Detroit Red Wings: Can Jimmy Howard Be Considered an Elite NHL Goalie?

Dan Gigliotti@@dangigliottiCorrespondent IAugust 14, 2012

Detroit Red Wings: Can Jimmy Howard Be Considered an Elite NHL Goalie?

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    Jimmy Howard has been nothing but consistent since becoming the starting goalie for the Detroit Red Wings in 2009.

    The Maine product has 35 or more wins in each of his first three full seasons and a 0.917 save percentage. Solid numbers, but unremarkable nonetheless.

    Does that mean he’s ready to be considered elite now or will 2012-13 be a barometer for his talent level for years to come?

    Grab your measuring tape, people. We’re sizing Howard up.

Sizing Up Howard

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    At 6’0”, 218 pounds, Howard‘s build, like his stats, is average.

    After an injury—and declining play—to Chris Osgood in 2009, Howard entered the fray as the Wings everyday man.

    Howard stepped up to play. After his first 63 games as a starter, he took second place in the race for the Calder Trophy with a 37-15-10 record, a 0.924 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average.

    In 183 games since, Howard has a 0.595 winning percentage and a 2.33 GAA—including a career-high 2.13 in 2011-12. He registered six shutouts last season and now has 11 in his career.

    Howard is a major reason Detroit won an NHL-record 23-straight home games last season. He was fantastic in shootouts, with a 0.815 save percentage, good for second-best in the NHL among players with at least 10 shot attempts.

    Still, his numbers do not stand out, as he is ranked 11th in save percentage and sixth in save percentage last season.

Lidstrom's Void

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    The departure of key veteran players has the potential to put pressure on Howard to be more of a leader on the ice.

    Former captain Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement and the loss of Brad Stuart leave a void in talent and experience that will need to be filled if the Wings can be successful this season.

    Most of the on-ice communication missing between players will be taken on by heirs to the Lidstrom throne like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. But fans and management alike will expect Howard to lead by playing exemplary.

    Though Howard maintains the absence of Lidstrom is an opportunity for one of his teammates to step into a bigger defensive role, no one on the Detroit roster can have as big of an impact as he did. At the least, that player won’t emerge right away.

The Weight of History

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    Similar to the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Lakers, the Red Wings are a franchise that cultivates a winning culture, with an active streak of 21-consecutive playoff appearances and 11 Stanley Cup championships.

    The demand from their players to maintain that standard of success is no easy thing to ask a player in his fourth season.

    Especially not when that pressure is compacted by the thought of playing to the level of Detroit's most illustrious goaltenders, including Dominik Hasek and Osgood.

    Does Howard have the mental fortitude to cope with the Motor City’s exorbitantly high standards?

The Jury Is Still out

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    As consistent a player as Jimmy Howard has been in three seasons in the NHL, it is premature to say he will break into the ranks of the best goalies in the league.

    That exclusive list is dominated by netminders like Mike Smith, Pekka Rinne, Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist and Conn Smythe winner Jonathon Quick.

    Tim Thomas would be included had he not chosen to do, well, whatever it is he has decided to do during the 2012-13 season without hockey.

    If Howard applies himself this season, he could have enough credentials to be included in the discussion of elite NHL goaltenders. He is steadily building his resume, but whether or not he has the qualities to make the leap is yet to be determined.

    Consider 2012 Howard’s interview for greatness, boss.