With the Red Wings officially eliminated from the post-season, the onus is now on management to make this team’s future as bright as possible. That starts with Ken Holland wheeling and dealing beginning April 10th, moving anything with short term value for assets with long term value. One of those assets moved needs to be Jimmy Howard.
Why Move Howard?
With no certainty in the Expansion Draft, the Wings could possibly lose a valuable player for nothing if Mrazek is protected (and despite some abysmal stats this year, I still think he should be). Howard will be ready to retire, or at least will be declining, when this team is ready to compete again in what will probably be several seasons - and that's on the best timeline. We need prospect and pick assets, so let's move player assets.
Jimmy Howard ($5.29M/yr cap hit) is possibly the most valuable asset left on the team not named Mantha, Larkin, or Athanasiou. Over his career, Howard has put up a 2.44 GAA and 0.915 SV%. But, this season, he’s sporting a 2.16 GAA and 0.927 SV% - those numbers are good for 4th and 2nd best, respectively, among all goalies who have played at least 20 games this season. This should be very valuable to a team that sees itself as only a goaltender away from contention.
Who Wants Howard?
The first team to come to mind is Dallas - they need defensive help and net help. They own the 4th worst GA/G as of 4/1 (3.1), although they’re 11th best in Shots Against/G with 29.9 - this seems to indicate problems with preventing quality shots by opponents, and bad goaltending. Further backing up the bad goaltending point, Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are possibly the worst tandem in the NHL. Lehtonen, who seems to be their 1A, owns a 2.75 GAA this season and a 0.906 SV% (38th and 44th). Niemi is worse, with a 3.31 GAA (49th) and 0.892 SV% (49th).
Also complicating the Stars’ net situation is the fact that both Niemi’s and Lehtonen’s contracts are up at the end of next season. Instead of heading into the ‘18-’19 season with no goalies under contract, or extending one of Niemi or Lehtonen (possibly worse than having nobody under contract), they could create a modicum of stability with Jimmy Howard under contract until the summer of 2019.
Offense doesn’t seem to be the problem for the Stars - they rank 17th in GF/G (2.69), but several teams around their GF/G are in the playoffs - the Habs (2.73, 16th), Sens (2.52, 22nd), Sharks (2.67, 18th), Ducks (2.64, 19th), and Flames (2.73, 15th) are all post-season locks. If Dallas could correct its issue in net, the team could conceivably be playoff bound this season instead of heading for the golf course.
What Could We Get Back?
One of the biggest rewards for shipping Howard out could be getting his cap space freed up a year early. Assuming we have to take a goalie back in any trade, I’d suggest targeting Lehtonen. Currently on a $5.9M/yr cap hit, bringing him to Detroit (and getting both him and Howard to waive their NTCs) would give us an excuse to try tossing in a larger money contract as a secondary piece to try to clear contract space and bring a valuable skater back, too. One could argue that Niemi gives us more leverage, given that he’s been appreciably worse than Lehtonen this season, but Lehtonen’s cap space helps more pieces move.
Since the Wings are tight against the cap, we’d need to throw in another player to make cap space for Lehtonen - my immediate impulse is to see if Darren Helm would waive his NTC, but barring a miracle we could be looking at moving the ill-fortuned Riley Sheahan. To balance the ‘hockey-value’ out, Detroit could target rookie Devin Shore - a Center/Left Wing switch on his ELC, who’s showed promise on all 4 forward lines this season.
Going after a youngster with middle-6 skills like Shore, who could even end up on a top line if things work out for him, it’s probable that Detroit would have to add some kind of draft pick value to this equation. But, if the Wings can shed some cap and bring in a young forward with some degree of proven talent, it could be worth it.
To Detroit: Kari Lehtonen, Devin Shore
To Dallas: Jimmy Howard, Riley Sheahan, 2017 mid-round pick
Why Does This Need To Happen Soon?
The Expansion Draft is going to throw a wrench in at least a couple goalie situations. While I’m not convinced that Jimmy Howard will be our player selected to go to the Golden Knights, the possibility certainly can’t be ruled out. As an asset with trade value, we’re realistically looking at possibly losing him for nothing or paying Vegas with draft picks to not select him. Why do that when we can send him to a team that doesn’t have a goalie worth protecting?
And the sooner we can ship him out, the better. As soon as they’re eliminated from the playoffs, teams like Washington and Pittsburgh will be looking to deal goalies like Philipp Grubauer and Marc-Andre Fleury so that they don’t lose net-minder assets for nothing in the Expansion Draft. With the Wings and Stars both on the outside looking in, the two teams could make a trade as soon as April 10th. If I had Ken Holland’s ear, I’d have him tell Jim Nill that it’s better to deal with the Wings immediately at the end of the regular season than to get involved in a bidding war that just makes some of the NHL’s best teams even better long-term.
Ken Holland has done a wonderful job of selling snake-oil to Red Wings fans the past few years. This off-season, it’s time for him to turn those skills on his own players to get some clauses waived and veterans moved. Start the sales pitch on Howard, Kenny...