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The Puck Stops Here

The First Place Team

One of the constants in the NHL this season has been teams rapidly shuttling in and out of the first place position in the NHL.  There have been many lead changes throughout the season so far.  Even a team currently in 18th place by points - the Minnesota Wild were in first place overall in late November.  At All Star break the first place overall team is the Detroit Red Wings.  In part this is because they have more games played than some teams (50).  Both the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers have better winning percentages in fewer games.

Detroit seems like a perennial contender because of the way they went from a Stanley Cup winning team built around Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov to a Stanley Cup winning team built around Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.  This turnover in personal occurred without Detroit going through a weak rebuilding stage.  In fact the Red Wings have qualified for the playoffs every year since 1990.

We may be getting near the end of the line for the perennial contender Red Wings.  Nicklas Lidstrom is a seven time Norris Trophy winner.  He is a likely nominee for this season’s award.  He is also 41 years old (turning 42 before the playoffs complete) and his retirement has been discussed.  Without him a Detroit defence will not be the same.  You cannot replace a player like that. 

At forward, Pavel Datsyuk is having another strong season.  He is tied for third in points in the league and is a candidate to be a Hart Trophy nominee if he can hold up those numbers.  He is 33 this year.  Their next highest scorer this season Johan Franzen is 32 years old.  Star forward Henrik Zetterberg is 31 and his offensive numbers look to be in decline this season.  The 57 point pace he is on currently would be his lowest since before the lockout. 

It isn’t obvious where the next generation of stars comes from.  Though there are some prospects in the Detroit system, there are few if any younger players who have developed into core players on the current team.

With that said, Detroit is a stronger team this year than they were last year.  This is because of better goaltending.  Jimmy Howard is having his first All Star season.  He may have several more top seasons in the future, in which case Detroit’s goaltending is well under control.  At the same time, this season so far has been above Howard’s proven level in the past and may not be something he can keep up.

I don’t think this Detroit team is the best team in the league, but they are good enough that it is not impossible that with the right bounces they could have a Stanley Cup run.  In all likelihood that would be the final hurrah for Nicklas Lidstrom, as it would be a great way to go out on top.  Ironically that would likely push the Red Wings out of contention in the future.

I think the first place position in the league will change hands many times in the remainder of the regular season.  As such any of a handful of teams could wind up in that position when the season ends.  Detroit holds the position at the time being.  They are a top team but most likely another team will wind up in first overall at the end of the season, largely because of the parity in the league.  The big question regarding the Wings future is what happens after Lidstrom departs.

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Comments

John W.'s avatar

At the same time, this season so far has been above Howard’s proven level in the past and may not be something he can keep up.

Not sure how you can say that, it’s only his 2nd season as the #1 guy.  His first season he split time with Osgood and eventually took over and had stellar numbers.  Last season obviously wasn’t as great, but being it was his first full year, how can you say this year is far better than the past?  It’s not like this is his 8th year and he’s having 1 year far better than the rest.  He’s progressing as a good, young goalie should.  He’s just now establishing what his normal seasons are, and won’t have established a norm until he gets probably 5 seasons under his belt.  This isn’t a journeyman like Brain Elliott who has been historically poor finally having a good year.

Posted by John W. from a bubble wrap cocoon on 01/27/12 at 03:44 PM ET

w2j2's avatar

No question the Wings will be a lesser team when Lidstrom hangs ‘em up.
No news here.

See what happened to Anaheim when Scott Neidermayer retired.
See what happened to New Jersey when he left there.
See what happened in Edmonton when Pronger left.

That said, the Wings have Kindl & Smith coming up.

It will really add to the pain if / when Brad Stuart leaves. 

IMHO, Kronwall is not good enough to anchor the defense.

Kenny must find some major help in free agency, and he knows it.

Posted by w2j2 on 01/27/12 at 03:44 PM ET

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Haven’t we all been reading articles and blogs about the Wings demise for almost 20 years now??  When Nick Lidstrom finally does decide to hang them up I wouldn’t count out the Wings to do whatever is in their power to remain a top team.  They still have the best management staff in the league so with them anything can happen!

Posted by wingnut888 on 01/27/12 at 04:52 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Haven’t we all been reading articles and blogs about the Wings demise for almost 20 years now??

Yes.  It was clear that the Yzerman, Shanahan, Fedorov team was going to decline years ago.  Afterall none of those players remain in the NHL today.  What was not seen at that time was that Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Zetterberg could take over without skipping a beat.  Now we are at the point we must ask what happens after Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Zetterberg and I do not see any really good answers to the question.

The fact that the Wings managed to stave off a decline when the stars of the 90s retired does not mean they can do it again.  Looking at the circumstances right now, it looks unlikely to be repeated (afterall it took an amazing managerial performance for it to happen once - that will be hard to repeat).

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 01/27/12 at 05:04 PM ET

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Doesn’t mean they can’t do it again either!  Hence why the article is premature.  Guys who are ready to play now like Nyquist might just do the same thing Datsyuk does.  Smith/Tatar/Andersson/Almqvist/Nestrasil/Mrazak are all guys who could step in and do similar work or become stars just like Zetterberg/Datsyuk/Franzen/Howard.  I’m not saying the Wings are destined for greatness but I’ll continue to laugh at the “demise of the Wings” articles. 
  Lidstrom could leave at the end of the year or he might hang around another year or 2.  Datsyuk could be effective for another 3 to 5 years we don’t know.  In the mean time UFA’s could be signed/young players could be developed or trades could be made that will make this team continue to be where they are at in the standings. 
  I guess bottom line is these type of articles are getting old and probably should be saved for when/if the demise ever happens!

Posted by wingnut888 on 01/27/12 at 05:29 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

It hurts to do this, but I’m not reading anywhere that the author is saying the Red Wings CAN’T avoid the kind of decline he mentions.

Hell, I don’t even find a particularly strong argument that says the author thinks the Red Wings WON’T find a way to prevent it… just that the means of preventing it isn’t obvious right now.

Detroit’s going to have to make moves post-Lidstrom. I don’t believe they have the depth at defense in their organization to adequately approach making up for the loss of what he brings from a purely defensive standpoint. While it’s easy to say that you have confidence Ken Holland WILL make the kind of move that it seems obvious Detroit needs to make, that is a completely nebulous concept as far as what exists RIGHT NOW.

I think Detroit management and ownership will be able to make the correct series of moves to ensure they remain one of the top contenders, but it’s easy to say right now exactly what the author has said… that they currently have not done that.

My only question is how many games does a goaltender have to play before his past can be considered a sort of proof of his supposed level of play?

Has he played enough for us to consider his career .917 SV% has his proven level?  Should we try to consider last season an outlier and consider that his rookie season and so far this season shows him at a 0.924 goalie?  I think the words “proven level” are really the only words which could be considered premature in this post.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 01/27/12 at 05:47 PM ET

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That Brenden Smith could turn into Nick Lidstrom 2.0 seems wishful thinking. Same with Nyquist/Jurco and Datsyuk. Maybe this happens, but it seems like a lightning-stirkes-twice in the same place bet.

The good news is that two franchise anchor Nashville defensemen appear to be set for free-agency right around the time Lidstrom rides off into the sunset. Detroit has the track record of organizational success and, as of a Lidstrom retirement, the money and, perhaps inclination, to add BOTH.

And what’s best for the Red Wings is that there won’t be a ton of competitive suitors who can offer the same package. Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston and New York can sell free agents, but have neither the money nor any pressing need for $7 million Dmen. Philly has both the need and capspace to add one or the other, but can’t exactly point to the rafters like Holland can, can they?

Anyways, my best guess is annual impending red wings doom gets put off for seven or so more years through free agent acquisitions on the blue line in the next two.

Posted by larry from pitt on 01/27/12 at 06:08 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

It is entirely possible that the Red Wings solution is found via free agency, but I would bet against it.  Signing unrestricted free agents to large contracts has created more bad deals than good ones over the years.  I have written about this several times as my all UFA teams.  Even today Paul linked to an article making this point.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 01/27/12 at 06:23 PM ET

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Signing unrestricted free agents to large contracts has created more bad deals than good ones over the years.

A lot of people were saying just this past summer that losing Brian Rafalski was going to really hurt the Wings and now, here they are, in 1st place in the NHL at the All-Star break

And while Lidstrom is the best defenseman at least of his generation, he is still one man.  He is the captain but he isn’t the team and he would of course be impossible to replace but there are some solid defensemen who will be on the market that can at least mitigate his loss.

Posted by Garth on 01/27/12 at 06:30 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Garth

It seems to me that either you are arguing that Rafalski is equivalent to Lidstrom so we can use the departure of one to infer what will happen in the departure of the other - when clearly Lidstrom is significantly better and more irreplaceable.

Or else you are just adding a non-sequitor to the comments.  That seems more likely given the fact you quote me about free agency at the beginning of your comment and then do not mention free agency at all in your comment.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 01/27/12 at 06:34 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

It is entirely possible that the Red Wings solution is found via free agency, but I would bet against it.  Signing unrestricted free agents to large contracts has created more bad deals than good ones over the years.

It’s entirely possible

But that ties more into the nature of treating individual teams as part of a trend and to defining what exactly is a “bad deal”, and that’s taking the discussion too far off-topic.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 01/27/12 at 06:58 PM ET

John W.'s avatar

Or else you are just adding a non-sequitor to the comments.  That seems more likely given the fact you quote me about free agency at the beginning of your comment and then do not mention free agency at all in your comment.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 01/27/12 at 03:34 PM ET

Isn’t this Garth mentioning free agency in his comment:

he would of course be impossible to replace but there are some solid defensemen who will be on the market [/b ]that can at least mitigate his loss.

Posted by Garth on 01/27/12 at 03:30 PM ET

Posted by John W. from a bubble wrap cocoon on 01/27/12 at 07:25 PM ET

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Posted by PuckStopsHere on 01/27/12 at 03:23 PM ET

That’s true, but it’s also sort of situational depending on the profiles of the players and why they’re UFAs in the first place. A Leino, Huselius or Wisniewski; guys that are just looking for one big check and don’t care who signs it will tend to bite you in the behind. But guys who leave for other reasons, such as the home franchise just can’t afford them, have fared a lot better. Hartnell and Timonen, both former preds who signed with Philly as de facto UFAs can be argued to fall into this category. My feeling, which is by no means fact, is that Suter and Weber have more in common with Hartnell and Timonen than they do with Leino or Ehrhoff.

Posted by larry from pitt on 01/27/12 at 07:29 PM ET

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you quote me about free agency at the beginning of your comment and then do not mention free agency at all in your comment.

Just because I didn’t use the words doesn’t mean I wasn’t talking about free agency.

Everyone knows that Detroit signed a defenseman when Rafalski left.

And is it really difficult to figure out what I was talking about with Rafalski?

Everyone said he was going to be difficult to replace, yet Detroit DID replace him and they’re STILL a top team.

THEREFORE, just because everyone is saying that Lidstrom is irreplaceable, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be a top team after he leaves.

And again, as I said, he is still only one player out of 23 on the roster.  Losing just him is not likely to destroy Detroit’s potential to be a top team.

Just like losing Yzerman didn’t.

Posted by Garth on 01/27/12 at 07:45 PM ET

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Ha Ha Ha .. I love all this speculation. Now you guys know how Ken Holland feels 24/7.

Every team in the league is worried about filling a hole on D, but it seems like Detroit has had more success than others over the years.

Look at how many years we got out of a discarded Chris Chelios.  Look at how many ex-Mapleleafs came to Detroit and blossomed (Rouse/Murphy/White).

To quote a famous movie line ... plugging a UFA into the lineup is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gunna get ... but it seems the Red Wings system turns slightly above average players into almost all-stars. Being paired with Captain Nick doesn’t hurt either, but setting that aside, Holland has managed to find some defencive gems over the years that were unexpected and unpredicted by most.

Rather than worrying about when individual players retire and who will fill their skates, I’d be worried about whats going to happen when the current brain-trust of Jimmy D., Ken Holland, Jim Nill, etc. retire.

Its obvious Detroit’s scouting staff is second to none, and replacing those guys is whats at the top of the list.

I think we, as fans,  should focus our attention on the short term issues and see if we can guess what Holland is going to do with almost $6 mil. in cap space at the trade deadline.

My best guess would be Eaves goes on LTIR so his salary isn’t a cap hit, grab an experienced Dman in the $1.5 mil. neighborhood to be paired up with Commodore, and plugging Teemu Selanne into the 2nd line with Fil & Z just might put us over the hump.

Bottom line is ... this blog post has served its purpose. It has created thought and discussion ... but unfortunately, we’re ALL guessing.

Whats really going to happen in the next few years ??  Only Ken Holland’s hairdresser knows for sure ... Baaaaahahahaha

Posted by Hockeytown Wax on 01/27/12 at 08:35 PM ET

tuxedoTshirt's avatar

Well, I would add that the fact that most players see Detroit as the perfect franchise and would cream themselves to sign there will be an advantage in landing the best players.  I don’t think that they will ever have to make the highest bid.
(This is of course an assumption, but does anyone doubt it?)

Posted by tuxedoTshirt from the Home of the 1937 World Champions on 01/27/12 at 09:32 PM ET

Joe Z.'s avatar

I think that all Red Wings fans, including me, don’t have a clue what Lidström’s retirement means.This guy was omnipresent for the last 20 years, almost never missing a game and always playing on a Norris-level. Noone on the current roster is even close to Lidström’s ability to control the pace of a game, nor is anyone in the league. So my best guess is that Detroit will sign two top D-man for his replacement. Yeah that’s how good I think he is. I wouldn’t be shocked if Detroit doesn’t make the Playoffs post Lidström.

TPSH calls it “built around Yzerman, Fedorov and Shanahan”. You forgot someone here, yep he was/is present in two eras of a team. 

Detroit isn’t running out of skilled offensive players anytime soon.
For my part is pretty obvious where the offensive talent will come from, I think Filppula will take over the top line centering position in 3-4 seasons. #2 will go to Helm! I am pretty sure about that, this guy is to good to be a grinder for ever, just give him some time…

Posted by Joe Z. from Austria on 01/28/12 at 12:51 PM ET

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I think Filppula will take over the top line centering position in 3-4 seasons.

Based on what?  When Detroit was intent on playing Datsyuk and Zetterberg together Filppula wasn’t able to take over the #2 centre spot and he’s only now truly blossoming while playing on the wing.  They would be stupid to try and turn him into the #1 centre that he clearly isn’t.  Either Datsyuk or Zetterberg will be the #1 centre for the foreseeable future, and as much as I like Helm (and would like to see him at least get a chance to centre a line with some scorers) I don’t see him as ever being top six.

Posted by Garth on 01/28/12 at 02:22 PM ET

Joe Z.'s avatar

Based on his play on the ice.

Posted by Joe Z. from Austria on 01/29/12 at 12:41 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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