The Malik Report
by George Malik on 08/03/12 at 05:55 AM ET
Between this Saturday’s charity baseball game held by Red Wings Alumni Association president Joey Kocur, the Plymouth Whalers’ alumni game that’s also benefiting Gleaners on Saturday, a trio of Swedish charity hockey games first involving Niklas Kronwall Jonathan Ericsson and Gustav Nyquist, and then Henrik Zetterberg and a smorgasbord of NHL stars, and the simple fact that Russian hockey teams are already skating in exhibition games and Swedish teams are taking to the ice for training camp, one gets the feeling that NHL hockey—the CBA gods willing—isn’t that far off anymore.
Despite the rather hideously hot weather that awaits me when I head back “downstate” on Saturday, Thursday’s news that four of the Russian Five will take part in the Winter Classic Alumni Showdown(s) (five if Slava Kozlov, who is currently without a KHL team, can’t find a job somewhere) didn’t necessarily seem like it was depicting an event to be held four months from now…
And while Ken Holland will remain on this side of the Atlantic for now, SME.sk reminded me that the Wings’ scouts will be heading to the Ivan Hlinka memorial tournament to watch next yea…I mean this year’s potential draft picks impress, with the American and Canadian World Junior evaluation camps slated for the middle of the month and the Canada-Russia challenge slated to take place at the end of the month.
But everything regarding the Red Wings, including the team’s annual prospect tournament, depends on the course of CBA negotiations, so while Iltahleti reports that Valtteri Filppula may have been the first Wings player to take to the ice as the rest of his teammates will over the next week or two, skating alongside Teemu Selanne, Ville Leino, Tuomo Ruutu, Mikael Granlund and Filppula’s one-time idol in Selanne (the links go to videos that Yoopernet can’t seem to handle loading, so you can surprise me and tell me what Filppula had to say), it should be noted that (albeit in Google-translated Finnish), Selanne took a hard swipe at Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold for dropping $196 million on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter before entering CBA negotiations hoping that his new employees would give back almost a quarter of their wages, as he told Iltahleti’s Kimo Vainikainen:
“It’s a completely incomprehensible contradiction,” Said to Iltahleti.
If the NHL and NHLPA can’t reach an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement in time, the threat of a lockout and a shortened NHL season is in the cards. In the worst case, the season could be canceled altogether. The lockout would be a big disappointment for Selanne.
“The NHL can’t afford it. The NBA might be able to, but not the NHL.”
On that particularly cheery note, I more or less covered the vast majority of Thursday’s news in the afternoon report, but as I’m not going to be readily available today (beach day and then packing packing packing), I’ll leave you in Paul’s capable hands after discussing what might be an unknown quantity going forward.
The Free Press’s Helene St. James discussed Niklas Kronwall’s importance to the team this season given his status as the team’s #1 defenseman, and today, she focuses on Danny Cleary, who should be able to recover from some pretty extensive knee surgery to return to form as a top-six forward…
Assuming that his recovery has gone well and that there are no setbacks during training camp or the exhibition season. Given the discussion of degenerative arthritis in his left knee, those of us who are familiar with someone who has yet to commit to showing up at the alumni game in one Steve Yzerman aren’t quite sure if the bone-on-bone grinding that his Baker’s cyst eventually led to mean that the clock’s ticking down on the 33-year-old’s productive days as an NHL’er, and the orthopedists in the crowd suggested just that.
Given the Wings’ inability to land a top-six forward—thus far—via free agency and/or a trade, Cleary’s going to be under pressure to perform up to previous seasons’ par if he is to remain a Wing over the long haul:
Looking at numbers: 12 goals, 21 assists, 33 points, plus-2 in 75 games in 2011-12.
Looking at money: Will make $3 million in 2012-13 as he enters the last season of a five-year, $14-million deal.
Looking back: Cleary only missing seven games last season says something about his ability to play through pain. He went from a rib injury sustained during exhibition season to a left knee injury that got so bad the knee had to be regularly drained of fluid. In hindsight, Cleary said he’d have had the surgery he had in May back in December or January, but at the time, team doctors considered it unnecessary.
After starting the season on a line with Pavel Datsyuk, Cleary’s inability to skate as well as he can eventually left him on the third line and off the power play. His dozen goals were 14 fewer than he had reached in 68 games in 2010-11, and his 33 points overall were the lowest since he first joined the Wings in 2005-06. He got a boost from an anti-inflammatory before the playoffs, which helped with the skating, but he had no points in five games.
Looking ahead: Cleary is one of the team’s most versatile forwards. He’s a strong skater, physical, responsible in his own zone and loves to shoot the puck. He’s a three-time 20-plus-goal scorer. His punishing style of play has taken a toll on his body, but if he returns healthy—and indications are he will—Cleary stands to regain a spot in the top six group. At the very least, he’ll increase the competition to be in the mix, pushing Mikael Samuelsson and Todd Bertuzzi, and maybe youngsters Gustav Nyquist and Damien Brunner. At worst, Cleary will be on the third line with Darren Helm at center, which will have the potential to be one of the best checking lines in the league.
Cleary is a hard worker and takes a lot of pride in being a leader. Look for him to rebound next season—and, of course, it never really hurts a team when a player is in the last year of a contract and eager to get an extension.
The Wings are counting on Mikael Samuelsson to more or less make up Jiri Hudler’s 25 goals and 50 points, but with Tomas Holmstrom likely to retire and take his 11 goals, 24 points and net-front presence with him, the Wings will need Cleary and the team’s other outstanding question mark in Justin Abdelkader (Abdelkader and Jordan Pearce are the team’s only remaining RFA’s) to provide both more points and some fearlessness while screening opposing goaltenders, especially on the power play.
At perhaps the other end of the “redemptive” spectrum, the Wings’ signings of Samuelsson, Damien Brunner and Jordin Tootoo give the Wings a bulging corps of sixteen forwards, and with Patrick Eaves probably returning to form (cross your fingers?), Gustav Nyquist displaying some serious playmaking chops and the team seemingly intent on seeing what Brunner can do at the NHL level, it appears that the clock may have ran out upon hardworking Cory Emmerton and a player who never really got a fair NHL shake in Jan Mursak.
Given Mursak’s less-than-half-season’s worth of play, as DetroitRedWings.com’s Zack Crawford suggests, Mursak’s stats were solid…
2: Had an assist in two of his first three games with the Wings after recovering from a fractured ankle that sidelined him for the first three months of the regular-season.
1: Scored his only goal of the season in the third period of a 5-2 victory over Columbus on Feb. 28.
11: In 25 regular-season games this year, he blocked 11 shots. His average of .44 shots blocked per game ties for third highest on the team among forwards.
21: Number of hits the forward delivered to opposing players this season.
0: Among Red Wings players who played in 25 or more games during the 2011-12 season, he was the only one to finish the season without receiving a single penalty.
But training camp and the exhibition season—whenever they’re held—will determine whether the AHL-eligible Brunner and Nyquist will be sent down, or whether Emmerton and/or Mursak will be sent packing.
In that regard, I’ll be packed up and ready to make the 400-plus mile trek back to South Lyon by tomorrow at this time, but for now, I’m heading to bed and will hope to get one last “beach day” in before stuffing the Pacifica to the gills on Friday night. I will check in as I am able, but today and tomorrow, due to the whole “drive home and unpack when it’s supposed to be pouring down rain” factors, mean that my availability will be incredibly limited.
If you want a downer, I suggest that you read the New York Daily News’s Pat Leonard’s late Thursday evening take on the state of CBA negotiations, and if you want to enjoy yourself and get into a more enjoyable narrative, I suggest that you take a gander at Stevie Roxelle’s latest edition of Biscuit Fox, which she’s updating on Mondays and Thursdays now.
As for me, I’ll be hoping to not run into the deer that stared me and the mom down all of 60 feet from our cabin’s front porch last night, and I’ll be hoping that the bear that’s supposed to be devouring bird feeders a quarter mile up the road is still enjoying his summertime status as an ominvore. It’s gonna be a wee bit weird to go back to the heat, humidity and acute infestations of my fellow Fudgies, but I can honestly say that I’m ending a week up here with almost two dozen of my closest family members wishing I had another week to go. That’s a good sign if ever there was one regarding the onward viability of a family vacation—as is the mother person’s news that next year, we’re staying for two weeks, not one. Who knows, maybe I’ll even take a full day off from blogging or something next time around.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.