DETROIT — Someone will back up Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard next season, but who that is remains to be seen.
The Wings could bring back unrestricted free agent Jonas Gustavsson, who went 16-5-4 with a .907 save percentage and 2.63 goals-against average in 27 games (26 starts).
Or they could turn to young Petr Mrazek, who went 2-4-0 with a .927 save percentage and 1.74 goals-against average in nine games (six starts).
Gustavsson turns 30 this year and Mrazek is just 22.
"Is Petr Mrazek, as a 22-year-old, better off playing 15-18 games in the NHL or is he better off playing 65 games in the AHL for one more year?" Wings general manager Ken Holland said Tuesday. "That’s the internal conversation we got to have."
Holland and the rest of the front office planned to be in Grand Rapids Wednesday for Game 3 of the Griffins’ first-round series against the Abbotsford Heat.
Since the Heat avoided the sweep with a 2-1 victory over the Griffins, there will be a Game 4 Friday and another opportunity for Holland to watch Mrazek.
Wings coach Mike Babcock liked what Gustavsson brought to the table this past season.
"Whether Mrazek plays here or Gustavsson plays here, Gus got half our wins this year," Babcock said. "The bottom line is if you’re playing every day you have to earn the right to play every day. If you’re a tandem that’s what happens, but the other guy has to earn the right to make that happen so we’ll see what happens."
Gustavsson said he’s enjoyed his time in Detroit the last two years.
"If they want me (back), at that point we would talk about what they want, terms and all that," Gustavsson said. "But like I said, I like it here, I could absolutely see myself play here for 10-15 more years because I had a lot of fun and as I said, a great group and a really good organization."
If Gustavsson stays, he knows he’ll be backing up Howard.
There might be an opportunity to go to another team to be the main goaltender, which interests Gustavsson as a competitor.
"It’s not like I can go out on open market and demand a starting role somewhere because there are a lot of good goalies and you gotta compete to get to that point and for myself I could play maybe a little more games and all that so I’m just going to try to go where I can feel like I can take that next step," Gustavsson said. "It could be here and if so, that’s great and if nothing happens here then you look at other stuff."
I could absolutely see myself play here for 10-15 more years.
The one knock against Gustavsson is that he wasn’t always available during the season because of assorted injuries.
Right out of the gate, Gustavsson missed four games in early October because of a groin injury.
In early November, a neck injury sidelined Gustavsson for three games.
The groin issue returned and Gustavsson missed nine games from Dec. 30 to Jan. 20.
That same issue came back a third time, forcing Gustavsson to miss five games from March 9-18.
Late in the season, Gustavsson missed two games with a shoulder injury from April 11-13.
"You want to be out there to be able to be part of the team every day, every day of the season so of course that sets me back and as a team, not only myself but for other players as a team you need as many as you can out there for the long run too so that’s obviously something I’m going to keep working on, to prevent injuries like that," Gustavsson said. "I felt like I found a way that was working for me at the end of the season so hopefully I can build on that."
Holland will speak with Gustavsson, Babcock and the other coaches before deciding on the team’s next step for a backup goaltender.
If they don’t re-sign Gustavsson and decide Mrazek needs more time in the AHL, they could sign a veteran goalie to back up Howard.