The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/22/13 at 11:10 PM ET
Over the course of the both the Red Wings-Ducks and Red Wings-Blackhawks series, Ken Holland and Mike Babcock's roles on Detroit's "rebuilding on the fly" season (which, as the Oakland Press's Pat Caputo noted this afternoon, does not involve tanking to be bad enough for long enough to stockpile high draft picks like the Blackhawks did), and with the Grand Rapids Griffins advancing to the AHL's Western Conference Finals, Martin Frk dazzling at the Memorial Cup and the team adding to its stockpile of drafted prospects by bringing over Calle Jarnkrok (temporarily), Teemu Pulkkinen (permanently) and signing Nick Jensen and Mattias Backman recently (and adding free agents like Damien Brunner and the rapidly-headling Danny DeKeyser hasn't hurt, either)...
The Wings' NHL and AHL rosters don't necessarily lack talent or depth, though they're certainly not the Blackhawks.
Now the story about Mike Babcock heading to Anaheim instead of succeeding Scotty Bowman isn't necessarily as gruff as Ken Holland told the AP's Larry Lage earlier today--Babcock was coaching the AHL's Cincinnati Mighty Ducks in the 2001-2002 season, and when Babcock approached Holland stating that he wanted to coach the Wings, Holland told Babcock that he simply couldn't hire a coach with no experience as opposed to stating that the team "doesn't hire interns"...
But Holland did very openly speak about the Red Wings' rebuilding process--and not just the whole, "We lucked out on Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in the late 90's part"--while speaking to the Vancouver Sun's Cam Cole:
The Wings are a lot more than lucky. They’ve had much the same scouting staff together since the early 1990s — Joe McDonnell, Andersson, Bruce Haralson, Mark Leach — and those scouts have consistently produced gems from humble draft positions. Losing Jim Nill, Holland’s former assistant GM who just became the Dallas Stars’ new manager, will leave a hole in the operation, but somehow, the Wings will fix it. They always do.
“How have we found these (players)? We’ve stuck to a philosophy,” said Holland. “In ‘05, coming out of the work stoppage, going into a (salary) cap world, Jim Nill and I sat in the office going over the CBA, like everybody else did, and we made a decision that we had to be way more conservative on trade deadline day than we had been. We had traded eight first-round draft picks from ‘95 to ‘05 — Keith Primeau, who was a first, plus a first, for Paul Coffey. Anders Eriksson, who was a first and two more firsts for Chris Chelios. A first-round pick, Kozlov, for Dominik Hasek. We traded a first and (Tomas) Fleischman for Robert Lang. And we traded a first and somebody else for Mathieu Schneider.”
Since then, he said, “we’ve hung onto more picks, to get more spins at the wheel.” The pillar of the Detroit system is patience. Holland admits it’s a luxury not every team can afford.
“We’ve had the good fortune to have good teams, so we’ve been able to have patience. We haven’t had to rush anybody into this team, until we thought they were actually ready to compete for a spot,” he said. “I lived (the other side) it from ‘85 to ‘89 when our team wasn’t very good. We had the first pick in the draft my first year scouting, we picked Joe Murphy. We were under pressure at that time, we were racing kids in, and they can’t make a difference. The odd one might, but most don’t. So once we got the program going, probably in the early to mid-90s, we’ve never been under pressure to rush anybody. So having success has allowed us to have stability, which has allowed us to have one philosophy, which has allowed us to have a lot of people who have stayed here a long time. So when Jim Nill picked up the phone to talk to Hakan Andersson, they were speaking the same language.”
And Holland duly noted that both coaching continuity and continuity of playing style have helped the Wings through successive roster transitions and the departures and retirements of that majestic 1989 draft class that included Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Dallas Drake, and of course the ends of the Yzerman/Shanahan eras and now...
The end of the Lidstrom era, where the Wings have core players in their early-to-mid-30's in Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall, and, otherwise, sticking with a combination of core players who've developed into key contributors in their late 20's (Jimmy Howard, Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller, Jonathan Ericsson, Kyle Quincey, Valtteri Filppula) and a significant number of "kids" like the aforementioned DeKeyser and Brunner, Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl, and next season, Tomas Tatar and Brian Lashoff.
Down the line, as Cole suggests, the Red Wings have bigger prospects in the pipeline, but the players most close to NHL action at this point are small, at least up front (Jarnkrok, Pulkkinen, Landon Ferraro, Tatar) and in goal (Petr Mrazek), and while Holland and the scouting staff are actively trying to draft big, heavy prospects (see: Richard Nedomlel and Mike McKee), Holland told Cole that he'd still rather have skill over size:
“We’ve got to figure out a way to draft lots of good pros, and they’ve gotta be guys we can develop into above-average NHL players and then hope one or two become better than we had hoped. I don’t believe we’re going to find another Zetterberg and Datsyuk. I hope we do,” he said, crossing his fingers, “but I think planning on it would be a bad plan.
“Would we like to bigger, would we like to be harder? Yeah. But it’s hard to address every need. Were trying to steer a little bit to get a little bit bigger, but the decisions you make at the draft come to fruition six or seven years later.
“If you look back over the last 10 years, those seasons when we lose in the first round, the critics would say, they’re not big enough, they’re not hard enough. And those years when we won the Stanley Cup like we did in ‘08, those same people would say, ‘Boy, they got a lot of talent.’ At the end of the day, we’ve stuck to one philosophy. We like skill.”
Very interestingly, the Windsor Star's Bob Duff happened to speak to a a prospect who's finally established himself in Jonathan Ericsson, one who's grabbed an "everyday player" foothold in Jakub Kindl and one who's surprised in Joakim Andersson about the team's prospect development philosophy, which involves at least some of the following steps, and usually all of them:
1. Be drafted and play one's way into an entry-level contract with the Wings, attending multiple summer development camps and prospect tournaments to learn how to fill out one's body and prepare for the skill development learning curve that is playing against elite prospects and older players;
2. Spend anywhere between 1-4 years with the Grand Rapids Griffins and/or Toledo Walleye, establishing oneself as a professional and eventually earning a "cup of coffee" with the parent club;
3. Play a supporting and/or ancillary role as a part-time player and frequent healthy scratch;
4. And, somewhere between 5-8 years after you've been drafted, establish yourself as a reliable roster player:
“That’s what they’ve done and they’ve been successful for a lot of years here,” Detroit defenceman Jonathan Ericsson said. “I wouldn’t blame them to keep doing it.”
“They want their guys to be ready when they get up here,” explained Wings rookie centre Joakim Andersson. “I felt that I was ready when I got here and I guess that (fellow rookies Gustav) Nyquist and Smitty (defenceman Brendan Smith) felt they were ready when they got here. That’s probably why we can go in there and play pretty well in the playoffs.”
Looking back, Kindl, 26, now knows for sure that he wasn’t anywhere near ready, even if – like most smug teenagers – he felt certain at the time that he was.
“When I got drafted, there was no way I was going to beat guys out like (Niklas) Kronwall or take some minutes away from (Nicklas) Lidstrom,” he said. “Who knows what would have happened if I started playing when I was 18, 19 or 20 years old?”
And where does all of this stuff originate from? Who holds the highest expectations for Holland, the front office, Babcock and the coaching staff, the team's player development personnel and affiliates, the pro and amateur scouts, and its players and prospects?
“It starts with the owner,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said of Mike Ilitch. “He expects you to have success, period.
“He wants you to be an every-dayer and he wants you to work. He expects that from the general manager, from the coach, from the players, from the minor-league team, from the people that work here at the rink, from the people in the office. He sets the tone that way. The expectations here are real high and we’re proud of that.”
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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.