NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.
Yeah, that’s right, I said it.
For years now, basically for as long as Jimmy Howard has been starting goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings, we’ve heard it after almost every loss. Heard it, read it, debated it, and gotten tired of it. There’s always a handful in the crowd.
“Thanks, Howard! Get rid of him already! Garbage goaltender!”
We’ve all at least once had an interaction like the one pictured above. Why does this kind of blind hate happen? Let’s go way back.
Howard officially took over starting duties for Detroit in the 2009-10 season, taking the reins from long-time Red Wings netminder Chris Osgood. Fans loved Osgood, affectionately called “Ozzy”, and they continue to to this day. As a commentator for Fox Sports Detroit, he’s a regular favorite on the Red Wings broadcasts. However, I’m here today to call out the rose-colored glasses and selective memory that people appear to have.
Now keep this in mind and remember it well: I am by no means whatsoever calling Osgood a bad goaltender. He was a franchise goalie and everyone knows it. What I’m saying is that he is not the legend that people make him out to be. In 744 career games (713 starts), Ozzy posted a 401-216-66-29 NHL record. (W-L-T-O) Now, these are impressive numbers, no argument here. The head-scratcher comes as you move further down the stats. Additionally, he posted a career GAA of 2.49, and save percentage of .905.
Those two last statistics might sound a little weird. This is Chris Osgood we’re talking about. 2-time starting goaltender on Stanley Cup winning teams and a member for a third. 2-time William M. Jennings Trophy co-winner and 2-time NHL All-Star. For a goalie with those kinds of accolades, how can he have career stats that are so… mediocre?
The answer is that Osgood was an above-average goaltender, great for some stretches, that played behind many all-star, star-studded rosters in his career. Between 1995 when he invariably took over starting duties for Detroit, and 2001 when he was acquired by the New York Islanders, he played with 10 different Hall of Famers at various points. This includes legends the likes of Steve Yzerman, Nick Lidstrom, and Chris Chelios. Basically, he had some tight-knit defense and high-powered offense in front of him.
When you put these factors together, the numbers start to make sense. Osgood could very much hold his own but had strong defense and high-scoring to supplement his mistakes. The only outliers in his mediocre career numbers happen to be the 1995-96 regular season, as well as the 1998, 2008, and 2009 postseasons.
After fair outings in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, Osgood shone and redeemed himself in the playoffs those years. In 2008 he posted a 14-4 record with an amazing 1.55 GAA and astounding .930 save percentage. The 2009 playoffs were just as good, with a 15-8 record, 2.01 GAA, and .926 save percentage. When you hear people talk about Ozzy, those are the kinds of stats that come to peoples’ minds. And that right there is the issue.
People forget about the multiple seasons of sub-.905 SVP he posted and 2.50+ GAA years. They forgive the harsh, sharp struggles he faced in his regular seasons on multiple occasions. And they can conveniently forget some of the abysmal numbers he put up in his years between 2001 and 2005 when he wasn’t playing for Detroit; it’s selective memory. So what gives with Jimmy Howard?
Put the numbers side by side, and you’ll be a little shocked. Howard’s career stats to this point are a 221-151-65 record, (W-L-O), a .915 save percentage, and get this, a 2.49 GAA. That’s right, Howard’s career GAA is identical so far to Osgood’s. Howard’s also on pace to face more shots in his career. Ozzy faced an average of 23.04 shots per game, compared to Howard’s current average of 27.73 shots per game.
Additionally, Howard had very few years of playing behind players like Lidstrom in his career, and they were the waning years of Nick’s career; not his prime. To this point, Howie has had to play behind ramshackle defense corps slapped together by Ken Holland in reaction to things like Lidstrom’s retirement and the loss of Brad Stuart. Niklas Kronwall never really emerged as the defensive anchor that everyone anticipated him being. Furthermore, we had the likes of Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith, Ian White, and Carlo Colaiacovo that Howard had to spend his ice time bailing out night after night.
So if Howard is the terrible goaltender that fans like to make him out to be, how does he have comparable career stats to Osgood having played behind an exponentially worse defense and much lower-scoring offense? It’s a simple answer that no one wants to accept; Jimmy Howard is a good goaltender. At least every bit as good as Ozzy, and he’s carried a rag-tag Red Wings team on his back for years now outside of his injury-plagued seasons.
No one remembers the 2012-13 regular season when Howard carried the team through four wins the last four games of the season to clinch their 22nd consecutive playoff berth. (A 0.75 GAA in four games with two shutouts) Nor do they remember 2009 – 2012, when he posted three consecutive 30+ win seasons. They only remember the early playoff exits by below-average Red Wings teams. They remember their beloved Osgood’s decline and Howard’s eventual takeover of the starting position.
Fans were upset to see Ozzy go. He was a representative of an era of hockey that they fell in love with and cemented their fanhood with Detroit. An era of fiery rivalries, brawls, and championship seasons. And they’ve taken that frustration out on Howard for roughly seven years now. Jimmy doesn’t deserve that.
Osgood was not a bad goalie. Nor is Howard a bad goalie. They’re netminders of similar playing abilities that played behind vastly different qualities of teams to contrasting levels of success. Neither one deserves your hate.
If you need to hate on someone, hate the ones that didn’t plan for our defense to fall apart in 2012. Hate the ones that haven’t made a meaningful trade since 2008. And hate the ones that have stuffed our roster with long, expensive contracts for players that spend more time off the ice than on.