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Wings, goalie Howard close to new deal

DETROIT (AP) - The Red Wings and goaltender Jimmy Howard are near an agreement that would keep him off the free-agent market this summer.

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``It's really, really close,'' Howard said Thursday.

Added Detroit general manager Ken Holland: ``We're close, but it's not a done deal.''

Howard is in the second season of a two-year, $4.5 million deal. Detroit drafted him in the second round of the 2003 NHL draft and he'll probably be under contract for the rest of this decade 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.

``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 said anytime is a good time to sign a new deal, but he insists his priorities at the moment are elsewhere.

``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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