Over the past 86 years of Red Wings hockey, there have been several stars that have donned the Winged Wheel.
Players like Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio and Terry Sawchuk laid the foundation for the winning culture in Detroit. A new age of players like Chris Osgood, Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom continued the tradition into a new age—and broke a four-decade Cup drought.
But the current group of stars are aging.
Datsyuk will be turning 35 in July and heading into the final year of his contract (Capgeek). The Russian superstar returned from lockout after playing in the KHL All-Star Game and hinted at possibly returning to his native Russia and ending his career.
While Zetterberg and Franzen are still in their prime at age 32, these players do not sport the kind of resume that is usually associated with a face of the franchise.
All three players are arguably some of the best players in the NHL. This is not the question. What is a question is who will follow Zetterberg and Datsyuk as face of the franchise in Detroit.
Some fans might point to Swedish defenseman Niklas Kronwall. He is taking over a defense that has long been anchored by Lidstrom and leading the charge for a younger looking team.
Valtteri Filppula would also get some mention. The 28-year-old native of Finland had an extremely successful 2011-12 campaign playing on the wing instead of at center. Filppula also is just entering the prime of his career and has started out his 2012-13 campaign very strong with three assists in four games (NHL.com).
The most logical choice instead would involve a player at a position highly scrutinized in this town.
Jimmy Howard has performed very well so far, enough to earn him accolades as the next face of the franchise. Howard so far in 2012-13 has suited up between the net in every game. The 28-year-old goaltender has played in at least 50 games over the past three seasons.
He has also accumulated 112 career wins along with an appearance in the 2012 All-Star Game. This past season was Howard's best statistically, with a 35-17-10 record, .920 save percentage and 2.13 GAA (NHL.com).
Jimmy has also created stability at one of the game's most scrutinized positions. Earning the All-Star Game bid was only indicative of his growth and maturation that took place for four seasons in Grand Rapids.
Howard continues to dazzle fans with his slick glove saves and controls the rebound very well. Now that the defense in front of him is more prone to leaving him vulnerable, his skills will be out on full display.
Vying to become an elite goaltender during an era of already stellar backstops is the toughest test for Howard.
The first half of last season was widely considered to be Vezina Trophy-worthy for the American-born goalie.
Injuries plagued him when he came back from the ASG, and the remainder of his season would never be the same.
Another early playoff exit haunted Howard once again and created some panic and uncertainty among the fanbase regarding if indeed this promising young goalie could carry the Red Wings deep into the playoffs.
Fans should not let these playoff appearance deter them about their goaltending.
What should be questioned is what will happen to Howard at the end of the season. He is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and with prospect Petr Mrazek waiting for his time to make the NHL, decisions loom for the star goalie.
Until Mrazek has proven worthy, he will have to learn from a truly talented goaltender who will carry the Red Wings for most of this shortened season.
Follow Garrett Kolodziej on Twitter @gkolodziej248
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