Nine years ago, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman signed Ferris State goaltender Pat Nagle of Bloomfield Hills to a two-year, $1.125-million contract.
Although the Lightning had just made the playoffs for the first time in four years in 2011 and lost in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference final, the goaltending situation was unsettled with 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson and unproven Mike Smith sharing the duties during Yzerman's first year in Tampa Bay.
Nagle, an undrafted free agent after setting career highs in college with 18 wins, a 2.02 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage, was a first-team All-American and a candidate to make their American Hockey League team, who were coached by Jon Cooper, his coach with the St. Louis Bandits of the North American Hockey League.
The next two years though couldn't have gone any worse for Nagle and the Lightning.
In 2012, Tampa Bay allowed more goals than any other team (281), Nagle was relegated to the Florida Everblades of the ECH and the Lightning missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons after Yzerman had made the postseason for 19 straight seasons in Detroit as captain and in the front office.
"I dropped the ball," said Nagle, who led the Everblades to the Kelly Cup title in his first year but only played two games in two years with Norfolk/Syracuse in the AHL. "I wasn't ready to be a pro on the ice or off the ice. I didn't have a good first camp down in Tampa Bay and didn't really recover in that system.
"In my mind, I let them down. He (Yzerman) signed me out of school and I struggled and was not re-signed. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way of how hard it is to climb the ladder in an organization. I had some bad games in preseason and in Florida and in Syracuse. That's all it takes. If you don't earn your spot, it can be taken pretty quickly."
The last two years couldn't have gone any better for Nagle.
Last year, the former Tampa Bay free-agent reunited with Yzerman, who re-signed Nagle to a one-year, minor-league deal with the Red Wings.
The 32-year-old goalie, who had played only eight AHL games in eight years and was fifth in all-time ECHL wins with 191, helped save the Griffins' season with a 9-8-1 record down the stretch, a 2.32 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.
Last week, Yzerman re-signed Nagle to another AHL contract for one season. Terms of the deal weren't released but salaries on a standard AHL players' contract can range from $50,000 to approximately $700,000 per season.
"We've come full circle," Nagle said. "There's absolutely no hard feelings about what happened in Tampa Bay. It's part of the business. It's great that he's seen me work my way out of those struggles and given me a second chance. He's always been good to me. Hopefully, we can continue to be successful moving forward."
Red Wings goaltender development coach Brian Mahoney-Wilson says Nagle "stabilized the fort" in Grand Rapids after Calvin Pickard was called up by Detroit and Filip Larsson was injured and sent down to the Toledo Walleye.
The grandson of Larry Wilson, a member of the Red Wings' Stanley Cup championship team in 1950 and the grandnephew of Johnny Wilson, a four-time Cup champion in Detroit (1950, 1952, 1954, 1955), Mahoney-Wilson has worked with Nagle for nearly three years and has seen a lot of progress on and off the ice.
"He took his game to another level with his nutrition, workouts, strength and flexibility," Mahoney-Wilson said. "He made a commitment to all those little details. He narrowed his stance, he's more in tune with the puck and situationally, he's a very wise goaltender with some of the best hands I've ever seen. One game, he made 15 glove saves.
"He also gave the team a little bit of a jolt and some energy which led to some offense. He knows he can play at this level and now he's saying, 'Why not me?' and 'Why can't I get it done at this level?' I would've liked to have seen if we didn't have this outbreak what he would've done later in the season and in the playoffs."
For now, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Nagle is at home and working out during the COVID-19 pandemic in preparation for a possible return to the AHL season. He and his wife Monica are also taking care of their 4-month-old son Bryson.
He says his dream to play in the NHL is "absolutely" alive after playing 328 regular-season ECHL games in Florida, Idaho, Fort Wayne and Toledo and 28 regular-season AHL games in Grand Rapids, Syracuse, Rochester and Utica.
(Thirty-one of the 56 goalies who played at least 20 games in the NHL this year were at least 30 years of age, including Detroit's Jimmy Howard, 36, and Jonathan Bernier, 31).
"I don't think that (NHL dream) ever goes away," Nagle said. "It's something you think about since you were five years old playing mini-sticks in your basement or street hockey or whatever it may be. You start to realize as your career goes on what may or may not happen but it's always been a privilege to play and put your best foot forward."
Pat Nagle profile
►Born: Bloomfield Hills
►Stats: Posted a 9-8-1 record with a 2.32 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage with Grand Rapids this year. Also had a 9-4-2 record with a 2.77 GAA and a .910 save percentage.
NHL goalies over 30
(56 goalies played at least 20 games this year)
►39 Ryan Miller (Anaheim)
►38 Craig Anderson (Ottawa)
►38 Mike Smith (Edmonton)
►38 Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers)
►37 Pekka Rinne (Nashville)
►36 Jimmy Howard (Detroit)
►35 Corey Crawford (Chicago)
►35 Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas)
►35 Brian Elliott (Philadelphia)
►34 Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles)
►34 Jaroslav Halak (Boston)
►34 Thomas Greiss (Islanders)
►33 Anton Khudobin (Dallas)
►33 Ben Bishop (Dallas)
►33 Devan Dubnyk (Minnesota)
►33 Tuuka Rask (Boston)
►32 Semyon Varlamov (Islanders)
►32 Carey Price (Montreal)
►32 James Reimer (Carolina)
►32 Alex Stalock (Minnesota)
►32 Cam Talbot (Calgary)
►31 Sergei Bobrovsky (Florida)
►31 Jonathan Bernier (Detroit)
►31 Mikko Koskinen (Edmonton)
►30 Antti Raanta (Arizona)
►30 Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver)
►30 Frederik Andersen (Toronto)
►30 Martin Jones (San Jose)
►30 Aaron Dell (San Jose)
►30 Braden Holtby (Washington)
►30 Anders Nilsson (Ottawa)