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The Malik Report

A semi-off-topic kind of entry: not even the Blackhawks can ‘save hockey from itself’

Every year at this time--or within two weeks of the Stanley Cup Final in a non-lockout year, anyway--we tend to hear the media insist that whichever team wins the Cup will shape the game for years to come as each and every one of the 29 defeated teams will obviously completely alter their teams' player personnel and coaching trajectories to emulate the champ.

This doesn't always pan out, though there's no doubt that the last couple of Cup champs are very big, very hard-checking and very defensively-minded teams. The previous three were more slanted toward high-skill and up-tempo hockey, though, and as such, the National Post's Cam Cole duly notes that even if the Blackhawks prevail against LA and upset the mighty Bruins, Chicago's "blueprint" is going to be hard to emulate (that, and thanks to the declining salary cap, like so many championship-caliber teams, it won't last in its current guise):

These Blackhawks have the most of the most: better top-end talent, better scoring depth, better speed throughout the lineup. Size, too, in forwards like the aptly-nicknamed Hoss, Marian Hossa, and Jonathan Toews and playoff stud Bryan Bickell, and a deep blueline that was comfortably able to compensate for the loss to suspension of their best defenceman, Duncan Keith, in Game 4 Thursday.

They are so good, in fact, that they only need goalie Corey Crawford to be average and not give up too many softies. He gave one up Thursday to Dustin Penner, and the Hawks survived it.

So if Chicago happens to win it all this year, will the game be rescued from its cynical tendencies?

Sure. All teams need to do is draft a lot of high-end players, let them develop for five years, fill in with canny acquisitions, have four terrific lines and five high-end defencemen, and keep them all together in a salary cap system.

Good luck with that.

If there’s any truth to the idea that hockey is headed in a negative direction, it’s only because the team that’s got it all is too damned hard to build. Getting there the other way is slightly more attainable.

With the "other way" meaning building a team that's big and can check its opponents to death, though GM of the team whose playoff chances were probably doomed when Danny DeKeyser's broken thumb scuttled its ability to emulate Chicago's luxury of throwing three puck-moving defensive pairs over the boards, even as a "poor man's version" (Oh, Wyshynski, why you got to be trollin' Wings fans...It's getting trite and lazy) thereof is a GM who happens to believe that the Bruins and Kings would be nowhere if they didn't have the ability to go from defending to the "chipping" part of "chip and chase hockey" (or, in many cases for Boston and LA, "Chip and not chase hockey") in a hurry:

“You gotta be able to transition,” Detroit GM Ken Holland said during the Wings’ series with the Blackhawks, who employ the stretch pass better than any team in the game. You gotta defend, but part of transition is having great defencemen, defencemen with the ability to get the puck and — instead of just going up the wall and chipping it to safety — quickly get the puck into the hands of the forwards, so you can head off in the other direction.

“Those are the types of teams you want to build. We’d like to get bigger in some areas, but I still believe the elite puck-moving defenceman is as valuable as any player in the game.”

In the end, teams will stick with the systems that have made them successful--and there is no doubt that it is much easier and much cheaper to teach a team how to check and to draft defensively-minded players than it is to encourage players to take risks and occasionally make goal-surrendering mistakes while playing offensively-minded, creative and higher-skilled hockey (hey, coaches fear losing their jobs and so do players, and being scored on while checking and checking some more looks "less incriminating" than getting caught trying to make an offensive play does)...

But even when the Wings were checking the snot out of Captain Pork Chop and his companions, they were at their best when their defensemen slid single-touch passes to forwards skating through the neutral zone with speed.

When the team began to sit back and pass d-to-d-to-d or back from forwards to defensemen, the Hawks pounced on the Wings, and eventually, Detroit was unable to out-score its mistakes, but the Hawks were an Oduya, Bickell and probably a Handzus above the Wings, and in my estimation, it won't take half-a-dozen changes for the Wings' youth movement to slowly but surely catch up as Detroit sticks to the puck possession style that has allowed its team success to transcend its personnel or the lack thereof over the past 19 years (with the 2013-2014 season marking the 20th anniversary of Scotty Bowman taking over the team and slowly but surely transitioning it to puck possession by both conscious decision-making and Russian 5-driven serendipity).

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MsRedWingFan's avatar

VOTE FOR DATSYUK for “the Play of the Year”  at TSN !!!  ... 2 days left to vote if he wins this round he could possibly go against himself for the finals.  Oil fans are padding the votes against him and I am sure many other teams who hate the Wings as well   http://poy.tsn.ca/

Posted by MsRedWingFan from West Michgian on 06/08/13 at 05:21 PM ET

Bugsy's avatar

From a pure enjoyment standpoint, I hope the Wings never desert the puck possession game. It’s their ID, it’s fun to watch, and has netted them 4 Cups.

They can tweak to get tougher, but toughness is key mentally as much as physically. Being heavy with the puck, and don’t get rattled (like Pittsburgh learned despite having the talent advantage after the trade deadline this year).

If anything, you could argue if the Blackhawks win again, that the “formula” can still work as long as you have a relatively cheap core (read: draft and develop well) before/as a team spend on the few stars, since that would mean at least 3 puck-possession teams won in the last 7 years, depending on how one defines the other 4 Cup winners (like Pittsburgh). This is what I hope this youth movement yields for the Wings: a team that can always have a realistic chance every year, as nearly impossible as it has been for other teams, even if not the President’s Cup. (Even if Boston wins with their physical style, it’s not like they don’t have offensive skill, and looking back at their last Cup win, one thing stood out: they were young enough that they didn’t have to rip their core apart in the offseason).

I admire defense. My memories are filled with offense, so I can hope they can win and play exciting hockey in the years to come seeing the Griffins succeed.

Posted by Bugsy on 06/08/13 at 11:17 PM ET

Bugsy's avatar

One quick addendum: the Bruins’ style (and as I’ve said before, I’ve loved watching the Bruins-Wings games the last several years before the exclusive conference schedule this year):

Posted by Bugsy on 06/08/13 at 11:23 PM ET

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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.


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