Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman will have plenty of decisions to make this summer, some of which will be difficult and others not so much. One of the difficult ones will be finding a capable backup goaltender to pair with starter Ville Husso. Spoiler alert. He might currently be on the roster.
There is not a single fanbase in the NHL that is as hard on goaltenders are the Detroit Red Wings. There are too many examples to overanalyze, but I always snicker when I think of Curtis Joesph‘s time in Detroit. It can be comical, yet warranted, and utterly absurd at times.
I will not stand atop a mountain and claim Joseph didn’t deserve some criticism, but I never felt that he got a fair shake from the fanbase in Detroit. What is undeniable, though, was Detroit’s lack of support for the stellar netminder. I don’t want to get off track here, but since I brought it up, Joseph posted a 2.43 goals-against average to go with a 0.911 save percentage during his two years in Detroit. During his two playoffs with the organization, Joseph posted an incredible 0.931 save percentage and a 1.64 goals-against average, but Detroit went 4-8 in those games.
Again, the Detroit Red Wings fans are always hard on their goaltenders, but when they find one they love, this fan base will treat them like gold; ask Chris Osgood, Mike Vernon, Dominik Hasek, and Jimmy Howard.
Don’t be surprised if the Detroit Red Wings run it back with Magnus Hellberg next season.
This likely won’t be a popular opinion, but Magnus Hellberg might be Yzerman’s answer to our backup goaltending questions heading into the summer. The towering 6-foot-6 netminder joined the Detroit Red Wings mid-season when the organization claimed him off waivers from Seattle. Hellberg, 31, appeared in a game last season for the Red Wings and has bounced around quite a bit since his return to the NHL after five seasons in the KHL.
Hellberg was initially drafted 38th overall by the Nashville Predators back in 2011, appearing in just one game before heading to the New York Rangers. After spending most of his time in the American Hockey League with both of those organizations, Hellberg elected to head to Russia. Since returning to the NHL, the veteran netminder has spent time in Detroit, Ottawa, Seattle, and back to Detroit.
Heading into the season, Detroit’s goaltending appeared to be a strength of the team. It was Alex Nedeljkovic‘s inconsistent play that prompted Yzerman to claim the 31-year-old. Nedeljkovic was coming off a solid season as Detroit’s primary option in net, and Yzerman traded a third-round pick over the summer for Ville Husso. Husso has lived up to his reputation, but unfortunately, Nedeljkovic has taken a step backward.
Nedeljkovic, 27, has spent the majority of the 2022-23 season in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins as he tries to hit the reset button. In nine games with the Red Wings this season, he’s posted a 4.09 goals-against average to go along with a 0.880 save percentage; that just won’t cut it at the NHL level. In 26 games with the Griffins, Nedeljkovic posted a 2.71 goals against average and a 0.912% save percentage. I wouldn’t be upset or rule out a return of Nedeljkovic as Husso’s backup next season. Still, I believe he’s the clear third goaltender at this time in Yzerman’s eyes, and a fresh start elsewhere may do the acrobatic netminder a world of good.
Hellberg hasn’t been the Hall Of Fame goaltender many Red Wings fans demand (at least the social media warriors), but he’s proven to be a capable, cheap NHL backup. Heading into Thursday’s matchup with the St. Louis Blues, Hellberg had posted a 2.94 goals-against average to go with a 0.900% save percentage in 14 appearances. Hellberg has made four appearances with the Griffins on a conditioning stint this season, posting a stellar 0.932% save percentage and a 2.50 goals-against average.
When you scour the pending free agent pool, a few names pop up; Tristan Jarry, Joonas Korpisalo, Frederik Andersen, and Semyon Varlamov, all of which will command a lot more money than Hellberg. For the record, I don’t expect the Penguins to let Jarry hit the open market, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Kings retain Korpisalo, which leaves Yzerman’s options barring a trade, fairly bleak. I also don’t expect Yzerman to move draft capital as he has in each of the last two offseasons for a backup goaltender now that he’s found his starter in Husso.
Hellberg may be the player to fill the void when you consider what his price point will likely be. Detroit should be able to retain him on a one-year deal somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5-2 million.