The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/28/12 at 07:35 AM ET
The Red Wings face something of a crossroads in terms of their goaltending prospects this summer. The Wings appear to be willing to put their faith in Jimmy Howard and, most likely, Joey MacDonald, whose $550,000 cap hit (per Capgeek.com) and ability to thrive on a limited workload essentially won him the back-up’s position. MacDonald told the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan that his back is improving on Friday, and while the unrestricted free agent marketplace in terms of back-up goaltending might be the only “deep pool” the Wings could draw from this summer, we all know how willing the Marty Turcos and Ray Emerys of the world were to join the Wings and know they were only going to play 20-30 games behind an established Jimmy Howard last summer.
Going forward, despite pundits’ suggestions to the contrary, the Wings’ brass believes that Jimmy Howard can deliver 35-plus regular season wins and dominant play in the playoffs, but Howard’s would-be future back-ups and potential successors haven’t exactly dazzled in terms of promise(or depth), with perhaps one exception. That player’s season ended on Friday night, though it wasn’t for a lack of trying on his part.
Petr Mrazek’s Ottawa 67’s were bounced from the OHL playoffs by the Niagara IceDogs on Friday, losing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals 4 games to 1 against a far superior offensive machine in Niagara. Mrazek stopped 37 of the 40 shots he faced on Friday, but the 67’s lost 3-2, ending Mrazek’s junior career. Mrazek finished his playoff run with a 2.56 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage over 17 games played, and in the 67’s-IceDogs series alone, he faced a stunning 182 shots over the 4 games he played in (he missed one game due to an illness), stopping 169 of them (that’s a .928 save percentage and a goals-against average of 3.25 on an average of 45.5 shots per game).
The Ottawa Citizen’s Don Campbell summarizes the remarkable odds the 67’s faced in tangling with the powerhouse IceDogs in his recap (the Ottawa Sun’s Aedan Helmer provides a recap and 9-image photo gallery from the game as well, and the OHL’s website posted a 3:30 highlight clip from the game):
Make no mistake, with one quarter of this year’s Canadian junior team roster in their lineup, not to mention the dozen NHL draft picks, the IceDogs are the better team. It’s just they might not have enough toughness and speed on defence to get past the London Knights in the OHL final for the first trip by a St. Catharines team to the Memorial Cup in 38 years.
Ottawa just didn’t have the depth either up front or on the blue-line to get the job done.
“(Niagara) is a very good team,” said 67’s head coach Chris Byrne. “Our guys who play well regularly played well, and some guys really stepped up. Petr (Mrazek) was very good … and guys like Grao (Tyler Graovac), Janes, Cardwell and (Cody) Ceci, they really played well.”
So Mrazek moves on after a superb junior career (his stats are a little high because he faced an incredibly high workload in terms of shots faced throughout his tenure with Ottawa) and eye-opening play at the World Junior Championships for the Czech Republic, but as you and I watch the 6’5” Pekka Rinne and 6’3” Mike Smith tangle in the second round, the Wings’ best goalie prospect is listed at 6’1” and a generous 184 pounds, and Howard and MacDonald are both 6 feet tall, though Howard’s a big body with a big torso at 217 pounds.
Thanks to Daniel Larsson’s decision to head back to Sweden (he’s going to join AIK Skelleftea this summer after two seasons with HV71 Jonkoping), the Wings have been hoping that Thomas McCollum (6’2” and 215 lbs) and Jordan Pearce (6’1,” 195 lbs) would develop into elite netminding prospects, but neither player has been able to establish any consistency with the Grand Rapids Griffins or ECHL’s Toledo Walleye over the past two seasons, yielding the importing of Joey MacDonald and then Ty Conklin’s demotion to attempt to make what were ultimately unsuccessful playoff pushes.
With Mrazek joining the equation and the Wings likely to sign a veteran AHL back-up to spell Howard and MacDonald given McCollum and Pearce’s struggles, it seems likely that Mrazek will start out in the ECHL (as the Wings split their ECHL affiliation with the Blackhawks, they can only send one goalie down to Toledo), but the Wings have to make a decision between McCollum and Pearce, and it’s highly likely that they’re going to want to salvage a 1st-round pick who’s only 22 over the 24-year-old Pearce.
Detroit goalie coach Jim Bedard has worked extensively with McCollum, who’s had to battle past his tendency to play a little too deep in his net and rely on his reflexes and quickness over big surface area—like Howard, McCollum’s got a huge torso and long arms, so he isn’t called Bullwinkle because of a low IQ or something—and McCollum, like Howard before him, has had an incredibly difficult time trying to process the lessons Bedard’s taught him while allowing himself to just react and play instead of over-thinking and getting angry when he gives up a softy or two.
That’s it for the Wings’ goaltending prospect pipeline, however, so it’s highly likely that Detroit will select a goalie or two at the Entry Draft in June, and it’s worth noting that, given the trend toward over-sized goalies at the NHL level, the Wings brought 6’4,” 225-lb goalie Ramis Sadikov to their prospect tournament and part of their main camp, and dressed him as a back-up in Grand Rapids on occasion.
Watching the vast majority of the NHL’s teams draft goalies Howard’s size and declare them to be ‘‘small,” I’ve got to wonder aloud whether the Hakan Andersson’s tried to find a 6’6” kid somewhere in the backwoods of Sweden, and I guess I can say that going forward, the Wings won’t just be known as a team that’s trended toward “undersized” forwards and defensemen.
I will say this, however—for a goalie who’s probably more along the lines of 6 feet tall and maybe 175 pounds, Mrazek does what Bedard preaches in getting to the top of his crease and attempting to maximize his size by aggressively challenging shooters and staying square to the puck, however (pretty much the polar opposite of Larsson, who headed back to Sweden in part because he found the Wings’ insistence that he not play far back in the net because he was rake-skinny maddening and nonsensical), so there’s something to be said for “big” being a state of mind.
Sticking with prospects (sorry, the title’s deceptive), albeit in a very roughly translated way, Tomas Tatar registered two assists in a 5-4 loss to Norway as the Slovak national team warms up for the World Championships (they start on May 2nd), and Tatar spoke to SME.sk’s Thomas Prokop, saying that he felt a little slow on 100-foot-wide ice, and SITA, promising that he’s going to skate better in the Slovaks’ next exhibition game.
It’s a big year for Tatar, who will likely graduate to the Wings’ roster either sometime over the course of the 2012-2013 season (assuming that the Wings keep Nyquist on the main roster and sign a free agent top-six forward) or in 2013-2014, so the Wings want to see him play strongly at the Worlds.
Also regarding the World Championships, you can imagine that Niklas Kronwall’s brother Staffan (who will play for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s follow-on team in the fall) told the Swedish news agency TT that he’s delighted that his brother will be taking part in the Worlds, and Team Sweden coach Per Marts told Expressen’s Henrik Sjoberg that he’s highly likely to pair Kronwall with Jonathan Ericsson and play Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen on the same line…
But he responded to a leading question from Sjoberg regarding the team’s captain by suggesting that Henrik Zetterberg’s a candidate as he’s smart and a hard worker, but Marts wouldn’t suggest that Zetterberg will wear the captain’s “C” just yet. The Wings’ Swedes will jet across the Atlantic to join their countrymen on Sunday.
Shifting focus to the big club, the Free Press’s Helene St. James reports good news on the Patrick Eaves front. Eaves, who St. James reminds us was ironically concussed while blocking a shot from Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi, says that he’s finally skating and is slowly but surely recovering in anticipation of being fully healthy in September…
“I was able to skate a couple of times with the Black Aces,” Eaves said, referring to the group of players the team carries as reserves during the playoffs. “But not full practice yet. I still have a ways to go.”
“I’m having less and less headaches,” he said. “I’m able to work out a little bit harder. I just have to stay with it. I’m very confident I’ll be ready. We have some time here where I can recover, keep getting treatment. Should be good to go.”
The Wings count on Eaves for his speed and energy, and he’s a regular on the penalty kill. After producing at least 12 goals in each of the previous two seasons, he was rewarded with a three-year, $3.6-million contract last summer.
It’s not unusual for players to miss significant time with concussions. Boston’s Patrice Bergeron and former Wings defenseman Andreas Lilja were sidelined for a year. Penguins star Sidney Crosby missed most of this season because of a concussion. Players basically are unable to do much activity until headaches subside. Eaves said he’s now able to ride the bike for conditioning, and is just starting to walk a little bit on treadmills. “Baby steps, every day,” he said.
And Eaves told St. James that he’s got a full house now, with two human children and a gigantic baby in tow:
In that, he’s got company: He and his wife, Katie, welcomed baby Della on March 23. Eaves lauded his wife for being pregnant and taking care of their 20-month old, Norah, and him all at the same time. Not to mention their 130-pound Newfoundland, Rueben.
“She’s a saint,” Eaves said. “She took care of all of us and the dog. She’s been fantastic.”
In the “Things We Hope Won’t Happen Just Yet” category, from the Hockey News’s Ken Campbell:
Depending on what happens over the summer, it will make for an interesting Hall of Fame induction class in 2015. If it’s indeed the case that Nicklas Lidstrom and Daniel Alfredsson have played their last NHL games, it could be the first time we see an all-European induction class.
Lidstrom is, of course, a slam-dunk. So is Teemu Selanne if he decides to finally retire after this season. Alfredsson is a borderline Hall of Famer and if he gets in, will be the first player from the modern-day Ottawa Senators to get the call. Your trusty correspondent would not put Alfredsson in the Hall of Fame, nor Mats Sundin when he comes up for induction this summer, but both players will undoubtedly get serious consideration.
(Both Sundin and Alfredsson are very good players who have had very good careers. But in my opinion, the Hall of Fame should be reserved for truly great players and, no offense, but neither Sundin nor Alfredsson meets that criteria.)
So if Martin Brodeur does not retire after this season, that could set things up for three Europeans to be inducted in 2015. And perhaps if the Hall of Fame’s selection committee ever gets over the bias it has against Pavel Bure, it could see fit to make 2015 an all-European induction ceremony.
If that were to transpire, they would join the ranks of the seven European-born-and-trained players who are currently in the Hall of Fame, along with possibly Sundin this summer and certainly Peter Forsberg in 2014.
Regarding my devil’s advocate take regarding kinda sorta milking Johan Franzen’s comments to MLive’s Ansar Khan about the Wings losing their “mojo” via a lack of self-confidence and perhaps looseness and enjoyment of the game down the stretch, many of you have reacted negatively to my suggestions, and all I can say is this: I don’t think that the only reason the Wings lost to the Predators was because they weren’t having fun—as many of you have stated, the Wings’ special teams play was terrible all season long, and never really got its act together; the Wings’ catastrophic defensive errors had nothing to do with the absences of Rafalski, Draper or Osgood, nor did the team’s inability to score on Rinne; as some of you have suggested, the fact that the Wings never really developed a dislike for the Predators may have been the real x-factor in the equation, because the Wings were out-competed by a wide margin in no small part due to the team’s inability or unwillingness to engage physically or get down and dirty in the trenches or in front of Rinne; and no, of course Franzen’s insightful comments do not excuse his performance.
The Wings are going to hold onto Franzen because a) they can’t get rid of him because his $3.95 million cap hit belies a real-world salary of $5.25 million next season and $5 million over the three subsequent seasons, thus negating his trade value, especially with CBA uncertainty ruling the day; b) because the team doesn’t necessarily have a bunch of “natural” goal-scorers, even if Franzen tends to disappoint because he’s neither a power forward nor a consistent scorer; and c) the Wings still believe that their leading goal-scorer during the regular season can put together a 35-goal season and a dominant playoff run.
Especially given his performance against Nashville, I understand why many of you want him gone, but the Horse’s Ass will stick around just like Ericsson will stick around. I still think that we’re looking at, as Khan suggested, the Wings trying to add a goal-scoring forward, a top-pair defenseman and a big body for their fourth line, but aside from probably saying goodbye to Tomas Holmstrom, possibly losing Jiri Hudler to free agency and crossing their fingers about Nicklas Lidstrom’s return, the Wings just aren’t going to make many changes.
I don’t know if Holland will ride out the CBA negotiations and try to predate on buy-outs if the cap drops to the point that buy-outs are necessary—we’ll have to find out what happens when the Chairman and the NHLPA sit down in June, and I get the feeling that GM’s are going to operate based upon not only the temporary cap figure that the NHL gives them at the Entry Draft, but also inform GM’s of the ramifications of their behavior in July come September or October.
Also of Red Wings-related note: The Red Wings Alumni Association’s resident photographer, Michael S. Dore, posted a fantastic gallery of the Wings Alums’ game against the Well Church in Brighton last Saturday;
• If it matters, the Toledo Blade’s Brian Dugger spoke to that idiot who was wearing a, “Bertuzzi is a Sissy” t-shirt in Nashville a week ago…
If any Red Wings fans ventured to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville for the start of the Red Wings-Predators playoff series earlier this month, they may have noticed one particularly rowdy Predators fan—the one in the front row behind one of the goals wearing a “Bertuzzi is a Sissy” shirt and yelling at Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi and his teammates. He was probably also unloading on the referees. Maybe you even heard him mention that he was celebrating his 55th birthday and that he probably should be a little more mature.
If you did see that guy, and you weren’t a country music fan, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that it was Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill.
“I can assure you Todd Bertuzzi is anything but a sissy,” Gill says, laughing and trying to defend himself. “I love yelling at the boys, and giving them the business. Last year, Bertuzzi skated down in the corner, during some scrum. He looked at me, put both hands up and said, ‘Come on out.’ I started laughing and said, ‘I can’t skate.’ He called me out on the ice. We kept it up this year.”
• And I’m sorry about the grades coming along slowly. I haven’t slept at night much at all lately, so insomnia and lingering depression have left me less than feeling up to the task.
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About The Malik Report
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.