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Backstopping the Future: Should Howard's Tenure End in Detroit?

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The 2015-16 season ended with Jimmy Howard registering the lowest career games played and save percentage since becoming the regular netminder for the Detroit Red Wings in 2009. With his value seemingly at a new low and carrying an average salary of $5.3 million through the 2018-19 season, is now the time for the Wings to move on from Howard?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last season Jimmy Howard had the 17th largest cap hit for NHL netminders. This placed him between Mike Smith and Roberto Luongo, but his 90.6 Sv% had him 57th in the NHL (min 500 minutes) between Ben Scrivens and Antti Niemi.

A 90.6 Sv% is rather pedestrian for an NHL goalie and not worth $5.3 million. For Howard to make good on his cap hit, he would need to climb back to the 92% mark. This is where starting caliber goalies consistently find themselves and what Howard produced from 2009-10 and 2011-13 when he earned his contract.

With Howard’s current value it is unlikely that another team would be willing to take a chance with his large cap hit. He ranked 56th out of 59 (min 25% gp) in goalie value rankings, according to Spotrac. Detroit would need to retain some, if not most, of his salary for a trade to be feasible.

It takes some searching to find favorable statistics with Howard from the 2015-16 season. He moves up to a 92 Sv% and 49th overall when looking at only 5v5. Howard did play his best when Detroit had the lead. His 5v5 Sv% was 93.7 when Detroit was in front.  But with Howard’s declining numbers overall and being on the wrong side of 30, it seems unlikely that Howard will return to his peak production of a few years ago. However, a new team and more regular playing time has done wonders for other veteran goalies. Luongo was able to restart his career in Florida after some less than stellar years in Vancouver.

What makes a trade for Howard a possibility is Detroit’s need to create cap space and a relatively shallow UFA market for goalies. Cam Ward, Chad Johnson, James Reimer, Karri Ramo, and Al Montoya headline. Ward has been serviceable the last two seasons, but has seen a drop in Sv% similar to Howard. Both are 32 and could have seen their best times in net. Johnson had an excellent year for Buffalo and Reimer put up good numbers in Toronto and excellent numbers for the Stanley Cup bound San Jose Sharks.

Howard has his question marks and so does the UFA class. It is possible that a team like the Calgary Flames would be willing to pay for Ward or trade for Howard to try and find some stability in net until Jon Gillies is ready to take control of the team? If Detroit is willing to retain a good portion of Howard’s salary he could be a more attractive option than other UFA goalies.

Moving Howard can open up some cap space, but does it make sense to keep part of his salary on the books until 2019 While the Red Wings potentially deal with other "dead space" deals like Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen? Petr Mrazek and Jared Coreau are both RFA and will see an increase in salary. The savings of having two less proven netminders would be somewhat negated if Detroit has to carry 1 or 2 million from Howard’s contract for the next few seasons. It comes down to how much money Detroit wants to tie up with the goaltending position and what gives management the most flexibility and capability in net.

Mrazek and Coreau have the talent to be a very good tandem right now in the NHL. Mrazek has proven it at the NHL level and Coreau has put up solid numbers for Grand Rapids the last two seasons. Coreau would most likely mature more as a starter with the Griffins than backing up in Detroit. In the past, the Red Wings have opted to let their goaltending prospects develop in the minors. When it looked as if Mrazek was ready to join Detroit full-time in 2014, they re-signed Jonas Gustavsson for a year as back-up. In 2008, Detroit went with Ty Conklin instead of bringing up Howard.

Another issue with moving Howard is the lack of depth. Tom McCollum is an UFA and Jake Paterson has limited professional experience. Chase Perry and Joren Van Pottelberghe are still just prospects. The Wings would need to sign a veteran goalie to play in Grand Rapids. Even so if things go awry it might result in Jeff Lerg playing for the Wings.

Howard also has some power in this situation. His no-trade clause allows him to block trades to ten different teams.

It seems that Detroit has three options this season for deciding who will be playing in net, assuming that it goes well re-signing Mrazek and Coreau. First option would be to keep the goaltending situation the same. This gives Howard an opportunity to increase his value and Coreau gets another season to develop. Second option is to trade Howard and go with Coreau and Mrazek. This would open up cap space, but would leave the Wings without much positional depth. Third option is to trade Howard and sign a veteran netminder who will be a one or two year stop-gap. This gives Coreau game time in Grand Rapids and could still open up some cap space.


The return on a Howard trade is dependent on the salary Detroit would hold on to for the next few seasons. If the Wings retain somewhere from 15 to 30 percent, Detroit could see a return of a mid-level prospect or a draft pick in the range of rounds four through seven. It comes down to Detroit’s goal in moving Howard. If Detroit wants to clear as much cap space as possible, Detroit will eat a smaller portion of his salary and receive a late round pick or future considerations. If they want to gain a quality prospect or draft pick then Detroit can retain a large portion of his salary and increase Howard’s trade value.

On a personal note, I would like to say thanks to J.J. and Kyle for the opportunity to write for WIIM and I will try my best not to mess things up too much!