The Malik Report
Guest commentary: a journalism professor grades the 2011-2012 Wings’ players, coaches and management
by George Malik on 04/22/12 at 12:13 AM ET
Every once in a while, it’s good to change things up, and when readers ask me if they can weigh in with commentary of their own, I’m more than willing to oblige them. I know professor Steve Klein well, and his credentials speak for himself—as do his outspoken opinions—and here’s his take on the Wings’ disappointing 2011-2012 regular season and playoff run, including player grades (I’ll weigh in with my own in a day or two: I need to calm down, grieve a bit and pen something a little less emotionally charged than what you’re about to read) and recommendations in terms of necessary changes. His column comes with the usual blogger’s disclaimer: these opinions are his, not mine, and they stand on their own merit:
Steve Klein was sports editor of the Lansing State Journal from 1985-95 and is a life-long Detroit Red Wings fan. He coordinates the Journalism program at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
Here’s the thing I like most about Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. He’s brutally honest.
Like my old Michigan State friend, Ron Mason, the all-time winningest college hockey coach, Babcock is a zero-sum guy. It’s not, “What did you do last shift for me?” Its, “What did you do at the end of the last shift for me?” And the answer better not be that you were dragging your ass to the bench because you were on the ice too long.
I will remember the 2011-12 Detroit Red Wings season as one of fun and frustration. Fun until Pavel Datsyuk left the lineup with a knee injury that required surgery after Feb. 21. The Wings were 41-17-2 and leading the NHL at the time.
No more fun.
From there on in, it was mostly frustration: 7-11-4 to play out the season and drop to fifth in the West; 8-15-4 if you add the five games-and-out of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the built-to-beat-the-Wings Nashville Predators.
Except for a couple blowouts against Columbus and one against Minnesota—teams that did not make the playoffs—the Wings won a couple shootouts, a couple one-goal games, and the lone one-goal playoff game after Feb. 21.
For the most part, the Wings weren’t fun to watch at all after Feb. 21.
No more of those Lidstrom-Rafalski laser-pass breakouts up the middle.
No improvement on the power play.
No improvement on defensive zone mistakes.
No improvement on faceoffs and the puck possession it creates.
We kept hoping because we remembered the fun; we’re fans.
The reality, however, was continued frustration.
Since I do a lot of grading in my academic life, my students understand that a “C” meets standards. Standards are supposed to be high. The Wings did not meet their standards this season.
So, using a fun-or-frustration rubric, here is my assessment of the Wings for the 2011-12 season. Forget those pre-Feb. 21 midterm grades, by the way. The NHL is a zero-sum game, as Mike Babcock or Ron Mason will tell you.
Jimmy Howard: After he was injured (finger, groin, groin), he wasn’t much fun and a lot of frustration. He was good, but not good enough. We saw what great is from Nashville. C-.
Joey MacDonald: He had his fun—before Feb. 21. After that, he was injured. More frustration. He never played and couldn’t help. F (remember, what have you done for me lately?).
Ty Conklin: He was no fun this season, just all frustration except for a tease of a shutout early. F, and he can’t retake the class.
Nick Lidstrom: Not the same Nick after the deep ankle bruise. Not the same Wings as a result. Talk about frustration. C- because it’s a zero-sum game. I think he’d agree.
Nick Kronwall: Just not, and likely never will be, the difference maker that Lidstrom has been for two decades. Fun, but he only beat standards by a bit. C+.
Ian White: Frustrating because he is not Brian Rafalski other than he shoots right. C.
Jonathan Ericsson: It took his injury for the fans to appreciate him. That in itself is fun(ny). He’s the kind of player Ken Holland hasn’t given his coach enough of: big with reach. How many times does Babs have to say he likes size for his GM to respond? C+.
Brad Stuart: You want to leave. We understand. Thanks for the memories. Just play for San Jose like you did at the end of the season and during the playoffs (1 assist, minus-5). D (but only because he represents what little toughness the Wings have).
Kyle Quincey: So, we gave him away, then traded a first-round draft choice to get him back? Frustration on so many levels. F.
Jakub Kindl: After that final Chicago game, when he personally handed the Black Hawks their two goals, what are you going to do with the guy? He never played again. Trade bait; don’t want you in class anymore. A frustrating and disappointing F.
NOTE: And remember, Mike Babcock said he was satisfied with the back end. Still, it was more than time for Brendan Smith.
Henrik Zetterberg: He was fun when it really counted. If only he could finish. The ONLY forward Babs mentioned after the Wings were eliminated. A.
Pavel Datsyuk: We never saw much Datsyukian magic after his knee surgery. He was sooooo good until then (although he started the season slowly). C-.
Darren Helm: Babs NEVER talks about players who aren’t available. He talked a lot about Helm. The ultimate frustration for the Wings. F (sorry, but you can’t miss class).
Johan Franzen: What’s lower than an F? Don’t want him back in class. He frustrates his classmates.
Justin Abdelkader: Not the third-line center. That proved frustrating. D.
Todd Bertuzzi: Should not be allowed to play in the first period, when he almost always takes a frustratingly stupid penalty in the offensive zone. Tell me again why the Wings signed him to a new 2-year contract? There are no shootouts in the playoffs. Contract was a Franzian mistake. D (but only because he stood up for Zetterberg).
Fabian Brunnstrom: Remember him? The Wings didn’t. F is for the Fabian-size frustration.
Danny Cleary: Life’s not fair. Played on one leg (and it wasn’t Steve Yzerman’s one leg). D for his bravery. But ultimately frustrating.
Cory Emmerton: Someone has to play on the Frustration Line. F.
Valtteri Filppula: He doesn’t shoot, he doesn’t score. What could be more frustrating? D.
Tomas Holmstrom: Good Lord but I love him. He died almost every game for his sins. F. Can’t come back to class. Time to graduate. No more fun for you.
Jiri Hudler: How many times did I email George, “He plays small.” Frustrating because you almost never see him, even when he scores. Thanks for playing the game. Maybe Columbus wants you? D.
Drew Miller: Except for the PK, disappeared when Helm disappeared. C. He coulda been fun.
Gustav Nyquist: I know, I know, but what did he do? Other teams have promising young players, too; they even score. F. Not fun yet.
Riley Sheahan: Will remember him for knocking a player’s teeth out in his March debut. Thought that was worth mentioning. F. Not fun yet.
NOTE: Kinda makes you appreciate Hank, doesn’t it? He gets the “C” from Lidstrom some day.
BOSSES (and such):
Mike Babcock: I really like him. Bought his book. But there are other coaches just as good in the division. But not better. They just had better players this year. I hope he coaches the Wings for a long, long time. B-.
Assistant coaches: The Wings have assistant coaches? What do they do? F.
Piet Van Zant: We needed miracles. F (another life’s not fair assessment).
Jimmy D.: DO SOMETHING! Are you getting old or something? This wasn’t fun. F.
Ken Holland and his staff: If you compare the job he did this season, for whatever mysterious reasons he did it, compared to David Poile, this is an easy F. Took the fun right out of the season.
Mike Ilitch: Always an A+. Thanks for everything you mean to the Wings, the Tigers, Detroit and me. You make the fun possible.
ME: Too harsh? So give me an F for being a bad fan. Like George, I love the Wings; I have for more than 50 years and will, hopefully, for many more. Ron Mason taught me hockey is a zero-sum game. You heard Babcock’s zero-sum summation. The Nashville series wasn’t close. I agree. Close games don’t make a close series. The Wings’ faults remained consistent all season. They never changed, never improved, they never fixed their problems. Maybe they couldn’t. Maybe inertia is inevitable after two decades. So, who was the poster boy of this team? Johan Franzen. Time for a new poster boy.
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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.