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The Malik Report

Holland, Babcock and the Red Wings’ players discuss ‘rebuilding on the fly’

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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Comments

OlderThanChelios's avatar

And we traded a first and somebody else for Mathieu Schneider.

How quickly Kenny forgets. smile

2003/03/11: Los Angeles Kings traded Mathieu Schneider to the Detroit Red Wings for Sean Avery, Maxim Kuznetsov, a 1st round selection (Jeff Tambellini) in 2003 and a 2nd round selection in 2004.

In the 2003 draft, the Wings took Jimmy Howard in the second round and Quincey in the fourth. And in 2004, they took Franzen in the third round.

It’s kind of weird to look back and see how some tades worked out and others didn’t. All in all, that trade for Schneider was a pretty darn good one.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 05/22/13 at 11:22 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Somebody mentioned that Mattias Backman was drafted with the pick the Wings got for Ville Leino as well…

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 05/22/13 at 11:40 PM ET

Avatar

I guarantee you KH just didn’t want to admit that Avery was EVER a Wing.

Posted by zombietroy on 05/23/13 at 01:46 AM ET

Primis's avatar

and not just the whole, “We lucked out on Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in the late 90’s part”

I’ve bashed on Kenny plenty, but even I can’t call that “luck”.

I’m sorry, you don’t draft Z and Pavel late, Franzen in the 3rd round,  guys like Howard and Nyquist with luck.  Ericsson is now playing in the top pairing, and he was the absolute last pick of the draft.  Brendan Smith was considered a “reach” when DET drafted him and even then the “experts” then openly wondered how much it could have been if it was DET (same thing when they took Franzen.  I very much remember the “Uh oh, look out for this guy” from analysts after the pick).

Luck is it happening randomly.  DET does it far too often for it to be random.

Keith Primeau, who was a first, plus a first, for Paul Coffey

Errr, no.

Primeau, Coffey, and a 1st to HFD for Shanahan and Brian Glynn.  I don’t know WTF is up with the Primeau-for-Coffey thing.  Primeau and a 1st for Coffey would have been an abysmal deal for DET…

Posted by Primis on 05/23/13 at 07:15 AM ET

Avatar

I’ve bashed on Kenny plenty, but even I can’t call that “luck”.

Zetterberg was found when Andersson was scouting another player and happened to choose a game in which Zetterberg was on the opposing team.

Andersson and another scout from another team were scheduled to make a scouting trip together but the other scout got snowed in and couldn’t make the trip.  That was the trip tha Andersson first saw Datsyuk on.

There’s no way to describe those other than luck.

And I’m not using it to bash Holland, I’m just saying, those two stories are lucky, pure and simple.

I’m sorry, you don’t draft Z and Pavel late, Franzen in the 3rd round,  guys like Howard and Nyquist with luck.

What do Franzen, Howard and Nyquist have to do with it?  He specifically says they got lucky with Datsyuk and Zetterberg.

Posted by Garth on 05/23/13 at 08:08 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

The Red Wings’ brass and scouts will very readily admit that scouting is two thirds incredibly hard work and one third plain old luck.

You’re trying to determine which 15-to-18-year-olds are going to develop into solid professional athletes via both physical maturation, mental maturation and an inner desire to continually improve their physical conditioning and skills while embracing the 24-7-365.25 lifestyle that is that of a professional athlete, and understanding that they’re going to have to earn their way up a long professional ladder as well.

Anticipating that a player’s physical, mental and skill-and-body-building maturation will intersect at some point can at least be partially estimated by scouting and personal interviews…But it’s really up to the player and not the scouting staff to improve once drafted…

And I’d suggest that the “third of smart drafting that’s luck” isn’t that big a deal, because scouts offer so many, “I was at the game to watch some other guy” (cue: Mattias Weinhandl—> Henrik Zetterberg, Dmitri Kalinin—> Pavel Datsyuk, another goalie—> Jimmy Howard, etc.) stories that it’s either remarkable or silly, depending on your point of view.

Luck is a huge part of amateur scouting, and there’s no doubt about it.

As for Avery? The Wings didn’t like him because he was disruptive in the locker room, because he didn’t listen to the coaches when they told him to settle the f*** down and watch his temper, because he got kicked out of Chris Chelios’s house for being such a dick that Chelios’s boys started fighting each other, and because he was an all-round jerk.

The Wings understood that they were giving up a potential 20-goal-scorer as well as a player they still held in decent esteem in Kuznetsov (who ended up having a very strong European career), but the team rather desperately needed another offensive defenseman, and they’d seen Schneider help pick the Wings apart in 2001, so they felt that the trade was worth making.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 05/23/13 at 08:34 AM ET

SYF's avatar

Avery, I think, was a free agent signing.  Avery never lashed out like he did until after he left the Wings because of the immense presence of heavy hitter leaders in the Wings dressing room.  There was Yzerman, Shanahan, Lidstrom, Chelios, and Larionov who ruled that dressing room.  If Avery stayed, he might not have blown up like he did and he might’ve been a Dallas Drake type of player.

I didn’t mind Avery in a Wings sweater.

Posted by SYF from Alana Blanchard's Bikinis and Surfboards on 05/23/13 at 12:14 PM ET

SYF's avatar

I take that all back, George.  Sorry.  I didn’t your post regarding Avery.

Posted by SYF from Alana Blanchard's Bikinis and Surfboards on 05/23/13 at 12:17 PM ET

Primis's avatar

What do Franzen, Howard and Nyquist have to do with it?  He specifically says they got lucky with Datsyuk and Zetterberg.

Posted by Garth on 05/23/13 at 09:08 AM ET

And I SPECIFICALLY said when viewed as a whole, those look less like just luck.  I’m aware of the circumstances surrounding scouting Z and Datsyuk, thanks.  When things stop being outliers though, you’re left with trends and truths.

When Buffalo went to video scouting only?  Their drafting (not surprisingly) suffered.  Is that “bad” luck because their guys weren’t in the field to unearth guys?  No.  So being at Point A for B to happen could be luck, or it could be putting your guys out there enough for good luck to eventually happen to you.

I’d love to know what DET’s scouting budget it and runs.  I’m betting it dwarfs most other teams’.  And that’s not “luck” if they’re putting more resources into scouting than other teams.

Posted by Primis on 05/23/13 at 12:22 PM ET

Avatar

And I SPECIFICALLY said when viewed as a whole, those look less like just luck.

Who gives a damn about the whole?  Holland wasn’t talking about the whole.  Holland SPECIFICALLY said they were lucky with Datsyuk and Zetterberg.  The circumstances around which they drafted Franzen, Howard and Nyquist are 100% irrelevant.  They don’t change the fact that Detroit got lucky with Datsyuk and Zetterberg.

When Buffalo went to video scouting only?  Their drafting (not surprisingly) suffered.  Is that “bad” luck because their guys weren’t in the field to unearth guys?  No.

But Detroit didn’t make conscious decisions in either instance of Zetterberg or Datsyuk.  They happened upon Zetterberg and they happened to have the only scout who saw Datsyuk at that time.

They got lucky.

So being at Point A for B to happen could be luck, or it could be putting your guys out there enough for good luck to eventually happen to you.

But when Scout A and Scout B are supposed to go on a scouting trip together but Scout B gets snowed in, and Scout A ends up being the only one to see Player C play -who happens to end up being one of the best players of his generation- it’s luck for Scout A.

And that’s not “luck” if they’re putting more resources into scouting than other teams.

It doesn’t matter what their scouting budget is if that other scout doesn’t get snowed in when he was supposed to check out Datsyuk.

Andersson didn’t happen upon Zetterberg when he was scouting someone else because of Detroit’s scouting budget.

Posted by Garth on 05/23/13 at 12:39 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.