Detroit – Jimmy Howard wants to keep playing.
But the Detroit Red Wings’ longtime goaltender is coming off his worst statistical season and is a 36-year-old unrestricted free agent.
Howard would love to play one or two more seasons – and if it’s not in Detroit, he’d be sad but also content.
“I want to keep playing,” Howard told The Detroit News on Friday, while talking about the past and future of his hockey life. “This year left such a bitter taste in my mouth. I want to go out there and show people I can still play in this league – I know I’m capable.”
Howard’s preference would be to remain with the Wings and end his career with the organization that drafted him in the second round in 2003. But with general manager Steve Yzerman beginning to revamp the roster in the midst of a massive rebuild, and the team getting younger, Howard understands his situation is tenuous.
“Absolutely,” said Howard, of whether he’d like to finish his career in Detroit. “I love this state, this city, and this city is home to us now. I would want to finish my career a Red Wing.
“But at the same time, I’ve been around this game long enough to realize there comes a time when you have to separate ties. If that’s the way it’ll have to go, I’ve mentally prepared for that. My wife and I have talked about it a little bit, and if that’s going to be the case, it’ll have to be the case.
“But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Honestly, there’s so much up in the air.”
Nestled within the Red Wings’ miserable season, Howard took the brunt of the pain in net. He had a 2-23-2 record, along with a ghastly 4.20 goals-against average and .882 save percentage.
Howard won on opening night in Nashville, on Oct. 29 against Edmonton, and didn’t win again the entire season.
“I personally don’t believe I represent those number (statistics), but I was a big part of the program (losing),” Howard said. “I got in my own way a lot instead of letting the play to come. I was overthinking things. I was in my head and tinkering with stuff instead of just saying, ‘You can do this,’ and have the confidence to go out and do it.
“Instead of looking for a bounce and not getting one, and hoping a bounce would happen, sometimes you just have to get out there and make it happen. I felt like I didn’t do that at all this season. When things got spiraling out of control, I felt like I was in quicksand, and when I tried to get out of it the more I sank.”
Howard’s place in organization history is secure. His 246 career victories (246-196-70) rank third among all Wings’ goalies, and Howard’s 543 games played is seventh among American goalies all-time.
Howard is a 2014 U.S. Olympian, three-time NHL All-Star and Calder Trophy runner-up in 2010. The accomplishments are impressive.
But there were many nights after games this season that were disheartening and glum.
“You go home shaking your head a lot of times,” Howard said. “I spent a lot sleepless nights constantly thinking about things. That’s not good. Normally I do a great job of separating things, but as the season kept going it got tougher.
“But I still showed up for work every day.”
Regardless if it’s with the Wings, or with another team, Howard doesn’t want to play beyond two more seasons. Howard and his wife Rachel now have four children – James (age 8), Henry (5), Olivia (2) and Louis, who was born in early March.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter,” Howard said. “One or two more years. A lot of it has to do with family. I’ve missed so much already, and as the kids go through childhood, I don’t want to miss too much.
“So if I could continue to play for another year or two, I’d be very content to walk away.
“I want to help coach their sports teams, especially hockey. I don’t know if I’ll qualify to coach lacrosse.”
With the 2020-21 regular season not expected to begin until December or January, Howard believes this time off could actually help a veteran player like himself.
“It’s about using your time wisely,” Howard said. “I don’t think this extra time off is necessarily a bad thing for me. I can recharge and refocus and go into next year with the confidence of being able to play.”
Howard and his family will head to Maine to spend the summer and he hopes to work out at the college rink there.
The way the NHL season paused on March 12 due to the pandemic, and ultimately ended, still leaves Howard amazed and disappointed. He only hopes the NHL would have a found a way to conclude this season for every team.
“I figured we would have finished the season,” Howard said. “I didn’t think in my wildest dreams think it (NHL shutdown) would extend to today. The ripple effect of this pandemic is crazy. This is new to all of us, nobody has been through anything like this.
“The guys (teammates) haven’t seen each other in forever. We’ve talked in texts but it’s not the same as when you’re in the dressing room or around the facility and hanging out and having breakfast or lunch with the guys, just talking.”