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April 12, 2011

DETROIT -- When Red Wing GM Ken Holland signed goalie Jimmy Howard to a three-year, $2.15 million contract extension before the 2008-09 season, there were more than a few raised eyebrows.
Only the first year of the deal was a two-way contract, with Howard making $200,000 if he played with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins and $600,000 if he was in Detroit. Years two and three called for Howard to make $750,000 and $800,000 whether he played in the AHL or NHL.

At the time, it seemed to be a large sum of guaranteed money to a player that had appeared in a total of eight games for the Wings. Also, Howard was considered a disappointment by some in the organization.

Drafted by the Wings in the second round (64th overall) of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Howard was a collegiate star at the University of Maine. After college, he arrived in Detroit overweight and out of shape.
It took the former Black Bear a couple of seasons to prove to Red Wings brass that he had the work ethic and dedication to be an NHL player.
Satisfied that Howard was on the right track, Holland explained the extension was to take the pressure off his young netminder. Howard was going to get a shot in Detroit, and Holland wanted him to concentrate on hockey, not contract.

It was a risk but a small one. If Howard flamed out, it wasn’t much money against the cap. And if he panned out, his salary was a bargain.

A similar situation faced Holland again this season. Howard was in the last year of his deal, and with the playoffs looming, Holland wanted to get an extension done.

Howard’s camp was receptive to the idea and wanted a long-term deal. Holland was not as enthused with a long-term deal, so they agreed upon a two-year deal worth $4.5 million ($2.25 million a season).

Catching up with Holland late last week, I reminded him of his reasoning for extending Howard three years ago, and I asked Holland if he was hesitant to commit to Howard long-term because he still has not cemented himself as Detroit’s No. 1. That he still needed to prove himself -- especially during the playoffs.

"I think that’s a trick question," Holland said. "Other than a few superstars, how many players really in this league are cemented in their positions?  Ninety percent of the players in the league have to produce on a regular basis.

"Coming back to Jimmy, are we going to judge everything on one playoff? I think no. He’s 27, and except for a stretch in the middle, I think he’s played pretty well.
"He can give us the type of goaltending that we need to win."

Assuring Holland that I wasn’t trying to trick him, I told him that I just wanted to know where he’s coming from in regards to his goalie.

"If we were to judge all the Red Wing players that have been through here -- and I’m talking about the very best by the time they were 26 -- a lot of them wouldn’t have accomplished what they have," Holland said. "We would have cleaned them out at 27."

Point well taken, yet Howard’s time is now. Whether he’s 27, 21, 32 or 40, the Red Wings need him to elevate his play. 

If he doesn’t, two years from now, he’ll have a buck or two in his pocket while he’s shopping around for his next team.   


Art Regner Bio: One of Detroit's top sports radio personalities, Art's passion for athletics has made him connect with the fans in a unique way that can be best described as "hardcore," and he's considered one of Motown's "hockey gurus." Regner has been a talk-show host at both of Detroit's sports stations, WDFN AM1130 (1994-2000 & 2007-present) and WXYT AM1270 (2001-2006). During his stint at WXYT, he was a member of the Detroit Red Wings radio network, hosting Red Wings pregame, intermission, and post-game shows. He currently is part of Comcast Television's CCHA coverage. Art has co-authored three books, "What It Means To Be A Wolverine," "What It Means To Be A Red Wing," and "The Great Book of Detroit Sports Lists." In 2000, Art was named Detroit's Top TV and Radio Personality of the Year by the Ann Arbor News.

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