Howard's future, Larsson's potential keys to Red Wings' goaltending outlook

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

This is the first of a three-part series examining the state of the Red Wings' organization at every position. Today: goaltenders.

Detroit – Jimmy Howard has been a big part of the Red Wings’ goaltending situation for the last decade.

Howard ensured another year of stability by signing a one-year contract late last season worth $4 million (with another $1.1 million possible if the Wings make the playoffs).

Howard, 35, didn’t hide his preference to remain in Detroit, rather than be dealt at the trade deadline last March. Howard has made it clear he'd love to remain a Red Wing throughout his career.

Jimmy Howard

“This is the only organization I know,” said Howard. “I love playing for the Wings, my family loves living in Detroit. It’s very special.”

Trade speculation around Howard was rampant last season.

With the Red Wings expected to be sellers at the deadline again in the 2019-20 season, and Howard on a one-year contract, there’s likely a ton of rumors about Howard’s future again.

Howard’s situation will go a long way in determining how the goaltending position will look going forward.

Howard and Jonathan Bernier held the position last season and will do so again beginning in October.

Prospect Filip Larsson will begin his professional career in Grand Rapids, with veteran Calvin Pickard backing Larsson.

Jonathan Bernier

Signing Pickard in free agency and establishing some depth in the goaltending position – and a bridge between Howard/Bernier and Larsson – was one of general manager Steve Yzerman’s goals.

The lack of NHL experience in the minor-league level would have left the Red Wings exposed if Howard or Bernier were to suffer a long-term injury.

“We feel with the two goalies we have, if we were to have an injury, we feel the third goaltender position is very important,” Yzerman said of Pickard. “We wanted to put a goaltender with some experience to partner with Larsson. A guy who is a good leader, high character and a good work ethic, and we believe he (Pickard) fits the bill.

“It gives us a little bit of security for knowing we have him over the course of the two years (Pickard’s contract). He has NHL experience and he can come up and play games if we need him to do that. He’s proven he can do that.”

For his NHL career, Pickard is 32-50-9, in 87 games, with a 2.93 GAA and .908 save percentage, and he arrives in the Wings organization with a reputation for being a stellar teammate and with an established work ethic.

Pickard should be a valuable asset for Larsson, who will be making his pro debut.

Filip Larsson

Larsson, 20, has given the organization – and its fans – hope for the future with two consective outstanding seasons in junior and college hockey.

Last season at Denver, Larsson had a 1.94 GAA and .932 save percentage while leading the Pioneers to the Frozen Four.

Larsson took part in June’s development camp and talked about his future with the Wings.

“I know it’s a good opportunity,” said Larsson of the Wings’ goaltending depth chart. “There are still two great guys up there but they’re getting older. But I’m not looking at the NHL next year. For me, I want to make that AHL team (in Grand Rapids) and I want to get as many games as possible to develop and in future years, maybe get an (NHL) opportunity.”

One more huge variable in the goaltending position is improved play from Bernier. The veteran was signed to a three-year contract in the summer of 2018 to provide consistency in net behind Howard, but Bernier had a lackluster first season with the Wings.

Bernier, 30, was 9-18-5 with a 3.16 GAA and .904 save percentage. He’ll need to be better, for the Wings to be better overall this season.

How they stack up

Key goaltenders in the Red Wings’ organization:

Jimmy Howard: A common question in recent years: Will Howard remain with the Red Wings past the trade deadline? He's been a Wings' backbone during the rebuild.

Jonathan Bernier: Needs to improve his performance after a sub-par first season with the Wings. Rarely stole a victory for the Wings.

Calvin Pickard: If either Howard or Bernier is hurt, Pickard can step in an provide NHL-quality goaltending. Will also provide an experienced voice for Filip Larsson.

Filip Larsson: Many eyes will be on Grand Rapids to see how Larsson develops in his first professional season. Has had two consecutive exceptional junior/college seasons.

Kaden Fulcher: Expected to play in Toledo, Fulcher appeared in his first NHL game the final night of the season.

Pat Nagle: Keyed Toledo’s run to the Kelly Cup finals last spring.