Jimmy Howard disappointed in Wings’ struggles, his own play

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Just looking at his face, his body language, goaltender Jimmy Howard didn’t want to be doing this.

Howard was in the middle of a media scrum,, which was fine, but Howard wasn’t interested in the topic.

It was about the Red Wings’ disappointing season, not making the playoffs.

At this time of year, Howard would much rather be surrounded by media and talking about the Red Wings’ first-round playoff matchup.

But for the second consecutive spring, that wasn’t happening.

“For all of us, it’s extremely disappointing,” Howard said Tuesday as the Red Wings headed out of Little Caesars Arena. “This time of year we want to be playing, so we’re obviously all disappointed.

“Every single year you come into the beginning of the season and believe you have what it takes to be playing in April. For a lot of reasons, we’re not.

“We came up short again.”

Not that Howard believes the Red Wings are necessarily that far from returning to playoff contention.

The Red Wings have intriguing prospects in the farm system. They have 11 picks in June’s Entry Draft, including being in the lottery and the opportunity to get the first pick overall. And there’s always the options of trades and free agency.

And, individual development on the current roster.

“I don’t think it’s too big,” Howard said of how far the gap is for the Red Wings to return to contention. “There’s probably some people out there who’ll probably say a lot (bigger gap), but I don’t think it’s necessarily that big of a margin.

“There’s quite a few reasons why (there were) so many one-goal losses (27). All of us as a group, whether it was not making a smart play or me not coming up with a save, it falls on our shoulders to figure it out.”

Howard was, arguably, one of the Wings’ best players the first half of the season, keeping the Red Wings on the brink of the playoff line.

He was forced to play more games with backup Petr Mrazek not playing well, and then after Mrazek was traded and Jared Coreau struggling after was recalled from Grand Rapids. Howard’s statistics dipped as a result.

His 60 games played were the most since he played 63 games in back-to-back seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Howard was 22-27-9 last season, with a 2.85 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. The losses and GAA were career highs.

The save percentage fell considerably from the previous season (.927).

“Statistically, probably no,” Howard said of whether his season was good enough. “Far from it. In this league you want to be somewhere around the .920 save percentage and I wasn’t there.”

As Howard enters the final season of his contract — he can be an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2019 — it’ll be intriguing to see where the Red Wings go in terms of the goaltending position.

The Red Wings are likely to talk contract with Howard at some point next season, given Howard’s preference to stay with the only NHL team he’s known in his career.

But, there’s also the possibility of Howard being an attractive chip at the trade deadline next season if the Wings’ season again spirals out of control.

After Howard, the depth chart is fuzzy.

Coreau didn’t impress in his late-season audition (0-5-1, 4.26 GAA, .867 SVS). Both Grand Rapids goalies (Coreau and Tom McCollum) are unrestricted free agents, so a revamping of the position — other than Howard — is likely.

“We don’t have anybody signed,” Holland said. “We’ve got some young goaltenders in the system that we think have potential (in college, or European national teams). But we’re going to have to go out and look on the open market.

“We’ll have to sign some goaltenders.”

One goalie that could be a possibility — if he gets to unrestricted free agency — is St. Louis’ Carter Hutton, 32.

Hutton was superb with the Blues this season (17-7-3, 2.09 GAA, .931 SVS) and would seem to be a good fit backing up Howard.

“As a teammate I’ll welcome (whoever it is) with open arms and look forward to working with him,” Howard said.