Saturday, December 3, 2011

Is Jimmy Howard the New Chris Osgood?

If one takes a quick glance at the NHL standings this evening, they will find the Detroit Red Wings boasting an impressive 16-8-1 record 25 games into the season. This is good enough for 4nd place in the Western Conference. Chicago and Detroit are neck and neck so far, but a huge difference between the two clubs thus far has been goaltending. Red Wings' starter Jimmy Howard has been phenomenal to start this season and warrants much of the credit for Detroit continuing the twenty year tradition of contender teams.

So why isn't Jimmy Howard receiving any credit for his play?

Last week, Puck Daddy posted an article asking "Who are the top 5 goalies in the NHL?" Usually, I read Greg Wyshinski's articles with a great deal of admiration, perhaps to the point of being star struck. Today, I was floored to discover his list, although very fair with his assessment of each goaltender on his list, completely bypassed Jimmy Howard.

As I collected my jaw I pondered the reasoning. Why would Jimmy Howard not crack his list? Admittedly, he does state that Howard is "right there" in terms of being close to the list. However, this just isn't good enough. While others within the Detroit Red Wings blogosphere have already weighed in on how they feel about Wysh snubbing Jimmy Howard, I figured I could take the time to give my two cents on the matter.

Jimmy Howard should definitely be on this list, if only because he is statistically superior to some of the choices.

I can agree that Tim Thomas is the height of the position today. A Conn Smythe Trophy, a Vezina, arguably a Hart Trophy caliber season a year ago, and doing it all in his mid 30s when older goaltenders usually find themselves backing up a younger goalie. Tim Thomas is a phenomenal specimen. He's untouchable on this list. I would be remiss, however, if I didn't point out that as of today Jimmy Howard has more wins, a better goals against average, and is tied with Thomas in shutouts. Just saying. As for Henrik Lundquist, Pekka Rinne, and Jonathan Quick, they are all great goaltenders who have had great regular seasons but are no better, if not worse, in the playoffs than Jimmy Howard.

You can see how Jimmy stacks up against other goaltenders here. What you will soon discover is that Jimmy Howard is definitely a top five goaltender of the year thus far based on his performance. As of today, Howard leads the league in wins, is second in goals against average, is ninth in save percentage, and is tied for second with three shutouts. After last year's relatively disappointing season, it looks like Jimmy Howard has his mojo back.

So why the snub? Where's the recognition? Why no All-Star Game recognition?

Jimmy Howard isn't even on the ballot. He's a write-in candidate, which almost certainly secures the fact that he won't make it there regardless of his on ice success. As of week two of the voting, Howard is behind thirteen other goaltenders in the voting. Given that he is 1st, 2nd, 9th, and 2nd in the big four goaltending statistics, I think it's pretty obvious he isn't getting what he deserves at the polls.

The All-Star Game doesn't (and shouldn't) carry much weight in terms of players' season-long achievement, but it is nice to see players performing well receive the proper accolades. Still, it's stuck in my craw and similar to the Chris Osgood Hockey Hall of Fame debate, I'm not going to let it go until I've had a chance to make my case.

I can accept that Howard probably isn't going to get credit where credit is due to him. Red Wings fans should be used to their goaltenders receiving the snub. Just ask alumni Chris Osgood. Or rather, you can read the endless parade of ill-formed arguments against Ozzy getting the kudos for winning 400 games, two Stanley Cups a decade apart (only one other goaltender has done this) and a playoff record that would surprise you.

Is Jimmy Howard next in line to receive the "Osgood" treatment from NHL-related media?

To be fair, this is a lot of pressure to place on Jimmy Howard. He has performed well (for the most part) in his three seasons as Detroit's starting goaltender, registering 37 wins, 37 wins, and 15 thus far. His playoff record sits at 12-11, which leaves a bit to be desired, but his individual statistics like save percentage are very strong. Similarly to Osgood, one could argue that Howard excels on a team that are perpetual winners in the regular season. Manny Legace, a good goaltender who has suffered the misfortune of playing on some bad teams after Detroit, registered a healthy 38-7 record in 2005-06 only for Detroit to get bounced in six games against the Oilers in the playoffs. This is where the argument gets stronger for all three goaltenders.

It's not necessarily Osgood's fault Detroit went home early in a number of seasons where they should have won it all. Other goaltenders came and went and suffered the same results regardless of regular season success. All credit is due to the Oilers and the Ducks who defeated the Red Wings over the years, to be clear, but there seems to be a double standard employed when it comes to discussing Detroit Red Wings goaltenders.

When Detroit wins in the regular season and goaltenders like Osgood, Legace, and now Howard perform well, it's because the team performs well. When Detroit loses in the playoffs, the first player to be blamed is often the goaltender.

Howard's playoff numbers are strong enough that in today's social media and blogging circles this argument can't be employed without some jaw-dropping or eye-rolling. Osgood, on the other hand, will forever be remembered by the delusional as being "that guy who gave up ugly goals that cost Detroit Stanley Cups". One wonders how the memories of decade-old mistakes somehow override the performances of the painfully recent 2008 and 2009 playoff runs.

Is it the curse of being a Detroit Red Wings starting goaltender that credit shall not be granted? There's plenty of evidence to make one argue this point. I recognize that this article would be cannon fodder for those who would damn Red Wings fans as being "entitled" and "arrogant", but to those I ask for reason and to put aside the personal grudges. I don't believe any Red Wing should be rewarded for being a Red Wing. Heck, if you look at who wins the individual awards year in and year out in the NHL, Red Wings represent a minority of winners, and that number will surely decline when Nick Lidstrom retires, if he ever does. All I ask for is for the hockey blogosphere to pull it's collective head out of the sand and acknowledge a superstar for being a superstar.

1 comment:

  1. Howard was impressive in goal last night. I saw that one save toward the end of the game. Awesome...