TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. - The Red Wings will have an interesting goaltending situation going into training camp this year.
Jimmy Howard is coming off an injury-plagued but excellent season, Petr Mrazek is in the final year of his deal after an up-and-down season and Jared Coreau is now waiver-eligible after winning a Calder Cup with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.
Mrazek is just 25 years old but still seeking consistency in his overall game after going 18-21-0-9 with a 3.04 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in 50 games (44 starts) last season.
"From what I'm hearing now, he's working hard," Wings goaltending coach Jeff Salajko said during development camp. "He realizes that for him, it's a contract year. We don't even need to bring that to his attention. He didn't have a great year. I'm taking part ownership on that, I got to find the buttons to push with him and do things a little differently. He's got to put the work in and be willing to come in with an open frame of mind here in camp."
Salajko said Howard was actually in a similar situation two seasons ago after going 14-14-0-5 with a career-worst 2.80 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.
"Jimmy was told that coming into last season he was going to have a backup role, he'd have to compete for as much ice time as he could," Salajko said. "He could have gone about it two ways, he could have mailed it in or he could dig in. He dug in and he basically, in my eyes I think, won the job back."
Salajko said the Dec. 20 knee injury Howard suffered in Tampa Bay put a damper on Howard's season but not on his effort.
"He's become a student of the game, he's wanting to get better," Salajko said. "At 33 years old, he wants to get better. Whether it's video, whether it's drills, any kind of coaching that I can give him. I have the easy part. He's got to put the work in and execute."
While the overall NHL may have gotten younger and faster, Salajko said it's the veteran goaltenders who are excelling.
"It's maturity," Salajko said. "It's a tough league and it's a tough league when you lose confidence to get your confidence back. That was with Petr. Petr's got a future in this league, I think a bright future. We've seen what he can do when he was at the top of his game two seasons ago, he had that three-month run where he was one of the top three goalies in the league. So you know he has it in him.
"I think Petr's just a little younger yet, we see the maturity in Jimmy as he's gotten older. I'm hoping that's the case with Petr as well. They're going to push each other and they're going to have to fight for ice time."
Also in the mix is Coreau, who came up when Howard was injured and went 5-4-0-3 with a 3.46 goals-against average and .887 save percentage.
However, Coreau gained confidence and valuable experience during the Calder Cup playoffs, going 15-4 with a 2.84 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.
Salajko said he now has a much better understanding of what each goaltender needs from him in terms of coaching and motivation.
"I just think you got to come to work every day, whether it's optional practice, whether you're putting in a little time watching video," Salajko said. "Just the little things, hand-eye drills against the wall. I've watched every NHL goalie practice pre-game skate, I watched their pre-game routine. The best goalies in the world are the hardest workers, there's no doubt about it. I talked to all the other coaches, goalie coaches, players, everybody raves about Carey Price. He's good for a reason. Henrik Lundqvist."
Salajko said he would now put Howard in that category.
"I know it's a smaller sample last year, playing only like 26 games or whatnot," Salajko said. "He's healthy now, had a great world championships, so I think even at 33, I'm expecting him to have a big season. Then hopefully Petr comes back and he's going to dig in and fight for some time."
The Wings know that they could lose Coreau on waivers.
However that situation turns out, the success of the team will ride in large part on how Howard and Mrazek perform.
"We're coming off a season where hey, we didn't make the playoffs," Salajko said. "I think we're kind of all on the clock. We need great goaltending so whoever's in there, whether it's Howie, Petr or Jared Coreau, we need great goaltending every night for us to compete and to succeed. Hopefully we'll get them ready in training camp here, hopefully they're putting the work in now and make our jobs easier when they get here."