organization in a position to be spending that much money in goal.
With the Wings likely to sell ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline, a move could come soon. But the demand for goalies is low. Outside of the Islanders, the Blackhawks and the Hurricanes, there aren’t any contenders who might pursue help in net. And it’s a stretch to call the Blackhawks a contender in the first place.
Mrazek’s improved play of late plus his expiring contract make him the more realistic trade candidate of the two, but he likely wouldn’t net anything more than a third-round pick. The soon-to-be 26-year-old has a .914 save percentage and a 2.75 goals against average in 19 games this season. Howard, who turns 34 next month and carries a $5.3 million cap hit through next season, is .911/2.82 in 39 games.
“The Red Wings are not in a position where they want to be paying $9 million, $10 million a year for two goaltenders next year, so one of Howard or Mrazek will likely be gone,” McKenzie said. “It could happen by the deadline if there’s interest. If it doesn’t happen by the deadline, then I would fully expect once the season’s over for one of Howard or Mrazek to go.”
McKenzie added that the Wings aren’t committed to one goalie over the other.
“I don’t think the Red Wings are locked in on either guy, that we have to keep Howard and get rid of Mrazek,” he said.
If they don’t trade one of the two before the deadline, their decision figures to hinge heavily on Mrazek’s performance the rest of the way. If he continues his hot play of late the Wings might decide it’s worth the $4.15 million to keep him around for at least another year. The attitude issues that plagued his poor 2016-17 season are said to be a thing of the past.
At that point, the challenge would be unloading Howard. To consummate a trade, Detroit would almost certainly have to retain a portion of his salary. Placing him on waivers would not eliminate his cap hit.
If the Wings don’t qualify Mrazek, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent.