The Malik Report
Red Wings overnight report: welcome to the intersection of lies, rumors, innuendo & thought balloons
by George Malik on 06/15/12 at 06:02 AM ET
We’ve reached the middle of June, and are exactly one week from the first round of the Entry Draf…I mean 2012 draft, and two weeks and a day from the start of free agency, and I would like to posit a suggestion this morning: we’ve reached the intersection where, as the Montreal Gazette’s Jack Todd would put it, “Lies, rumors & vicious innuendo” are regularly colliding with what I call “thought balloon” articles.
What do I mean? Well, on Wednesday, Zach Parise’s comments about wanting to remain a Devil resulted in widespread speculation, suggestions that he might join the Los Angeles Kings from Pierre LeBrun of all people (after the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons posited the idea) and former North Stars GM Lou Nanne dancing around tampering rules by insisting that no one would out-bid the Minnesota Wild for Parise (and presumably Ryan Suter’s) services per a dinner conversation with Wild owner Craig Leipold.
On Thursday, the MSM and bloggers alike went nuts when CSN Philadelphia’s Tim Panaccio suggested that that a “league source” confirmed that Ryan Suter didn’t want to sign with an Eastern Conference team, and while I suggested that anything involving anonymous “sources” should be met with a high level of skepticism, it seemed that almost everyone with a voice swallowed Panaccio’s report like it was gospel truth, and even MLive’s Ansar Khan, the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan and now, via RedWingsFeed, the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness have weighed in on the possible Wings-friendly ramifications of yesterday and today’s “news”...
Just a day after New Jersey unrestricted free agent Zach Parise said he wasn’t interested in signing with the rival New York Rangers, comes a report that prized unrestricted free agent defenseman Ryan Suter is not interested in signing with any team in the Eastern Conference.
The best part, the report says Suter the Wings are his top choice.
Wings general manager Ken Holland said last week that he would do whatever it took to make the team better next year, which would include acquiring the rights to impending free agents, which is something he hasn’t done before.
Detroit has roughly $20 million in salary-cap space and could easily fit both Suter and Parise even with the money they both will expect.
Well, guess what happened on Thursday evening?
I talked to Ryan Suter’s agent Neil Sheehy. Reports Suter has supplied list of teams he’d allow his rights to be traded to are “100% untrue”
Sheehy says there’s no list of teams Suter won’t go to either #preds #nhl #mnwild
You don’t need to be a rocket surgeon to figure out that a quote from a player’s agent is far more reliable than a “league source,” so the case is closed, right?
Not necessarily, and here’s where the grandson of a paranoid schizophrenic suggests that it might be time to get a bit paranoid (no, I don’t have any symptoms, nor does my mom…my oldest uncle has some schizophrenic issues but the completely bats*** insane train stopped there. I just have an anxiety disorder and major depression).
Well, my friends, especially as the big ball of lies that is the PR volleys issued during CBA negotiations will get rolling in earnest soon, it’s imperative that both media types, bloggers like me and fans like, well, you and me treat Panaccio and Russo’s reports with equal levels of skepticism, and that even when we get caught up in, “Holy s***, the Wings are the favorites, woo!” emotions, we ask ourselves some simple questions:
1. Given that it’s the middle of June, who’s trying to send a message to whom here?
Is this an agent like Sheehy making sure that he avails his client of every financial option available by insisting that Suter has no preferences, even if Suter might indeed want to play for specific teams over other suitors (pun intended), and was an agent, a GM, player or someone else behind the rather dubious Panaccio report because they knew it’d catch fire like a jack pine forest in a drought in an environment where the top-heavy and incredibly thin free agent class is yielding almost rabid interest in the fates of only a handful of elite players who have the opportunity to cash in on the last real “lifetime contracts” that might be allowed by the NHL?
2. And what does the reporter have to gain by either “clarifying” the situation from a substantiated source, or perhaps simply floating a thought balloon, like the, “Hey, you know, the Kings have the cap space to sign Parise, and why not suggest he’d go there? That’s a good story, that’ll get me web hits in the middle of June!” story tossed out there despite the fact that, as Fox Sports West’s Jon Rosen pointed out, the Kings’ need to lock up Jonathan Quick long-term and to try to retain their modest free agent class might in fact make overspending on Parise a kinda dumb long-term decision.
The messenger always has something to gain in this equation, too, whether it’s the promise of a scoop down the line, gaining more favor with and/or access to a player agent, player or GM at a time of year where its’ equally important for MSM’ers to jockey for power and influence in anticipation of dropping draft-day trade or July 1st bombshells, and sometimes members of the media plain old have a good time pulling an Eklund in throwing an idea out there just for s***s and giggles, and seeing whether it gains any traction.
With two weeks to “kill” and favor to be curried, I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a completely selflessly issued point of clarification…
And I’m not suggesting that we vilify reporters who generally exhibit a high level of professionalism (cough not the people who ask you to pay to read made up stuff cough) for occasionally allowing themselves to be used to exaggerate, clarify, gauge interest in and maybe sometimes fib about players’ availabilities or the states of contract negotiations.
One of the first rules of covering a sport involves understanding that you will occasionally be played like a fiddle by players, coaches and general managers, never mind agents, who will lie about the severity of injuries, personnel decisions and sometimes their long-term plans. Ken Holland, Jim Nill and Mike Babcock are some of the straightest shooters in the business, and as you may have learned by now, they occasionally don’t tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
It’s not personal, goodness knows I learned early on that it’s not personal, but it does happen, and in some cases, that’s what results in “reports” like the ones that have hit the wires over the past two days…
But take note going forward that that’s not always the case.
3. Put simply, we remain relatively powerless in terms of attempting to discern how contract negotiations are taking shape behind closed doors, what GM’s might do in terms of trading players or rights at the draft a week from now, or figuring out where players might prefer to end up when they make life-changing decisions sixteen days from now, but the best way to cope as our emotions are played with like yo-yos over the next two weeks is pretty easy:
Always, and I mean always, make sure to take “reports” from “sources” with a healthy dose of skepticism, and don’t discount the fact that even confirmation of inclinations from the genuine articles, as espoused by the most reputable of non-rumormongering correspondents, aren’t always 100% true, either.
In terms of the more reputable sources, I can only say this regarding “reports” that have surfaced over the past 24 hours: Sports Illustrated’s Stu Hackel did a fantastic job of assessing the New Jersey Devils’ very real financial issues which may prevent them from re-signing Parise, even if he does indeed want to remain a Devil, and while I’m doing my best not to puff up my partisan chest and make Wings-friendly declarations despite the fact that I’m just as borderline terrified about the team’s future as you are…
Comments like these, posited by the Tennessean’s Josh Cooper (in a blog entry updating the Suter contract negotiations), raise my dander:
The Predators would obviously like to re-sign Suter. He’s one of their ‘core’ players and defensemen with his type of all-around ability rarely come on the open market — especially at the prime age of 27.
Two weeks ago, Predators General Manager went to Suter’s offseason home in Madison, Wisc. to meet with Suter and his agent, Neil Sheehy. Both sides came away saying nothing but positives, but little has happened since. You have to wonder where they are now in their talks. If Suter has gone this far, who not go to July 1?
The Predators could trade Suter’s negotiating rights to another team. But then you risk completely losing him before July 1. There seems to be some hope and feeling that in free agency, Suter will circle back to the Predators to listen to them after hearing what’s out there. Suter is a small-town type of guy and privacy is important to him. The Nashville market suites him the best out of all the teams that are rumored to add him — Detroit, Minnesota and Philadelphia. But there could be another non-rumored team that would like to throw money at Suter, one that maybe fits his personality and desires better than the aforementioned teams. He simply won’t know unless he checks it out.
And many of the Predators unrestricted free agents, and one big restricted free agent — Weber — probably won’t know how to proceed until there’s some sort of resolution with Suter.
Cooper’s been tossing off those borderline defiant lines suggesting that Suter couldn’t possibly want to face the pressure of being the first fiddle on the blueline, or to ever choose to embrace a situation where he’d have to face a searing media spotlight in, say, a market like—gasp!—Detroit, since the Predators were dissecting the Wings in the first round, and that plain old pisses me off.
The Detroit “market” happens to include a Metropolitan area spread out over a wide geographical area, where “small town” guys tend to gravitate toward Plymouth, Northville or Bloomfield Hills/West Bloomfield, where players can disappear into the crowd of about 4.5 million people (depending on where you draw the Metro area’s borders), where I rather regularly receive comments from readers who say, “Oh yeah, I know where so-and-so shops,” “I saw him at the mall,” “He was at Starbucks,” the inevitable, “I saw Swedish player X at IKEA,” etc., and when I ask them how they reacted, the readers almost inevitably say that they said hello and otherwise left the players and executives be.
Let’s be honest here, in addition to the fact that this hockey-mad city’s media remains almost abnormally preoccupied with the Lions and Tigers, the media treats the Wings with kid gloves as the PR staff is very protective of player access, there are more than a few introverted types who have their say after some games and are allowed to remain quiet after others (cough Pavel Datsyuk cough) but are beloved nonetheless, and Ken Holland made it very plain during his NHL Live interview that the Red Wings have no intention of coronating anyone as Nicklas Lidstrom’s successor, instead suggesting that “no one player” can “replace him,” and that it would take both every blueliner stepping up and a team-wide effort to fill the void.
Detroit is a market where players are treated like kings, where a hockey-mad city and die-hard fans pay top dollar to watch their players and then give them a respectful level of distance away from the rink, and it’s a market where high-profile acquisitions aren’t expected to change their personality or playing style, but instead, are brought in to be themselves.
This ain’t Philly, it ain’t Minny, and it sure as hell ain’t Toronto, New York or Montreal…
And as I’ve been saying from the get-go, fans like you and me don’t know what these players are really thinking about or where they might want to end up, we have no power over or insight into their decision-making process, and all we can go upon is the coin-flip tendency of players who aren’t signed by mid-June to either “stay home” or test the market, if only to place dollar signs on their value during perhaps their only foray into free agency.
We know that Marian Hossa “loved everything” about Detroit and gushed like nobody’s business before bolting for Chicago, that Jiri Hudler still supposedly “loves Detroit” but may very well get a Dynamo Moscow-style $4-5 million payday this summer, and we learned that when players talk about difficulties regarding their family (Brad Stuart) or out-and-out sell their houses (Mikael Samuelsson), they’re probably not coming back. Otherwise…This is educated guesswork, and it requires reading every “report” with a skeptic’s eye.
Also of Red Wings-related note this morning:
&bull: In the free agent speculation multimedia category, the Detroit Free Press has posted a 15-image photo gallery of possible Wings targets to match the Detroit News’s 25-image gallery. I’m guessing that Helene St. James annotated the Freep’s gallery, just as Ted Kulfan posited observations in the Detroit News’s gallery;
• I don’t often quote Wikipedia, but someone offered a listing of the order of draft picks, and with what would have been the Wings’ 19th overall selection having gone to the Tampa Bay Lightning in compensation for Kyle Quincey, Detroit has the 49th pick in the 2nd round and then picks 20th overall in rounds 3-7.
You never know who the Wings might draft, but I’m a fan of Jordan Scmaltz name for the hell of it, and something tells me that you might want to take a look at Sportsnet’s Mackenzie Liddell’s list of five players whose respective “stocks” have dropped significantly due to injuries or inconsistency as those are usually the types of players the Wings pick in the second round (see: Marek Tvrdon).
• Regarding a player whose job is on the line next year—with Jan Mursak and Jakub Kindl joining him in the, “He might be squeezed out by free agents and/or strong pushes from Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar” category—DetroitRedWings.com’s Zack Crawford offers a “By the Numbers” assessment of Cory Emmerton’s rookie season:
10: Number of points that Emmerton had this season. All of his six goals and four assists were scored in Red Wings wins.
71: Played in two games during the 2010-11 season but expanded his role with the Wings this season by playing in 71 games. He also got his first taste of the postseason when he played in five playoff games against the Nashville Predators.
31: Number of shots that he blocked this season, the 11th highest on the team. He tied with Pavel Datsyuk for centers with the most blocked shots.
151: won 151 out of 313 faceoffs during the regular-season, giving him a faceoff win percentage of 48.2.
• Looking forward, the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby offered a CBA update of sorts via a quip about the Winter Classic (and I love that the Toronto media seems to believe that, somehow, the Maple Leafs of all teams are almost criminally under-exposed):
From a marketing standpoint, the club’s invite to the Jan. 1 Winter Classic against Detroit will literally be its moment in the sun, with more than 100,000 people expected to break a hockey attendance record in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“I’m sure both sides will be intent on working as diligently and responsibly as possible over the summer to reach agreement on a successor CBA in a timely manner,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in and e-mail to QMI Agency.
The league frowns upon club officials from commenting on specific CBA issues.
“What we’re focused on right now is that there will be a season,” said Tom Anselmi, executive vice-president and COO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. “So we’re pumped, ready to rock and roll and planning for things such as the Winter Classic. We can’t wait.”
Many observers believe a labour disruption is inevitable, at least a short one. But most agree the two sides would never let it drag to the point of threatening the season, especially the Classic, with so many people planning to attend and a huge American TV audience.
As I said on Thursday night, that would be so incredibly stupid of the NHL that it’s silly, and no, I don’t believe that even the supposedly evil Donald Fehr would do something as dumb as encourage his players to engage in any sort of strike;
• In the “fan participation” department, the Red Wings are encouraging fans to literally draw on sidewalks for the sake of winning a signed Nicklas Lidstrom puck;
• In more significant news, I must regrettably inform you that Lidovky.cz conducted an interview with Red Wings director of player development Jiri Fischer, but it’s only available if you, um, pick up a hard copy of their newspaper…in the Czech Republic…
• If you thought that the player tributes and former Red Wings trainer John Wharton’s remembrance of Vladimir Konstantinov were tear-jerking, well, bring out the Kleenex, because here’s what he has to say about team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov:
Yesterday, I posted a small tribute to Vladimir Konstantinov. I did not forget about my friend and former teammate, Sergei Mnatsakanov, also permanently and tragically injured in the accident 15 years ago. I did not include Sergei or “Natsa” as he was known to the team, for one reason. Because that is the way he would have wanted it.
Sergei is one of the greatest men I have ever met. He was the 1st assistant, of any kind, that I had as Head Trainer. For 5 years, I handled all of the injury treatment, rehab, strength and condition, and massage. I didn’t need or want any help. Until I met Natsa.
I have far less memories of the man to Scotty’s right in this photo, than I do of Vladdy. That is not because Natsa was any less special, less memorable. It is simply because his career as masseur for the Detroit Red Wings lasted one full season. One.
He was brought to me, us by Slava Fetisov during the 95-96 All-Star break. Slava had known Natsa from his days playing with CSKA Moscow. He boasted of Sergei’s skills as a massage therapist and ‘medicine man’. Already burdened with a huge workload during what would be a record setting 62 win season, I welcomed Natsa’s help. Upon being hired, he walked into the training room and said “hello, My Chief”.
Asked what he had just called me, he said “you My Chief. I work for you now and give help anything you need. My Chief”.
It made me smile. Sergei served in the Russian military and he brought his discipline and training to anything he did. I told him “we are a team. We work together for one purpose. To win the Stanley Cup. We are a team. Okay”? “Yes. Okay. My Chief”. With that, and with his left eye Natsa gave me a wink.
I didn’t know what I was getting as far as ‘help’ until the next day when he walked in with a burlap sack that looked like he had just killed a farm animal and stuffed it in the bag and covered it in leaves. Slava was in the sauna and was about to get a ‘rubdown’ of a variety I had never seen before or since. Natsa motioned for me to join him in the sauna, dragging the bag behind him and saying “My Chief, come lookin”. “What”? “Come lookin! Come, um See”!
With Fetisov on his belly, drenched in sweat, Natsa proceeded to pull out bundles of leafy oak branches tied together with twine at the bottom. He proceeded to beat the beat the crap out of him with relentless whacks, head to toe for 15 minutes. Sergei was still fully clothed and soaked to the shoelaces when he looked at me and said “he fresh now. Chemicals in body gone.” “You want I try for you”? “You want body fresh”? No thanks. But I’ll be damned if Fetisov didn’t look like he was 20 years old in the game that night! When I mentioned this to him, with his left eye, Natsa just gave me a wink.
A few days later, I walked into his massage room to see Steve Yzerman on his table. He had been bothered by a long term knee injury that had caused some swelling. Natsa had a ‘treatment’ for him. Stevie’s knee was wrapped from calf to mid thigh with what looked like a half dozen dead squirrels! Stevie looked at me and shrugged. “Can’t hurt to try” he said. I said “Natsa, what the hell is THAT”?! “It is hair from Russian deer. Take away swelling.” I smiled and walked out only to be called back 15 minutes later “My Chief. Come lookin”. I’ll be damned if Stevie’s knee wasn’t noticeably less swollen. And with his left eye, Natsa just gave me a wink.
An extremely gentle man, Sergei’s massages were anything but. His hands were as big as shovels and from the moans and groans I would often here coming from his room, it seemed as though he was hitting guys with them. But to a man, they loved his work. I learned so much from Natsa. About massage, about ‘medicine’, about life.
We would lose to Colorado that year in the Conference Finals. I was in my office when Sergei returned 2 weeks before training camp in 96. He pulled out a miniature replica of the Stanley Cup and placed it on my desk in front of me. “This year, My Chief, you get Cup Stanley”. “Thanks but I want the real one”. “Yes, of course. Real Cup Stanley. This year. For you. Zis one for just lookin. Make think real Cup Stanley”. “Thanks Natsa but if we win it, it will be as a team”. “I know. But very special for you. My Chief”. And with his left eye, Natsa gave me a wink.
And win it we would. That part is history. And so is the tragic accident, unfortunately, that would cost this Chief, his strongest, bravest, hardest working warrior. But my loss was nothing compared to Natsa’s.
During the crash, he was hit in the head with a 5 pound crystal liquor decanter, crushing his skull. Cruel because, Natsa…didn’t drink.
And when they discovered a severed spinal cord he was still in a coma. Cruel because knowing he’d never walk again, Natsa…couldn’t think.
Now he was paralyzed from the waist down, with permanent nerve damage to his head and face. Cruel because with his left eye, Natsa….couldn’t wink.
Like Vladdy, Sergei Mnatsakanov was, is special. Memorable. And remember him, and the brief, but successful times we shared, I always will. I was honored to be…
• This is a repeat, but given that it’s the “middle of June,” and that Nicklas Lidstrom was scheduled to move back to Vasteras, Sweden in the “middle of June,” Michigan Hockey Now’s Michael Caples spoke to Wings players and plain old members of the community about Nicklas Lidstrom as both a player and person:
“I think everyone is so impressed with everything he’s done – the Norris Trophies, the All-Star games, the Stanley Cups – but me knowing him as a person, I’m just as impressed with him as an individual. How he carries himself in the community, in the locker room, everywhere when he’s out in public, even when he’s in the locker room as a leader – he’s just such a great individual. He’s a great person.”
Throughout the days surrounding his retirement announcement, Lidstrom’s character was on full display. He graciously thanked everyone he could during his press conference. He took the stage at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert to address the fans. And in an ad purchased in the Detroit Free Press, he told everyone in Michigan how much he appreciated them helping him raise a family in Michigan, and that he would always consider himself to be both from Sweden, and from Detroit.
Lidstrom was a fixture around ice rinks in metro Detroit – or at least as much as a professional athlete can be – while raising his four hockey-playing sons. Much of that time was spent at Novi Ice Arena, so much so that the city named the nearest street after him. Novi Ice Arena general manager Kris Barnes said that “The Perfect Human” label Lidstrom received during his time with the Wings carried over outside of pro hockey.
“Nick’s just a great hockey dad,” Barnes said. “He watched practice, helped his kids get dressed, and volunteered a lot of his time to help out our youth hockey association and the community. He was always available for kids looking for an autograph and even stopped to pose for pictures on occasion. He was great for the sport and we will definitely miss him around the rink.”
Former NHL player and Honeybaked hockey coach Jeff Mitchell experienced the hockey dad side of Lidstrom while he coached his son, Lucas, this past season. Mitchell, a Wayne native and third-round pick by Los Angeles in 1993, was taken aback by how humble Lidstrom was, even after experiencing the NHL stage himself.
“He was a good guy to get to know,” Mitchell said. “I played at that level and everything, and had an opportunity to meet a lot of guys, and you know, Nick and Holmstrom, they’re probably the two most humble guys I’ve ever met and easy to talk to. He became just one of the fathers on the team. But he also takes time for others. He’s never one to turn down a little kid for an autograph, you know? Looking at the whole picture, he’s been instrumental to the growth of the game. The Red Wings have been such a dominant team for such a long team, and he’s been a huge part of that. And just the way he carries himself both on and off the ice.”
Red Wings forward Drew Miller echoed the same sentiments as Mitchell after the Lidstrom retirement press conference. The Lansing native said that the Wings’ captain proved to be the perfect player for kids to grow up trying to imitate on and off the ice.
“Definitely in Michigan, I think a lot of players grow up idolizing him – try to emulate how he plays on the ice,” Miller said. “I think from a ‘hero’ standpoint, a lot of young kids are into hockey, continue to play hockey, because of him.”
• In a programming note, based on my track record, expect some sort of big news to break between 12:45 PM and about 2:30 PM today and/or between 2:45 PM and about 5:30 PM on Monday as I’ve got to take my mom to a pair of MRI’s (back is good, responding to PT, doctor just wants to double check for no herniation of discs) in Southfield, and the latter drive is gonna be hellish as the place is located at the cluster-you-know-what of 696, the Lodge and Telegraph, and heading back home to South Lyon involves navigating the 696/96-275 interchange as well. I’d almost prefer one of those awful MRI’s scheduled for 6 AM.
• And finally, speaking of healthy skepticism, I’ve been impressed with the level of skepticism in my ability to deliver prospect camp reports. The pledge drive has stalled in a big way with me reaching about the 40% mark of what I need to raise dollar-wise to stay in Traverse City, and if I don’t make the cut, I’m just going to have to refund your money. If you can lend a hand, I’d appreciate it.
You’ll have to use my personal email address, rtxg at yahoo dot com, to donate, and if you want to aid the cause by some other manner or means, and I don’t mind sharing the mailing address of my secret blogging lair via my other email address, georgemalik at kuklaskorner dot com.
And sorry about the quality of yesterday’s overnight report. I totally over-thought everything I wrote. This time around I just blabbed, with the Suter news from Russo and Cooper’s ever-present skepticism as the “riff from” points. I write much, much better entries when I don’t try to prepare as much and just rattle off the thoughts in my head while worrying about proper preposition use and at least some avoidance of passive voice. The up-tick in cursing of late is just allergies making me literally and figuratively itchy and having to deal with a personal matter from the past that got stirred up and brought back enough bad memories to screw my sleep up even more than usual. So there’s you’re “behind the curtain” moment of the day. If I worried about what I was writing, in all honesty, my anxiety would make me nothing less than terrified of what I wanted to say, so I’m one of those weird writers who believes that as little preparation as possible is the best preparation.
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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.