DETROIT – Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard didn’t want to play anywhere else and the organization felt the same way.
Howard and the Wings are “really, really” close to agreeing to an extension that will keep the netminder in Detroit for the next six seasons.
“First thought for me was providing for my family and to have that security blanked for them means the most,” Howard said Thursday morning at Joe Louis Arena when asked if he had considered testing free agency. “I wanted to be here. I get along great with everyone here. I believe in this organization and I think we’re going to get the job done.”
Both sides have agreed on the length of the deal, which will be worth around $5.3 million a season, according to Howard, who hopes the deal can be signed by this weekend.
“Pretty much all the little stuff (is left),” Howard said. “It feels good, I mean I’ve worked really, really hard, paid my dues in the minors and really became a professional. To see it payoff here shortly is a good thrill for my family and I.”
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.
“Howie has worked hard and the organization has confidence in him,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s important for us. We need good goaltending. Just how much parity there is, we need him each and every night and he’s been excellent for us.”
Howard has helped keep the Wings in the playoff race this lockout-shortened year after they lost so much this offseason, going 16-12-4 with a 2.41 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. He has two shutouts this season.
“He’s more consistent,” Babcock said. “In anybody’s game there’s things he can work on. He can always work on his puck-handling and he’s been working on that. To me, what he’s done is become a guy you can count on. That’s what you need in this league. The bottom line for us is we hope this gets done so we can get on with winning games.”
Over this career he’s 126-65-23 with a 2.41 goal-against average, .917 save percentage and 13 shutouts.
Howard, who’s in the final year of a deal that paid him $2.25 million a season, will now be the 10th highest paid goalie in the league according to CapGeek.com. Nashville’s Pekka Rinne is No. 1 at $7 million a season.
The last time Howard, whose salary ranked 27th amongst goalies to start the year, was in the final year of a contract (2010-11 season) he admitted it became a distraction for him on the ice.
That wasn’t the case this time around.
“To be honest it really hasn’t (been a distraction), like last time when we went through this, it really did more,” Howard said. “With it being such a condensed schedule and so many games being played in such a short amount of time, I haven’t really had much time to think about it.”
The Wings don’t have much depth in goal in their system.
Jonas Gustavsson, who has been used sparingly since returning from a groin injury, has one more year left on a $1.5 million deal.
Petr Mrazek and Jordan Pearce are next on the depth chart.
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.
“I like that he’s a workhorse,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said recently of Howard. “He’s a guy we can put in net night after night. We drafted him, we developed him and we watched him grow as a goaltender. His prime years are ahead of him.”
Howard finished second to Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers in the Calder Trophy race as the NHL’s top rookie.