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The Malik Report

More talk about the Red Wings’ free agency whiff

WXYZ's "7 Sports Cave's" Brad Galli, Matt Sheppard and Dave Birkett spoke about the issue at the 7-minute mark of their hour-long weekly show, and the Oakland Press's Pat Caputo also addressed the issue I have yet to be able to speak with Ken Holland about up here at the summer development camp. The Red Wings whiffed in the free agency market, and it has the town--the state, and Red Wings fans all over the world--jittery:

The Red Wings have had one of the things other NHL organizations have generally lacked – stability. Yet, it’s like it has been turned around on them.

For many Red Wings’ fans, their general manager is clueless and their coach a tyrant nobody wants to play for, because of the free agent failure this summer.

There has to be a trade coming, right? The Red Wings have been looking for a right-handed shooting defenseman since Brian Rafalski retired.

This isn’t like a rebuilding team that can leave cap money on the table in good conscious. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are premier players. The Red Wings are paying Jimmy Howard like he is a top goalie.

Jonathan Ericsson and Johan Franzen are other well-paid veterans. Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are excellent young players. It seems like the Red Wings have hit the jackpot with Anthony Mantha, the 6-foot-5 junior scoring machine, who will make his professional debut this season.

Yet, it’s impossible to look at how the free agent signing period has gone for the Red Wings and not wonder why they were so thoroughly shutout.

A red flag has gone up throughout Hockeytown. And it’s not the type flying on the hoods of so many cars during the Red Wings’ salad days.

Caputo continues, and free agency just ain't what it used to be. Dan Boyle went to New York for less than the Wings offered to play with a Stanley Cup Finalist containing Martin St. Louis, Matt Niskanen went with Barry Trotz and Alex Ovechkin, Christan Ehrhoff chased Crosby, Ovechkin and a pair of fellow Germans to Pittsburgh, the Wings weren't willing to let Tom Gilbert weigh their offer vs. the Canadiens' offer, and the team wasn't willing to give Anton Stralman 5 years. If you don't jump in with both feet after the first guy you can offer a deal to, or you can't sell them on the "lifestlyle" advantages, they go elsewhere, and it's happened incredibly regularly save Rafalski, Hossa and Hasek's additions.

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Jaromir Blogger's avatar

It’s also worth noting that Pittsburgh has a very large German population.

Posted by Jaromir Blogger on 07/06/14 at 02:49 PM ET

RWBill's avatar

It’s not exactly “much ado about nothing”, but neither is this a panic situation that it’s made out to be, largely because of the constant media attention it got (as it does every summer) prior to the event, so expectations were off the charts again.

Would adding one of Boyle, or Niskanen, make THAT big ‘o deal to the overall strength and competitiveness of the Red Wings? One Defenseman for 22 minutes on the ice with 4 others?  Probably not.

It does mean that someone else has to eat those 22 minutes, and that is a scary bit for Wings fans.  That means more Smith, KFQ, even Jesus Lashoff?

If the Wings key players can stay healthy and play 70 games instead of 40, and if Weiss even approaches what he should bring and stays healthy, the Wings will be markedly improved from the team that fans here love to say “barely squeaked into the playoffs the last two years.”

Who wouldn’t want to see a Top 4 DMan, RH, added?  I would, but it’s not a season wrecker by itself .

Posted by RWBill on 07/06/14 at 03:06 PM ET

@TheJimP19's avatar

There are many people who would have liked to see Holland stick to his quote of “retiring when Lidstrom does”  and have Jim Nil take over…  Nil’s recent actions aren’t going to help Holland in the popularity contest…  I was pissed during FA day like most, but sometimes the best trade is the one you don’t make,  frustrated over not getting Ehrhoff, but glad he didn’t sign Niskanen.  Quincey returning falls into the WTF category, if you’re going with kids, then bite the bullet on another one playing on the blueline.  Ouellet can’t be worse than Lashoff or Kindl…

Posted by @TheJimP19 from transplanted in Nashville on 07/06/14 at 03:27 PM ET


The real problem isn’t the “whiff,” it’s the mishandling of the Gilbert situation.

1)  According to Boyle’s agent, teams were told that the decision would not be purely financial if the Rangers offered.  E.g., Detroit knew it would have to blow NYR out of the water to land Boyle.  This is fine—Boyle’s choice.

2)  At some point before Tuesday at noon, Ehrhoff indicated to Detroit that he wanted a five year deal and Detroit begged out.  This is fine—arguably a wise move.  The fact that this was apparently a polite lie is irrelevant, IMHO.

3)  On Tuesday morning, Niskanen informed Detroit it was no longer a possible destination.  This is also fine—Niskanen’s free to make his decisions.

4)  At some point thereafter, Gilbert informed Detroit he had a solid offer from Montreal and that he needed a counter.  Detroit told him not to wait.

This 4) is baffling, given 1)-3).  Detroit was essentially banking everything on Boyle at that point, despite knowing that it was at best his second choice.  The wiser and more cautious move, by far, would’ve been to lock in Gilbert right then by outbidding Montreal.  That would’ve removed the need to panic-sign Quincey.

Would Gilbert over Quincey (for maybe a million less) have “made the difference”?  No, probably not.  But the flawed judgment and poor decisionmaking that led to us winding up with Quincey rather than Gilbert, at a higher price, is NOT reassuring.

Posted by captaineclectic on 07/06/14 at 03:28 PM ET

babymachine's avatar

We can speculate all we want, but after missing out on the big three d men available, better to go with the devil you know than the devil you don’t.  We know what Q can bring (when he plays well) and it’s not like he’s untradeable come the deadline.

I really would have liked getting Erhoff, but maybe we can after this season? To me, RH shot or not, we need a solid puck mover on D above all else. But we’re not living or dying by one. We have enough talent and enough prospects to wait and see, and do something mid-season if the possibility presents itself. We tend to forget our injury situation last year was an exception, not the rule.

Posted by babymachine from Portland, Oregon by way of Macomb, Michigan on 07/06/14 at 04:32 PM ET


Enh.  The vast majority of the people freaking out about Detroit not landing an overpaid UFA aren’t people I tend to take very seriously.  There’s absolutely no reason to be jittery.  Even the most feeble of memories can harken back to the hand wringing over Detroit not getting Ehrhoff of Wisniewski or Richards or, or, or last time.  That worked out okay.

If Detroit’s even just relatively healthy and if they get a 7th-12th best goalie performance out of Howard they’ll be the 3 or 4 seed in the East if all they get out of their roster is standard performances.

If Howard’s a dumpster fire again this year will be a struggle, but the team will bring up Mrazek with some degree of alacrity and smooth things out.  If the team loses seven bajillon man-games to injury again, then signing or not signing Ehrhoff or Gilbert or whoever else is meaningless.

This 4) is baffling

Gilbert’s not that good.  Quincey is better than Gilbert, a known quantity compared to Gilbert’s unknown future fit, and actually less expensive relative to the cap than he was when he got here.  Saving a million bucks or so to get a guy who is almost certainly going to be a downgrade doesn’t seem like a reason to hammer the team too much over their decision making process.

Look guys, Detroit’s not a top shelf destination for FA’s anymore because they aren’t consistently one of the best two or three teams in the NHL anymore.  All that Hockeytown crap and how great the organization treats them crap was sideshow gasbaggery. 

FAs wanted to come to Detroit because they wanted to win.  10 years ago the team could spend 30 mil more than 3/4s of the league and have a built in talent advantage.  Now, under a cap, all they can do unless they set the whole roster on fire and finish with 75 points a couple years in a row is count pennies, play the draft from the middle of the rounds, and try and make some magic happen on the periphery of the markets.  Right now Detroit’s in a mid-stream rebuild.  There’s no real reason for a high-profile UFA to want to take a discount to come to Detroit.

That’s just the reality of a capped league.  People either need to get acquainted with that or they’re going to spend a whole lot of energy whining and twirling about crazily all wound up over things that just aren’t readily solvable issues.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 07/06/14 at 05:15 PM ET

bigfrog's avatar

Look guys, Detroit’s not a top shelf destination for FA’s anymore because they aren’t consistently one of the best two or three teams in the NHL anymore.  All that Hockeytown crap and how great the organization treats them crap was sideshow gasbaggery.

You hit the nail on the head. True the Red Wings are still making the playoffs while in the rebuild/reload stage, but UFA’s do not view them as a Cup contender at present so they signed where they believed they had a shot at the Cup. Also true, is if the Red Wings can stay healthy they can be a third or fourth seed in the weaker Eastern Conference. Then anything goes come playoff time.

Posted by bigfrog on 07/06/14 at 06:16 PM ET


Its like someone said recently, how many teams make it to the Cup final without star level defenseman with very high talent and abilities, not to mention an ability to accumulate assists and a solid +/-.    Redwing fans have great reason for concern I think and the status quo move of Quincey was clearly opting for the devil you know. When the market says its over 4 million bucks for Quincey you realize the absurdity of free agent aquistions.  However,  bottom line is Smith, Lashoff,  Quincey,  Kindl, and even Krronwall make a lot of mistakes.  They blow defensive coverages and turn the puck over constantly.  Another top D man is needed on this team but God only knows where he comes from at this juncture? 

I think missing out on Niskanen and Ehroff was just fine.  Boyle or Stralman could have been really good fits in the Wings system I think and improved the group.  Its somewhat premature to think Sproul or Oullet could help at this point.  There was always more potential going the trade route,  if Holland was willing to part with real assets. Therein lies the rub.  You aren’t going to get Keith Yandle for Tomas Tatar and a second round pick.  Its a bit of fantasy hockey by most fans though constantly speculating about Yandle, Byflugian,  Myers,  Edler, Boychuck.  I like all those guys alot too but I will believe it when I see it and one of them is actually on the roster.

Posted by karlander on 07/06/14 at 06:33 PM ET


Quincey is absolutely not better than Gilbert.  Quincey’s atrocious penalties-taken-to-penalties-drawn ratio (second worst in the NHL last season) alone guarantees that.  But even if he weren’t measurably worse than Gilbert, which he is, Gilbert’s right-handedness alone, along with the staff’s stated top priority of landing a right-handed shot, shows conclusively that Gilbert was the better fit for the team.

Posted by captaineclectic on 07/06/14 at 06:36 PM ET


Christan Ehrhoff chased Crosby, Ovechkin and a pair of fellow Germans to Pittsburgh

That has to be Malkin, not Ovechkin.

Posted by VPalmer on 07/06/14 at 07:17 PM ET


Quincey is absolutely not better than Gilbert

Captain, HockeyinHD will defend every single KH move, there is no reason to argue. KH will sign Cleary and send Jurco to GR and Hockey will spin it that is the right decision.
It does not matter if Q is better than Gilbert or worse in general. What matter is that we needed a right handed dman who can quarterback the PP. This is Gilbert and not Q.

Posted by VPalmer on 07/06/14 at 07:21 PM ET

tuxedoTshirt's avatar

I don’t know about KFQ but Gilbert is definitely a bit of a joke.  No one should cry over missing him.

Even the most feeble of memories can harken back to the hand wringing over Detroit not getting Ehrhoff of Wisniewski or Richards or, or, or last time.  That worked out okay.

I think we’d all agree that we’d like to see something a little sweeter than “okay”.  To me it’s not necessarily about the player, just the strategy.  Calgary understood its position and targeted the players that they could actually land and executed the strategy.  That’s why its fair to call July 1 a “whiff” for KH.  Never mind the merits of the FAs.

Posted by tuxedoTshirt from the Home of the 1937 World Champions on 07/06/14 at 11:04 PM ET


I don’t know about KFQ but Gilbert is definitely a bit of a joke.  No one should cry over missing him.

Hard to see what makes him a “joke” given his strong possession numbers, but the point isn’t about Gilbert, it’s about the process—going all-in on known longshots Boyle and Niskanen then, upon missing them, defaulting to the devil-we-know.

This is ALSO what happened two years ago—all-in on Parise and Suter, when, upon the whiff, we took Sammy, a useless retread, and had to sign Colaiacovo and eventually Kent Huskins because the plan-B options (Salo, Carle) were long gone. 

I think we would’ve been materially better off the last few seasons if we’d signed Ehrhoff in 2011.  Remember, Rafalski had retired, leaving us with $6M in unexpected cap space, but we decided not to “overpay” for Ehrhoff and instead went cheap with Ian White.  This wound up hurting us in the following ways:

1)  We traded a 1st rounder for Kyle Quincey to shore up the defense—a move that would have been unnecessary if we’d had Ehrhoff;

2)  We whiffed on Suter and Parise with the “extra” cap space, so the cash saved wound up doing us no good;

3)  When Lidstrom retired we were left without a bona fide power play QB, a role Ehrhoff could have filled;

4)  Ian White became a healthy scratch without Lidstrom there to cover up his shortcomings—Ehrhoff would not have become a healthy scratch;

5)  We just re-signed Kyle Quincey for another two years at about the cap-hit Ehrhoff was allegedly being “overpaid” at—even Quincey’s mom probably admits Ehrhoff is better than Quincey.

So, yes, sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make—Holland was wise to keep the powder dry on Brad Richards, for example—but sometimes they aren’t.  If we’d “overpaid” for Ehrhoff we’d be a better team, and not just right now, but maybe good enough to win more than one playoff game in Nick Lidstrom’s last season, or last year, and who knows, maybe even good enough to eke out one more win against Chicago in 2013. 

Likewise with Carle.

Likewise with Salo.

Likewise, going forward, with Gilbert.

Incremental improvement, guys.  Not to be sneered at.

Posted by captaineclectic on 07/07/14 at 07:46 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

It’s not so much that they didn’t land big players the last three offseasons, as it is that Holland hasn’t shown an ability or willingness to adapt and make some hard choices. This team is stuck in the middle—as pointed out in the original post, a core of Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Kronwall, Ericsson, and Howard is not too shabby at all, especially when you tack on the fact that DeKeyser, Nyquist, Tatar, Sheahan, and Jurco have all proven that they are legitimate, full-time NHLers.

But that’s also (clearly, as the results have shown) not a Cup team. It’s not really even a semifinals team. It has a gaping hole on defense. Even if Mantha has a dynamite camp, makes the big club, and scores 30 goals this team still either needs to make a trade for another Kronwall-caliber (or better) puck-moving D, or it needs to get really damn lucky with the likes of Kindl bouncing back or one of the Griffs having a dominant camp, earning a spot, and keeping it emphatically.

That’s asking a whole lot.

So when KH strikes out a few off-seasons in a row trying to get that critical piece that can extend the Cup-competitive life of this core group, it’s disheartening, but no, not the end of the world. You can’t expect under this CBA to get most players without going all-in for them, and even when you do (see Suter, Parise) you know there will be at least a couple other clubs going all-in, and at that point, it’s up to factors beyond your control (again, see Suter, Parise and the Minny connection).

All that being said, the real scary and disappointing thing from Holland is that despite all these setbacks in trying to extend the life of this core group and do the “rebuild on the fly,” he has either not been willing or able to make the hard decisions and truly move toward a rebuilding mode. The way the game is working now, under the last two CBAs, is not so much that you have to tank to get high picks, but that you have to pick a direction and sink or swim with it. The summer of Suter/Parise was the chance. When that failed, in retrospect (admittedly), it is clear that it was time not to blow it up, but to consider some dramatic moves. Franzen should’ve been both all over trade talks and a legitimate buyout candidate (especially after the most recent lockout when the compliance buyouts were available). There was a time when the likes of Dan Cleary would’ve been an attractive deadline acquisition for a team that was truly competitive, even if just for a middle-round pick (which by the way the Wings amateur scouting department has shown it knows how to do incredible work with).

This is why seeing what Jim Nill has done is so frustrating—the Stars were arguably in one of the worst spots to be in right before he took over… middling in the standings. Not bad enough to collect no-brainer draft picks, but not good enough to entice the top UFAs to come to town. No real top-tier prospects (though certainly some quality young players). In two offseasons Jim Nill has taken the middling assets that the Stars had and turned them into a team that, on paper, has the center ice depth to win games in the Western Conference. That is no small feat. And while Spezza is older, Seguin is younger, so this isn’t like he sold the farm for one kick at the can.

It was decisive, and carries risk, but also looks like a very clear plan. What is Holland’s plan? I’m struggling to see any consistency, anything that looks premeditated. It feels like he’s just holding out, buying time, and waiting for Hakan Andersson to work his magic one more time, or waiting for Ritch Winter to call him at the gas station with an offer he cannot refuse.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 07/07/14 at 10:17 AM 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.