Year 3 will be big for Howard and the Wings. Can he get back to or be better than the numbers he had in his first season? Can he get the Wings past the second round of the playoffs?
When the Wings re-signed him this year, he only received a two-year deal and his pay will only make him the 25th-highest paid goalie. This season will go along way into him getting a longer contract and for more money.
Here are five more reasons why Howard needs step up this season.
Teams go with transition periods all the time; it is part of the natural life cycle of a team. However, teams like the Red Wings, who have stayed on top for so long, often have transitions that are seamless. Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov gave way to Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, and the team just kept rolling.
One of the reasons why the transition between those players went so well is that there are many similarities between those players. Zetterberg is the all-around playmaker and distributor in the mold of Yzerman, and Datsyuk is a mirror image of Fedorov. That allowed for the team to maintain their place among the elite of the NHL. One major concern for the Red Wings is that the next transition may not go as smoothly.
Nicklas Lidstrom is quickly approaching the end of his remarkable career and there is no Lidstrom junior on the team. Niklas Kronwall made huge strides last season and the hope is that he will grow even more this year and possibly become a top defender. The style he plays though is very different from Lidstrom. While that does not mean that Kronwall can be successful, it just means the transition has more questions and uncertainty surrounding it.
This means that the Wings need to win now. In addition to Lidstrom, the Wings also have Tomas Holmstrom and Todd Bertuzzi in the 35-and-older crowd who are also key players on the team.
Most teams are not able to rebuild or retool and still maintain their perch near the top of the league. The Red Wings have done so for nearly 20 years now. Odds are the run will end at some point but for this coming season, with the pieces still in place, Howard needs to be strong in order to give the team a chance.
If Howard does not pan out this season, then the search for a replacement goalie in next year’s offseason will be very difficult.
Todd Bertuzzi, Tomas Holmstrom, Mike Commodore and Jiri Hudler will all be free agents. Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader will both be restricted free agents. Of bigger concern is that Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall will each be free agents next year. They will make $3.75 and $3 million, respectively, this season and both will command a hefty raise come next season.
At this point, Lidstrom is playing season to season. If he does retire, than part of his money will be needed to go after a top-four defenseman. While there are a healthy amount of defenders that are scheduled to be free agents next season, there are very few in that upper echelon, which means the prices for them will be inflated.
If Howard falters and the Wings are forced to also shop for a new goalie, then those options are even tighter. The list of free-agent goalies basically starts and ends with Pekka Rinne. After that, there are solid options but nothing that screams 'Automatic Stanley Cup.'
A good season by Howard will allow to team to focus their resources on other areas of the team.
The Wings have drafted several goalies over the past few seasons, but none are really making the strides that they had hoped. While this does not mean that they can’t still make it, it does mean that there is nobody ready to make the jump this year or next.
We have seen what Joey MacDonald can do, and while not horrible, it is obvious that he is not a starting goaltender in the league. Jordan Pearce is probably the closest to making it to the NHL; however he is more than a season away.
That is why if Howard falls apart this season, the Wings would need to look to free agency or trade, rather than from within their own organization for a fix.
Howard now has two full seasons in the NHL under his belt and while his win total remained the same at 37, his GAA and save percentage got worse in his second year. He went from 2.26 to 2.79 in the goals against department and his save percentage dropped from .924 to .908.
Year 3 will be important not only for his place on the team but for his future as a goalie. The league is littered with goalies such as Jim Carey, Steve Penney and Brent Johnson who started out hot then faded away.
A slump for any player is rough but it can be very different for a goalie. Confidence is a major part of their game. He needs to improve on his Year 2 numbers to help fortify his confidence in himself. A strong third year will help solidify Howard’s confidence and make him a better goalie down the road.
We have all seen the news. Michigan and Detroit have been one of the hardest-hit areas in the country during the economic downturn. While having a winning team does not solve issues with unemployment, crime rates or mortgages, it does help brighten the spirit of people who need a reason to smile.
Hockeytown is spoiled as it has seen its team make it to six Stanley Cup finals over the past 17 seasons, while winning four. This will be the third season since they have been to the finals and fourth since they last won. While most cities would love to have such a record, Detroit fans have become addicted to winning. The back-to-back second-round exits really hit hard.
After the early playoff exits, Howard and the Wings need to go at least one more round this season. A Cup run would greatly boost the city and state. Howard is the key to that happening.