Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Goalie controversy roundup: The Eastern Conference

Ah, the good old-fashioned goaltending controversy. Nothing makes a coach or general manager's job easier than seeing one guy grab the job and run with it. But with more league-wide depth at the position than ever, it's inevitable that several teams end up splitting duties, at least temporarily. Sometimes it works. Often, it does not.

By my count, there are a dozen cases around the league where teams are facing some degree of uncertainty over just who owns the crease. Some are developing into classic goalie controversies, the kind where two (or more) guys get their hands on the job and tug it back and forth over the course of a season. Others are situations caused by slumps or injuries, the kind teams hope will be only temporary.

We'll start with the East today; the West will get its turn tomorrow. Here are six Eastern Conference teams with goaltending situations currently up for grabs.

Detroit Red Wings: Jimmy Howard vs. Petr Mrazek

In this corner: Howard is a former All-Star who had been Detroit's starter for six years before being overtaken by Mrazek in time for last season's playoffs.

And in this corner: Mrazek is a 23-year-old who would make spot appearances in Detroit for two years before earning the backup job last season. He got the start in all seven playoff games against the Lightning, and he played well.

The results so far: It was a mild surprise when the Wings went to Mrazek last spring, and some suspected that the departure of coach Mike Babcock would mean Howard getting the job back. But new boss Jeff Blashill has treated it as an open competition, and so far Mrazek has been better, posting a .928 save percentage to Howard's .914 and earning 15 of the team's 26 starts.

Prediction: Mrazek's grip on the job is getting firmer. Howard hasn't been bad by any stretch, but he's being outplayed by a younger, cheaper option. If that continues, what happens next could get tricky; Howard remains signed through 2018-19 on a contract that carries a $5.3 million cap hit, and he would become yet another questionable long-term contract in Detroit. Mrazek is earning $738,000 this season, after which he'll be a restricted free agent.

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