After 14 years of professional hockey, all spent in the Detroit Red Wings’ organization, 36-year-old goaltender Jimmy Howard officially announced his retirement from the NHL.
The 64th selection of the 2003 entry draft, Howard joined the Red Wings’ organization after a highly successful college career with the University of Maine. He was a second-team All-American during the 2003-04 season where he set an NCAA record for both goals-against average (1.19 GAA) and save percentage (.956 SV%) during that same season. He finished his collegiate career with 47 wins through 82 games, a 1.84 GAA and a .931 SV%.
Howard had a successful first year in professional hockey, mostly playing with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL. It was so successful, in fact, that the Red Wings eventually called him up to the NHL where he saw four games of action, securing his first ever NHL victory against the Los Angeles Kings on November 28, 2005. He became the first goaltender in NHL history to face a penalty shot in his first two games in the league. Upon returning to the AHL, he finished the season with 27 victories in 38 games with the Griffins. He would go on to play 186 regular season games with the Griffins, compiling a 90-73-11 record, as well as a 12-17 record in the Calder Cup playoffs.
The 2009-10 NHL season was his first in the league on a full-time basis. Originally slated to back-up Chris Osgood following the Red Wings’ back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final, he was thrust into the starting role following a slow start and an injury to Osgood. From that point on, Howard never let go of the starting role. He carried the Red Wings to the playoffs on the back of his 37-15-10 record, along with a 2.26 GAA and a .924 SV%. That year, he was the runner-up to Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.
The native of Syracuse, New York was the Red Wings’ undisputed starter for six seasons, collecting many fans and critics along the way. Perhaps the most heart-breaking campaign of his career came during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season where he finished sixth in voting for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. The biggest heartbreak of that season, however, was that he helped lead the Red Wings to within a single victory of the Western Conference Final before blowing a 3-1 series lead against their heated Original Six rival, the Chicago Blackhawks. That was the furthest in the playoffs that Howard ever led the Red Wings.
The 2015-16 season saw him lose his starting role to upstart goaltender Petr Mrazek, whom the Red Wings drafted in the 2010 draft, and had previously led the Griffins to their franchise’s first Calder Cup championship. The following season saw Howard excel in a backup role to Mrazek, leading to the Red Wings protecting him over the younger goaltender in the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft. Howard, who always wore the number 35 for the Red Wings, regained his starting role from that point on, up until the 2019-20 season, the last of his career.
With 246 career victories, Howard sits third all-time in franchise history, behind Osgood and the legendary Terry Sawchuk. That amount of wins also places him 61st in league history, a notable feat all things considered. He represented the Red Wings at the All-Star game twice, and was named to the United States’ Olympic Team during the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia. He has two sons and a daughter with his wife Rachel. As part of his retirement announcement, he stated that he looks forward to being able to coach his son’s hockey team, perhaps a sign of what the next chapter holds for him. He finishes with a career record of 246-196-70, a 2.62 GAA and a .912 SV%.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.