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Abel to Yzerman

Diggers Divided:  The Grigorenko Dilemma

Unfortunately for Kyle Quincey and Brent Sopel, I’d bet Derek Meech ends up staying with the Wings.  Unfortunately for Matt Ellis, Igor Grigorenko was put in a position to turn some heads last night; and he did.  And the minute he scored the shootout game winner, the speculation as to his future was turned up a notch by the Diggers in Detroit and the ones in Russia.


I’ve been saying it for about 24 hours and every quote I read from the OIZ leads me to believe I’m right.  Grigorenko’s going to make the team, and the “get up to NHL speed/pace” process will continue for at least the first month of the regular season. 

“From Day 1 when we started training camp, he has improved. He knows the tempo, the pace of the game … it’s not the European style where you can wait for your chances. Here, you’ve got to jump on them right away. Keep the shift short and high tempo. Slowly, I think he realizes that’s what it takes. And he’s getting used to it too. He’s never played over here before.”

Bruce MacLeod wrangled that one out of Nick Lidstrom and it’s starting to sound familiar.  Strategic communications from the Wings.  Babcock’s said it. So has Holland and now the captain’s on board.  Grigorenko’s “getting better.”  He’s “learning the NHL game.”  He’s been “gradually improving.”  Yep, and he’s making the team.

He’s making the team because if he’s going to learn the subtleties of the league, I’m thinking the Wings feel he can do it in practice, morning skates and maybe most importantly: watching the games if he’s not playing in them.  Khan(!) points out that cracking the lineup isn’t realistic, but sticking around as a 13th forward is.

If he stays, he will only play if there is an injury because the Red Wings are set with their top 12 forwards.

The club must decide if it’s better for Grigorenko to practice with them or play regularly for the Griffins for the first three weeks of the season. If he is not on the NHL roster by Nov. 1, an out-clause in his contract enables him to return to Russia, where he can earn around $1 million, as opposed to about $70,000 in the minors.

That out clause has been the elephant in the room since this whole thing started and don’t think Igor hasn’t been reminded of that by the folks back home.  Green Bay Mike, our A2Y Russian Media Liaison and Interpreter, pulled down an article from Moscow last night.  To Grigorenko’s credit, he was baited more than a few times and stood by his guns with each question.  The kid wants to stay in Detroit, no matter what it will take to eventually end up there.

IL: Maybe it makes sense not to even go to the farm club? It seems that it will be a losing situation for you not only in the hockey sense but also financially. Your salary in the NHL and the Super League will be much greater than in the AHL.

IG: That’s true.  But that will also mean giving up by career in Detroit. And at this time I don’t want to do it.

And it would appear the Wings don’t want to give up on him just yet.  Babcock told anyone who’d listen that Grigorenko will be looked at one more time against Toronto then the Uncles go into a marathon decision session to determine the best course of action.  That decision has to take into account the fact that the month of October is, on paper, the toughest of the season.  Two games against Chicago provide little buffer for the other thirteen against every other Western Conference team the Wings consider threats.  By November third the Wings will have played Anaheim, San Jose, Calgary and Edmonton all twice. 

Will Grigorenko see action against any of them?  Well, I’m betting he’ll be an option and I still don’t think Grand Rapids is a viable consideration. But Grigorenko’s not closing that door either.  Here’s the rest of the interview with Sport Express.


Two days ago Igor Grigorenko was the only rookie to get to play against the Rangers.  Even though the 24-year-old player did not use this chance to show himself, his voice at least was saying that Detroit campaign didn’t disappoint him.

“Thanks for giving me so much attention”, that’s how Grigorenko started the conversation with the correspondent of Sport-Express.

Igor Larin (IL): Well, Igor, that’s understandable. First of all, along with Kovalchuk and Datsyuk you were the leader of the Russian national team. Second, after that horrible crash in Togliatti you were a significant figure for Russian fans. And you ended up in, probably, the most popular in Russia NHL club. How would you evaluate your first three weeks in Detroit?

Igor Grigirenko (IG): I like it here. It was difficult at first without the wife and the daughter, but they flew here a few days ago, and my mood improved right away.

IL: What were you able and unable to demonstrate on the ice?

IG: That’s better determined from the distance. I was able to participate in 5 exhibition games, got 1 point, and I think that I’m making progress. Right away I saw the differences between the Russian and North-American hockey. Here the speed and the density of the game are much higher, and I had to make adjustments. Not going to hide it, it was difficult at first.

IL: Grigorenko is smart, but by the NHL standards is slow, and that’s why in the next few days he’ll have to go to the Detroit’s farm club. That’s the common tone right now in Michigan press.  Care to comment?

IG: You know, I have never had really high speeds.  Even before the accident. That’s why those who saw the second Bure in Grigirenko were wrong.

IL: Your trump card was always the ability to read the game, assist and change the tempo of the game. Does it seem to work in the NHL?

IG: Yes, there were a few cases when few of those things were worked.

IL: Who did you establish the best relationship with in the team?

IG: With the countrymen – Pavel Datsyuk and the masseuse Sergey Chekmarev.  At the same time, there are no groups in the team and I am in good relationships with everybody. As a rookie I was received very well, even by veterans.

IL: What would you say about Coach Babcock? Some people say that he resembles your favorite Russian coach Vladimir Pluschev.

IG: No, there isn’t much resemblance. Babcock pays a lot of attention to the tactics; I visit him all the time for talks face-to-face. Well, not really face-to-face: every time I am accompanied by Pavel Datsyuk to translate.

IL: What are you discussing?

IG: Mainly we watch videos of various game moments. Babcock explains how to act in certain situations.

IL: What are Babcock’s remarks?

IG: He says that I am not working enough with my legs. In other words, in certain situations I am trying to get the edge not through skating but working with a stick. And it’s very easy to get a penalty in this case in the NHL. But all in all, I was received very well here by coaches and players.

IL: I am going to ask a few questions and some of them may not seem very appropriate. You are saying that you are being given every opportunity to succeed. And yet, you haven’t played on the same line with your national team partner Pavel Datsyuk. How would you explain it? Why doesn’t the team try to help the rookie, and create the pair that already worked quite well?

IG: Of course, I would like to play with Datsyuk. And without doubt it would have been easier for me to show myself on the same line with him. However, the lines are determined by the coaching staff and not players. Besides, in Detroit all lines are stable and played well together in the past. I really don’t have an answer to your question.

IL: There was also some information that you won’t be playing for the farm club. Is that true?

IG: Not quite. I am not thinking about the farm club now, as all my thoughts are about doing everything to stay in the main team. But if the decision is made to send me to the farm club, I will of course go along with it. I presume that 1-2 weeks in the AHL aren’t going to hurt, as I will have more time to adjust to the local hockey style. But it makes sense to talk only about 14 days maximum – I am not going to spend the whole season there!

IL: According to some information, there is a clause in your contract with Detroit that allows for the contract to be automatically revoked after you spend 30 days in the farm club…

IG: That’s not exactly the case. To be precise, I may free myself from the obligations to the team only after November 1. And only if I am still in the AHL by that date.

IL: In other words, “Salavat” with which you signed the insurance contract shouldn’t expect you before November 1?

IG: I suppose so. I hope I am still remembered in Ufa (laughing). I think that “Salavat” is the main favorite to win the championship in the Super League, and I very much want to help this strong team.

IL: Are you getting any phone calls from Ufa inquiring about your situation?

IG: Before I left for Detroit we agreed to keep in touch. And, thanks to “Salavat” we do stay in touch.

IL: Maybe it makes sense not to even go to the farm club? It seems that it will be a losing situation for you not only in the hockey sense but also financially. Your salary in the NHL and the Super League will be much greater than in the AHL.

IG: That’s true.  But that will also mean giving up by career in Detroit. And at this time I don’t want to do it.




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About Abel to Yzerman

Welcome to Abel to Yzerman, a Red Wing blog since 1977.  No other site on the internet has better-researched, fact-laden and better prepared discussions than A2Y.  Re-phrase: we do little research, find facts and stats highly overrated and claim little to no preparation.  There are 19 readers of A2Y. No more, no less. All of them, except maybe one, are juvenile in nature.  Reminding them of that in the comment section will only encourage them to prove that. Your suggestions and critiques are welcome: wphoulihan@gmail.com