Detroit Red Wings: Is the Jimmy Howard Contract a Good Idea?

PJ SapienzaContributor IIIApril 11, 2013

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 04:  Goaltender Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena on April 4, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Red Wings 4-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

TSN is reporting that Jimmy Howard and the Detroit Red Wings are close to signing a 6-year, $31.8 million contract.

The question becomes: Is this the right move for the team?  There are three issues to look at in regards to this. Is Howard good enough to rely on, the length of the deal and the value of it.

There is no doubt that Howard is a talented goalie.  He has finished each of the past three seasons in the top 10 in wins. His save percentage and goals against tend to be a little erratic, but he is a solid goalie.  While not a top-five goalie, it is safe to say that he is an above average to good goalie. 




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He is capable of getting on a hot streak and really shutting down opponents.  In the playoffs, that is the driving factor for every winning team.

Looking ahead to free agency this off season, there are not many viable choices if they decide to replace him.

Most of the goalies that will be available are either towards the end of their careers or are unproven.  There are a few exceptions, such as Mike Smith or Ray Emery, but overall it will not be the greatest market for goalies that would be that much better than Howard.

So signing Howard was a good idea.  He has developed into a leader in the locker room and plays well enough in net to have the team in a position to win most nights.

The concern comes when we look at the length of the contract and the value.  This season, the NHL Salary Cap is $70.2 million. Next season that will drop to $64.3 million.  The team will have Valtteri Filppula, Danny Cleary, Damien Brunner, Drew Miller and Ian White as unrestricted free agents.  They will also have Joakim Andersson, Gustav Nyquist, Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith as restricted free agents.

Even if they let some of these players walk, they will still need to sign someone to replace them.  While many fans like several of the players in the minor league system, you cannot expect to have that many rookies playing all at once.

This year, Howard’s cap hit is $2.25 million, and next year that will jump to $5.3 million.  With less money available next season, it is not good to wrap up so much of it on him.  It will greatly limit what they are able to do to improve the team.

Currently, the average salary for the lead goalie for each team is $4.13 million.  Based on Howard’s stats, he should be much closer to that number, which would save the team over $1.1 million per season.

The other concern is the length of the contract.  Of the starting goalies in the NHL, there are only four that are playing on a longer contract than what Howard’s will be.  The average length of the contracts for the starting goalies in the league is 4.2 years.

Six years is far too long for a goalie of his caliber.  Due to the money owed, it will be difficult for the team to sign players in other areas of need.  If Howard falters, they will be hard pressed to move him.

They also have Petr Mzarek in the minors, who has been playing well.  He made two appearances with the Wings this year and has 2.02 goals against average to go with a .922 save percentage.  He is back in the minors now and will likely be stuck there for a while due to this contract.  They will not have him come up to be a backup until the last year of Howard's deal. 

The team has had a habit of leaving players in the minors for too long, as they have preferred to allow players to “over ripen” before bringing them up. That was an easy philosophy when players like Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios, Nick Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan patrolled the ice. 

They no longer have that luxury. Now they need to start looking at bringing players up sooner.

While keeping Howard was a good move, they simply overpaid and over signed for Howard.  A deal in the $3.8-$4.2 million range with a length of 3-4 years would have been a better move for the team.  If Howard plays closer to his 2009-10 or 2011-12 seasons then, it will only be a slightly bad deal.  If he is closer to his stats from either this season or 2010-11, then this will end up being a horrible deal.

Salary info via