The recent injury to Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard may have exposed the biggest need for the team coming into the trade deadline at the end of the month – a backup goalie.
Howard admitted recently that he will miss more than the two games that were initially reported thanks to a broken finger sustained against the Vancouver Canucks last Thursday in a 4-3 shootout victory for the Wings. While Howard said there is no timetable for his return, he believes that it could be as many as two weeks, but should be less than the four-to-six weeks doctors estimated.
“I haven’t been told two weeks,” Howard said, “but when they said four-to-six weeks (to heal), I was like there’s no chance I’m going to be out for six. Two weeks sounded right.”
Through the first half of the season, Howard shouldered an incredible load with 44 starts in 54 games. Howard leads the league with 32 wins and has solid stats this year with a 2.03 goals against average and a .924 save percentage.
His backup goalie, Ty Conklin, hasn’t fared as well. In nine games started this season, Conklin has looked inconsistent at best with only three wins with a 3.40 goals against average and a .878 save percentage – some of the worst stats of his career. Granted, with Howard playing so well, Conklin has been relegated to the bench for the most part, but Conklin has missed out on opportunities and failed to capitalize when he does get the nod.
After Howard’s injury last Thursday in Vancouver, Conklin got the start on Saturday night in Edmonton. He was pulled after the first period after surrendering three goals on nine shots against. Joey Macdonald, the Red Wings’ third string goalie, had a strong showing in relief of Conklin and helped the Wings fight back and earn a point in a shootout loss to the Oilers.
That strong showing earned Macdonald the start last night against the Phoenix Coyotes where Macdonald again looked good, but his defense did not. The Wings ended up losing their second straight by a score of 3-1.
The Wings have a .727 winning percentage when Howard starts. That percentage falls to .333 when Conklin starts. Macdonald has looked good in his brief NHL appearances, and he has been playing well for the Grand Rapids Griffins with 11 wins and a 2.63 goals against average along with a .913 save percentage. Still, the Wings may opt to upgrade their backup situation if better options become available before the trade deadline.
Rumors have linked the Wings with Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, whose $570,000 cap hit would still give the Wings plenty of room to make additional moves. The Wings attempted to sign Nabokov to a deal last year before the trade deadline, but the Islanders claimed his rights off waivers. Nabokov wants to play for a contender, and as an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season the Islanders will likely try to move him. Columbus Blue Jackets backup Curtis Sanford has also been mentioned as a possible target.
If nothing else, Howard’s injury will give the Wings a long look at their backup goaltending situation and allow coach Mike Babcock and general manager Ken Holland to assess their needs in net. For the first time in a long time, the Wings have significant salary cap space to make moves at the trade deadline. While fans would love the Red Wings to pursue a game-changing target such as Shea Weber, Zach Parise or even Alexander Semin, Holland stated that he will be active at the deadline, but will likely look to add complementary pieces to his team instead of pursuing big names. Could one of those complementary pieces be a backup goalie?