Published Jan. 19, 2019
As bad as the Red Wings have been this season, imagine them without Jimmy Howard.
Soon, you may not have to imagine such a thing.
Howard, the Red Wings goalie who, approaching age 35, is officially a graybeard, might be on the trading block, if you read the Internet wires.
He’s in the final year of his contract, and with an extension unlikely at this point, Howard is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
I don’t mean to write an obituary of Howard’s Red Wings career prematurely, but with his 35th birthday coming up in late-March, and with the Red Wings going nowhere once again, it’s time for reflection.
Howard, like so many Red Wings goalies before him, has been the recipient of a love/hate relationship by the hockey denizens in Detroit.
But unlike the targets of fan vitriol who have preceded him, Howard is an easier one because of one simple fact: he never won anything as a Red Wing.
It may be harsh to frame it that way, but how else would you?
Goalies in Detroit: fans love to hate ’em
Chris Osgood, Mike Vernon and even the great Dominik Hasek were Red Wings netminders of the past who were given the business at Joe Louis Arena. Sometimes relentlessly, often ridiculously.
But all of them won Stanley Cups.
On June 7, 1997, the night the Red Wings ended their 42-year, Cup-less drought, a fan at JLA had brought a mea culpa for the sometimes-maligned Vernon. The fan held it up proudly as the team celebrated on the ice.
I’M SORRY, the banner said.
Vernon was asked about the public apology during an on-ice television interview after the Cup-clinching game.
“Apology accepted,” Vernon said with a chuckle.
No Cups. Not even close, really. Unlike so many of the men who’ve guarded the net in Detroit over the past quarter century, Howard and playoff success have been like oil and water. Despite postseason goals against and save percentage numbers that are aligned with his regular season performance, Howard is 21-26 in the playoffs. He has never truly led the Red Wings into a deep spring run.
And before this season ends, Howard may be an ex-Red Wing, his legacy in Detroit enigmatic.
He is, ironically, the Red Wings’ lone All-Star this year. And he’s been an All-Star in the past as well (2015).
An enigma as a Red Wing
Jimmy Howard, as a Red Wing (since 2005-06), has been good at times, sometimes exemplary, but too often in the middle of the pack. Even in his All-Star years, you didn’t look at Howard and see consistent greatness.
And, he’s been injured a lot.
More irony: despite his past and with his current tenuous state, Howard has been one of the Red Wings’ best players on many a night this season. He’s cooled off recently, but if it wasn’t for Howard’s play in October and November, the Red Wings might be sporting the league’s worst record now.
You’re excused if you still look at Jimmy Howard and see that fuzzy-faced, young goalie, despite what his birth certificate says. He’s a sneaky 35, and I don’t mean his sweater number.
He might not look 35, and you might not think of him as an elder statesman, but Howard waxed like one after he was named to the All-Star team earlier this month.
“I kind of think (Dylan Larkin) deserves to be (on the All-Star team) probably even more, but it’ll be fun,” Howard said. “I’m looking forward to it for my boys. They’re at that age now where they’re starting to learn players around the league. They were really excited when they found out.”
“My boys”? “They’re at that age now”?
Spoken like a grizzled veteran, which Howard is.
The end in Detroit seems near
For now, Red Wings GM Kenny Holland has been mum on Howard’s future in Detroit. With it looking like the Red Wings will be (again) on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs this spring, it may not make sense to lock up a 35-year-old goalie to another multi-year contract.
But does Howard have the chops to be attractive to a playoff contender, as a rent-a-goalie? If a team is looking for a veteran to serve as backup insurance, Howard might be a viable option, but with his contract expiring, the Red Wings will be lucky to get a bucket of pucks for him in a trade.
Or, the Red Wings could just hang on to Howard and let his contract expire quietly after the season.
It’s time to reflect a little on Jimmy Howard’s career as a Red Wing. He clearly won’t join Vernon, Osgood and Hasek as Cup-winning goalies in Detroit. That’s not an indictment; that’s a fact.
Playoff success and Howard didn’t go hand-in-hand. His timing was such that when he took over as the starting goalie, the Red Wings were in decline.
Part of that isn’t his fault, but yet he didn’t do anything spectacular to help the cause, either.
It’s been an enigmatic career. And soon, one way or another, it looks to be nearing its end–in Detroit.
It’s OK to be feeling torn now.