In an ideal world, Jimmy Howard would finish his career in Detroit while leading the Red Wings back to the playoffs. That was part of the plan when he signed a one-year deal with the club toward the end of last season.
Then this season happened.
Howard struggled from start to finish and the Wings were the worst team in the NHL. The starting job in goal now belongs to Jonathan Bernier, who’s signed through next season, leaving Howard’s future with the Wings in doubt.
At age 36, he’d like to keep playing. But knows he might have to finish his career outside 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,” Howard said, via the Detroit News . “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.”
In 27 starts this season, Howard won two games. He had an .882 save percentage and a 4.22 goals against average, both career worsts. It was a startling free-fall for the two-time All-Star.
“You go home shaking your head a lot of times,” he 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.”
When the season ended, there was a belief Howard might call it a career. But that’s not his intention. If he can find a job next season — and his resume suggests he will — he’d rather go out on a high note.
“I want to keep playing,” he said. “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.”
There’s a chance the Wings could bring Howard back, at a lower salary than the $4 million he made this year. They need a backup for Bernier, and there isn’t a goalie in the system who’s ready to make the jump to the NHL. But it’s more likely they fill that hole through free agency.
However it plays out, the Red Wings longtime netminder knows retirement is around the corner.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. 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,” he said. “So if I could continue to play for another year or two, I’d be very content to walk away.”