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Blashill: Howard, Mrazek are both 'elite goalies'

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit – Halfway through his first press conference as Red Wings coach, Jeff Blashill got his initiation of sorts.

Someone asked Blashill about the goaltending situation.

Jimmy Howard or Petr Mrazek? Who does Blashill expect to be the starter in a position that Red Wings fans love to debate and agonize over?

Blashill deftly deflected the question with a veteran's touch.

"The one thing I know is both Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek have proved at different points of their careers they're elite goalies," Blashill said. "It's great to have as much depth at every position you can. I know both of them are elite competitors, as well as character people.

"I'm excited to coach both of them."

General manager Ken Holland repeated Tuesday he will not trade either goaltender and believes it's a benefit to have two quality goaltenders on the roster.

Howard made the All-Star Game roster on Jan. 10 while the Red Wings were in Washington, only to injure his groin in the game later that evening.

Mrazek took over the position and established himself as the No. 1, while Howard struggled to find any consistency upon his return.

Coach Mike Babcock went with Mrazek in the first-round of the playoffs, a seven-game series loss to Tampa Bay.

"We're going to have a nice one-two punch," Holland said. "We'll have a motivated guy in Jimmy Howard and we'll have a motivated guy in Petr Mrazek."

Free agent musings

The Red Wings will hold their organizational meetings June 16-18 and discuss their own personnel, players in other organizations, and prospective free agent moves and potential trades.

Holland said Tuesday the team will not bring back unrestricted free agent goaltender Jonas Gustavsson or forward Erik Cole.

Acquired at the trade deadline, Cole injured his neck shortly after joining the Red Wings and is likely retiring.

Holland hasn't totally closed the door on defenseman Marek Zidlicky or forward Daniel Cleary.

Zidlicky, 38, was also acquired at the trade deadline, suffered a concussion in Game 6 against Tampa Bay and was considering retirement.

But Holland said Zidlicky's agent texted him recently that Zidlicky would like to continue playing.

Whether there's room for Zidlicky in a crowded Red Wings defense will be debated at next week's meetings.

Cleary, 36, turned down better financial offers from Winnipeg, Florida and Philadelphia three years ago to stay with the Red Wings for less money.

"Part of it is being loyal and at the same time holding up my end of the bargain," said Holland, who could re-sign Cleary to a front office position rather than as a player.

Good friends

One of Blashill's best friends in the coaching business is Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper.

Cooper coached high school (Lansing Catholic Central) and junior hockey in Michigan when Blashill was coaching at Ferris State and Miami (Ohio).

"Coop is one of my best friends," Blashill said. "He and I have a history have goes back 10, 12 years, maybe longer. We coached teams together in Michigan during the summer, and I recruited a lot of kids off him.

"He's someone I have a great a deal of respect for. We're probably alike in a lot of ways."

Both are often called players' coaches, able to communicate with players but also hold them accountable.

Ice chips

Holland continues to be optimistic about the return of Johan Franzen (concussion) at the start of training camp.

Franzen missed the rest of the season after sustaining a concussion Jan. 6 in Edmonton.

"My expectation is Franzen is coming to training camp to play hockey and my expectation is he'll be healthy and ready to go," Holland said.

…Blashill said he hasn't spoken much to Mike Babcock in recent weeks, or since Babcock signed an eight-year contract in Toronto worth $50 million while Blashill was coaching in Grand Rapids in the AHL playoffs.

"He's been real busy and I've been busy," Blashill said. "We'll talk more at the (entry) draft (June 26-27 in Sunrise, Florida).

"He'll be responsible for buying me a beer, for sure, with that contract."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

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