Any way you look at it, the Detroit Red Wings have been atrocious this season. Whether it’s their position in the standings or their performance on a game-by-game basis, they definitely look the part as the league’s worst team. On a player-by-player basis, most are having their worst seasons in one way or another. One such player is goaltender Jimmy Howard.
A mainstay of the Red Wings’ roster throughout the last decade, Howard is no stranger to struggling. It wasn’t all that long ago that he had to reinvent himself in order to wrestle the starting role back from Petr Mrazek, who now patrols the Carolina Hurricanes’ crease. However, back in those days Howard at least looked like a capable backup, be it with the Red Wings or elsewhere.
Nowadays, Howard’s stats are undeniably the worst of his NHL career. With just two wins through 20 starts, he hasn’t exactly stolen a win for the Red Wings as he has in the past. His goals-against average of 4.12 and save percentage of .881 (as of Jan. 18) are both sub-standard. Looking at the “fancy stats,” his goals saved above average (GSAA) of minus-15.32 (per Corsica Hockey) is by far the worst of his career.
There are plenty of causes for Howard’s struggles. The defense in front of him is perhaps the weakest unit he has ever played behind. He has also seen plenty of fluky bounces and tips, leaving him in no man’s land as the puck passes him by.
Beyond that, he is creeping up on 36 years old. It’s natural for players in every position to experience regression as they get older. In his case, the regression seems to have hit extra hard.
Legacy Player or Tradable Asset?
Simply put: Howard has lost his starting role to Jonathan Bernier. Given the team in front of them, Bernier has turned in admirable performances despite the circumstances. Howard has crumbled in the same situation.
This begs the question: what should the Red Wings do with Howard? The former second-round pick of the 2003 draft has spent his entire career in the Detroit organization. In prior years, even when the Red Wings have listened to offers on Howard, they opted to retain him. Given that he has played over 500 games with the organization, there’s certainly a level of respect and loyalty between the player and the organization.
There’s no question that Howard’s value is at an all-time low right now. If a team were to trade for him, it would likely be to add depth at the goaltending position. Teams don’t often give away premium assets for depth.
Make the Best of It
Realistically, Howard seems destined to finish his career with the Red Wings — possibly even after this season. He ranks in the top 10 among U.S.-born goalies in terms of games played and wins. With a stroke of luck (and perhaps a hot streak), he could pass Frank Brimsek for seventh in wins for American netminders.
Like most veterans on the team, Howard has nothing else to play for except pride and personal accomplishment. He ranks third on the Red Wings’ all-time list in wins and games played for a goalie (right behind Chris Osgood in both categories). It’s not usually good practice for a player to focus on accolades such as records, but in this instance, it may prove beneficial.
It might be too late to turn the tide on Howard’s career-worst season, but it’s not too late to end it on a respectable note. He has shown the ability to triumph over adversity before, so this may be the most appropriate end to his time with the Red Wings. If he can provide quality goaltending down the stretch, the team and the fans will benefit from competitive hockey games.