The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/01/11 at 04:11 PM ET
Consider this to be the first entry of probably more than a couple in which I’ll incorporate reader commentary into the equation. The Detroit Free Press’s Jamie Samuelssen believes that the Red Wings might be best served by bringing Chris Osgood and Kris Draper back for one more season, possible ramifications in terms of losing Cory Emmerton to waivers included…
This will be an interesting summer for Osgood and Draper. Both have been supplanted in their traditional roles. Both still want to play. And both still want to play here. Draper pointed out after the season that the only downside to a long career in one city is that it makes moving on much more difficult. It’s one thing if you’re single and in your 20s. But when you have a family and you’re in your 40s, a one-year stint with the Phoenix Coyotes or Buffalo Sabres might not look as attractive. Translation: He’d stay in Detroit if the price was right. And the “right price” is anything the Wings are willing to give him.
Some fans think this is a negative. Some think the Wings have gotten too old and stale and hold on to their veterans too long. I disagree.
In the last few years, we’ve seen the Wings turn more and more to a younger group of players. Jimmy Howard took over in net. Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader have taken more important roles. Niklas Kronwall has become the defenseman we hoped he would and had a particularly strong playoff run this year. So the younger players have come along. It’s not as if Draper and Osgood are standing in anybody’s way. Draper was a healthy scratch on more than one occasion during the playoffs, and Osgood basically was out after Jan. 1. If Howard had faltered or gotten hurt, I much rather would have had Osgood waiting in the Wings than unproven Joey MacDonald.
But as the young players have emerged and some older players have stepped aside, we’ve discovered something alarming: The younger players haven’t exactly seized the spotlight. Sure, there have been moments. And sure, Howard has solidified the crease. But other than that, have there really been any stars? I still think the biggest reason the Wings have lost to the San Jose Sharks in two consecutive playoffs is because the Sharks have young stars. The Wings have young supporting players. Part of that is because the Wings have maxed out their salaries at the top of the roster, and part of it is because the Wings have been so good for so long that they haven’t had access to the top picks in the draft.
But it has nothing to do with the older players. If anything, those guys have only helped. They set an example of work ethic and putting the team over the individual. By all accounts, the older players take an active role in mentoring the youngsters. Osgood has treated Howard the same way he was treated by Mike Vernon way back when. The Wings have a culture of winning. Keeping players around who know how to win is a big reason for it.
Osgood and Draper shouldn’t stay around solely for a ceremonial position. They should stay only if the Red Wings can afford them and they are equal to or better than a younger alternative. But if it comes down to a decision between young versus old, I’d side with the old. It has worked for this franchise for nearly 20 years. Why change now?
KK and TMR reader Chet, however, disagrees with Samuelssen’s assessment, arguing that the Wings have lost too many Kyle Quinceys, Ville Leinos and Mattias Ritolas for the sake of being loyal to aging veterans:
Detroit’s management is known for being conservative with roster turnover, and likewise loyal to legacy players. This has been Detroit’s model for some time now, and it’s great for fans who like that the team has little turnover. Some argue it also attracts a higher level of free agents who expect they’ll be treated in a first class manner by a first class organization. However, in a capped league, the “loyalty” system employed by the Red Wings is going to hurt the team over the next few seasons and beyond if they don’t start to adjust.
It is well-known the Wings have at least a few quality young players in the pipeline. There is value to bringing them aboard the big club while guys like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are in their prime and Niklas Lidstrom is still with the team, so they can learn from the best. It’s just good business.
This next or the year after that are going to be the second or third year where the Wings take a step back if they don’t get their pipeline players into the NHL soon. They will not have 3-5 young star (nevermind superstar) players in the near future if those players don’t get started now. The NHL today is a young man’s league, where little is left to chance with player development and thus young players can learn and excel at their positions far more readily than in decades past. As fans, we like that Detroit’s roster has less turnover than other teams, and we know this may even attract free agents, but we also like winning, and that also attracts free agents.
Further, fans can talk about how the Wings were one of the top three teams in the West this year, but when the playoffs were settled, the Wings came in third at best, bowing out in the conference semifinal. Going from third to first in the West is tough, and winning the Cup is even tougher. Even if you agree with the concept of “reloading” a quality nucleus, our true nucleus is comparatively pretty old going forward.
My message: do not accept a substandard on-ice product going forward in the name of “Hockeytown tradition” or loyalty. I know how uncomfortable this sounds; I have watched and loved the Red Wings since the early 1990’s. Every trade, defection, or retirement (with the exceptions of Ville Leino and Uwe Krupp) has broken my heart to some extent, because it meant the player was in some way not right for my beloved team or was just too old to be productive.
So, as emotional as we may get about the idea of guys like Chris Osgood and Kris Draper being forced out, and as much as we dislike the messy business of unloading so-called fringe players like Jiri Hudler and Jonathan Ericsson to bring in youth, the fact remains over the next few years the team’s current nucleus will be gone or at least well out of its prime. If young players playing important minutes is how teams improve, comparable or worse veterans hanging on too long is how teams handicap themselves at those positions when they don’t have to.
In Detroit’s case, we know some veterans would sign a cap-friendly contract relatively comparable to an NHL rookie’s so they can keep playing. However, if they would perform at the same or only a slightly higher level as the young player that season, it’s still a waste because the young player stuck in the AHL or the Leino Lounge either won’t develop against NHL competition or the organization will not learn what they should about his potential NHL development. We know Detroit likes to bring its players along slowly; this is not completely faultworthy, but should be tweaked somewhat.
Every year, we know some roster players are over the hill; we also know some roster players really aren’t NHL—or at least affordable Red Wings—material. The Wings aren’t going to have a top ten draft pick any time soon, but they also won’t really find out who their top future players are if this year and the next aren’t ones of turnover to a more significant degree than we’re used to seeing. Players like Brendan Smith, Tomas Tatar, and Jan Mursak (one could also make an argument for the organization’s young goaltenders, but less effectively) deserve a shot sooner than later regardless of their contract or waiver status.
This is hard to address for a business model, team, and fan base like the Wings have, but the truth remains: Detroit has a glut of veterans and unproductive players devouring ice time at the big club level, and it’s about to start mortgaging the future as the NHL continues onward in its undeniable youth movement.
Author’s note: this meme was penned prior to the news of Brian Rafalski’s retirement. He decided one or both of the following: “I’m not going to be worth $6M this coming season if I keep playing,” or “$6M isn’t worth it to me to keep playing this coming season.” Either way, he deserves all the accolades and respect Wings fans can shower upon him for his time in red and white. His retirement, however, opens up some massive cap space and will lead to even more turnover, but does not otherwise change my support of a moderate youth movement in Detroit. Happy trails and thanks to #28 as we hope and expect management is wise in free agency.
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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.