Should the Red Wings Trade Howard?

As the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline approaches, the Detroit Red Wings have a series of important discussions ahead of them regarding potential trade chips and pending free agents. One important conversation is what to do with Jimmy Howard?

There are a number of factors that come into play with Detroit’s netminder that don’t impact typical rental players. Most notably, how he has been instrumental in the little bits of success the Red Wings have had this season. He’s been their backbone and has given the organization a chance to win every night regardless of the output in front of him.

But Howard could become a valuable commodity on the trade block if a contending team’s starter goes down or they need to look elsewhere for top-notch goaltending, which may be in the case with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So, should the Red Wings trade Howard?

The Case for the Red Wings Trading Howard

In a vacuum, the decision to trade Howard should be a no-brainer. The Red Wings are in the middle of a rebuild and they have an asset with an expiring contract. Though he wants to re-sign with Detroit, they shouldn’t risk losing him for nothing, especially if he’s one of the few rentals within the organization who doesn’t own a no-trade clause.

Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard
Jimmy Howard has played All-Star-level hockey this season for the Red Wings, making him an intriguing trade option. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Paul Sancya)

As the trade deadline approaches, they should absolutely deal the veteran netminder for the best deal on the table – whether that’s the preferred first-round pick or a third-round pick or decent prospect. If a goalie market materializes, the Red Wings should key in on the demand. Howard is probably the best goalie available unless the Blue Jackets try to offload Sergei Bobrovsky. Howard’s .916 save percentage (SV%) is 15th-best in the league and tops that of Pekka Rinne, Matt Murray and Braden Holtby, who all play behind much better defenses than Howard.

Stockpiling picks and prospects should be the goal right now. The Red Wings could use a couple more lottery tickets in the draft to find a difference-maker or some sort of NHL contributor. Moving Howard would also increase their chances of landing the first-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, per Dimitri Filipovic in a recent article for ESPN:

For a team that’s firmly in the asset-collection phase of their rebuild, anything the Red Wings are able to get for Howard at the deadline is found money in and of itself. But beyond that, once they trade him they’ll presumably fall even further down the standings and improve their lottery odds in the process, because he has been one of the few things keeping them competitive in the first half of the season.

Even if the Red Wings trade Howard, they have the ability to re-sign him after July 1. They wouldn’t have the same negotiating period as if he stayed put, but can still offer the netminder a chance to return home on a market-rate deal. If this were to happen, any decent return for renting him out for a few months would be adequate.

Related: Detroit Red Wings: Grading Ken Holland’s Rebuild Moves

The Case Against the Red Wings Trading Howard

Because human beings play the sport, trades and player management cannot be 100 percent approached in a vacuum. For one, trading Howard signifies the Red Wings waiving the white flag for the season, which is not good for Detroit’s young core.

Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings.
Would trading Jimmy Howard send the wrong message to Detroit’s young core? (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The fact is, Howard has given the Red Wings a chance to win every night. The same can’t be said for Jonathan Bernier and his sub-.900 SV% behind the same defense, though he could feel empowered to step up his game if anointed the starting role. Either way, Dylan Larkin and the rest of the Red Wings’ young players need to be given the opportunity to win games rather than watch management give up and sell the farm.

Another consequence of a Howard trade could be a feeling of disloyalty rippling through the organization. GM Ken Holland has always been loyal to his players—almost to a fault—and moving the long-time Red Wing out could influence future contract negotiations, including a potential reunion with Howard. “Hometown discounts” don’t really exist anymore, but organization reputation does. Why would Howard come back if he’s treated as just a trade chip?

What if no solid offer materializes? The Red Wings don’t seem ready to settle on a Howard trade, per The Athletic’s Craig Custance:

The Red Wings like Howard. They’d like to bring him back after this season. There isn’t a lot of internal interest in trading him for a third-round pick or whatever a team looking for insurance might pay. (from ‘NHL Trade Big Board: 20 players who could move before the deadline’ – The Athletic NHL – 1/7/19)

And finally, most people would have some empathy when considering a scenario to ship out a father of three young children. If that same person, in this case Holland, wanted to re-sign the player later on, he should be doing everything he can to stay in that player’s good graces.

Related: Worst Trades in Red Wings History

Final Word

As mentioned in a recent The Grind Line column, the return for 1B or backup goalies is not great around the trade deadline. Moving Howard for a meager return isn’t worth the trouble, especially if the Red Wings are serious about re-signing him.

However, if the Red Wings can pry a first or second-round pick from a contender, they should pull the trigger on a Howard trade. A middle-six forward or middle-pairing defense prospect would also work.

The word “loyalty” may incite nausea and anger among Red Wings fans. But in the case of Howard, a little loyalty from management is acceptable. Along with Larkin and Gustav Nyquist, he’s been one of their best players this season and definitely has some gas left in the tank as the Hockeytown rebuild rolls along.

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