Jimmy Howard came into the 2015-16 season without the distinction of being the No. 1 goalie in Detroit for the first time since taking that spot over in the 2009-10 season. He had started 330 games since being drafted in 2003, but Petr Mrazek solidified himself as a legit goalie option in the 2014-15 playoffs and the starting gig was up in the air.
Howard ultimately started the season opener, posting a 22-save shutout, but that was basically as good as it would get until late in the season. Mrazek started more games every month, until April and Howard had an ugly stretch between December 8th and February 21st where he did not record a win (10 starts in that time) while posting a putrid 3.52 GAA and .894 SV%.
Overall, it was the worst season of Howard’s career across the board. He posted career-lows in games started (33) and wins (10), while recording career-worsts in goals against average (2.80) and save percentage (.906). He was drastically outplayed my Mrazek, who looked like a Vezina Trophy candidate until March. However, when Mrazek stumbled down the stretch, Howard was there to get the team into the playoffs, by going 6-5-0 with a 2.73 GAA, .902 SV% and one shutout. Certainly not glamorous numbers by any means, but it was what Detroit needed to get into the postseason.
Quality Starts vs. Really Bad Starts
Quality Starts and Really Bad Starts were statistics created by Robert Vollman, author of the Hockey Abstract series of books and they are exactly what they sound like. A quality start (QS) is defined as a game where the goalie posts a SV% above the league median (.915 in 2015-16) or gives up less than three goals while posting a SV% of .885 or greater. Really bad starts (RBS) on the other hand can be defined by a game where the goalie has a SV% below .850.
When you look at Howard’s season from a far, you would expect to have seen a lot more “really bad starts” but he had just six this season. He had 18 quality starts, for a 54.5 quality start percentage, which is not great when you compare it to Mrazek’s 65.3%.
Data From: war-on-ice.com
Save percentages have become the most effective way to judge a goaltenders performance on a given evening or season-long. Howard had .917 SV% at even-strength this season and when you adjust it based on shot quality, his adjusted even-strength SV% is .920, good for 27th out of the 37 qualified net minders. This number is especially disappointing when you consider that the Red Wings shot suppression was solid when Howard was in goal. He faced an average of 29.94 shots per game, which ranked almost right in the middle of qualified net minders.
Howie struggled at 5-on-5, so it isn’t surprising to see that he had a hard time when the Red Wings were shorthanded as well. His .854 SH SV%, was near the bottom of the league, but was better than some premiere talents like Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, Tuukka Rask and Roberto Luongo.
Wins per Million
Data From: NHLNumbers.com
Howard has taken a lot of heat in Detroit this season, but the majority of it has to do with how much he is being paid. He carried a cap-hit of $5.292 million this season, which was 17th highest among goalies and he won just 14 games (37th). So, I crunched some data. How much money did the Red Wings pay Howard per win? He made $378,000 per win and won 2.646 games per $1 million, which ranked 62 out of 67 goalies this year. However, many of the goalies ranked lower or near Howard, had injury issues, which prevented him from winning games, unlike Howard. Carey Price ranked last, but he missed nearly the entire season—the conclusion I drew was the only goalie who was worse than Howard for the amount of money that he made was Jonas Hiller. Ryan Miller and Jonathan Bernier were very close, but they played on sub-par, non-playoff teams.
We just saw that Howard’s contact is not pretty and Mrazek is due for a raise this summer, which makes Howard a likely candidate to be traded, if the Red Wings can find a suitor for that contract that runs through the 2018-19 season. Last week Howard told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press that he would be OK with being traded.
If Howard isn’t dealt this summer, he will return as one of the league’s most expensive backups and will find himself locked into a battle with Mrazek for playing time. I would expect much of the same as 2015-16, Mrazek starting 60-65 percent of the games, while Howard starts the remaining 35-40 percent. Howard has a career 2.45 GAA and .915 SV% and his numbers should return closer to the 2.50 / .910 range than the 2.80 / .906 we saw this year.
Most Red Wings fans saw this coming from a mile away. We knew Mrazek would end up being the unquestioned No. 1 netminder, but certainly expected better things from a backup who is earning more than $5 million against the cap. It was a situation that Howard was unfamiliar with, so if he does return for the 2016-17 season, hopefully he is more comfortable in the backup role than he appeared to be this season.
If I were a teacher, I’d have a tough time giving out D’s so I can’t give Howard a D in this situation. He struggled after the first few months of the season, but ultimately finished with a .500 record and he can’t be blamed for the huge deal that Ken Holland signed him to.