Niklas Kronwall on Wings goalie Jimmy Howard: “He’s been nothing but great for us all year and given us a chance to win every night. You can’t say enough good things about him.”

DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings won’t have to worry about having a No. 1 goalie at least for the next six seasons.

The team finally announced the signing of Jimmy Howard Tuesday after practice at Joe Louis Arena, inking him to a six-year extension worth $31.8 million.

“He’s one of our most valuable players,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “He gives us a chance to win every night. He’s a workhorse. In an 82-game schedule he can play 65-70 games if we need him to. He’s gotten better every year. Again, he’s one of our most important, most valuable players and in the prime of his career.”

Howard, 29, was drafted by the Wings in 2003 (second round, 64th overall) and the team spent time grooming him in the minors before bringing him up when he was out of options.

He has played a large part of keeping the Wings in the playoff race during this lockout-shortened, going 17-12-6 with a 2.31 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and three shutouts.

“It’s one of those things where I’ll treat everyone to dinner,” smiled Howard, who’ll make an average salary of $5.3 million. “It’s an exciting time for myself and my family. We’re excited to be here for six more years.

“It’s still sort of surreal,” Howard added. “I still can’t believe it’s happening. It’s been a long road, a long journey with a lot of ups and down, especially with being in the American League for four years and learning to become a professional. Everything sort of panned out for me.”

Howard is now the 10th highest paid goalie in the league according to CapGeek.com. Nashville’s Pekka Rinne is No. 1 at $7 million a season.

“Not only do I think he’s a really good goaltender, but for our organization it’s stability,” Holland said. “It’s a really, really important position.”

Howard was in the final year of a deal that paid him $2.25 million a season.

“Everyone would want to finish their career with the team that they started with,” said Howard, who finished second in the Calder Trophy race his rookie season. “To be able to be drafted by the Wings when I was 18 and still be here and part of the organization at 29 is pretty special.”

In each of Howard’s first two full seasons in Detroit he recorded 37 wins, becoming the only goalie in Wings history to win at least 35 games in each of his first two seasons. He struggled in his first postseason with the team, but then rebounded the following year in the playoffs, which coincidentally was the same season he worked out a new two-year deal with the team.

“He’s been so stellar for us, the backbone of our team,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall. “He’s been nothing but great for us all year and given us a chance to win every night. You can’t say enough good things about him. If you watch enough of our games you can see that he means so much to our team and organization. We’re definitely happy to have him with us.”

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