For Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, the excitement of being at his first NASCAR race on Sunday will be as tantalizing as seeing what his team’s general manager does when the NHL’s free agency period opens next month.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Howard, about attending the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway, where he will give the command of, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
Accompanied by his dad, James, Sunday’s race was made ever more special since the two got to spend it together on Father’s Day.
“The fathers trip is always a great time, you get to spent some time with your son and see what he goes through every day and how he prepares,” said the senior Howard, referring to the Wings’ annual father-and-son road trip. “He and I don’t get to spend that much time together alone, so this is been great, really rewarding. I figure it’s been about seven or eight years since we’ve been able to do something like this.”
It’s also been a very long time since the Wings last played the role of big spenders in free agency.
There has been plenty of speculation in the media and amongst fans that the Wings will try to land one, or both, of this year’s top unrestricted free agents – center Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter.
Certainly, the offseason losses of defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom, who announced his retirement after 20 seasons, and Brad Stuart, whose rights were traded to San Jose, general manager Ken Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill has their hands full this summer.
But as intrigued as Howard is to find out what new faces may join him and his teammates on next season’s roster, the Wings’ goalie said he isn’t the lobbying kind.
“I don’t feel like it’s up to somebody making phone calls,” said Howard, about calling UFAs to convince them to come to Detroit. “If they want to be a Red Wing, they will be. That’s Kenny and Jim Nill’s department.
“There is that sort of, ‘What’s going on?’ in everyone’s mind. We’ll see what happens July 1. It’s the first time in a long time that the Wings have been able to go out in the open market like this.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose