The Red Wings have always valued experience. And certainly, as the team gets ready for the puck to drop on this lockout-shortened regular season Saturday night in St. Louis, there is considerable value in the experience goaltender Jimmy Howard provides. But what's he worth beyond that, really? That's a question Howard undoubtedly will try to answer in the coming months, even as he steadfastly refuses to entertain it in his own mind. Howard, in the back half of a two-year, $4.5 million contract extension he signed in February 2011, begins his fourth full season as starter as the NHL's 27th-highest-paid goalie. And a pending free agent next summer. But before you wonder about what his future holds, he'll remind you that it doesn't do him any good to do the same. In fact, as he discovered a couple years ago, it's generally a bad idea to let business interfere with, well, business. "You want to go out there and prove yourself," said Howard, 28, who earned his first NHL All-Star honor last season, leading the league in wins at the break. "But especially in a contract year, I think guys have a tendency to overdo it. And that's what I learned last time, is to just keep everything in check." So when it comes to paychecks, he'll simply say what he has maintained all along — "This is where I want to be," he said Monday — and then focus on what really matters: Stopping pucks, while ignoring everything else in front of him. "I think it's just a learning experience, what I went through last time," Howard said. "It can creep up on you. When you're constantly thinking about it, you've just got to brush it aside, go out and do your job and know that everything will fall into place." Ups and downs After a terrific 2009-10 debut as a starter — Howard was runner-up for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie — he endured a sophomore slump. Playing out his entry-level rookie contract, Howard struggled to find his groove for much of the winter and finished with pedestrian numbers: a 2.79 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. But after finally agreeing to the two-year extension that February — not long after he learned his wife Rachel was pregnant with their first child — Howard rebounded with a solid showing in the spring. He posted a 2.49 GAA and .923 save percentage in the playoffs, helping the Wings sweep Phoenix and then rally from a 3-0 series deficit to force San Jose to a Game 7 in the Western Conference semifinals. From The Detroit News: