Jimmy Howard's will to bounce back confirmed with All-Star nod

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Jimmy Howard

Detroit – The question of who is more excited to attend NHL All-Star weekend really isn’t close.

Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard is looking forward to playing in his second All-Star Game. But his sons – James, 7, and Henry, 4 – are miles ahead of dad on the excitement meter.

“They’re at the age where they are beginning to know these guys,” Howard said of his fellow All-Stars. “Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane – those guys. They play them on the video games. They’re excited to meet them.”

The boys are pretty excited to see their dad in the skills competition and game, too.

There’s no doubt Howard deserves the All-Star spot for the game in San Jose on Saturday night, given he has a winning record (14-13-5) and sturdy statistics (2.76 goals-against average, .916 save percentage) on a team that’s near the bottom of the NHL standings.

Howard’s first All-Star Game was in 2012. He was named an All-Star again in 2015, but wasn’t able to attend after suffering a groin injury prior to the game.

After that injury, it took Howard a while to recapture his high level of play. Howard had fallen behind Petr Mrazek on the depth chart, and it appeared Howard might be headed toward life as an NHL backup.

But anyone who knows Howard probably knew he wasn’t going to give up the No. 1 job without a fight.

Howard went to new goaltending coach Jeff Salajko and the two put in many hours in the summer, improving Howard’s game.

“I’d say Jimmy is being rewarded for the work he’s put in over the last three and a half years,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “I told him I’m real proud of him and happy for him.

“Everyone in this room knows there was a time where it looked like he was going to be a backup and he decided to change his game, go to work, be mentally tough, hang in there and stay with it. Just keep working and get better.

“It’s a lesson we could use as a hockey team. You have to be resilient. You have to find ways to keep getting better and to stay mentally tough and work. It’s great for Jimmy.”

Sitting and watching behind Mrazek was frustrating, but Howard knew his game needed some revisions.

Howard basically became a more patient goaltender, took less chances, became more glued to the net.

The results speak for themselves.

Jeff Blashill on Jimmy Howard: “I’d say Jimmy is being rewarded for the work he’s put in over the last three and a half years.”

NHL analyst Kevin Weekes says Howard’s competitiveness is as strong as any NHL goalie.

Howard says that trait was nurtured growing up in Ogdensburg, in upstate New York.

“Coming from a small town,” Howard said, “you play with a chip on your shoulder.”

Howard turns 35 in March and knows his time in the NHL is shrinking.

“I’m getting up there and I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Howard said. “At the same time, I’m having a lot of fun, and I just want to take this as far as I can.”

A potential unrestricted free agent on July 1, Howard has never shied away from his desire to remain in Detroit for the rest of his career. And with his level of play this season – for the last few seasons, actually – re-signing Howard might be a very attractive option for the the Red Wings.

But, if a contender were to have its starting goalie injured ahead of the Feb. 25 trade deadline, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a team inquire about Howard’s availability, which would have the Wings likely asking for a first-round draft pick in return.

“I’ve been through this before, and really, you can’t think about it,” said Howard of the trade speculation. “You can’t do anything about it. It would be an honor to finish my career here.”

Howard also calls it an honor to represent the Wings’ organization and his teammates this weekend in San Jose.

“It’ll be fun,” Howard said. “It truly is an honor to represent the Red Wings at an event like this. Would I like to have the time off and relax a little bit? Yes. But it is an honor to be going, and I’m real excited to go and enjoy the time with my boys.

“They’ve been having a countdown every single day, asking us when we’re going to California. They have been so, so excited.”

NHL All-Star weekend

Where: SAP Center, San Jose

When: Skills competition – Friday, 9 p.m., NBCSN; All-Star Game – Saturday, 8 p.m., NBC.

Format: This will be the fourth year the NHL uses a four-team, 3-on-3, single-elimination format, with each of the NHL's four divisions being represented. The winners of the semifinal games meet in the championship game.


Twitter: @tkulfan