The Malik Report
by George Malik on 09/23/13 at 04:12 AM ET
In the middle of August, NHL.com and David Kalan penned a set of articles offering a "state of the Red Wings" as part of the NHL's "30 in 30" series, and a month later, Kalan's returned with a quartet of articles looking at the post-training camp Wings as part of the league's accelerated "30 in 15" season previews.
The series starts with Jimmy Howard's assessment of what the Wings need to do to succeed this season...
And in Kalan's first article, Howard addresses both the Wings' move to the Eastern Conference and his attempts to focus on his tasks at hand as opposed to a 2013 campaign with earned Howard a 6-year, $31.75 million contract extension behind him:
"It gives me a lot of confidence that [Red Wings coach Mike Babcock] and [Red Wings general manager Ken Holland] and all of management have a lot of confidence in me to get the job done," Howard said. "By them offering me that contract, it was a no-brainer to sign it and to be able to stay in Detroit where it's such a great organization. From top to bottom it's run first-class."
Barring the unexpected, Howard will have been Detroit's starting goalie for a decade by the time his contract ends, providing the Red Wings with the kind of stability in net they haven't had since Terry Sawchuk wore the Winged Wheel. That should be a tremendous boon for the Wings as they balance an influx of young defensemen with Detroit's year-in, year-out Stanley Cup expectations. Howard, for one, expects some of the team's younger players to have different mindsets after last-season's unexpected playoff run.
"They got to play in two Game 7 situations in two very hostile arenas," Howard said. "I think everyone was writing us off in both series to lose out, and I think it surprised even ourselves that we got to be up 3-1 [in the series] on Chicago. … I think that's part of the maturation process, becoming a better player and a better athlete. You learn in those situations that failure isn't an option. You just think about winning. I think with the experience the guys got last year in playing and now how familiar they'll be with each other this year, we'll be even better on the back end."
Gustav Nyquist stated that the Wings' Game 7 loss to Chicago still stung when he was interviewed by Fox Sports Detroit last Thursday, and Niklas Kronwall spent the summer suggesting that the loss served as a significant source of motivation, but Howard tells Kalan that, as a goalie, short memories are a must:
"After that, I just flushed it out," Howard said. "This is a new season. This is a new start. We're moving to the Eastern Conference now so it's going to be a bit of a transition for us here at first. What's done is done and you've just got to move on."
Howard's focus on the season should be just what the Red Wings' front office wants to hear after committing to him through the 2018-19 season. After all, Wings fans don't want another banner to go up -- they expect it.
Those are the demands any goalie has to be ready for when he signs up to play in Detroit. But having spent 10 years in the Red Wings organization (he was a 2003 second-round pick), not only is that nothing new for Howard, it's just how he wants it.
"Every year it's the Stanley Cup or bust," he said. "That's the expectation of playing in Hockeytown. And that's the way it should be."
Kalan's second article discusses Danny DeKeyser's importance in terms of ensuring that the Red Wings' blueline proves that it's got the depth to both produce offense and keep the puck out of the net over the course of an 82-game season, all thanks to an abbreviated "rookie" season (again, as USA Today's Kevin Allen noted, DeKeyser is still eligible for the Calder Trophy).
Had DeKeyser not suffered a broken thumb in the Wings' second playoff game gainst the Ducks, I can't deny that I happen to believe that the Wings' defense might not have been such an adventure in "rookie mistakes" over the balance of the team's playoff run:
DeKeyser had proven his effectiveness in the short period before his injury, shoring up Detroit's blue line with his large frame (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) and ability to spark the transition with passes out of his end.
"He already got a taste of it last year," Kronwall told the Detroit Free Press this month. "He came in and did unbelievable. Coming in now, he knows what to expect and he knows what's expected of him. I think he's going to do really well."
Considering Detroit was one win away from eliminating the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Semifinals, one must wonder what kind of difference DeKeyser might have made against players like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Barring a sophomore slump, having DeKeyser back on defense this season could pay tremendous dividends for a team that already is strong up front and in net. If he plays like he did during his brief stay in Detroit last season, he has the potential to bring the Red Wings stability in the one area that could be perceived as a weakness.
Despite the apparent ease with which he adapted to the NHL, DeKeyser will face several obstacles in his first full pro season, like adapting to an 82-game schedule. DeKeyser never played more than 42 games in his three seasons with Western Michigan.
"I'm just going to try to take it up another notch," DeKeyser told the Detroit Free Press recently. "Just going to try to have a good season. It's a long season; 82 games will be a bit of a grind. Just have to battle through that and have a good season."
If that grind doesn't wear DeKeyser out, he could be one of Detroit's better defensemen.
Kalan also asks three pertinent questions regarding the season to come, including the NHL-readiness of DeKeyser, Brian Lashoff and Brendan Smith, the Wings' cap issues (as noted in the overnight report, Gustav Nyquist can be sent down to Grand Rapids without clearing waivers until he plays in 2 more NHL games, but his preseason performance has proved that Nyquist has no desire to make demoting him an "easy" choice) and the acclimation process for the Wings' pair of free agent signings:
1. How will Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss fit in? -- Red Wings general manager Ken Holland made waves within hours of free agency opening when he allowed both Damien Brunner and Valtteri Filppula to test the market and then signed both Alfredsson and Weiss to bolster what is already a deep group of forwards. For Alfredsson, the move was particularly shocking given his nearly-two-decade tenure with the Ottawa Senators, the only organization he's ever known in the NHL, but Weiss is also making the first big change of his career. Weiss had been in the Florida Panthers organization since the team drafted him with the No. 4 pick in 2001, and no one in the franchise's history has played more games for them.
Both players will be dealing with a transition, but fortunately for the Red Wings they should be easy ones. Aside from being energized by joining a perennial contender, Weiss, a Toronto native, should be familiar with the Detroit area after playing his junior hockey with the Plymouth Oilers. Alfredsson, meanwhile, will be one of at least eight Swedes on the roster, including players like Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen whom he knows from their time with the Swedish national team.
Those facts should make the superficial aspects of moving to Detroit easy for Alfredsson and Weiss, but there is also the matter of how they will adapt to being Red Wings on the ice. Weiss was signed with the expectations of being Detroit's second-line center, and given his sizeable $24.5 million contract he is expected to do it quite well. In his last full season, Weiss tallied 57 points in 80 games for a Panthers team that, while it did win the Southeast Division, was not quite as talented as the one Weiss is joining in Detroit. That could mean his numbers might get even better with stronger options on his wings.
Coach Mike Babcock's seemed to crack the, "You'd better not be as inconstent as that Val-terry Fil-a-poo-la" whip from day one with Weiss, stating bluntly that the Wings expect #90 to compete to his utmost on a nightly basis while posting 50 or so points as a go-to second line center...
Alfredsson, for his part, is used to being an offense's top scoring option, but with players like Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg on the roster he may be able to relax with an eased burden. Weiss and Alfredsson played together on a line with Franzen at the Wings' Red and White Game in Traverse City earlier this month. At the very least, as the two learn to adapt to their new team, they may be adapting together in more ways than one.
While Alfredsson's missed time with a sore groin, when he has skated with the Wings, he's looked all of 35, not 40, and the Mike Modano-esque, "I'm gonna ride off into the sunset with a Cup" air is decidedly absent from Alfredsson's demeanor. He's not commuting to a condo--he sold his house in Ottawa and moved to Metro Detroit with his wife and four sons, and from the start, Babcock and Ken Holland spoke about Alfredsson as joining the Wings' leadership core.
Kalan's final article offers a position-by-position "State of the Wings" assessment.
He wonders aloud who will provide...Let's say "tertiary" scoring for the team up front...
Just who will make up the bottom six is still something of a mystery. Recently re-signed Daniel Cleary will be in the mix, as will Drew Miller, Cory Emmerton or Joakim Andersson among others, but they've generally been defensive-minded forwards. If the Red Wings are to truly get goals from their third and fourth lines it could mean opening the door for younger forwards like Gustav Nyquist, or perhaps a prospect such as Tomas Jurco or Calle Jarnkrok.
He ponders who the first call-ups might be of (and he skips Adam Almquist) on defense...
Should any of the Wings' young blueliners falter or get bit by the injury bug there will be reinforcements waiting in Grand Rapids. Defense prospects Maxime Ouellet and Ryan Sproul are probably not NHL ready, but they have gotten ice time in the preseason and will likely be first in line for a call-up.
And he notes that Jimmy Howard has no problems with a heavy workload--which is good given Jonas "The Groin" Gustavsson's injury issues...
If there is any issue for Howard it might be his workload. After playing between 57 and 63 of Detroit's games in each of his first three seasons as the No. 1, Howard started 42 of 48 games in 2012-13. Over a full season that would translate to roughly 72 starts in 82 games, a total not unheard of, but still high. To keep him fresh the Red Wings may not want to use him as liberally as they did a season ago, but Howard is not concerned.
"I think it's one of those balancing acts that you have to do," Howard told NHL.com. "Once in a while it's good to hit that mental refresh button and just watch, but for me I just love being out there and I just love competing, so I want to be out on the ice as much as possible."
But this comment yields a Vulcan eyebrow-raising, though he's got a point about Petr Mrazek taking over as the back-up if Howard gets dinged):
One of the top goalie prospects in the game, Mrazek is considered a future NHL starter, though with Howard's extension it likely won't be in Detroit. In two starts last season, Mrazek went 1-1-0 while allowing just four goals on 51 shots.
Yes, there will be issues for Detroit to face. The Red Wings are of the oldest teams in the League, something not exactly helped by the addition of the 40-year-old Alfredsson, and they will have to learn a whole new slate of opponents with their move to the Eastern Conference. Developing chemistry with the new faces and adapting to life against the likes of the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators could provide bumps early on, but even those changes should eventually be more helpful than harmful.
The decreased stress of traveling in the East should leave the Red Wings more rested and healthy, while adding a player of Alfredsson's ilk and a solid center like Weiss should be a boon for an offense that experienced a decline in scoring for the second consecutive season. The new additions should also bolster a power play that scored at a middling rate of just 18.4 percent last season.
"One of the things you've got with Alfie is an experienced NHL player with a right-hand shot that can navigate the whole end zone and give you more options off of that. That's important," assistant coach Tom Renney told redwings.com this month. "Stephen's really an interesting player, he's a convertible type player because he can play up and play the point on the power play. How we choose to integrate him into that scheme remains to be seen. I think the power play should be more dynamic."
Despite, or perhaps because of the changes, the Wings figure to challenge for the division title and be among the top teams in the East with the potential of their first appearance in a conference final in five years.
It's also worth noting that Kalan's version of the Wings' depth chart does not include Patrick Eaves or Cory Emmerton.
Subtracting Eaves' $1.2 million and Emmerton's $533K cap hits won't solve the Red Wings' Capgeek-estimated status as $2.387 million over the Daniel Cleary, I mean salary cap's $64.3 million upper limit (Eaves + Emmerton gone = $1.733 million in cap relief, with $654,000 to go), but one could argue that Darren Helm's $2.125 million salary will sit on the long-term injured reserve for another month or two, that Eaves starting the season on the LTIR helps when "every penny counts."
I hate playing laptop GM, but in my estimation, Jordin Tootoo's $1.9 million cap hit (with 2 years remaining on his deal) and strong preseason yield a hard sell for easy cap relief, and while the beat writers believe that Emmerton's status as a natural center makes him immune from trading until Helm returns, but I get the feeling that Johan Franzen's slow start and slow-warming, "This stuff doesn't count yet" attitude might get his butt booted onto a line where he can play center and show more engagement in the game, and that Kalan's listing of Drew Miller as the fourth-line center reflects the fact that Miller can indeed take faceoffs.
That's just my version of educated guessing, however, and I'm sure you look at the Wings' roster and form different opinions. I know that the concept of moving Tootoo is quite unpopular given that the team's now in a conference where the John Scotts and David Clarksons roam.
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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.