This could be a really big year of change for the Red Wings.
The club will have a new coach when training camp opens next fall and, in goal, there’ll be a fight for playing time that could see longtime starter Jimmy Howard pushed into a timeshare — or even a backup role.
The guy battling Howard in net, Petr Mrazek, knows the situation at hand.
“Only one goalie can play,” Mrazek said recently, per the Detroit News. “I’m going to do my best to play as much as I want to and do the best job.”
Mrazek overtaking Howard’s No. 1 gig was one of the biggest stories of the postseason; the 23-year-old Czech rookie, who’d never played in the playoffs before, got the nod from Mike Babcock and was stellar in a seven-game opening-round loss to the Lightning, posting a 2.11 GAA and .925 save percentage.
The demotion was frustrating for Howard but, during his end-of-year media availability, he tried to keep a level head. The 31-year-old said he wouldn’t demand a trade, noting that he looked forward to competing for the No. 1 gig next season.
The issue, of course, is that Howard carries a pretty hefty pricetag — a six-year, $31.8 million deal with a $5.3M average annual cap hit — and has four years left on the contract. He’s also eight years older than Mrazek, who’s widely considered to be the franchise’s goalie of the future… and based on what we saw in the playoffs, the future might be now.
What’s more, Wings GM Ken Holland all but guaranteed a goalie battle for next year, saying Mrazek would definitely be with the Red Wings next season — even though Mrazek could be sent down to AHL Grand Rapids without having to clear waivers.