DETROIT (AP) - The Detroit Red Wings and goaltender Jimmy Howard are nearing an agreement on a six-year deal that would keep him off the market as a free agent this summer and put him under contract with the franchise for much of the decade.
``It's really, really close,'' Howard said Thursday morning.
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland agreed.
``We're close, but it's not a done deal,'' Holland said.
Howard is in the second season of a two-year, $4.5 million deal. He'll make much money in what is expected to be a long-term deal. Detroit drafted him in the second round of the 2003 NHL draft and soon, he'll probably be under contract for a long time with the storied franchise.
``It definitely means a lot,'' Howard said.
Howard said negotiations aren't a distraction because he went through similar talks during the 2010-11 season and knows what to expect.
``It's not something that gets done overnight,'' he said. ``You just have to just take care of your job and everything will happen.''
The 29-year-old Howard is the first goalie in franchise history to win at least 35 games in each of his first three full seasons.
Detroit is clinging to eighth place in the Western Conference and is hoping to close the season well enough to make a 22nd straight postseason appearance.
Howard made 28 saves in a 3-2 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night, giving the Red Wings a two-point lead over the ninth-place Phoenix Coyotes.
About 12 hours earlier in the day, Howard said anytime is a good time to sign a new deal, but insisted and reiterated that they're not a priority.
``Right now, the focus is getting in the playoffs,'' he said.
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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage

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