– Jimmy Howard
has enjoyed an incredible rookie season, and the numbers speak for themselves – 35 wins, a .923 save percentage with a 2.31 goals-against average.
But there’s one number that has one particular national Web columnist playing the age card.
ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun asserts that Howard is too old to win the Calder Trophy. Forget what Howard has meant to the Red Wings’ success this season, especially since the Olympic break when the team surged into the Western Conference playoff picture.
LeBrun points to the fact that Howard, who turned 26-years-old last month, is four years older than Sidney Crosby, who is in his fifth NHL season, and that he’s five years older than Patrick Kane, the 2008 Calder winner.
Twenty years ago – after Sergei Makarov became a 32-year-old Calder winner in Calgary – specific eligibility guidelines were assessed to Calder balloting by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. To be nominated, a player must not reach their 26th birthday by September 15 of the season, which he is eligible.
“I look at it this way,” Howard said. “A rookie is a rookie, no matter the age or not. If that’s his thinking, he’s one person and I really don’t care. I would have loved to have broken into the NHL before I did.
Since Roger Crozier win the Calder in 1965 – the last time a Red Wings’ goalie won it – nine goalies have received the rookie award. Of those, four had already turned 25 or older – Chicago’s Tony Esposito (27), Montreal’s Ken Dryden (25), Chicago’s Ed Belfour (26) and San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov.
Many of Howard’s Detroit teammates don’t believe his age should be a criteria for voters.
“It’s harder to be a starting goalie in the NHL if you’re the age of 21 or 22,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom
said. “Not too many guys come in and do that. There are really only a few guys, here or there, that can do it. It’s not an easy position. It takes a goalie a while to really get themselves comfortable and situated in the NHL.”
Howard’s body of work in the final month of the regular-season has been phenomenal. He was named the NHL’s rookie of the month in March and the league’s Second Star of the month, as well as the Second Star of the Week ending March 28.
“There’s been a lot of times this year that we needed him, especially when we were struggling to find a rhythm,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall
said. “He was always there, giving us a chance to win, regardless of the way that we played.”
One such obvious win came in Nashville in March when Howard earned his second shutout of the season in a 1-0 victory that took 11 shootout rounds to decide.
“With him being 26,” Kronwall said, “I don’t think that should count towards him being too old. He’s a rookie just like the other guys.”
LeBrun suggests that Buffalo’s 6-foot-8 defenseman Tyler Myers should be crowned rookie of the year, writing that “what he’s done patrolling the blue line for the Buffalo Sabres has been truly outstanding. Among all his defensive talents, he’s third in rookie scoring, trailing only forwards Matt Duchene and John Tavares.”
Howard’s coach believes that age should be a factor when considering the league’s top rookie. Columbus goalie Steve Mason won the award last season with 33 wins, a .916 save percentage, a 2.29 goals-against and 10 shutouts. Besides the shutouts, Howard’s wins and save percentage are better.
“They changed the Calder when Makorov came over and won it,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “So lets talk about the (Tyler) Myers kid, who is 20, compared to a 26-year-old. It’s a big difference. Yet, Howie has had an unbelievable year. Last year the rookie of the year was Mason, right? And Howie has won more games than Mason, right? Does he have better numbers than Mason did? Save percentage, goals-against numbers. We have to know all of them, but Mason had just come in at 20. I don’t know that answer. You guys decide.”
Since Makorov, only four 20-year-olds – Mason (2009), Kane (2008), Sergei Samsonov (1998) and Bryan Berard (1997) – have won the Calder. But Howard has at least one of them in his corner for the award.
“It’s a tough subject,” Mason said. “Obviously, Jimmy is having a great year. You can’t deny that. Does age come into affect when you’re looking at Tyler Myers, who is 20-years-old and there’s a six-year age gap there and six more years experience? It is tough, but I think Jimmy would have my vote, just obviously being a goaltender and knowing what it takes to play night in and night out, I think it’s definitely not easy and he’s done very well.”