April 12, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Gregg Krupa

Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard merits hefty contract

Detroit -- Jimmy Howard showed up at Joe Louis Arena in 2009 after a long apprenticeship in Grand Rapids and a promising college career at Maine, and the Red Wings still did not know if he was a keeper or one they might have to throw back.

Two weeks in, Howard established his reliability and his promise.

Now, he is often their best player on the ice and clearly one of their paramount leaders in the dressing room.

The Red Wings have decided to keep him, for good money and a long time, in his fourth season.

Word came from Howard and others Thursday the Red Wings are about to sign the 29-year-old to a six-year deal that would move him from 27th in salaries among goaltenders to ninth, between Carey Price of the Canadiens and Miikka Kiprusoff of the Flames.

That is right about where he should be.

Tenacious in net

Howard is not only sticking, he also is clearly destined to garner career numbers that eventually will rank him with Terry Sawchuk, Chris Osgood and others, if only because of longevity.

Howard is not the best at controlling rebounds. He is not the best puck handler.

But his positional play is among the best. It is Howard's greatest strength, and it makes him a fine first-stop goaltender.

His will to prevail takes care of much of the rest, and earns him the trust of his teammates. They know they have a battler in the nets and that he is among the best "gamers" around.

When it is on the line and the Red Wings need a big win, Howard either provides a performance on the ice or the leadership around the room that is often a key to their success.

Howard's ability to describe the reality of situations faced by the Red Wings places him alongside Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall as a leader. Howard speaks directly, and what he says is sometimes a challenge to his team.

This is no enigmatic goaltender with a mystery personality. This is a personable, well-spoken player who defines responsibility and directs the team.

The Red Wings never could have known that would come with Howard, too.

He clearly is their most valuable player this season, and despite the play of Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg the past four seasons, it could be argued that Howard has been the most valuable player during those years.

This season, he is 30th among goaltenders with a 2.41 goals against average, while Price is 18th (2.28) and Kiprusoff is 74th (3.61).

Howard is 27th with a .971 save percentage. Price is 33rd (.915) and Kiprusoff 74th (.872).

Last year, Howard was 15th in goals against and 22nd in save percentage, while Kiprusoff was 23rd and 21st, and Price 33rd and 34th.

Good deal for all

The Red Wings, a franchise seeking to secure a winning future, got a good deal.

So did Howard, and his young family.

In a season in which not much is certain, including a playoff berth let alone when the Red Wings will return to the status of perennial Stanley Cup contenders, this much is: Jimmy Howard is their goaltender, and he will be for seasons to come.

He would say he now seeks what his mentor, Osgood, has in triplicate — a Stanley Cup.

Osgood has three, and he nearly got a fourth.

Howard is looking to put his name on it for the first time. And his chances will increase if he now accomplishes the singular task that lies ahead.

As games like that March 10 against the Oilers evidence, Howard can steal wins. He can go it largely alone, keep his guys in it and prevail, when the course of play suggests that the opponent should.

If he can begin doing that in the playoffs, there will be more than another contract awaiting Howard in Detroit one day.

There will be the sort of acclaim preserved for the truly great.

For that, Howard can now strive, free of thoughts about the business side of this trade.

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

Jimmy Howard will be in Detroitís goal for the next six seasons. / Darryl Dyck/Associated Press