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Two takes on the Red Wings’ goaltending situation

In the wake of the Red Wings’ 3-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes and 5-4 loss to tomorrow’s opponent, the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-less Oilers, a pair of pundits are weighing in as to what the Red Wings might want to do given Jimmy Howard’s status as on the shelf until he can handle the pain of taking shots while playing with a broken index finger grasping his goal stick.

The Oakland Press’s Pat Caputo, via 97.1 the Ticket and fRedWingsFeed, prescribes an, “Everybody panic!” route, suggesting taht the Red Wings must trade for Evgeni Nabokov...

Count me among those who feel the Red Wings would be wise to cover their tracks at goalie. It’s been a couple years since Ty Conklin has played well, and he has precious little playoff experience. Joey MacDonald is fine in a pinch, but he is the goaltending/hockey version of a 4-A player in baseball.

Sure, Jimmy Howard is the Red Wings goalie. He’s earned that. Also, count me among those who feel he is capable to backstopping the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup championship this spring.

And he will come back from his broken finger. Thing is, the Red Wings can’t waste the opportunity to get the top-seed in the Western Conference while Howard is out for a month or so. It hurt them badly the last two seasons in the playoffs not to have the home-ice edge in just the second series, each time against San Jose. Also, what if Howard were to get injured in the playoffs?

Last year, the Red Wings couldn’t get Evgeni Nabokov. He was claimed on waivers by the Islanders. This year, it is different. He has a cap-friendly salary, is playing well this season, his team is going nowhere and he is eligible for free agency this summer.

The Red Wings have depth to trade to get Nabokov, and still plenty of cap space to add to their team otherwise at the trade deadline for Cup run.

Time couldn’t be better to move on a deal.

While Fox Sports Detroit and Sports Illustrated’s Darren Eliot suggests that Ty Conklin’s played shakily enough for the Wings to be particularly concerned but not panicky regarding Conklin’s seeming inability to hold onto his own job:

Saturday night in Edmonton, though, it was all about establishing a base for playing a block of games as the go-to guy in Howard’s absence. It couldn’t have gone much worse, as Conklin and the Wings yielded three goals, trailed 3-1 after one period—with the third tally coming just after Detroit had pulled to 2-1 and just before the final tick of the clock sent the teams to intermission. The timing of both—the late goal and Conklin’s tentative performance—clouded Detroit’s course of action in the big picture.

In the short-term, Joey MacDonald came in—freshly recalled from Grand Rapids in the AHL—to begin the second period. He played with poise and confidence, allowing the Wings to come back and get a point although they lost their first shootout of the season. He played exactly the way coach Mike Babcock was looking for from Conklin.

Babcock’s quick hook of Conklin didn’t feel as if it was solely rooted in the moment. Conklin’s body of work as the backup hasn’t endeared him to the coach, thus his short stint in net before being sent to the bench. Babcock then turned to MacDonald on Monday night in Phoenix, but the Wings fell 3-1. With a six-game home stand looming, is more than Detroit’s 18-game win streak at Joe Louis Arena on the line with Howard on the shelf?

I mean, can the Wings truly keep their standing in the ultra-competitive Central Division and Western Conference with Conklin and MacDonald in tandem for a significant stretch? Doesn’t Holland have to look at available goaltenders—particularly since the coach hasn’t seen the necessary puck-stopping from Conklin to make him feel comfortable?

Opting to start MacDonald in Phoenix indicates a need in the short-term beyond who is on the roster. Now it becomes Holland’s decision to weigh the merits of adding a goaltender for the stretch drive against the long-term cost of dealing prospects, picks and/or players as the core of his team gets older.

Yet, the list of candidates who could step in and make a difference is short and sketchy. Marty Turco is playing in Europe and can opt out of that contract if he receives a NHL offer prior to the trade deadline. The Islanders have Evgeni Nabokov—a logical but potentially pricy option, as well as Al Montoya. Michael Leighton is staying sharp in the AHL, but is he any different than MacDonald?

Ken Holland’s reality is that he needs Conklin and MacDonald to piece together six solid outings on home ice and hold the Red Wings’ position in the standings. Both have won in the NHL before, and with no real upgrade available, this is their time. And it will be manageable if indeed Howard returns in two weeks as he predicted. Any longer than that, Holland’s decision gets tougher, as does the challenge for the Red Wings to stay atop the Central Division without their All-Star netminder.

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SYF's avatar

If JMac continues to play well relative to Conklin and magically, Tick Tock lands Nabby, we have a glut of keepers as a result.  Jimmy would have THREE backups behind him.

And don’t the Isles have eight goaltenders already?  Good luck giving them Conks and a pick.

Posted by SYF from A tall cool pint of Guinness on 02/07/12 at 06:22 PM ET

Chris from NOHS's avatar


Unless Nabokov can be had at a decent price, I’m perfectly happy with JMac as #2.  I have been very impressed with him, as I wrote up here:

Joey Mac: A Worthy Backup

Posted by Chris from NOHS from Columbus, OH/Grand Rapids, MI on 02/07/12 at 06:26 PM ET

cowboycoffee's avatar

Isn’t JMac’s contract 1-Way, next year? I don’t see Nabby coming in if Joey plays well.

Posted by cowboycoffee from San Francisco, CA on 02/07/12 at 06:29 PM ET


I don’t think there’s a backup anywhere who would be able to take over in the playoffs if something happened to Jimmy, and MacDonald has acquited himself as well as could be expected in the last two games (and we could be looking at a whole different picture if he had started the Edmonton game instead of coming in two goals behind), so I don’t see much reason to look for another backup at this point.

when Jimmy comes back, waive Conklin and let MacDonald be the full-time backup.  I’d be fine with that, because it would allow Holland to focus on shaking the team up a bit so that they have a chance of doing something worthwhile in the playoffs.

Posted by Garth on 02/07/12 at 06:50 PM ET

DrewBehr's avatar

I feel far more comfortable with MacDonald than Conklin. I think MacDonald played great last year when called upon, and I think has played very well in his past two games.

Hard to gauge how good Nabby is at this point, playing on an awful Islanders team, but I’d rather see us make a move to invest in a more long term solution at the back up position, rather than another guy with only a few years left in the tank.

Posted by DrewBehr from The Mitten on 02/07/12 at 06:51 PM ET


trade joey & a 5th rounder then

Posted by diesel44 from sterling heights on 02/07/12 at 06:54 PM ET


trade joey & a 5th rounder then

Yeah, trade the one capable goalie in the system for a question mark.

Posted by Garth on 02/07/12 at 06:57 PM ET


nabokov is a question mark? I think mcdonald is more than capable, im just talking in the sense of a trade

Posted by diesel44 from sterling heights on 02/07/12 at 07:09 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

So getting a goaltender means we score more than one against the Coyotes, right?

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 02/07/12 at 07:15 PM ET


Absolutely.  He hasn’t managed to assert himself as the #1 goalie on one of the worst teams in the league and hasn’t really proven that he’s anything more than a shadow of the goalie he was before he went to the KHL.  I’d rather take a chance with McDonald who played well last year and has played well in his two games this year and who knows the organization.

And more than that, I wouldn’t want to trade away MacDonald because if Nabakov didn’t work out then you’d be stuck with Conklin, who we know isn’t working out.

Posted by Garth on 02/07/12 at 07:19 PM ET


it means the coach doesnt second guess resting howard when he needs it. I wouldnt second guess putting in nabokov, I do second guess with joey and conks though.

addressing scoring is a whole other issue. the wings looked to be dragging their feet against pheonix and white looked like he caught the flu bug that nick and stuart had, he was whiping his face all game.

if they get nabokov as a backup and resign him in the offseason, does anyone think that wings prospect petr mrazek could be ready to fill in that spot when nabokov is ready to retire? or any other wings goalie prospect

Posted by diesel44 from sterling heights on 02/07/12 at 07:20 PM ET


I wouldnt second guess putting in nabokov

I haven’t seen anything since he returned to show that he’s worth paying prospects or picks for.

I would second guess anyone suggesting that Conklin should ever be allowed on the ice again, but I don’t second guess MacDonald any more than I would second guess Nabokov.

And yeah, backup goaltending isn’t the issue that really needs to be addressed.  In fact, it’s the problem Detroit has that worries me the least.

Posted by Garth on 02/07/12 at 07:27 PM ET


Evgeni Nabokov   25 games played, with a 2.31 gaa and a .920 save percentage

on YES, you said it, one of the worst teams in the league. that only helps nabokov’s numbers

he has played 25 games more than any other goalie on NYI and he was hurt for a month and half.

jimmy howards, 44 games played and a 2.03 gaa and a .924 save percentage. on one of the best teams in the league, all be it, jimmy is a huge part of that yes.

but nabokov is a legit starter and any team would love to get him for a backup at a minor leaguers price

Posted by diesel44 from sterling heights on 02/07/12 at 07:28 PM ET


he has played 25 games… thats more than any other goalie on NYI and he was hurt for a month and half.

wish I knew how to edit this stuff after i post it

Posted by diesel44 from sterling heights on 02/07/12 at 07:33 PM ET


but nabokov is a legit starter and any team would love to get him for a backup at a minor leaguers price

Fine, trade for him.

I’m not convinced that the best goalie on one of the worst teams in the NHL is an upgrade over the best goalie on Detroit’s AHL team and I’m not convinced that Nabokov’s worth trading the only other capable backup in the system AND a draft pick for him.

any team would love to get him for a backup at a minor leaguers price

The when aren’t the Islanders being bombarded with teams begging to trade for him?

Posted by Garth on 02/07/12 at 07:39 PM ET


my name isnt garth snow, I dont know who is calling him about nabokov.

the best goalie on the wings AHL team.. joey in your opinion… chose to resign with us last year because no one else offered him anything.

MacDonald had been seeking a one-way contract (NHL-only salary) and was said to have an offer from a Russian team as a contingency plan.

I’m not knocking the guy, but he was signed to help the young goalies in the AHL. The second year is one-way, paying $550,000, and he would have to clear re-entry waivers. either he gets traded to a team that thinks he can stay in the pro system or stays in AHL to help goalies. or he gets picked up on waivers if we call him up, maybe

“He’s going to be our third guy,” general manager Ken Holland said. “He had some options in Europe but he wanted to stay in North America. He did a nice job for us when called up. He understands that he’ll open the season at the American league level. He’s a good veteran.”

The Wings tried to add a new no. 2 guy when the free agent market opened July 1, but prospective candidates ended up signing elsewhere. At this point there are very few possibilities remaining, which has turned the focus back on Osgood.

holland, being a goalie… and wanting to address the situation in the offseason but only being able to sign two insurance plans in conks and joey, will more than likely be looking for a legit back up. IMO

Posted by diesel44 from sterling heights on 02/07/12 at 07:52 PM ET

HockeyTownTodd's avatar

Maybe you wannabe GM’s out there should focus on a goalie who could fix our PP.

Posted by HockeyTownTodd on 02/07/12 at 08:31 PM ET


chose to resign with us last year because no one else offered him anything.

OK fine, but Nabokov chose to sign with us the year before because he washed out of the KfuchingHL.  He managed to sign with a Russian team because of his pedigree and they asked him to please leave. 

Oh, and he’s also playing better than the guy that the Red Wings brought in to be their NHL backup.

or he gets picked up on waivers if we call him up, maybe

Or they signed him to be their NHL back up in 2012-13?  That could be why they gave him a one-way deal for next year.

And let’s be honest, if Holland didn’t drag ass letting Osgood come to the realization on his own that he’s no longer good enough to play then Holland might have found a better option than Conklin.  But then again, the rumour was always that if it wasn’t going to be Osgood it was going to be Conklin.

And if Nabokov was the answer then when he was forced to honour his contract this year, Holland could’ve absolutely traded for him, but he didn’t think it was worth it, because he knew he had Joey MacDonald, a capable player, playing in the AHL should Conklin not work out.

I don’t get the panic over the goaltending situation.  MacDonald isn’t a long-term solution, but guess what?  A backup goalie never is.  That’s why he’s the backup.  Very few teams would be comfortable leaning on their backup on a longterm basis should their starter go down.  MacDonald has played two games and in both of those games he gave the Red Wings a chance to win.  It’s not his fault that he entered the game on Saturday with his team already in the hole by two goals and it’s not his fault that the Detroit MFing Red Wings couldn’t put up more than one goal against Phoenix.

And yes, as others have said, there are much bigger problems in Motown than the backup goaltender.

Posted by Garth on 02/07/12 at 08:42 PM ET


my name isnt garth snow, I dont know who is calling him about nabokov.

Yet we could easily compile an extensive list of which GMs are being bombarded by offers for which players.

Posted by Garth on 02/07/12 at 08:53 PM ET

tuxedoTshirt's avatar

aren’t the Islanders being bombarded with teams begging to trade for him?

The rumor was always that the asking price was too high (something like a 2nd rounder) and that lots of teams had asked.  Snow is trying to turn his garbage into gold and got greedy.  Then he thought he could showcase him to prove his value, forgetting that his D-core is appalling.  He was terrible.  The numbers apparently look alright now, but supposedly Snow is interested in keeping him because the other guys are hurt and shitty.  I think because he is a gamble, as Garth noted, the offers are probably really late picks.
You have to question this guy’s wisdom here.  He forced a guy who wouldn’t don his jersey to stay - probably a great influence in the room.  And to think he imagined that anyone could look good on his team.  What a debacle.  As a goalie, he ought to have known that too much competition is not good for a tender.  When has carrying more than 2 ever worked out for a team?
Anyway, despite those numbers, he looks like a tall can of assholes out there.  I think his attitude is the red flag that has kept the interest so low.  But maybe he’ll re-sign now, it’s not like there’s any pressure there.  It’s hard to believe a guy forgets how to be a goalie, but then some guys lose it and never get it back.

Posted by tuxedoTshirt from the Home of the 1937 World Champions on 02/07/12 at 09:30 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.