12 free-agent goalies the Detroit Red Wings could look at this offseason

Detroit Free Press

Ryan Ford
| Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman made official what seemed likely for most of the second half of the 2019-20 season: The team won’t be re-signing goalie Jimmy Howard, an unrestricted free agent, after Howard won just two games in 27 tries, with a .882 save percentage and 4.20 goals-against average.

The 36-year-old, who was drafted in the second round by the Wings (No. 64 overall) in 2003, leaves Detroit third in games played by a goalie for the franchise (543) and first in shots faced (15,313) and saves (13,970). His departure leaves Jonathan Bernier, playing in the final year of a three-year contract, the Wings’ ostensible No. 1 goalie.

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Yzerman and the Wings will be in the market for another netminder via free agency, and what timing — the market appears flooded with experienced goalies. Here’s a look at eight big names they could be looking at as well as four less accomplished options:

Braden Holtby

The Capitals goalie has individual and team bona fides — he won the Vezina Trophy in 2016 and was runner-up in 2017, followed by a Stanley Cup victory in 2018. But he turned 31 in September and posted the worst numbers of his 10-season career in 2019-20 with a .897 save percentage, 3.11 GAA and no shutouts. Still, he has made the past five All-Star teams and had 25 wins in 47 starts in 2019-20; he could be looking for one last big paycheck, coming off a five-year $30.5 million deal with Washington.

Anton Khudobin

No free agent was helped more by the NHL’s return to play than this 34-year-old Russian. Khudobin, a career backup with the Wild, Bruins, Hurricanes, Ducks and Stars, was pressed into duty in the Edmonton bubble in August when Dallas’ starter, Ben Bishop, went down with an injury. The goalie nicknamed “Dobby” (after the “Harry Potter” character) started 25 games during the Stars’ run to the Stanley Cup Final, with 14 wins, a .917 save percentage and 2.69 GAA. He’ll likely be looking for a big contract and a No. 1 job, but he has never started more than 37 games (2018-19 with the Stars) in an 11-season career. His playoff run wasn’t entirely a surprise — he had a .930 percentage and 2.22 GAA in 30 regular-season games in 2019-20 — but how much of that was due to the Stars’ defense-first approach?

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Robin Lehner

Lehner, who won the Masterton Trophy in 2019 for his fight against addiction and mental health struggles, may not make it to free agency. The Golden Knights acquired him from Chicago at the trade deadline to back face of the franchise Marc-Andre Fleury, then rode Lehner’s hot hand down the stretch to earn the No. 1 seed and make the Western Conference finals. In 19 regular-season and playoff games with Las Vegas, Lehner went 12-7 with a .927 save percentage, 1.93 GAA and five shutouts. The performance may have the Knights looking to deal Fleury in the offseason — though he has reportedly told the team he’s willing to stay as a backup — and stick with the 28-year-old Lehner, who finished sixth in Vezina voting this year after finishing third in 2019 with the Islanders.

Thomas Greiss

Greiss took a step back this season, with a .913 save percentage and 2.74 GAA after posting a .927 percentage and 2.28 GAA in 2018-19. But the 34-year-old German knows how to share time in net; he started 39 games for the Islanders in 2018-19 as he and Lehner finished with the league’s lowest GAA, then started 28 times in 2019-20 while splitting the job with Semyon Varlamov. Greiss, 34, has just one season as a No. 1 goalie, going 26-18-5 with a .913 save percentage and 2.69 GAA in 2016-17 over 51 games with the Isles.

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Cam Talbot

Talbot has yet to live up to the promise he showed early in his career with the Rangers. Edmonton dealt a package of picks to New York in 2015 hoping he was a franchise goalie but shipped him out of town in 2019. During that span, Talbot had one good year, finishing fourth in Vezina voting in 2017. He signed a one-year deal with the Flames last offseason and it paid off, with a .919 save percentage and 2.63 GAA while splitting time with David Rittich in net. Rittich made the Central Division All-Stars, but Talbot got the nod during the playoffs and carried the Flames into the second round before a Game 6 wipeout as Calgary blew a 3-0 lead in a 7-3 loss. At 33 years old, Talbot is one of the younger options on the market.

Henrik Lundqvist

The 38-year-old Swede was well off his 2012-13 Vezina-winning ways in 2019-20 with a .905 save percentage and 3.16 GAA, making the Rangers’ decision to buy him out understandable. But he was an All-Star as recently as 2019 and he has finished in the top six in Vezina voting 10 times. If he’s open to taking a backup or job-sharing role, it would probably be for a contender, which the Wings certainly aren’t. Still, it’s worth noting that he responds well to the sight of Red Wings jerseys — Lundqvist has a .941 save percentage, 1.86 GAA and five shutouts (but only nine wins) in 20 career games against the Wings.

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Jacob Markstrom

For his first six NFL seasons, Markstrom was a solid backup, with a 2.91 GAA and zero shutouts in 109 games with the Panthers and Canucks. But he has stepped it up — a 2.74 GAA and five shutouts in 163 games — since taking over the No. 1 spot in Vancouver in 2017, perhaps not coincidentally overlapping with the Canucks’ streak of three straight top-two rookie of the year finishes. Markstrom, 30, established his market with his first 10 starts of the playoffs, in which he went 7-3 with a .929 save percentage and only 25 goals allowed as the Canucks eliminated the Wild and the defending champion Blues. The Swede’s four games in the second round against Vegas were less impressive: 15 goals allowed.

Corey Crawford

Crawford’s definitely past his 2012-17 peak, in which he had a .921 save percentage, 2.31 GAA and 16 shutouts in 259 games with the Blackhawks before a serious concussion cost him 52 games in 2018. Still, he was solid in Chicago last season as a 35-year-old splitting time with Lehner before the trade deadline. After Lehner’s departure, Crawford had eight regular-season starts, allowing 21 goals with a .921 save percentage. He was less effective in the playoffs, giving up at least four goals in five of his nine starts, but those came against the Oilers and Golden Knights, two of the league’s better offenses.

The bargain bin

Four goalies that could be options if Yzerman and the Wings see Bernier as a definite No. 1:

Craig Anderson: The 39-year-old reinvented his career with a decade in Ottawa and says he still wants to play, but he hasn’t had a sub-3 GAA since 2016-17.

Aaron Dell: He’s only 31, but when the Sharks gave him a chance to grab the No. 1 spot in San Jose in January, he didn’t play well enough to supplant Martin Jones, who has a $6 million cap hit.

Brian Elliott: The Wisconsin product (and Flyers backup for the past three seasons) is only 35 somehow, and hasn’t had a GAA above 3 since 2010-11. That’s also the only year he started more than 50 games.

Michael Hutchinson: The 31-year-old looked awful as a backup in Toronto — where defense was often optional — then won his first two playoff starts with the Avalanche (as their third goalie) against the Stars before a tough Game 7 loss.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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