The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/30/13 at 01:35 PM ET
Updated 2x with a weird trade-in-retrospect-rumor at 2:53 PM: A little over twelve hours removed from the Red Wings' Game 7 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, two themes dominate this afternoon's Red Wings talk:
1. As Paul noted, Wings coach Mike Babcock very bluntly stated to MLive's Ansar Khan that the team needs to improve its roster--with most of those in the know suggesting that the Wings will look at their cap situation and attempt to sign big goal-scoring forward and/or a #3/4 puck-moving defenseman, though doing so may involve both a) letting some UFA's-to-be walk or trading their rights, b) continuing to embrace the youth movement, bumps and mistakes included, c) utilizing the team's 2 cap compliance buy-outs and d) possibly trading some of the players who proved that they've got serviceable skills to make room for the Anderssons, Nyquists, Tatars, DeKeysers, Lashoffs, the probable returns of Helm and Bertuzzi and the team's UFA targets;
2) And as Paul also noted, "objective" types like the Globe and Mail's David Shoalts and Grantland's Katie Baker are continuing the on-video, on-Twitter and in-print, "Oh thank the hockey gods that the right team won after Stephen Walkom made that terrible, terrible call" line.
The New York Times' Lynn Zinser also took note of the U.S. and Canadian media's reaction, which will get worse now that TSN reports that Walkom will referee in the Conference Finals, and thus far, Sportsnet's contrarian that is Mark Spector is the only person outside of the Wings' players (per Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji) who offers any sympathy for Walkom's decision--and I'm going to offer a link to the video he's referring to instead of an embed because Sportsnet's videos tend to auto-play:
The back referee’s job is to focus on things happening behind the play. He can’t watch the altercation along the Detroit bench and also study the offensive play happening two zones away. There is an official there to watch the potential goal, the primary reason why the National Hockey League went to the two referee system.
Watch the video, and you’ll see Walkom blowing his whistle just as Niklas Hjalmarsson accepts the pass from Andrew Shaw. The Blackhawks bench clearly hears the whistle — as does the Red Wings bench — even though the players involved in the play obviously can’t hear the whistle behind the play in a loud playoff building.
In a regular season game, Hjalmarsson likely hears the whistle and may not even take the shot.
In the video, you see Walkom watching the altercation between Detroit’s Kyle Quincey and Chicago’s Brandon Saad in front of the Red Wings bench. He’s approaching the fracas and the moment that Saad throws a right hand from his back at the head of Quincey, Walkom appears to deem this a coincidental minors situation.
You can see from behind, as his right hand goes to his mouth. The whistle is blown, two strides before Hjalmarsson unleashes his shot.
The rest of the hockey world seems to believe that either no call or allowing the Blackhawks to score and thus negate the penalty despite the Hawks possessing the puck (see: similar rationales regarding the boarding of Johan Franzen which helped lead to Patrick Kane's goal in Game 6).
From Red Wings fans' perspectives, the play had less of an impact on the game than the supposed "good non call" on Andrew Shaw's slew-foot of Valtteri Filppula about three-and-a-half minutes into the game (as MLive's Brendan Savage reports, Filppula suffered a high ankle sprain and left the rink in a walking "boot" to immobilize his left ankle and foot) or what TSN's Mike Johnson and Darren Dreger deemed to be nothing less than an awesome decision by the refs to allow David Bolland to check Gustav Nyquist from behind at the Wings' blueline, neutralizing the Wings' forwards and allowing Brent Seabrook to back Niklas Kronwall (who Sportsnet's Brad May and John Shannon completely blame for the game-winner, for the record) in and score the series-winner.
The Hawks' press lauded Bolland's check and Bolland himself stated that his check helped make the play happen.
So whose side did the hockey gods "rightfully" take?
Who the hell knows.
What I do know is that the Red Wings aren't playing hockey again until training camp begins in September, and as the Wings thank their fans and the players prepare to clean out their lockers at Joe Louis Arena tomorrow, beginning an end-of-season process that will include exit meetings with the coaches and management, off-season workout prescriptions and injury rehabilitation programs from the training staff, and/or surgical dates for others...
And as ESPN rubs things in somewhat unintentionally via a statistical analysis of last night's game...
Brent Seabrook will be toasted in Chicago after scoring the overtime goal that gave the Blackhawks a Game 7 win. It was Seabrook’s first goal of the postseason. He becomes just the fourth defenseman in league history to score an OT goal in a Game 7. The goal and win capped a 3-1 series comeback for the Blackhawks, the first time the franchise had pulled that off. They were 0-11 in such series before this game.
The Blackhawks’ win sets up a rare situation in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: the final four won each of the previous four Stanley Cups: the Kings last year, Bruins in 2011, Blackhawks in 2010, and Penguins in 2009. FROM ELIAS: There has been only one "final four" in NHL or NBA playoff history in which each team won its league championship in one of the previous four seasons: the 1945 NHL postseason when the Bruins, Red Wings, Canadiens and Maple Leafs were left.
FROM ELIAS: It took overtime to decide a winner in Game 7 of the Chicago–Detroit series, which was as close as a series could be heading into extra time, with the teams deadlocked not only in wins but in total goals scored for the series (15–15).
Until last year, the only playoff series in NHL history in which Game 7 went to overtime with the teams having scored the same number of goals in the series was the first-round matchup between the Sabres and Senators in 1997 (won by Buffalo).
But this was the third such series in the last two playoff years, following the Washington–Boston and New Jersey–Florida first-round pairings in 2012 (won by the Caps and the Devils).
NEXT LEVEL: The Blackhawks scored 6 of their 15 conference semifinal goals (40%) against the Red Wings on high shots to Jimmy Howard’s glove side, including the overtime game winner in Game 7. The Blackhawks’ greatest percentage of goals (28%) were to the high glove side this season, an area in which Detroit’s Jimmy Howard limited goals in the 1st round.
Jimmy Howard Goals Allowed High Glove
Total Pct Allowed
vs CHI 6 40%<<
vs ANA 2 10%
>>Worst zone vs Blackhawks
And NHL.com's Corey Masisak offers five reasons why the Wings were eliminated from the playoffs, including the following:
1. Special teams: Chicago is having a ridiculously great season on the penalty kill, finishing third in the NHL during the regular season and finding a new level of dominance in the postseason. That said, the Red Wings only being able to dent the Chicago PK once in seven games is a big swing in a tightly-contested series.
Detroit’s PK was also strong, but Marian Hossa opened the scoring in two games with a power-play goal and the Blackhawks took control of Game 5 with back-to-back PPGs. The final tally for Detroit’s power play was 1-for-24 in the series, and that proved to be a problem.
2. Youth on defense: One of the reasons the Red Wings found a new level in the playoffs was the improvement of the team’s young players, but one of the reasons the Blackhawks controlled play for long stretches in the final three games was also because some of that youth in the blueline corps showed.
Brendan Smith was the second man into the corner to cover Niklas Hjalmarsson, which left Michal Handzus wide open for the tying goal in Game 6, then Smith was unable to keep Bryan Bickell from the rebound on the go-ahead goal later in the third period. Smith is a classic high-risk, high-reward defenseman, and he was inconsistent at times during the postseason. He also had some great moments and looks like a keeper. The Red Wings dressed four different rookies on defense for at least two games in this postseason.
5. Chicago is a better team: This is kind of the obvious one. On paper, this was not supposed to be a close series. The Red Wings stunned the Blackhawks by winning three of the first four, and much of that was because Jimmy Howard was a star in this series.
Detroit made great strides in the postseason, and the experience the young players gained from this will be invaluable. General manager Ken Holland has salary cap space at his disposal this summer, and there are a few more prospects that could make an impact next season. Simply put, this Blackhawks team is built to win a championship right now, while this was a transition year for the Red Wings. Howard and some nice work from the depth forwards nearly helped Detroit steal this series, but in the end the more talented and experienced team survived a great test and moved on.
I happen to believe that the Red Wings' "rebuilding on the fly" campaign will in fact last for one more season. Even if the team does not re-sign their UFA's in Valtteri Filppula, Danny Cleary, Ian White and possibly Drew Miller, retaining only UFA-to-be Damien Brunner, if the team re-signs RFA's Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson at reasonable prices...
The team already has only two cap compliance buy-outs at their disposal, and more than two players who they may want to part ways with (Mikael Samuelsson, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jonas Gustavsson and possibly Kyle Quincey or Jordin Tootoo; the team could buy out Johan Franzen, but I don't see that happening) to accommodate the returns of a presumably healthy Darren Helm and Todd Bertuzzi, Tomas Tatar's full-time promotion to the NHL roster and Brian Lashoff's 1-way contract next season.
The Wings have, according to Capgeek.com, $11.894 million in cap space to re-sign the aforementioned RFA's and Brunner, so something has to give (in addition to flipping Filppula's rights at the draft), and that will probably involve a trade or two, even if the trade or two don't happen until after the players sort out who stays and who goes via their play during this fall's training camp and exhibition season, and other teams suffer injuries which require relatively cheap roster reinforcements.
The Wings' brass has stated since last summer that they'd like to add a big goal-scoring forward and a top-three-or-four defenseman, but I can't help but get the gut feeling that the signing of DeKeyser and Lashoff's inevitable promotion may yield one more season of going with "the kids" on defense, at least until next season's trade deadline, for the sake of seeing what the defense can do while dressing Kronwall-Ericsson, Kindl-DeKeyser, Quincey-Smith and Lashoff simply because the team has a more desperate and immediate need for another crease-crashing, Justin Abdelkader-style Tomas Holmstrom replacement.
That kind of thinking yields one more "rebuilding on the fly" year to accommodate the salary cap going down from $70.2 to $64.3 million and to accommodate what really is a roster glut in terms of a pair of defensemen who will get regular ice time and a full forward line's worth of players who were either injured or playing in Grand Rapids--all with the assumption that the salary cap will probably rise to at least the high 60-million-dollar range for the 2014-2015 season, and that the "kids" will sort out what the team truly needs in terms of roster additions via having both a 48-game season and the majority of an 82-game-season and September-to-March's worth of experience under their belts.
But that is just my opinion, and I'm no general manager.
Babcock offered this take on his team's future to MLive's Khan...
“I’d like to see a healthy (Danny) DeKeyser, a healthy (Darren) Helm if he’s playing again, and we could be a way better team,'' Babcock said. “We need to be better if we want to be in this position consistently and not just by working, but by being good enough to be in this position. We have some work to do to as a group this summer.''
DeKeyser suffered a broken thumb in Game 2 vs. Anaheim but might have been ready to play in the Stanley Cup finals. Helm, limited to one game all season due to a back injury, does not require surgery for now. The team is hopeful that he will be fully recovered next season.
“There's a lot of younger guys that made huge strides this year,'' defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Just the way we played in the Anaheim series, we learned a lot along the way, came together even more as a team. We found a way to win. I thought we did a lot of that in this series as well.''
And Babcock continued, as the Windsor Star's Bob Duff noted:
Babcock drew parallels between this club and the Anaheim squad he guided to the 2003 Stanley Cup final.
“I coached a team in Anaheim that was a lot like this team,” Babcock said. “We weren’t projected to be very good, we missed the playoffs the year before and we got ourselves in and we kept getting better.
“That team was different, we had some veteran guys and probably some more veteran guys on the backend. It still gave you a chance with good goaltending, good team structure. We came here expecting to win just like we did every night. If we trusted ourselves and trusted our structure we thought we had a pretty good chance to win.”
[Brendan] Smith saw only good things in the future for the young Wings, six of whom saw their first playoff action this spring.
“It’s huge to see how well our team did,” Smith said. “How well we played just shows all the people who wrote us off and thought we wouldn’t even make the playoffs, let along make it this far and almost beat the No. 1 and No 2 seeds. It’s impressive to see how well our staff built us, how good they are and how many people they bring in. It’s great to see our young team do this well and we’re just going to build on it.”
The Red Wings did serve notice to the rest of the NHL that even a team that's "rebuilding on the fly" isn't going anywhere in terms of being an every-year playoff-qualifier--even if only in terrifying, last-minute fashion--but, in an Insider-only article, ESPN's Craig Custance suggests that the Wings; front office (GM Ken Holland, special assistant Kris Draper, capologist Ryan Martin, the coaching staff in Mike Babcock, Bill Peters, Tom Renney and Keith McKittrick, the pro scouts, including Mark Howe and Kirk Maltby, the prospect mentors and execs-at-large in Chris Chelios, Chris Osgood Jiri Fischer and even Nicklas Lidstrom, and the amateur scouts and staff, including Joe McDonnell and Hakan Andersson--as well as the team's leadership core's input in the form of what Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard have to say about who their team needs to target to improve) must both tap free agency and the trade market to improve their team...
Hit free agency: The Red Wings have 19 players signed next season with $11.9 million in projected cap space, according to CapGeek.com. How much Holland has to spend in July will hinge on what happens with Filppula, Cleary and Brunner, but he should have room to add a goal-scoring winger, something his team could have used during the playoff run. A guy such as Nathan Horton, who has the kind of playoff track record that would fit well with the Red Wings, would be a nice fit if they have room for an average salary north of $5 million per season. David Clarkson would be another good fit on the wing, and, if Filppula walks, the Red Wings need to look at a center.
Holland might want to look at buyout options for Mikael Samuelsson for more cap space and, if he's feeling really ambitious, take a hard look at Franzen as a possible compliance buyout candidate this summer or next. When he's engaged, Franzen is still an effective player, but, too often, that's a big if. His contract comes with a nearly $4 million cap hit through 2020.
As the media's suggested, Bryan Bickell would make one helluva Wing, too.
Work the trade market: Even after they let Ian White walk in free agency, the Red Wings potentially have eight NHL defensemen in Niklas Kronwall, Kyle Quincey, Jonathan Ericsson, Carlo Colaiacovo, DeKeyser, Kindl, Smith and Brian Lashoff. Kindl and Smith are restricted free agents who will need new deals. Colaiacovo has trouble staying healthy, but he was an effective player for the Red Wings in the playoffs. He averaged 15:14 of ice time per game after DeKeyser was injured, and was a plus-3, a solid audition for the trade market. The Red Wings like Lashoff, and that depth could be an asset for Holland when he looks for summer trades.
And then there is Daniel Cleary's playoff performance vs. the heavy, hard miles he's put on his body and a degenerating left knee that's not going to get better with time:
Weigh Cleary's experience versus the potential of youth: These playoffs proved once again just how valuable a guy such as Cleary can be. Yes, he has a lot of mileage and isn't a guy you can automatically pencil in for an entire season. But he proved this postseason that he can still be a physical presence, a disruption on the forecheck and capable of timely scoring. His four playoff goals where tied with Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen for second-best on the team behind Brunner.
The problem is there are young players pushing for a spot on this roster and parting ways with a heart-and-soul player like Cleary is often part of the painful process of a transitional rebuild like the one Holland has been orchestrating. (Kris Draper's exit is a recent reminder.) Down in Grand Rapids, the Griffins were making their own playoff run, and a couple of young players have impressed coach Jeff Blashill in the process. "Gus Nyquist goes up to Detroit, and Tomas Jurco has stepped in and done well in his place. His game really picked up where Gus left off," Blashill said. "He's been through an interesting process. He came into the year a skilled player who maybe didn't know how to play, didn't understand how hard you have to compete for every single puck and how to play that winning hockey that Detroit is known for. … To his credit, he's been willing to learn and get better at things." Tomas Tatar has also been one of Blashill's best players. "He's done an outstanding job. It's never easy when you go up and go back down," he said. "It speaks to his character that he's been one of the best players on the ice every single night. In the games that meant the most."
Does Tatar > Cleary when Cleary's vocal leadership in the media, on the bench and in the locker room are taken into account? I don't know. I wish I did.
But the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan duly noted that the Wings' present "youth movement" players stepped forward, including the mistake-prone but incredibly talented Brendan Smith, the obvious re-signing candidate that is Brunner--who Babcock told the media was playing injured during the Wings-Hawks series--and several others as well:
Justin Abdelkader: At 26, he's a bit older than some others on this list, but Abdelkader's ascent during these playoffs was something. After not scoring the first 23 games of the season, Abdelkader wound up with 10 goals and was a big, rugged winger who complemented Pavel Datsyuk on Datsyuk's line.
"The biggest improvement out of anybody has been Justin Abdelkader," Babcock said. "He was our fourth-line center (to start the season) and suddenly he's playing with Pavel and he's a dominant, physical guy for our team."
Joakim Andersson: With Darren Helm (back) missing the the Red Wings were constantly looking for a third line.
After they promoted Andersson from Grand Rapids, the problem was on its way to being fixed, especially after Babcock put wingers Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist on Andersson's line.
Danny DeKeyser: The way this 23-year-old defenseman moved from Western Michigan into the Wings lineup late in the season was truly impressive.
Jakub Kindl: The Red Wings have waited a long time but Kindl, the 2005 first-round draft pick, appears ready to fulfill his promise. Kindl has size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), mobility and improved his defensive game.
Gustav Nyquist: It took a while before the Red Wings felt the time was just right, but once they brought Nyquist, 23, up for good, it made them a deeper and better offensive team, particularly in the playoffs. His speed and quickness bothered Anaheim in the first round and he has good chemistry playing with Andersson.
In the multimedia department, Michigan Hockey posted a photo gallery from last night's game...
The Oakland Press's Pat Caputo, penning a column for 97.1 the Ticket, offered three reasons why he believes that the Red Wings could return to "Cup contender" status as early as the 2013-2014 season...
1. The Red Wings have the Big 3 in Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard. Zetterberg proved to be a terrific leader during his first season as captain, Datsyuk remains one of the most-skilled players in the NHL and Howard dsiplayed he is a money goalie, both during the regular season and the playoffs.
2. The Red Wings are developing a young nucleus of players, who got their first extensive taste of playoff experience this year. They performed surprisingly well and should learn from it to become better in the future. I see Gustav Nyquist and Brendan Smith as having especially high ceilings.
3. There is plenty of salary cap space available for general manager Ken Holland to improve the Red Wings this off season.
97.1 FM's Tom Millikan offered a "spirit of the thing" take on the Wings' progress made vs. the tremendous disappointment that is blowing a 3-games-to-1 lead over the Blackhawks...
The Red Wings choked away a 3-1 series lead. Choked is a strong word. It’s necessary though because the Red Wings have set a high standard: winning is all that matters. Dan Cleary even admitted as much after the game as they ‘failed’ in three tries to close out the Blackhawks.
You can choke and still be proud of the Wings at the same time. We can play the blame game all we want. You can even blame Niklas Kronwall who had the game-winning goal deflect off his leg. I’m not going to blame Kronwall though. I want a guy blocking shots. I want a guy who sacrifices his body. I want a guy that leaves it all on the ice.
Championship teams share a trust and bond that often differentiates them from other teams. What I take away from last night is that the Wings still have that mentality in their lockerroom.
Sure head coach Mike Babcock can ruffle players’ feathers with his hard-nosed approach. Sure it’s debatable whether or not Jimmy Howard is a Stanley Cup caliber goalie. Sure it’s debatable whether or not Valtteri Filppula should ever don a Wings jersey again. Sure it’s debatable whether or not Johan Franzen is significantly overpaid in a cap world.
What’s not debatable is the Red Wings heart, desire and team mentality. They still have the ‘it’ factor. ‘It’ is the ultimate intangible that makes you a champion.
I’m still bitter from the loss as I type this. But I do see a reason for hope moving forward. It starts in the lockerroom. And the Wings have ‘it.’
And in the FYI department...
1. Pro Hockey Talk reports that national ratings for last night's game were incredibly strong;
2. And Mickey Redmond is still active...In the Detroit Free Press's "State's Best Broadcaster" bracket-based contest.
Update: MLive's Brendan Savage looks at "What They're Saying" after the Hawks' win;
- The Score's Justin Bourne both posted a video of Henrik Zetterberg refusing to be interviewed by Pierre McGuire at the end of regulation last night and yes, he weighed in on the Walkom call;
- NHLPA.com's Chris Lomon posted a superb interview with Niklas Kronwall...
“I can talk for as long as you need,” Kronwall told NHLPA.com, on his way home from the airport after a recent Red Wings playoff win. “It’s bumper-to-bumper. But it’s no big deal.”
The man who wears No. 55 on his red and white jersey, however, certainly is a big deal and a big worry for the opposition. His devastating body checks might garner the most headlines when it comes to his game, but Kronwall, who has patrolled the blueline in Detroit since 2005-06, is much more than a one-hit wonder. The Red Wings veteran continues to be a steady offensive contributor, scoring 11 and 15 goals, respectively, in 2010-11 and 2011-12. In 48 games this year, he recorded 29 points.
Throw such numbers out to him, however, and Kronwall humbly deflects any opportunity to speak about his game.
“If you score or get an assist and you lose, you can’t view it as a success,” said the Swedish native who has appeared in 515 regular season NHL games. “It’s magnified even more when it comes to the playoffs. It’s the most intense time of the year. Your only focus is to do anything to get the win. There are plenty of things you can do to help make that a reality.”
For Kronwall and his teammates, simply getting to the post-season was a massive undertaking, as they drifted between inside and outside of the top eight in the West. In the end, Detroit managed to secure the seventh seed. After their seven-game triumph against the Ducks, they have faced off against Original Six rival, Chicago, the league’s top team, points-wise. In Game Six on Monday night, the Wings lost 4-3 to set up a deciding Game Seven in Chicago on Wednesday.
“It was a fight to get into the playoffs, but we played some of our best hockey when we needed to,” offered Kronwall, who won the Cup with Detroit in 2008. “There was a sense of confidence when the playoffs started. We have plenty of veterans who know what to say and what to do in those pressure-filled times.
“You try and maintain a simple approach each time you’re on the ice,” continued Kronwall, who won gold with Sweden in 2006 at both the World Championships and Olympics. “You can’t get too high or low throughout the course of the game. Obviously, there is so much on the line. It’s impossible to look beyond the next shift.”
- And 97.1 the Ticket's Mike Stone offered a "Six Pack" of observations about the Wings' season. Among them (and the spelling errors are his):
1. Although I still am not enamored with the six year contract, Jimmy Howard proved to me that goaltending is not an issue. I don’t think he is great, but with a good team around him, the Wings can go far with him in net. He did give up 20 third period goals in 14 games, but the Wings have much bigger fish to fry. He was arguably their MVP this season.
2. Ken Holland needs to bounce back from a few poor years. I will give him credit for the Damian Brunner and Danny DeKeyser signings, but he was not able or willing to pull the trigger on moves that would have made this team better. Whether it was his fault or not, he was not able to convince Ryan Suter or Zack Parise to be a Red Wing. The Kyle Quincey acquisition for a number one pick last season was absurd. Aside from a handful of games, Jordin Tootoo made minimal impact and don’t get me started on Mikael Samuelsson. Its time for Holland to be bold and somehow swing a trade to get a legitimate top four defenseman and a guy who can actually score 25-35 goals a season.
3. Mike Babcock coached his butt of this season. Given a flawed roster, he was able to coax this team to within one goal of the Western Conference finals. Many of his players allegedly can’t stand him, but you would never know it with the way they played the last month. He was not perfect. I still don’t understand why Gustav Nyquist and even Thomas Tatar did not get more ice time. The power play was a disaster during the playoffs and was only middle of the pack in the regular season. That is on him
4. Henrik Zetterberg’s captaincy would have made Yzerman and Lidstrom proud, especially during the playoffs. At times he took the team on his back with his defensive play and timely goals. His 3 goals the last two games of the Anaheim series basically lifted the Wings to the next round. He was mainly responsible for limiting Jonathon Toews to one goal. He only scored once himself, but it was the equalizer in game 7 and his two assists were instrumental in the Wings 4-1 game two win. He led by example which did not go unnoticed by his opponents as well. The Chicago players seemed to pay him more homage than usual in the handshake line.
Update #2: Um, uh...
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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.