Red Wings grateful they didn’t trade Jimmy Howard

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard has a .943 save percentage, which is fourth-best in the league.

Detroit — Where would the Red Wings be this season without Jimmy Howard?

There were many fans who probably didn’t expect Howard to be in a Red Wings jersey, given his contract status and the fact Petr Mrazek had reclaimed the starter’s job at the end of last season.

Howard, 32, is signed through the 2018-19 season at a cap hit of $5.29 million. The Red Wings attempted to move Howard, but in a market filled with veteran goalies, they were unsuccessful.

Strange how these things work out.

Because if the Red Wings had traded Howard, they might be in more trouble than they are (ninth in the Eastern Conference).

Howard, arguably, has been the Red Wings’ most valuable player thus far.

He has a .943 save percentage (ranked 4th), 1.80 goals-against average (5th), and with Mrazek attempting to regain his balance, has temporarily taken over the No. 1 job.

Maybe this isn’t such the shocker.

Howard has always seemed to play his best when others are most unsure of him, calling for him to be replaced, or doubting his effectiveness.

Few players seem to thrive and use the negativity as motivation as much as Howard.

And certainly thus far, Howard fueled the belief he was nothing more than a backup goalie into one of the best starts of his career.

Can Howard keep up this level of play?

That remains to be seen. Getting pulled after two periods of Saturday’s 5-0 loss in Montreal — although the entire Red Wings roster could have been pulled, and most fans would have preferred that — wasn’t a good sign.

But you get the sense Jimmy Howard could turn out to be the least of the Red Wings’ issues this season.

Let’s take a look at 10 other issues surrounding the Red Wings and NHL as we skate into the new week:

■1. Underwhelming start: There was hope this would be a breakthrough season for Riley Sheahan, who showed flashes late last season of being the two-way presence. But with no goals, only three assists, and a team-worst minus-8 rating, this is hardly the start Sheahan or the Red Wings envisioned.

■2. Not so special teams: Coaching legend Scotty Bowman had a formula whereas he liked to take the ranking of a team’s power play and penalty kill, combine them, and if it was less than 10, the special teams were where a team wanted them to be. If you took a break from NFL Red Zone on Sunday to check hockey statistics, the Red Wings ranked 20th on the power play and 26th on the penalty kill. That would add up to 46. A far cry from 10.

■3. Really miss Vanek that much?: Tomas Vanek has been missing from the lineup since Oct. 27. Since then, the Red Wings are 3-5-1. The most they’ve scored is three goals in a game — and they’ve done that three times. Vanek got off to a great start (four goals, eight points) in seven games and was particularly dangerous on the power play. Have the Red Wings really missed him that much?

■4. Underwhelming start II: When the Red Wings signed Frans Nielsen on July 1, it was hoped Nielsen could soften the loss of Pavel Datsyuk. Not the career Pavel Datsyuk, who was among the game’s best two-way players. But at least the 2015-16 version, who had 16 goals and 49 points (in 66 games), was a plus-7 player, was effective in the face-off circle (53.7 percent). So far, Nielsen hasn’t been the older Datsyuk. In 16 games, Nielsen has seven points and a minus-7 rating, and winning less than 50 percent (48.8) of his face offs.

■5. Best signing?: So with Vanek hurt and Nielsen still finding his way, the best free agent signing, arguably, could be Steve Ott. He only has one goal and one assist, but that’s not important. Ott has done a nice job of giving the fourth line a physical edge, he’s been as good as advertised in the locker room, and supplied valuable experience to a gradually younger roster.

■6. Still waiting II: Tomas Tatar was also another Red Wings forward who, after a fine performance in the World Cup, looked poised to be a 30-goal producer. With only two goals thus far, it’s shaping up to be another disappointing season for Tatar.

■7. Condensed schedule: It’ll be fascinating to see how NHL players, particularly the ones that competed at the World Cup, will be looking come March and April with the regular season ending. The pace of these games, due to a condensed schedule necessitated by the World Cup, has been intense and it’s not going to slow down much anytime soon. You have to figure injuries will increase as fatigue arrives later in the season. More than ever, this NHL season is shaping into survival of the fittest.

■8. Simply the best: Almost one quarter into the season there isn’t another team close to Montreal in terms of dominance. With goalie Carey Price healthy and defenseman Shea Weber looking like the trade acquisition of the season, the Canadiens look capable of going far into the playoffs. Injuries will play a factor. But the Canadiens also appear to have adequate depth — as long as Price or Weber don’t get hurt.

■9. Rookie watch: For all the talk about Toronto’s Auston Matthews, the first overall pick, Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine (the second overall selection), with his 11 goals, has been more productive and dangerous to this juncture. Matthews has been fine (12 points). But Laine looks like the second coming to Teemu Selannne.

■10. Keep an eye on the Winnipeg Jets. They’ve been able to tread water — and then some — despite key injuries, and now have signed defenseman Jacob Trouba (Rochester/Michigan), who could still be traded for another building block. But the Jets look like a potentially dangerous team in the West. Also keep an eye on Artem Anisimov. The Chicago forward had 17 points entering Sunday’s games and was a major reason the Blackhawks surged in the standings the last couple weeks. Is Anisimov this season’s breakout player?