Jimmy Howard: Can He Avoid The Sophomore Curse???

May 12th, 2010 No Comments

Over the past few seasons several goaltenders have emerged as monster talents in their rookie year only to see it all fall apart in their sophomore season.

In 2007-08 Nashville Predators goaltender Dan Ellis posted a 23-10-3 record with a 2.34 goals against average and a .924 save percentage.

The following season (2008-09/his sophomore year) Ellis struggled, going a paltry 11-19-4 with a 2.93 GAA and a .900 Save percentage.

That very same year, Pekka Rinne, another Nashville Predators goaltender, emerged as a “money” goalie, posting a 29-15-4 record with a 2.38 GAA and a .917 save percentage.

Rinne followed up his 2008-09 season with a solid 32-16-5 record with a 2.53 GAA and a .911 save percentage, which, given his numbers, was a very successful sophomore season.

In 2008-09 Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason took the NHL by storm posting a 33-20-7 record with ten shutouts, a 2.29 GAA and a very respectable .916 save percentage.

Mason struggled in his sophomore campaign, posting a 20-26-9 record to go along with a lofty 3.05 GAA and a less than spectacular .901 save percentage.

As outlined by my Ellis, Rinne and Mason examples, rookie goaltenders often go one of two ways, they fall flat on their faces, or, as Rinne did in his sophomore season, you land solidly on your feet.

This season the Detroit Red Wings chose to move on from what they knew (Chris Osgood) in favor of finally putting their trust in rookie goaltender Jimmy Howard.

The experiment was successes as Howard posted a very respectable 37-15-10 record with a 2.26 GAA and a .924 save percentage.

Howard followed up his regular season effort with a solid performance in the playoffs, going 5-7 with a 2.75 GAA and a .910 save percentage. If not for a few bad goals and a little bit better luck, one could have envisioned Howard leading the Red Wings to the Western Conference Finals and, perhaps, the Stanley Cup.

Needless to say, given Howard’s overall performance, it appears as if Chris Osgood’s days as a Red Wing are numbered, or at least his playing time will be.

Unlike Ellis, Rinne and Mason before him, Howard spent numerous seasons developing in the American Hockey League as a member of the Red Wings AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins.

That said, make no mistake about it, Howard is, by the NHL’s definition, a rookie and, as such, will have to endure the doubt that comes with the dreaded sophomore curse that many NHL rookie goalies go through.

The question is; will Howard land on his feet as Rinne did, or will he take a step backwards, as was the case with Ellis and Mason before him?

Unfortunately, none of us have a crystal ball, well, the Bleacher Reports Detroit Red Wings Featured Columnist Matt Hutter does, but it appeared to be dysfunctional at times, especially when predicting the Wings would win game five against the San Jose Sharks! (Sorry Mr. Hutter)…

Given his pedigree, overall talent and numbers and maturity it appears as if Howard will be the Red Wings goaltender for the foreseeable future. It also appears as if Howard is in the NHL to stay and, as such, should have a successful sophomore season.

Also working in Howard’s favor is the fact that the Red Wings are riddled with veterans at forward and on defense, which should serve him well going forward.

With little in the way of replacements for Howard in the minor leagues and with Chris Osgood looking more and more like a backup, the Red Wings will need to address Howard’s Unrestricted Free Agent status at the end of the 2010-11 season.

Clearly, Howard can expect a big raise from the paltry $750,000 he made this season and $800,000 he is scheduled to make in 2010-11. More likely, the Red Wings will offer an extension to Howard this summer, avoiding free agency and giving the Howard the confidence to play with a nice chunk of change in the bank.

Is it possible the Red Wings may opt to let Howard play out the season on his $800,000 salary? Perhaps. With big money contracts comes big pressure to perform, so there is the possibility the Wings decide to let Howard earn his contract next season.

Either way, big contract or no big contract, Howard will have plenty to contend with, not the least of which is the sophomore curse!

For the Red Wings sake, let’s hope Howard is more “Rinne” than “Mason”…Lets face it, the Red Wings are in big trouble if Howard flops!

Until next time,

Peace!

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