State of the Red Wings: Jonathan Bernier gives hope to goaltending group
Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part series in which The Detroit News takes a look at the Red Wings' position groups.
Detroit — What a difference a year made for goaltender Jonathan Bernier.
The Red Wings signed Bernier, who was an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018, to strengthen the position alongside Jimmy Howard. But Bernier was a disappointment during his first season as Wing, unable to gain any traction, and struggling while seeing infrequent playing time.
That all changed this season, which has been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bernier began taking over the bulk of playing time in December and had taken over as the Wings’ No. 1 goaltender spot when the season was halted.
Bernier’s ascension as well as Howard’s painful struggles and up-and-down struggles throughout the organization’s goaltending depth chart, showed the uneven state of the position for the Wings.
Over the next few days, The Detroit News will take a look at the various Wings’ position groups, how they have fared this season, and what to expect going forward.
Up today: goaltending.
Stats: 46 games, 15-22-3 record, 2.95 GAA, .907 SVS, 1 shutout
Outlook: You can make a strong case for Bernier being the Wings’ MVP this season. He wasn’t overly great in October and November, bringing back visions of last season. But from December on, Bernier has given a Wings’ a chance to win every night he’s been in net.
With one more year left on his contract (at $3 million), Bernier could become a trade chip at next season’s deadline.
“Confidence matters, and his confidence has obviously blossomed as he’s played better and better,” coach Jeff Blashill said in February.
Stats: 27 games, 2-23-2, 4.20 GAA, .882 SVS, 0 shutouts
Outlook: Howard won two games the first month of the season, and never got back into the win column.
Everything that could go wrong, did for Howard. He didn’t make key stops, and when Howard was on, the defense in front of him struggled.
An unrestricted free agent, Howard, 36, probably has played his last game in a distinguished Wings’ career. The Wings are likely to dip into the free agent market to solidify the position for the next few years.
But it’ll be interesting to watch what becomes of Howard. Has he played his last NHL game, or find a job somewhere else and get his career back on track? It wouldn't be overly shocking to see Howard rebound behind a veteran, stable defensive team in front of him next season if he gets an opportunity.
Stats: 33 games (Grand Rapids), 17-12-4, 2.86 GAA, .903 SVS, 3 shutouts
Outlook: Pickard was given a two-year contract last summer to serve as the organization’s No. 3 goalie.
But Pickard struggled in three games with the Wings, and likely serve as the veteran mentor in Grand Rapids next season. Pickard found rhythm and confidence with the Griffins late in the season, forming a solid veteran combination with Pat Nagle.
Pickard has had brief success at the NHL level, but not over the past several seasons.
Stats: 20 games (Grand Rapids), 9-8-1, 2.32 GAA, .920 SVS, 0 shutouts
Outlook: At 32, Nagle (Bloomfield Hills/Lahser) got his first extended look in the AHL and played a big role in the Griffins’ catching fire late in the season.
If nothing else, Nagle has earned an opportunity to extend his professinoal career. He’s proving to be a good insurance policy in an organization’s depth chart. Nagle plays a steady game, flashes a good glove hand, and had an impressive run with the Griffins the second half of the season.
Stats: 7 games (Grand Rapids), 2-5-0, 4.01 GAA, .843 SVS, 0 shutouts; 10 games (Toledo), 4-6-0, 2.72 GAA, .910 SVS, 0 shutouts
Outlook: Larsson struggled mightily in his rookie pro season. He had an awful start in the AHL, then was sent to Toledo where injuries also slowed Larsson’s development. His confidence got dented early, and it wasn't easy for Larsson to regain it.
Larsson is only 21, so there’s plenty of time to rebound. But this season was a step back, though jumping from Sweden to the AHL can be a difficult jump for many players.
Stats: 34 games (Quinnipiac, ECAC), 21-10-2, 2.01 GAA, .920 SVS, 3 shutouts
Outlook: The junior had his best season since arriving in college, and continues to raise expectations within the Wings’ organization. The 2017 3rd-round draft pick is 6-foot-5, covers a lot of the net, and has shown steady improvement.
Scouts like his instincts around the net, and the confidence he played with this season.
Stats: 45 games (Timra, Sweden), 33-12-0, 2.13 GAA, .914 SVS, 3 shutouts
Outlook: Playing for a strong Timra team, Brattstrom supplied outstanding goaltending and at age 23, could be making headway on the Wings’ organizational depth chart. He's big (6-foot-5), athletic, and has good rebound control.
Stats: 45 games (Almtuna, Sweden), 7-18-0, 3.09 GAA, .887 SVS, 0 shutouts
Outlook: The Wings were hoping they may have gotten a steal with Elliasson in 2018 (third round) but he struggled in Sweden’s lower division. Only 20, Eliasson isn’t overly athletic but plays the position aggressively.