The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/24/12 at 06:09 AM ET
At 11 AM today, at Joe Louis Arena, we’ll finally start to get some answers as to what contributed to the Detroit Red Wings’ earliest playoff ouster since 2006 from the players themselves, and while this only represents the start of the Wings organization’s self-assessment and postmortem, if you will—the players will undergo physicals and exit interviews with the coaches and management, and then the coaching staff, management, pro and amateur scouts will engage in slates of meetings to determine the team’s off-season strategies in terms of their plans for the Entry Draft, re-signing unrestricted and restricted free agents (and prospects), possible trade acquisitions and, of course, free agent targets, so by the time the team finally determines what the hell went wrong and how the team will try to learn from its mistakes and improve over the short and long term…
The Red Wings’ World Championship participants, whose ranks now include Team USA’s Jimmy Howard and Justin Abdelkader (per MLive’s Ansar Khan), team Sweden’s Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, team Finland’s Valtteri Filppula, the Czech Republic’s Jakub Kindl, Slovakia’s Tomas Tatar and, possibly, Russia’s Pavel Datsyuk (that’s seven or eight players), will have played the vast majority of a tournament which begins on May 4th, and we’ll be a month closer to Nicklas Lidstrom’s mid-June deadline for deciding his future. By the time the Wings’ management has completed a comprehensive organizational analysis and is prepared to move forward, the comments its players will have made to the media today will be in the rear-view mirror.
But boy howdy, do we Wings fans ever need to receive input as to the players and franchise’s intertwined futures from someone other than themselves.
The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson doesn’t seem to know what’s being said on television, sports talk radio or especially online in Metro Detroit these days, all while answering a mailbag question about a completely different team:
Q: Do you think the Vancouver Canucks will fire Alain Vigneault after they went out in the first round of the playoffs?—Danny McCullough
A: I wouldn’t fire him. Are they talking about tying the can to Mike Babcock? Nope, and this is three straight ousters in Round 2 or Round 1. Of course, he has built up some obvious cachet with a Stanley Cup win in 2008 and an Olympic gold medal for Canada in 2010.
Ditto for the Hockey News’s Ken Campbell, who offered a devil’s advocate suggestion about the Wings’ future plans:
[W]hat about a team such as the Red Wings? The same outfit that set an NHL record for consecutive wins on home ice this season faces the familiar off-season questions about whether or not they’re too old, too small and not tough enough. This is a team, however, that has had one top-20 draft pick in the past 20 years. There will be calls to finally tear things down and start to rebuild, but does anyone realistically expect the Red Wings to do that?
Because going that route would basically mean GM Ken Holland would have to put Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg up for auction and get young players and draft picks in return. Hey, maybe that’s the way he should consider going, but don’t expect that to happen. The Red Wings will find out soon what Nicklas Lidstrom’s plans are and will likely say farewell to Brad Stuart. They’ll have a ton of cap space to chase Ryan Suter if he becomes available and hope that young players such as Brendan Smith, Riley Sheahan and Calle Jarnkrok continue to develop into future NHLers. The Red Wings will have a center ice corps of Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader next season. That’s not a bad place to start, but the key for the Red Wings will be supplementing them with more depth of talent.
Dear readers, as much as I absolutely adore you, do this job for you, and could not do it without you, at this time of year, I have to recuse myself from the comments section, because, to put this delicately, you’re driving me crazier than I already am.
From applause when Ansar Khan and Bob Duff tell us that Nicklas Lidstrom is really, seriously considering retiring to suggestions that the Wings should indeed “tank” for half a decade, and what I’m expecting are inevitable, “Aww, he sucks, why didn’t he take the job?” comments regarding assistant GM Jim Nill choosing to decline an offer to become the Montreal Canadiens’ GM, fans of the NHL team most likely to make only a few calculated tweaks to its roster going forward want three consecutive springs’ worth of failing to meet playoff expectations to result in massive change—and understandably so—and absent player explanations as to who was playing hurt, who’s still pissed off and who’s walking out the door, we’ve been filling the void in earnest over the past four days, with the more extreme suggestions for change tending to find the most welcome places as not merely suggestions, but instead mission statements upon which some of you will stake the next year of your Red Wings fandom, insisting that the Wings must do X, regardless of what X is, or they’re doomed to mediocrity forever.
I’ve chosen to refrain from making any sweeping suggestions or player evaluations until the players have had their say because I want to give the players the benefit of my doubts (and I have them), and as I’m no leader of men, I probably won’t offer something as definitive or comprehensive as the Production Line’s Michael Petrella has, though I will suggest that the general media consensus that adding a top-line goal-scorer, a top-pair defenseman, perhaps a bottom-line forward with size and/or sandpaper and/or a fiery voice and perhaps a back-up should Joey MacDonald’s back, um, not stay “up” health-wise, seems to be a well thought-out argument given the Wings’ salary obligations (Capgeek.com’s Wings cap chart is your friend this summer), roster uncertainties and general tendencies to make as few changes as necessary.
For the moment, I want to wait to see, hear and read what the players have to say to the media today, tomorrow and over the next few weeks, and I want to continue suggesting that nothing they say today, tomorrow, or over the next few weeks will satisfy any of us in terms of offering an answer as to how the Wings should go from here, and how the Wings should operate in terms of personnel moves made throughout the summer to prove wrong those who insist that this year, finally, the Red Wings have fallen off the championship contender heap.
The honest bottom line here is simple, folks—talk is cheap, and only actions, first at the draft and in free agency or trade markets, and then on the ice next fall, are going to satisfy us, and between now and then?
This is the spring of our discontent, and nothing said today will fully answer our questions and doubts, though the comments might help a little bit.
In terms of media commentary heading up to today’s events, the Free Press’s Jamie Samuelssen states the obvious, save what I can only say is a predictable level of doubt in the Wings’ goaltending (Jimmy Howard won’t gain the media or fans’ trust in the playoffs until he wins a Cup, for better or for worse):
Rebuilding this bunch is impossible and a tad short-sighted. To rebuild, GM Ken Holland would have to do one of two things. Either he’d have to look to trade some of the best players in the world (Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk). Or he’d have to try to find new homes for players who probably don’t hold the same value to other teams. Only Holland and his inner circle know why the Wings only made one move at the trade deadline (D Kyle Quincey). Some theorize that the players that Holland would have been willing to part with had little value on the open market. Well if that wasn’t true at the deadline, it certainly won’t be true after what we witnessed in the stretch drive and the short playoff run. So if you can’t discard, you have to reload.
The first step is obviously figuring out what Nicklas Lidstrom has in mind for 2012-13. I’m reading the tealeaves just like everyone else, but I strongly believe that he’ll return. I can’t imagine that he wants his career to end the way it did, particularly the way he clearly struggled on a bad ankle. As much as people mock it, I do think that the Winter Classic will play at least a small role in his decision. And he’s a hockey player. Who’s the last hockey player that retired when he still had something to give? Lidstrom may not be the Lidstrom of the late 90s or early 2000s. But he remains the best defenseman on the roster and one of the best in hockey. He’ll be a retiree for 40 or 50 years. Why not play hockey for another one or two?
And the second big step is Holland becoming aggressive in free agency. Datsyuk and Zetterberg are the stars. But the other players have whiffed on the chance to be the secondary stars on this team. Conventional wisdom focuses on the Preds Ryan Suter to bolster the defense and the Devils Zach Parise to add scoring punch to the offense. But the problem with conventional wisdom is that it often times doesn’t come to pass. There will be a lot of other teams in on Suter and Parise and the Red Wings natural allure to free agents isn’t nearly as strong as it used to be.
The Red Wings still have championship caliber personnel in many key spots. Do they have that at goaltender with Jimmy Howard? Probably not. But Howard is good enough to win in the playoffs with a stronger core of players in front of him. That should come this summer and the results should be better next year. Holland and Mike Babcock certainly deserve the right to retool this team with the cap space that will be available in free agency. Whether it’s Parise and Suter or another pair of players, the personnel will change. It has to. But if the personnel changes and the Wings are still an early out next spring – then the rebuild has arrived.
This is not some one-year warning or anything like that. Babcock himself said on Friday night that the team is trending down. Holland has the summer to reverse that trend and keep the core of great players together. But if the trend continues, then we aren’t just staring at the end of a run; we’re staring at the end of an era.
I’m already tired of hearing that, and the “summer’s” just getting started.
Fox Sports Detroit/SI’s Darren Eliot offered similar comments while speaking on The Huge Show on Tuesday evening…
And the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa states the obvious about what the Wings need to do with the cap space they’ve got:
Last summer, Holland said, “I think we’re trying to do what’s really difficult, and that’s trying to compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs but trying not to be in total rebuilding mold in 2014.”
Asked if the Wings should have made more personnel moves this season, Babcock made it plain. “I gotta tell you, I’m cheap,” he said. “I buy used vehicles. I can’t stand overspending, and I know Kenny Holland’s the same.”
Disciplining themselves to sign only Ian White last summer and Kyle Quincey before the trade deadline this year, Holland and Babcock plainly decided that it was better to save some cash for later. Later is now. They now have about $20 million available to sign free agents, and the cap may be lifted, a bit, after the new collective bargaining agreement. But once they get beyond Parise and Suter, the skill level and desirability of the remaining free agents declines.
Meanwhile, any sense that the bloom is off the franchise because it was eliminated in one round is exaggeration. By design, there is nothing but parity in the NHL, especially at playoff time. The reality is that elite NHL franchises, including the Wings, are destined to be just about as good as everyone else now. But there remains a certain cachet to being a member of the Detroit Red Wings.
In the visitors’ dressing room in Joe Louis Arena three weeks ago, Parise was not bashful about listing the attractions, including his fondness for Pavel Datsyuk. The perspiration was still on Suter after the Predators rousted the Red Wings from the playoffs, when he also made his admiration clear.
“They have one of the greatest hockey traditions going,” Suter said. “They’re one of the greatest franchises, maybe ever.”
[W]hat led speculation around the NHL to focus on the Red Wings in considering where Parise and Suter will land is the fact that for the first time since the salary cap, the Red Wings have a lot of money to throw at free agents, and their brain trust says that is exactly what they are about to do.
In World Championship news: On Monday night, we found out that Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg will join Jonathan Ericsson in playing for Sweden at the Worlds, but Niklas Kronwall and Nicklas Lidstrom have declined invitations; we know that Jakub Kindl (Czech Republic), Valtteri Filppula (Finland) and Tomas Tatar (Slovakia) will be their teams’ lone Red Wings representatives, and we’re not yet sure whether Pavel Datsyuk will join Team Russia—a lack of a definitive and fast answer from Datsyuk seems to suggest that he might be suffering from nagging injuries.
Very late on Monday evening, the Wings revealed that Jimmy Howard and Justin Abdelkader will also head to Stokholm and Helsinki to play for team USA, as the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness notes:
The summers for Jimmy Howard and Justin Abdelkader won’t begin just yet. The two will play for Team USA at the World Hockey Championship in Helsinki, Finland, and Stockholm, Sweden, which begins in early May, according to Wings general manager Ken Holland.
It’s the first time for Howard and Abdelkader will participate in the tournament.
Other Wings confirmed playing for their countries are Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Jonathan Ericsson for Sweden; Jakub Kindl for the Czech Republic; Tomas Tatar for Slovakia. Holland said he also believes Valtteri Filppula will play for Finland.
“It’s an opportunity to play another month of hockey,” Holland said.
MLive’s Ansar Khan confirms:
No fewer than seven Red Wings, representing five nations, will participate in the World Hockey Championship in Helsinki, Finland, and Stockholm, Sweden. The tournament runs from May 4-20.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard and forward Justin Abdelkader will play for Team USA. It will be the first experience in this tournament for either player. Forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson will play for Sweden. Defenseman Jakub Kindl will play for the Czech Republic and Tomas Tatar will represent Slovakia.General manager Ken Holland said he believes forward Valtteri Filppula will play for Finland, after that country’s hockey federation called him to ask for his services.
The Russian Hockey Federation asked for Pavel Datsyuk, but Holland said he’s not sure if he will participate.
“It’s a great experience,’’ Holland said. “It can be good for a player’s confidence. It keeps you playing for another month. It’s an opportunity to develop. Jonathan Ericsson played pretty well at the World Championship last year and his game took another step up this year.’‘
Regarding Datsyuk, he garnered what will probably be the Red Wings’ only individual award nomination in being named a finalist for the Selke Trophy on Monday. He won’t win it due to missing significant time with a knee injury, but Holland told the Free Press’s Helene St. James that Datsyuk’s obviously no less a fantastic defensive player than he was prior to Ryan Kesler knocking him off as a Selke winner last summer:
“I think people recognize that Pav is one of the premier two-way forwards in the game,” general manager Ken Holland said. “Mike Babcock uses Pavel against the other team’s best forwards because Pav is such a good two-way player. He’s probably the best in the league at takeaways, with his ability to come in and use his quick hands and stick.”
Datsyuk probably won’t win, because Backes played 82 games and Bergeron 81, whereas Datsyuk sat out 12 games because of injury. He still finished with 67 points and was third among NHL forwards with 97 takeaways.
The NHL also announced finalists for the Lady Byng Trophy, which recognizes a player for high level of play combined with gentlemanly conduct. The finalists are Florida defenseman Brian Campbell, Edmonton forward Jordan Eberle and New York Islanders forward Matt Moulson. Datsyuk won the Lady Byng four straight years (2006-09). Despite 20 seasons of being the best defenseman in the game combined with being the cleanest defenseman in the game, Nicklas Lidstrom doesn’t have this trophy among his collection. Nor does he have a Hart Trophy, which recognizes the most valuable player of the regular season.
“I think Nick should have won the Lady Byng and the MVP,” Holland said. “He could have won numerous Lady Byngs and should have won at least one Hart.”
As St. James notes, it’s possible that Lidstrom could be named a finalist for the Norris Trophy this Thursday, but that’s unlikely given the media’s fascination with Weber, Suter and two very strong candidates in Zdeno Chara and Erik Karlsson.
In prospect news, via RedWingsFeed, the Ottawa 67’s had to play without Petr Mrazek as he came down with a flu bug (per the Ottawa Sun’s Aedan Helmer), and the 67’s struggled without him in the OHL’s Eastern Conference Final.
Ottawa dropped a 5-2 decision to the Niagara IceDogs, with goalie Michael Nishi stopping 31 of 35 shots in Mrazek’s stead (Mrazek stopped 93 shots over the course of games 1 and 2), and Ottawa suffered the indignity that is IceDogs goalie Mark Visentin Mrazek’s status:
Does Mrazek, who stopped 93-of-99 shots in the first two games, return for Game 4? The Detroit Red Wings draft pick’s illness forced Ottawa to turn to Michael Nishi, who hadn’t played in five weeks. Aside from one shaky rebound early, the 18-year-old backup played fairly well under the circumstances. He stopped 31-of-35 shots and had about a half-dozen grade-A saves before the IceDogs took over the game.
Ultimately, though, the 67’s need Mrazek at 100 per cent to have a chance at creating a long series. The goalie woke up feeling ill Monday and was not even seen at the rink.
“We’ll know better [Tuesday],” Byrne said. “I don’t think it’s anything long-lasting. A virus.”
As for Nishi: “For coming in cold and not knowing in the afternoon that you’re going to start, I thought he did great. It’s not an easy situation.”
And in the, “Isn’t it ironic in more the Alanis Morrisette sense of the term (darkly amusing) as opposed to the classical sense thereof” (which is something along the lines of, “Huh, I’ve always assumed that the food at ‘Hooters’ must be terrible, but when my uncle brought some chicken wings to a family Christmas party, they tasted good, and I didn’t even need to look at a pretty waitress to enjoy them”) category:
• The Globe and Mail’s David Ebner offers this quip for Canucks fans who want to their team to blow itself up:
Change is not the route taken by other Presidents’ Trophy winners who got booted in the first round, a fate met by four of seven regular-season champs since the 2004-05 lockout.
When the Detroit Red Wings won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2005-06, and lost in the first round, the club barely made any changes. Two years later, led by the same general manager and coach, 10 of the top dozen scorers on the Red Wings team that won the 2008 Stanley Cup were on the team that face-planted in 2005-06.
The Wings bet on the core, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in their late 20s, and the ageless Nicklas Lidstrom. The only real changes were in goal.
While resisting change worked in Detroit, it didn’t in San Jose, where the Sharks’ leadership duo of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau just can’t breakthrough. The Sharks won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2008-09 and lost in the first round. Thornton and Marleau were 29 then. The Sharks then lost twice in the Western Conference final, and this year again are out in the first round, with their leaders now 32.
Of the top half-dozen scorers for San Jose this year, only one is new from the Presidents’ Trophy season. Like in Detroit, the only real change has come in net.
“That fear keeps me activated,” says Babcock, the only hockey coach to lead teams to Stanley Cup, World Championship and Olympic Games victories. “It keeps me grinding to get better. It’s a fear that has helped me take every step in my career.”
Babcock says it’s a good kind of fear, one that doesn’t paralyze or wear you out. “It can push you to break through and hit your potential — to make a difference. It can push you to a success that at first seems unreachable. Good enough is where you find average.”
The drive to be better is where you find and realize your potential. It’s where the fun is. It’s where you come up big, be a game changer, get to your dreams and find joy. And it’s a fear that can get you to the podium for an Olympic gold medal. Not settling for good enough was part of the credo that Babcock and longtime friend and ad exec Rick Larsen came up with for Team Canada in 2010. The credo hung in the dressing room throughout the two weeks of the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Leading off that credo was leave no doubt.
“Doubt is the biggest energy-taker there is. It eats away at our emotional core. It drains us of mental energy and physical energy. It demoralizes, distracts and demotivates. A lot of people say, ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda.’ But they never do.”
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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.