By Allan Muir
The Detroit Red Wings had options when it came to dealing with pending free agent goaltender Jimmy Howard. Some pretty tasty options.
There was talk that the Buffalo Sabres were open to the idea of trading Michigan-native Ryan Miller, a player the Wings (shoot, every team) had coveted in the past. And Mike Smith, whose stellar play carried the Phoenix Coyotes to the Western Conference Final last year, could have been had as a UFA this summer. There were even rumors about some goalie in Vancouver being up for grabs as well.
But in the end, Detroit GM Ken Holland already had the guy he wanted to backstop the Red Wings into a new era. All he had to do was open up the checkbook.
$31.8 million later, Howard is set to man the pipes in Detroit for the next six years.
It feels like the right move for both sides.
The 29-year-old Howard, who went from playing one game in Detroit in 2008-09 to 63 a year later, got the bump in pay he richly deserved. His new $5.3 million cap hit puts him in the same neighborhood as Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathan Quick, Kari Lehtonen, Roberto Luongo and Ilya Bryzgalov. That’s a fair reflection of both past performance and the anticipation of future results.
But maybe more important, he finally was given the full faith of Detroit’s organization. Despite being the first goalie in franchise history to win at least 35 games in each of his first three seasons, there was always a sense that Howard was Mr. Right Now rather than Mr. Right. He was good enough, but if something else came along, well, it wouldn’t be too hard to dispense with his two-year, $4.5 million deal.
With this new contract, the Wings have proved that they are fully committed….
While they could (and did) skimp on goaltending during the Nick Lidstrom-era, this deal shows a firm grasp of their changing reality in the wake of his retirement. Stability on the back end will be critical moving forward, and that’s exactly what Howard provides. His numbers this year — a 2.41 GAA and .917 save percentage – -mirror his career averages, and that’s clearly a level of play the Wings can succeed with.
It also shows an acceptance of the standard model that Holland had long ignored. Winning teams typically are built from the goaltender out, and Detroit has the right man locked in place to help a young but promising group of defenders mature into a formidable blueline.