Editor’s note: This is the third in a three-part series breaking down the Detroit Red Wings at each position group. Today: Goaltenders.
Detroit — The Red Wings needed to add a goaltender and identified Ville Husso as the one they’d like to acquire.
To make sure they obtained Husso, before unrestricted free agency began, general manager Steve Yzerman worked out a trade to get Husso during the NHL Entry Draft.
Watching the salaries in free agency and the robust game of musical chairs — who knows which team would be left standing without a goaltender — Yzerman was pleased to land Husso.
“We feel comfortable he’s an NHL goaltender and he makes us better,” Yzerman said after Husso’s acquisition (a third-round draft pick in July’s draft for Husso’s rights). “We have the cap space, it’s a reasonable term for us, and we think he’ll play well. We needed depth at the position and we thought it was a worthwhile decision to make.
“We expect him to play well for us.”
The Wings feel they’ve solidified their goaltending heading into next month’s training camp with the tandem of Husso, who the Wings quickly signed to a three-year contract worth $14.25 million ($4.75 million salary cap hit), and Alex Nedeljkovic.
The hope last season was for Nedeljkovic to share the workload with Thomas Greiss. But Greiss never got on track and lost playing time to Nedeljkovic, who struggled at times with the workload (Greiss left for St. Louis in free agency).
Nedeljkovic and Husso are on similar career paths.
Husso is 27 and Nedeljkovic is 26. Nedeljkovic is under contract for another year with a $3 million salary cap hit. He can be an unrestricted free agent next summer while Husso is under contract for three years.
Nedeljkovic was 20-24-9 with a 3.31 goals-against average and .901 save percentage. He was not happy, in sum total, with his season.
“It’s my job to stop the puck. It’s my job to keep us in games and help us win games every single night,” Nedeljkovic said. “I understand that. If you want to be a great goalie in this league, you have to do that every single night.
“My job is to stop the puck. Obviously, I didn’t do it enough. We were (second-to-) last in the league in goals against. Obviously, that’s not good enough. It will be better. I’ll just tell you that right now. We’re not going to be in this position next year. If nothing were to change from how the season ended to next year, I’m not going to allow that to happen again.”
Husso had an outstanding first half of the season for the Blues, with a 2.03 GAA and .935 SVS, ranking among the best goaltenders in the NHL. But Husso slumped in the second half, with a leaky 3.04 GAA and .904 SVS in his final 20 games, and lost the starter’s job in the playoffs.
“Next year I need to be on the level I played that long part of last season,” Husso said. “My next goal is to be on that level every single night.”
Yzerman is confident the two inexperienced goaltenders will become a strength for the Wings.
“We certainly liked the season Ville had (in St. Louis) and we feel he can come in and form a tandem with Alex,” Yzerman said. “We feel we have two guys who we can put in net every night and give us chance to win.
“We have two guys who we feel can play in the league and have two guys, albeit based on somewhat of limited action in the NHL, they’ve shown they can win games.”
Here is a depth chart of Wings’ goaltenders in the organization heading into this season:
► Victor Brattstrom: The 2018 sixth-round pick had his first taste of North American pro hockey and struggled. Brattstrom, 25, went 11-16-3 (3.32 GAA, .894 SVS) in Grand Rapids, where he is penciled in this season.
► Sebastian Cossa: The Wings’ 2021 first-round pick (15th overall) is likely headed back to junior for another season given the goaltending depth in Grand Rapids. Cossa, 19, has dominated at the junior level in Edmonton, but there’s plenty to learn about the goaltending position.
“Going into this season I want to play at the highest level of hockey I can,” Cossa said. “My game is going to do the speaking for me. The management obviously has that say, where I’m going to be playing. I want to play at the highest level of hockey I can and compete at that level.”
► Ville Husso: He formed a good goaltending combination in St. Louis with Jordan Binnington and is optimistic he’ll be part of one with Nedeljkovic.
“It’s always nice to have a good guy or goalie partner with you,” Husso said. “Me and Binnington were pushing each other every day. That’s one thing I learned from him. With Alex, I want to do the same thing, push each other every day in practices and games to get better every day.”
► Alex Nedeljkovic: Yzerman felt Nedeljkovic could take away positives from this past season.
“He at times had great games; he had some not-so-great games,” Yzerman said. “Some of that was due to our overall team play. What I’m really encouraged by is this could have been a tough situation for any goalie, particularly a young guy who doesn’t have a ton of experience. He survived it and he’s not a basket case today.
“It showed his mental toughness, and it’s good for him that he battled the ups and downs. He didn’t get too carried away when things went well for him, and there were some tough nights and he had to go back in the next night and stop pucks.
“At the end of the year, it was a positive year for him.”
► Jussi Olkinuora: He was the most valuable player at the men’s world championship in May, leading Finland to a gold medal. Olkinuora, 31, has never played in the NHL, but he’s spent three seasons in the American League, played collegiately at Denver and has had recent success in Russia’s KHL.