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When the medals are handed out and the Olympic hockey tournament comes to an end, the race for the NHL playoffs will be just getting started. At the beginning of the season, most Red Wing fans probably didn’t think that Jimmy Howard would outplay Chris Osgood, the starting goaltender from last year’s Stanley Cup Finals, and snatch the starting goaltender position away from him.
With his strong play Howard has, and with that strong play also comes another tremendous opportunity. The opportunity to join former Red Wing’s goaltending greats, Terry Sawchuck, Glen Hall, and Roger Crozier as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year and Calder Trophy Winner.
In order to put himself in a position to contend for the Calder trophy, Howard has put together 21 wins in 43 games. Those 21 wins are most among rookie goalies and fifteenth among all goalies. League leader Jonathan Quick has 35 wins, but has also played in a whopping 55 games.
Howard’s 2.28 GAA (Goals Against Average) places him second among rookie goalies, only behind Boston’s Tuukka Rask who holds a 2.08 GAA, and sixth in the entire NHL.
Howard’s .927 save percentage is also second behind Rask, who is barely ahead at .928. At .927, Howard is sitting in fifth among all NHL goalies. Because Howard has seven more wins and has faced 529 more shots than Rask, he should hold the advantage over Rask in the Calder voting at this point in the season.
To define what Howard needs to do after the Olympic break to capture the Calder, his stats can be compared to last year’s Rookie of the Year, goaltender Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Last season, Mason played in 61 games putting together a 33-20 record with a 2.29 GAA and a .916 save percentage.
With 21 games left in the Red Wings' season, Howard would have to play all but three of those games in order to match Mason in games played. Whether this happens or not will be dictated by Howard and the Red Wing’s play as they make a playoff push. In order to get to 33 wins, Howard would have to win 12 of those 21 games.
If the Red Wings want to make the playoffs this season, they will have to win more than 12 of the final 21. With the team getting healthier, they should accomplish this, and Howard should surpass Mason’s 33 wins a year ago. Howards’s GAA is only slightly below Mason’s mark last season and his save percentage is better.
Howard’s Rookie of the Year competition for the rest of the season should come from Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene, New York Islander’s left winger John Tavares, and Buffalo Sabres’ defenseman Tyler Myers. Before Mason won the Calder in 2009, the title was held by right winger Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks who finished the season with 25 goals and 45 assists for 70 points.
Right now, Duchene leads all rookies with 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists) and in order to be near Kane’s mark of 70 points, he would need to average more than a point a game for the rest of the season. To put Duchene’s task in perspective, before Kane won the Calder, Alex Ovechkin won it by putting up 106 points and Evgeni Malkin won it with 85.
In Myer’s case, the last defenseman to win the Calder came in 2003 with Barret Jackman of the St. Louis Blues, who won it in most part because of his +23 plus/minus rating.
Myers has a tremendous 32 points, which is already 13 more than Jackman had in all of ’03, but Myers also holds a -5 plus/minus rating, which can sometimes be a determining factor for defensemen in awards races. Other position players that are capable of making a run at the trophy are Jamie Benn from Dallas, T.J. Galiardi from Colorado, Michael Del Zotto from the New York Rangers, and Evander Kane from Atlanta.
As it stands right now, Howard is making a strong case for the Calder Trophy while playing in Detroit, which has a reputation for being extremely tough on it’s starting goaltender.
Not to mention, playing for a Red Wing’s team that has struggled to find consistency, and is giving up far more shots then normal due to a devastating number of injuries and lineup changes. Not bad for a young guy who spent four years in the AHL, not sure if his chance to be an NHL caliber goaltender would ever come.