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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The rise and fall of Jimmy Howard, who won’t return to Red Wings

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The news that many Detroit Red Wings fans were wanting to hear was confirmed earlier this week by Detroit Free Press beat writer Helene St. James – goaltender Jimmy Howard, who struggled through his worst professional season, isn’t expected back with the Red Wings whenever the next campaign starts.

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And unfortunately, he may have a hard time landing another NHL gig. The veteran goaltender struggled at a level that had to be seen to be believed, even though the team in front of him was last overall in the NHL for the past several months.

But for Howard, his last season in Detroit will be a footnote to what was a productive career that was not without accolades. His 246 career victories are third most in team history, behind Chris Osgood and Terry Sawchuk, respectively. That’s certainly some good company to be in.

He was drafted 64th overall by Detroit in the 2003 NHL Draft while playing for the University of Maine Black Bears, where he set team and league records. He first saw NHL action during the 2005-06 season, when he was called up from the Grand Rapids Griffins for a handful of games. During that stretch, he earned the distinction of being the only NHL goalie to ever face a penalty shot in each of his first two career contests. Talk about trial by fire!

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He made periodic appearances with Detroit for the next three years while seeing time as the starter in Grand Rapids. But it wasn’t until the Red Wings decided to not re-sign goaltender Ty Conklin after the 2008-09 season that Howard earned a full-time slot on the team as backup.

He slowly but surely earned the starting position ahead of Chris Osgood during the 2009-10 campaign, winning 37 of the 63 games he appeared in and helping Detroit to their 19th consecutive playoff appearance. He’d follow that up with several more productive years, winning 72 games the following two campaigns. His strong play also helped the Red Wings come within a goal of reaching the Western Conference Finals during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, losing in heartbreaking fashion in overtime of the 7th game against the rival Chicago Blackhawks.

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His numbers weren’t as solid the following year, seeing his goals against average rise from 2.13 to 2.66. He would then be supplanted as Detroit’s starter by Petr Mrazek during 2014-15, sitting on the bench while the Czech goaltender nearly led Detroit to a first-round upset over the Tampa Bay Lightning. While the two split time in net the following year, Howard played well enough to earn the start in each of Detroit’s first two playoff games in 2016, again against Tampa Bay. However, he was once again replaced by Mrazek in quick fashion.

His last three years in Detroit were sans playoff action, as the team saw their 25-year playoff streak come to a close. After posting a 23-22-5 record in 2018-19 on a non-playoff team, management saw fit to give him a one-year extension.

And that brings us to now. After earning an opening night win over the Nashville Predators this past October, almost nothing went right for Howard. He only won a single game for the remainder of the season and mostly sat while Jonathan Bernier earned the bulk of the starts.

We’ll remember Howard as a two-time All-Star goaltender who had spurts of excellence, and certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see him remain with the organization should he decide hang up the skates.

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