Wings looking at goaltending depth in free agency

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Robin Lehner

Detroit — The Detroit Red Wings didn’t hide that they wanted to acquire a goaltender this summer, likely in free agency.

It appears they’re zeroing in on a possible option before Sunday’s start of unrestricted free agency.

Jonathan Bernier, who played in Colorado last season — and Anaheim and Toronto before his time with the Avalanche — appears to be the Red Wings’ preferred target.

Robin Lehner (Buffalo) and Carter Hutton (St. Louis) are alternatives — the Wings, and several other teams have much interest in Hutton — but each is expected to look elsewhere (Hutton, in Buffalo, incidentally).

NHL teams have the ability this week to meet with free agents.

The Wings are without a proven NHL goaltender to back up Jimmy Howard. They dealt Petr Mrazek at the trade deadline last season and Jared Coreau, who struggled after being called up from Grand Rapids, will not be offered a contract to remain in the organization.

More: Red Wings' Givani Smith: Racial taunts part of hockey

More: McIsaac hopes to skate his way into Red Wings' plans for revitalizing defensemen

With no other options in Grand Rapids, general manager Ken Holland has been searching for goaltending depth.

Bernier, 29, helped lead the Avalanche into the playoffs after Semyon Varlamov was injured and missed the remainder of the season.

Bernier was 19-13-3 with a 2.85 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.

It was expected the Avalanche would keep Bernier, but they acquired Washington’s Philipp Grubauer, leaving Bernier free to explore the market.

Bernier was considered one of the NHL’s bright young prospects early in his career with the Maple Leafs, but his play deteriorated as the Leafs plunged in the standings.

After a confidence-restoring year in Anaheim, Bernier’s stock rose significantly around the NHL last year in Colorado.

Being that Hutton is expected to get a 3-year contract from Buffalo, where he’ll be the Sabres’ No. 1 goaltender, it’s expected Bernier will look for multiple years on his term, as well.

Getting Bernier could make Howard expendable for the Wings at the trade deadline, or future. Howard, 34, is entering the final year of his contract ($5.2 million) and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

The Wings are also expected to add depth in front of their goaltenders when free agency begins.

They’re rumored to be extremely interested in bringing back either of two forwards — Valtteri Filppula or Thomas Vanek.

Filppula, 34, appears to be the preferred choice. He had 11 goals and 22 assists in 81 games with Philadelphia, and his versatility would be beneficial, as the Wings continue to have doubts regarding Henrik Zetterberg’s aching back.

The Wings also hope to re-sign defenseman Mike Green, a prospective UFA, to a 2-year contract.

Green, 32, had eight goals and 25 assists in 66 games before neck surgery ended his season. Though the Wings want to create spots for young defensemen — and they expect to have at least one on the roster — Green’s offensive ability would be difficult to replace if he were to sign elsewhere.

Nice surprise

Defenseman Seth Barton didn’t attend the NHL Entry Draft in Dallas last week.

Barton is headed to UMass-Lowell in a week, was in Buffalo for the draft combine earlier in the month, but most importantly, just didn’t have huge expectations.

“It was a little bit tight for scheduling,” said Barton, whom the Wings picked in the third round last weekend. “I was a little surprised (I was picked) that early. I wasn’t expecting too much.”

A 6-foot-3, 174-pound defenseman, Barton has many of the attributes that teams are searching for. He’s a great skater, fine passer (27 assists, 33 points in 49 games) and is good in his own end.

“This past year in junior I found my game as a two-way defenseman who can produce points,” Barton said. “As you go up higher (in the ranks), in junior, you have to work on the defense side, your zone, because defense is huge part of the game and is huge right now for me."

Barton was going the college route regardless of what happened in the draft. But the way things are set up in the Wings’ organization currently, with so many defensemen likely moving out of the picture the next few years, there could be openings by the time Barton is ready.

“I need a few years to develop,” Barton said. “That might be openings in three or four years, and that’s what I’m looking at.”

Baseball night

Many of the Red Wings’ prospects took in their first major league baseball game Wednesday night at Comerica Park, as the Tigers lost to the Oakland A’s.

They all enjoyed the atmosphere, being outside, and the crowd.

But the game itself, to the Europeans, was a bit slow.

Defenseman Gustav Lindstrom had a good time, but was anxious to get back to watching World Cup soccer. Defenseman Malte Setkov would have liked to see more action.

Then, there’s forward Filip Zadina, the Wings’ top draft pick.

“It’s not a popular sport in the Czech Republic,” said Zadina, who stayed away from the hot dogs because he’s in training. “I have to learn it. It was fun with the boys. It was my first baseball game. I didn’t know the rules.”

Zadina said most players stuck around to the “I don’t know how you say it, 5 sets? (fifth inning)?”

Zadina’s biggest other takeway?

“It’s hard to hit the ball,” Zadina said. “When they hit the ball, it’s good. It’s fun for the people. The fans are screaming.”