Ken Holland, like most veteran General Managers in sports, trusts veteran players. Throughout his career running the Detroit Red Wings, Holland routinely signed veteran free agents and acquired veterans via trade. He has proven that age, especially in goal, is not a detriment.
Holland also loves players that he knows and trusts. In his first season running the Edmonton Oilers, Holland acquired two former Red Wings in Andreas Athanasiou and Mike Green. In the case of Athanasiou, a significant price was paid to bring the player to town.
Holland will need to find a goaltender this off-season. A former Red Wings veteran, Jimmy Howard, will be a free agent. You do the math.
Why Is He Out There?:
The Detroit Red Wings are in the midst of a full rebuild. They won’t be competing for a playoff spot for at least two more seasons, and older veteran players like Howard have almost no value to them.
Jonathan Bernier took over as the starter for the Red Wings this past season. The 32 year-old Bernier played 46 games for the Wings this season and posted a .907 save percentage behind a historically bad team. Steve Yzerman likes the veteran, and would be inclined to bring him back as part of a ‘timeshare’ in goal in 2020-21.
Howard, a pending free agent, is 36 and struggled mightily this past season. His time with the Red Wings is almost certainly over.
What Does He Do Well?:
In his prime, Jimmy Howard was an above average goalie who gave the Red Wings a chance to win just about every night. Those days are long gone. Howard hasn’t finished with a save percentage over .910 since the 2016-17 season, when he posted a .927 mark in only 26 games. This past season, Howard’s save percentage fell to a career-worst .882 in 27 appearances, all starts.
Overall, Howard went 2-23-2 with an .882 save percentage and 4.20 GAA in 27 games. Yes, the Red Wings were historically bad, but these numbers are way below replacement level. Howard’s Quality Save Percentage of .259 was also by far the worst of his career. League average is roughly 53%, to give you an idea.
In terms of goals saved above replacement, this was even uglier. Howard’s -22.12 GSAA was one of the worst marks in the entire NHL. Yes, playing behind the Red Wings does not help, but these numbers are not indicative of an NHL goaltender.
At five-on-five, Howard posted a save percentage of .869, again the worst in his lengthy and accomplished career.
Looking for a little optimism and maybe a positive? Howard’s five-on-five save percentage in 2018-19, behind another terrible Red Wings team, was .924 in 55 total appearances. That’s a strong number.
(All stats via hockey-reference)
Here is a look at Howard’s scouting report via The Sports Forecaster:
Looks bigger than he is in the crease. Can make acrobatic saves and is also extremely flexible, due to strong hips. Displays the confidence to succeed, but also good team-first qualities. Occasional lapses in concentration often lead to bad goals at inopportune times. Has consistency issues that prevent him from joining the ranks of the league’s elite goalkeepers.
Where Should He Play / Where Will He Play?:
Based on his numbers a season ago, Howard likely does not belong in the NHL in 2020-21. Now, of course, some team is going to take a chance on a goaltender with his overall resume. He should be treated as a backup goaltender who could be a nice reclamation project. Counting on him for more is likely a losing bet.
In Edmonton, Howard would not be an upgrade on Mikko Koskinen. He also had a worse season than Mike Smith, who faced tons of criticism and still managed a .902 save percentage. The Oilers would need him to be a 1B goalie with Koskinen. That’s a risky bet.
What Will He Cost?:
On March 20th, 2019, Holland signed Howard to a one-year contract extension worth $4,000,000. He’s not going to get anywhere close to $4,000,000 on the open market in October.
Another one-year deal is almost a certainty, and Howard is probably going to be lucky to get anything more than $1,500,000 on said contract. In a flat-cap world, you just can’t invest money in a goaltender coming off of the season Howard just turned in, Red Wings or not.
Jimmy Howard would not even be on my radar if not for his relationship with Holland. He drafted Howard, saw him develop, and entrusted him with a good veteran team at the start of his career. GM’s don’t like risk, and they like to have their own people. Howard is one of Holland’s people, make no mistake.
If the Oilers had a legit number one goaltender, I’d be willing to gamble the backup job on Howard on a one-year, cheap deal. They do not. Koskinen can only be relied on for 45-50 games. That means someone needs to start at least 35 games. Howard could not manage that in 2019-20. His 2018-19 season was decent, but there is a lot of risk here. I’m not sure the Oilers can afford to take that risk.
Regardless, don’t be surprised if the Oilers and Howard are connected. Don’t be surprised if he signs with the Oilers either.