It wasn’t long ago that Detroit’s goaltending future seemed certain. Jimmy Howard had a few years left on his deal while Petr Mrazek was the heir apparent after stringing together a couple of solid seasons in a row.
Things change quickly.
With Mrazek gone and Howard having just one year left, Detroit needed to once again give themselves some certainty in goal and accomplished this by signing Jonathan Bernier to a three-year contract with a $3-million AAV.
Bernier had a .913 save percentage in Colorado last year in 34 starts (37 appearances).
The first thing to note is that this isn’t really a great landing spot for Bernier. Detroit’s defence corps is an absolute disaster, barring significant free-agent signings or trades. Though the team ranked about middle of the league in shot attempts allowed per 60 minutes at five-on-five, they achieved this through an incredibly slow pace of play; Detroit had the second-lowest shots for+against rate in the league, with only Buffalo playing a slower pace. Their adjusted shot share as a team ranked in the bottom-third of the league.
The Red Wings were also in the bottom-third of the league in shot attempts allowed on the PK, which led to them having a bottom-third penalty kill by percentage killed. While they managed to be mid-pack in power plays given, none of these are huge positives for Bernier.
Some of the underlying stats are a mixed bag. His high-danger save percentage was among the worst in the league since leaving Toronto a couple years ago and his goals saved above average over that span is worse than guys like Peter Budaj and Thomas Greiss in similar minutes. On the other hand, his five-on-five save percentage is in the top-15 of the league in those two seasons while his expected save percentage is near the top.
It seems like the best fantasy hockey owners can hope for is an average goalie on a team that, while they had a good draft this year, may need some more time to rebuild. On the plus side, if the team can keep the pace down, it should help limit shots against, which would help keep Bernier’s goals against average reasonable. A low pace could also mean little in the way of goal support, though, making wins hard to come by.
As mentioned above, Howard’s contract is running out and Bernier’s three-year deal means they see him at least as a piece to help them in the transition/rebuild the team is going through. This should be a situation where the team simply rides the hot hand rather than just giving Howard 60 starts. Howard also seems like trade bait once the deadline approaches next year. Bernier could see half the starts next year, it’s just a matter of how he performs behind a decrepit blue line. He’s worth a flier as a late third goalie in 12-team leagues, but not much more than that.
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