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Expansion leaves Howard’s future with Wings uncertain

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — The speculation will begin to get louder as the expansion draft gets closer.

With the Vegas Golden Knights entering the NHL, existing teams will lose one player each to the new team in the June 21 expansion draft (teams turn in their lists June 17).

As the NHL calendar gets closer to late June, chances are goaltender Jimmy Howard’s future with the Red Wings will become more clear.

Could Howard be the player lost to Vegas by the Red Wings, if they decide to leave him exposed?

Or will Howard be traded, given there are teams in need of upgrades in the position?

Or, will he remain on the Red Wings with Petr Mrazek, in a situation similar to this past season?

As the Red Wings departed for the summer last month, cleaning out their Joe Louis Arena lockers for the final time, Howard viewed the situation as out of his hands.

“It’s a business, and what they (Red Wings management) decide, that’s what they decide,” Howard said. “It’s pretty much out of your control. I haven’t thought about it because you don’t want to stress yourself out.

“I haven’t spoken to anybody about it.”

Wings' Jimmy Howard makes 39 saves in U.S. win over Sweden

General manager Ken Holland has consistently said he’ll discuss potential trades with other general managers leading up to when Holland turns in the Red Wings’ list.

Teams such as Calgary, Dallas and Winnipeg could be looking to upgrade their goaltending, and might be in position to trade.

If Howard isn’t traded, he’ll likely be exposed in the expansion draft given his age (33) and contract situation (two years left at approximately $5.3 million). Mrazek is 25 and is on the books for one more year at $4 million.

Then again, there was ample trade speculation swirling around Howard last summer — and nothing became of it.

“Last year was kind of up in the air,” Howard said. “I didn’t know how everything was going to play out. I was so happy to be able to come back here for the last season at The Joe.

“I’m thrilled to be part of this organization.”

Howard outplayed Mrazek for a majority of the season.

And if it wasn’t for Howard missing nearly three months with a sprained knee the second half of the season, some analysts felt the Red Wings could still have a made a push to make the playoffs because of the way Howard was playing.

Howard was second in save percentage (.927) and third in goals-against average (2.10) among qualifying goalies.

“It’s just hard work,” Howard said. “It's not reinventing the wheel or anything. It was just putting in the time over the course of the summer and tweaking my game a little bit.

“It paid off.”

Coach Jeff Blashill felt Howard’s season was “excellent”.

“He had an excellent year, he played excellent through most of the year,” said Blashill, who is getting the opportunity to coach Howard again at the current world championships.

It’s usually a tough sell getting veteran players to represent Team USA at the world championships.

But when Howard received an invitation, there wasn’t any doubt.

Along with representing his country, it was an opportunity for Howard to play in more games and somewhat begin his off-season program.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how many years you’ve played in the NHL, you can still grow as a player and individual out there,” Howard said.