Two weeks before the NHL free agency began, the Red Wings signed backup Jonas Gustavsson to a one-year extension. The move immediately looked bad. As I pointed out at the time, Gustavsson was below-average last year. Six backup goalies were slated to hit free agency that performed better.
When the team disclosed the money, the signing looked worse: $1.85 million. Gustavsson got a $305,000 raise.
Now, a week into free agency, the signing looks terrible. Four of the six goalies slated for free agency actually hit the market. All have already signed elsewhere. Looking at those contracts, it’s clear the Red Wings paid a premium for consistent mediocrity.
Thomas Greiss signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Penguins. Chad Johnson got two years at $1.3 million per season from the Islanders. Al Montoya went to Florida on two-year contract worth $1.05 million per season. Justin Peters will make $950,000 per season in the next two years with the Capitals.
The Red Wings couldn’t have been concerned about being priced out of the backup goalie market. Heading into free agency none of those mentioned above made more than $750,000 and they all signed for at least $550,000 less than Gustavsson.
Maybe they were concerned about striking out and being left with nothing. Detroit isn’t an attractive spot for backup goalies. Jimmy Howard is the clear No. 1 now and Petr Mrazek is the No. 1 of the future. There’s no chance to earn a starting spot and no hope that there will be in the future. This might’ve bee a problem for the Red Wings — except they had $1.85 million budgeted to give to a backup goalie. Thomas Greiss would’ve come to Detroit had the Red Wings offered 50 percent more money than the Penguins.
Maybe the Red Wings were concerned about giving a backup more than a one-year deal. Set aside the Greiss signing and the we’ll-offer-you-more-money-for-one-year angle. What’s wrong with giving a goalie a two-year deal? Mrazek is under contract until 2016 and then he becomes a restricted free agent. If the Red Wings have to let him marinate in Grand Rapids an extra year, they can, and they still could sign him out of restricted free agency with the promise of a roster spot.
Detroit signed Gustavsson simply because they knew what they’d get. He played with them the year before and posted a .907 save percentage. His career average is .900
The four other goalies performed better, but don’t have the same consistency.
Greiss has remained solid the past four years with a save percentage vacillating between .912 and .920, but he’s only played 69 NHL games compared to Gustavsson’s 141.
Chad Johnson posted a .925 save percentage last year, but 2013-14 was the first season in which he played more than five games.
Al Montoya had .920 save percentage last year, but in 2011-12 — his last year as a consistent backup — he had an .893 save percentage.
Justin Peters’ save percentage jumped from .891 in 2012-13 to .919 in 2013-14.
Taking the known quantity is an old-school Red Wings move. Reduce risk and let talent take over. But this team doesn’t have the same kind of talent the old-school Red Wings teams did. To contend, they need a surprise, a career year from a guy or two no one expected. Hoping a backup goalie is that guy won’t win a Cup, but it’s one of the least risky moves Detroit could’ve taken.
If it worked the team would’ve earned a few extra points during the regular season and wouldn’t fret if the backup had to fill-in during the playoffs like Gustavsson did last year. If it didn’t work, GM Ken Holland could’ve slightly accelerated Mrazek’s time table and either dump the backup for a late-round pick, or just eat his relatively small salary.
At the one position the Red Wings could’ve taken a risk, it didn’t. Now they’re stuck with mediocre goalie who has the same cap hit as Braden Holtby.