The prevailing opinion among hockey fans in Detroit is that the Red Wings goalie doesn’t win games, he merely loses them. He won’t win you a playoff series, but he sure will foul one up for you.
The goalie in the Winged Wheel is like the closer in the Old English D—he’s guilty until proven innocent. Then when he goes back out there, he has to prove his innocence all over again.
There have been more thankless jobs. The gallows executioner and the tax man come to mind. After that, I’m not so sure.
It happens every night after a Red Wings loss. Turn on talk radio and listen to the therapist of the night—also known as the host—talk the city from jumping off the Ambassador Bridge.
There might be a beef or two about the forwards not back checking or the scorers not scoring or the defensemen coughing the puck up. But those calls are just the opening act.
It all comes back to the goalie.
“Jimmy Howard? I wouldn’t let him play goalie for my kid’s Pee Wee team!”
“We’ll never win the Stanley Cup with this guy Howard in net!”
“What has Jimmy Howard ever won?”
“Howard can’t get it done in the playoffs!”
The Red Wings might have lost, 2-1, but it’s still Howard’s fault, somehow.
The wolves were out again this week, as news came to light that the Red Wings are about to outfit Howard with a six-year, $31.8 million contract. It should be signed any day now, after some final details are hammered out.
The therapists on talk radio, namely Bob Wojnowski and Jamie Samuelsen, had a bunch of apoplectics on their hands Thursday evening when the topic of discussion turned to Howard and his soon-to-be new contract.
The bridge jumpers were aghast. They didn’t like the length of the deal. They thought GM Ken Holland was “overpaying” for one of his own. They didn’t like the money, as if they were each being shaken down for a share of the payout.
Mainly, they didn’t like the idea of Jimmy Howard playing goalie for the Red Wings for the next six years.
Naturally, the bridge jumpers didn’t offer any alternatives. They paid their fee—being put on hold—so all they wanted was their say, i.e., to bitch.
Jimmy Howard, the bridge jumpers said, hasn’t proven himself worthy of such a lavish deal. He can’t win in the playoffs, they said. He doesn’t make the “big” save when you need him to make it.
One caller even said, “Whenever I see a guy coming in on Howard on a breakaway, I automatically count it as a goal.”
It’s amazing how much hockey these folks purport to see, watching it with blinders on.
The $5.3 (roughly) million that Howard is set to get per year is about on par with what goalies in the upper echelon in the NHL are being paid these days. It’s neither an extravagant contract, nor is Howard getting jobbed by the Red Wings.
In other words, if the Red Wings chose to look outside the organ-eye-zay-shun for a veteran goalie, they’d pay about the same amount of Mike Ilitch’s pizza dough as they’re prepared to give Howard.
I don’t know what NHL games the bridge jumpers have been watching this season, because it sure doesn’t appear that they’ve been watching the Red Wings.
If they had, they’d see that on many a night—too many a night, really—Jimmy Howard has been the best player on the ice for the Red Wings. Sometimes the best for both teams.
These aren’t the salad days of the mid-to-late 1990s and well into the 2000s, when the Red Wings could score four goals without breaking a sweat. The roster today isn’t exactly bursting with World Class players.
Too often the Red Wings struggle to score. Their power play didn’t score a goal on the road this season until almost 40 chances had gone into the books.
Howard, really, has been forced too often to be every bit as good as Dominik Hasek, Terry Sawchuk and Roger Crozier all rolled into one. With his team’s “offense,” Howard has the margin for error of a heart surgeon.
It’s appropriate that the Red Wings wear blood red at home, because that’s what the fans thirst for, if Howard doesn’t blank the opposition or limit them to one goal, tops.
The Cup-winning Red Wings teams didn’t need a Hall of Famer in goal, though they had one in Hasek. Their potent offense would overwhelm the other team. There were a lot of nights when you would need to score five goals to beat the Red Wings.
Thursday night was a case in point.
The Red Wings etched out a 2-1 lead early in the third period over the San Jose Sharks. As usual, it was like pulling teeth to score.
The Sharks tied the game, which went into overtime. Neither team scored in the extra five minutes, so off they went to one of those lovely shootouts that decide games nowadays.
Pavel Datsyuk started the shootout with a nifty goal. The Sharks scored on their turn. Then the Red Wings failed, but so did the Sharks. The Red Wings failed a second time.
That left the final shot up to the Sharks. A goal and the game would be over. Another save by Howard, and the shootout would drone on.
Patrick Marleau skated in on Howard and made a little deke and a deft stick handling move, and the puck was between Howard’s pads. Game over.
Howard skated off the ice and slammed his big goalie paddle against the glass in frustration, his margin for error again virtually non-existent.
Frankly, I don’t know what the bridge jumping hockey fans in Detroit want from Jimmy Howard. The team that skates in front of him isn’t anywhere near the team that skated in front of Osgood, Vernon, Hasek or even Manny Legace.
Howard has to be the Red Wings’ best player on most nights. And many times, he has been. The six-year contract the team is about to give him is reflective of that.
The Red Wings are now set in goal. They can start working on getting guys who can put the puck in the net.
Wouldn’t that be nice?