Jimmy Howard and the rest of his Detroit Red Wings’ teammates were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 20, but that hasn’t stopped Howard from continuing his season by representing his country.
Howard is currently the number one man between the pipes as a member of Team USA in the 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championships, which is held in Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden. He has back stopped the Americans to five wins (four in regulation, one in overtime) in the tournament and has a 2.16 goals against average and a .918 save percentage, including an 18-save performance in a shutout win against the defending champions, Finland this past Sunday.
Before he missed three weeks with a broken left pinky on February 2, Howard was among the top three goalies in the NHL and was having an all-star season, possibly on his way to a Vezina Trophy nomination (31 wins, 2.03 gaa, .924 save percentage in 44 games). However, his game went a tad south when he returned. Howard still finished the regular season with more than respectable numbers: 35-17-4, 2.12 goals against average, .920 save percentage and six shutouts (five before the finger injury).
Since the US has advanced to the quarter-finals (starting with a rematch with Finland tomorrow morning), Howard’s next games in the tournament will help further his resumé in the international hockey scene. If Howard and the rest of the Americans take home at least a bronze medal this weekend, Howard could better his chances of receiving a ticket to Sochi.
He has looked good during the tournament and is getting a small sample size of what it will be like against the world’s best in the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics, which is only 21 months away and will be held in Sochi, Russia. That is, if there is a new collective bargaining agreement between the NHL, NHLPA and the IIHF (the current CBA expires September 15), but I’m going to assume that all parties will work something out, which is why I’m writing this blog.
As of right now, Los Angeles Kings’ goaltender Jonathan Quick is making a case as the best goalie in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If he takes the Kings to the Cup Finals and makes life difficult for either the New Jersey Devils or New York Rangers, he could end up winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP. As for regular season hardware, he’s my choice for the Vezina Trophy, and he’s got the numbers to show it (35-21-13, 1.95 gaa , .929 sp, 10 shutouts).
Since teams in the Olympics are required to carry three goalies, another name who could also be given a ticket to Sochi is Cory Schneider of the Vancouver Canucks. His spectacular play this past regular season (20-9-1, 1.96 gaa, .937 sp, 3 shutouts) is forcing the hand of the Canucks’ front office to ship Roberto Luongo out of Vancouver.
Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres is another American-born goalie that shouldn’t be counted out. It was over two years ago when he played the best hockey of his career and everyone took notice when he played at the Winter Games in Vancouver. Even though the US lost to Canada in overtime, Miller backstopped his team to a silver medal and was the MVP of the tournament. His numbers in Vancouver were jaw-dropping: 5-0-1, 1.35 gaa, .946 sp.
The downside on Miller is that there were two different players wearing #30 for the Sabres last season. The first #30 was 5-6-0 in 11 games with a 2.86 gaa before suffering a concussion when he had his bell rung by Boston Bruins’ forward Milan Lucic in early November. After he returned to the lineup, he eventually tightened his game and played like the Ryan Miller that we’re accustomed to seeing and finished with a record of 31-21-7 with a 2.54 gaa, .916 sp and six shutouts. Two knocks are against him—his inconsistent play last year and his age (he’ll be on the south side of 33 by the time the 2014 Olympics will start).
Now, I’m not saying that being 33 is old for a hockey player. It’s not, but Howard, Quick and Schneider will be 29, 28, and 27 respectively by the time the Winter Games start. By then, they’ll still be in the prime of their of their careers.
I would expect Howard to return to pre-injury mode for the Red Wings next season. And if he has another all-star season, his stock will soar even higher for making the cut as one of the three goalies headed to Sochi. If USA Hockey decides to select three out of Howard, Schneider, Quick or Miller, they will have an advantage over the rest of the teams (including Canada) when it comes down to goaltending.
Imagine being a fly in the wall inside the room where the selection process will take place. If he returns as general manager of Team USA, Brian Burke will have some very difficult decisions to make. The goaltending situation will be the most tasking.
Red Wing fans, whether he starts or is behind the bench, what do you think of the idea of Jimmy Howard representing the US in 2014?
About the Author: Alex lives in Hockeytown, USA. He is a huge Red Wings fan going back to the 1985-86 season when they were dead last with 40 points. He has seen the transition from the 'Dead Wings' to one of the top franchises in sports. You can also follow him at twitter.com/alexmuscat73.