The Detroit Red Wings already have been.
Howard signed a six-year contract extension with the Red Wings worth $31.8 million, a $5.3 million salary cap hit that puts Howard 11th in the NHL, right behind Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and just ahead of Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury.
While that is clearly a departure for a Red Wings organization that has always tried to spend it’s money elsewhere in order to field a team that makes life easier for the lower-paid goaltenders it has traditionally employed in the salary cap era, it is just as clear that since the retirement of Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit has leaned a lot more on their goalie this season.
Howard has provided the necessary support in the crease, posting a .918 save percentage behind a Wings team that went from having one of the greatest defenders in the game in Lidstrom (not to mention losing Brad Stuart this season and Brian Rafalski the year before), to one that is now dressing highly touted college free agent Dan Dekeyser weeks after his NCAA season ended.
That’s a big change from the patient path Howard had to take.
A highly regarded prospect out of the University of Maine after setting NCAA records for save percentage (.957) and goals-against average (1.19) as a sophomore, Howard left school after three years only to spend the next four in the American Hockey League, getting to play just nine games in the NHL while honing his craft with the Grand Rapids Griffins. He finally took over the Red Wings crease in 2009-10 and hasn’t looked back, posting a .917 save percentage over his first three-plus seasons, and taking a serious run at the NHL single-season wins record last year before being derailed by a broken index finger in early February.
“Its hard not to be frustrated,” Howard, who was picked 64th by the Red Wings in the 2003 NHL Draft, told InGoal Magazine. “When you are down there playing every single day, playing three games in three nights and four-in-five and you are seeing guys around the AHL getting called up ahead of you and getting chances, you are sitting there thinking ‘when is mine going to come?’ You think you are just as good, if not better, than the person that just got called up. But somehow you have to put it aside and just continue to work on your game to improve night in, night out and show them they are capable of doing the job out there.”
It’s a lesson to any young goalie that has been cut from a team they thought they should have made, or stuck watching from the bench when they are convinced they should be playing more. It’s a lesson promising Red Wings’ puck-stopping prospect Petr Mrazek may now have to heed closely with Howard locked in for six more seasons. It’s a lesson Howard himself knows now was important.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” Howard chuckles. “When you are there, you constantly want to be here, but I realize now where [Wings GM Ken
Holland] was coming from and it definitely helped being down there learning how to become a professional.”
Now that he has learned it – and overcome a few hiccups along the way – Howard is reaping the rewards.
For more insights into the on-ice lessons Howard has learned over the years, including a skating lesson departure from the hard T-pushes so commonly taught by goalies coaches, why becoming a parent made him a better goaltender, and how he had to back off slightly from being the NHL’s most aggressive initial depth goaltender (even more so since Lidstrom left), be sure to read the InGoal Magazine cover story from last season’s April edition: