If there was one thing most Red Wings fans were the least worried about prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, it was goaltending.
However, after 25 games, it appears as though there is ample reason to worry about the play of No. 1 netminder Jimmy Howard.
After a great 2012-13 regular season, the organization decided to reward Howard with a lucrative six-year contract extension. With an annual salary just shy of $5.3 million that's guaranteed through 2019, the money and the term appeared to be just about right given Howard’s success as Detroit’s top goalie since the 2009-10 season.
Now, it appears that the weight of that increasingly fat contract may well be contributing to what is undoubtedly a slumping season for Howard.
Before we continue further, it must be said that there was at least one inept blogger who thought such a thing was a near impossibility. In fact, a case was made for Howard being the best goalie in the Atlantic Division just prior to the season’s start.
Time has a way of making optimism look like foolishness, especially when held up against the harsh reality of cold hard facts.
The facts don’t get colder or harder than this—Jimmy Howard is on pace to finish the worst season of his career.
|Jimmy Howard—by the Numbers|
|2012-13 Season||42 GP||21 Wins||2.13 GAA||.923 SV%|
|2013 -14 Season-to-date||18 GP||5 Wins||2.72 GAA||.908 SV%|
|2013-14 Projected Stats||59 GP||17 Wins||2.72 GAA||.908 SV%|
Since he began his full-time NHL career in 2009-10 and excluding last year’s truncated 42-game season, Howard has never finished an NHL season with fewer than 35 wins.
Should he continue on this season as he’s began it, he’ll end up with 17.
Now, while the Red Wings’ overall lack of routine success, lackluster defensive play and starving offense are certainly contributing factors to Howard’s numbers, the concerns about his play go beyond statistics.
Prior to this season, Howard played his position between the pipes with a certain amount of swagger and an almost cocky confidence.
He’d put serious gusto into making a glove save and turn a routine pad stop into a display of panache. He’d challenge shooters to beat him, just for the fun of it, and then calmly take a few squirts from his water bottle as the opponent he just robbed looked to the rafters in disbelief on his way back to the bench.
Howard looked like he was having a lot of fun between those pipes.
While fluky goals off his own defenders or triple deflections found their way past him, he’d forget about such bad luck as quickly as it came. Howard was a steady and consistently solid rock for the Red Wings night in and night out.
For now, those days appear to be gone.
Howard’s numbers, poor as they may be, don’t speak as loudly about his declining performance as does his apparent attitude in net.
His play is not speaking as loudly or proudly for him as it has in the past, and while he’s still falling victim to hard-luck pucks finding their way past him, he doesn’t seem to shrug those off as easily as he has in the past.
One might say that Howard doesn’t look comfortable in the net, but that may actually be misstating the case entirely.
Howard, ironically, may be all too comfortable. After all, it’s human nature.
What marriage does to many a waistline, long-term contracts can certainly do to a goalie’s performance.
Commitment, comfort and a complete lack of uncertainty as to who you are and where you stand have a tendency to make one go soft, even complacent, in almost any walk of life—NHL goaltending is certainly no exception.
However, just like recovering one’s pre-marriage waist size could put some zip back into one’s matrimonial situation, Howard desperately needs to recover the form that earned him that fat contract in the first place.
Hear me talk more about Jimmy Howard and the Red Wings with Greg Eno and "Big" Al Beaton on Monday, November 25th at 7pm EST on The Knee Jerks Blog Talk Radio Show!