Over the next three days, The Detroit News will take a closer look at each position group in the Red Wings’ organization. Today: Goaltending.
Detroit — The Red Wings had a plan for their goaltending before the season.
Coach Jeff Blashill envisioned Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss sharing the workload, pushing each other, and supplying the capable goaltending that has been a trademark in each player’s career.
There were a few dips and valleys through the shortened season. Bernier was injured and missed several weeks. Greiss struggled at the start behind a makeshift lineup ravaged by COVID-19.
But for the most part, Blashill’s plan worked. The two veterans complemented each other and gave the Wings the type of quality goaltending a good team needs.
“Both guys are in a good spot where their games are at and it gives you a ton of confidence that you’re going to get good goaltending,” Blashill said late in the season, talking about the effectiveness of the two veterans.
Chances are the Wings aren’t going to change the dynamics of this goaltending duo heading into next season.
Greiss, 35, has one more year left on his contract, with a $3.6 million salary cap hit. But where it gets, potentially, a bit hairy is with Bernier.
Bernier, 32, is an unrestricted free agent after completing his three-year, $9 million contract ($3 million per season cap hit) and is coming off, arguably, two consecutive seasons of being the Wings’ most valuable player.
If Bernier chooses, there are likely to be interested teams on the open market.
Both the Wings and Bernier appear willing to come together on a new contract. Bernier, during his season-ending interview with media, talked about his and his family’s appreciation of the city and the Wings’ organization.
“(It’s an) Original Six. It’s always special to play for a team like that, lots of history. It’s a great organization,” Bernier said. “The setup we have at the rink is amazing, the way they treat us. And it’s a great group of guys. That makes a big difference when you’re having fun at the rink.
“It’s not every team you feel comfortable with, and for me I really like the group of guys here. I’m excited to see what next year brings.”
Bernier’s return is further made important by the fact the Wings don’t have adequate replacements within the organization. Any potential replacements are, at least, years away and unproven.
If Bernier were to leave, general manager Steve Yzerman would need to replace him with an NHL-caliber goaltender, likely through free agency.
Yzerman was pleased with what he saw of Bernier and Greiss.
“There are areas of our game that got better over the course of the season,” Yzerman said during his end-of-season media conference. “As the year went on, our goaltending was very good, very consistent as it went on. That helped every part of our game.”
Here’s a brief look at the goaltending in the Wings’ organization:
► Bernier: He has been through rebuilding situations in the past, most notably while playing in Toronto.
“The one thing I regret is going through the pain but not being there when they’re better,” Bernier said. “That’s one of the reasons why I want to stay here. All the pain we went through the last couple years, I finally see we’re getting better. We got some great, young guys that aren’t really young.
“I can see we’re headed in the right direction, so I’d like to stay here to see the process towards the end.”
Bernier was 9-11-1 with a 2.99 goals-against average and .914 save percentage this season. The numbers don’t adequately do justice to how consistently well Bernier played, especially a 50-save night in an overtime loss to Dallas late in the season.
Bernier’s desire to remain in Detroit should likely produce a fair deal for both sides.
► Greiss: In a way, it was almost a tale of two seasons for Greiss, who signed a two-year contract last offseason.
Greiss began the season with a dismal 1-8-2 record, although his 2.90 GAA and .904 SVS showed he was playing relatively well and wasn’t getting much offensive support.
Greiss was also getting the majority of work in late January and early February, with Bernier nursing a minor lower-body injury.
When Bernier got healthy and Greiss’ workload eased, his season turned around.
Greiss was named NHL Player of the Week late in the season after stopping all 66 shots he faced across 130 minutes of regulation time.
Greiss finished 8-15-8 with a 2.70 GAA and .912 SVS, in some ways better than Bernier’s statistics.
“He’s a good pro. He just comes and does his work,” Blashill said of Greiss. “There’s not a lot else to worry about. He just totally does his job and he’s done a good job at it.”
► Calvin Pickard: Essentially the No. 3 goalie in the organization, Pickard spent the majority of the season on the taxi squad and played sparingly. He only played nine games between the Wings and Griffins, but the Wings think highly of his professionalism and influence with younger goalies. He’s an unrestricted free agent.
► Kevin Boyle: Boyle (7-3-1, 2.89 GAA, .883 SVS) shared the workload in Grand Rapids and spent time on the taxi squad. A potential UFA, his future in the organization is hazy.
► Pat Nagle: The Bloomfield native continues to carve out a pro career with another solid season (6-6-0, 2.78 GAA, .892 SVS), splitting playing time with Boyle. A 10-year pro, Nagle, 33, is another veteran valued for his experience and influence.
► Kaden Fulcher: In seven appearances, Fulcher (2-2-2, .905 SVS) had the best save percentage of any Griffins goaltender and somewhat re-established himself as a prospect.
► Filip Larsson: The one-time prospect has fizzled since turning pro in 2019. In 16 games in Europe this season, Larsson had an .885 SVS. That’s two mystifying and consecutive poor seasons.
► Victor Brattstrom: The 24-year-old had a fine season in Finland (18-12-7, 2.20 GAA, .903 SVS) and established himself as a legitimate prospect.