The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/19/13 at 05:29 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings begin their 2013 season against the St. Louis Blues tonight (8 PM EST, FSD w/ a 1-hour preview starting at 7/97.1 FM, and ohyeahbytheway, Center Ice is holding a free preview until the end of January), and as we a) won't know the final shape of the Wings' or Blues' rosters for tonight's game until the morning skate at about noon ET today (okay, we know the Wings' lines and we know that Jimmy Howard will face Jaroslav Halak in the nets), and b) the Friday evening post sort of serves as a Wings-Blues preview in itself...
I'd like to restate the, "Sometimes it's better to not give f*** about what other people think" theory with a little more poise this time.
The Red Wings' players are about to embark upon a slate of 48 games played over the course of 99 nights. 24 of those games will be played as back-to-back affairs, held in different cities all but once, and the fact that what is probably the last season the Red Wings will play in the Western Conference as we know it is going to involve an inordinate amount of travel on Red Bird III, very little time to rest and recovery from bumps, bruises, big wins or staggering losses, and so little practice time that even Mike Babcock himself might feel bad about canceling morning skates.
The Red Wings' players won't have the time to give a rat's butt about what other people think about them. They're going to be far too busy engaged in the business that is playing a sport on a professional basis to worry about seething commentaries and aspersions cast upon them.
Red Wings fans like you and me--and while I am a "member of the media" when in press boxes, conducting inquiries or interviews with front office personnel, am in locker rooms or am otherwise occupied at a rink in one of my ubiquitous short-sleeved shirts (see: the term, "Polar Bear"), I am otherwise an openly biased Red Wings fan who happens to attempt to conduct his blogging in a somewhat professional manner--have been waiting for the Wings to play hockey games that matter since April 20th, 2012.
Since the Wings were eliminated from the first round of the 11-12 season's playoffs by the Nashville Predators, we've seen Nicklas Lidstrom retire, witnessed the Wings accommodate Brad Stuart's desire to head to San Jose to be with his family, endured the team's inability to land a marquee free agent, learned that, in one way or another, Tomas Holmstrom was going to be holding a press conference announcing his retirement, and anxiously watched and waited as the team began to prepare for a full 2012-2013 season that never was...
All while the rest of the hockey media world insisted that the Wings would be done like dinner without Lidstrom, Stuart and Holmstrom.
Then came the lockout, and five months of waiting, reading about new Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, superstar Pavel Datsyuk and about a third of the rest of the team playing actual hockey elsewhere, and the rest of the team simply trying to stay in shape until a CBA agreement was either achieved or not achieved.
When the NHL and NHLPA actually got their shit together and decided that ego wars between labor lawyers and billionaires demanding a retroactive bailout from millionaires wasn't worth mortally wounding their $3.3 billion business over, the Wings' players playing elsewhere scurried back to Detroit, the coaching and management staff adjusted its aims according to the schedule's demands...
And the rest of the hockey media world insisted that the Wings would be done like dinner without Lidstrom, Stuart and Holmstrom. Again.
Nine months since we first heard such suggestions, nine months since the Wings last played hockey, those who talk to hear themselves speak and those who speak to meaningfully discuss hockey start sounding like one voice, all seeming to derisively chant, "Zetterberg is a baby, Zetterberg is a baby!"
The Red Wings' players won't have time to stop and think about what people are saying that they will or will not accomplish this season.
You and I have heard it for the better part of a year now. It's grown incredibly tiresome, and as we aren't professional athletes, most of "us fans" will have enough time to both barely digest what the Wings do on the ice and what is said about them off the ice.
Speaking as someone who's been through a truncated season, albeit as a 15-year-old instead of a 34-turning-35 soon-year-old, I can tell you that even without a regular internet connection or the kind of media sea we all wade through these days, the 1995 season was plain old emotionally exhausting as a fan.
So my advice to you and me is that what the unbiased media that is beholden to reporting stories cheering for predictions has to say about the Red Wings is going to matter a whole lot less than what the Red Wings' players, coaches and management do over the next 99 days.
Sometimes, that means saying, "F*** what other people think about the Wings, they're my team, and while they drive me crazy, I'm sticking with them" as we hang on during this 48-game demolition derby.
It's not necessarily a bad thing if the players attempt to espouse that same philosophy, but they don't have to worry about staying sane while enduring the ups and downs of this season in brief. People like you and I might.
So, "F*** 'em" if it works for you. Or let 'em piss you off if that works for you. Just know that the Wings don't have to worry about staying sane because they will write their own story on the ice. We will watch it and read about it.
In terms of tonight's game, if you caught Friday morning's practice post, the afternoon news post or the evening post (and if you're getting a little tired of reading about hockey, like I am, I would encourage you to listen to and watch the multimedia contained within said posts, a radio of the captain announcing the creation of a North American Henrik Zetterberg Foundation starring Emma news included, videos of the coach and players speaking and a "Thank you" video from the Wings included), you know that the Wings left Darren Helm (back) and Jakub Kindl (groin) in Detroit, planned on hooking up Todd Bertuzzi (flu) to an IV in the hopes of gaining his services back before Monday's game in Columbus, and you know that Mike Knuble decided to sign a pro try-out contract with the Grand Rapids Griffins to maximize his chances of latching on with an NHL team.
The Blues are healthy, signed Wade Redden on Friday (Redden will not play against the Wings), and the Blues are also--if you've been reading hockey websites in English over the past few months, anyway--a current "favorite" to win the Central Division and contend for a Stanley Cup title.
I'll spare you from as much of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Blues preview section as possible, but as I haven't been following the Blues very closely, the Post-Dispatch's Jeremy Rutherford reminds us, "Where the Blues left off last season":
Goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott combined for 15 shutouts, a Blues’ record, including 14 shutouts in 69 games under Ken Hitchcock.
After taking over the Blues on Nov. 6, [coach Ken] Hitchcock led the Blues to a record of 43-15-11 for 109 points, second-most in franchise history, and the team’s first playoff victory since 2002.
David Perron missed 97 games with a concussion, but returned on Dec. 3 and scored seven minutes into his return. After posting 21 goals and 42 points in 57 games, he’s poised to be the Blues’ leading scorer.
Alex Pietrangelo wasn’t a top-three Norris Trophy finalist, but he put his name in the discussion last year. He registered a career-high 51 points, which was fifth among NHL defensemen.
Everyone on the Blues’ roster was healthy at the end of last season, and despite a few injuries suffered during the lockout, all players are available and ready to go.
Chris Stewart had a disappointing 2011-12 season, scoring 15 goals and posting just 30 points. But Stewart rededicated himself in the gym, shedding 20 pounds, and he’s looking to redeem himself.
A year ago, the Blues wondered when Russian forward Vladimir Tarasenko would come to North America. Today, Tarasenko is signed, wearing a Blues’ jersey (No. 91) and he’s ready to deliver.
The ownership group led by Tom Stillman, which took over in May, has had eight months to reorganize the franchise and put it on improved financial footing. John Davidson is no longer around, but Hitchcock and GM Doug Armstrong have been signed to extensions.
If you want to read gushy praise for the Blues' forwards, you can read Jeff Gordon's take on their offensive machine, let's keep the Blues hype to a bare minimum, with the AP's R.B. Fallstrom's recap of the Blues' scrimmage on Thursday serving as an introduction to the happy times going on in the land of the Blue Note...
“I just feel confident that if we play good hockey, we’re going to pack the building,” Hitchcock said. “I think that’s totally up to us. If we play like we’re capable and we give an effort that the fans expect here, then I think the people come in droves.”
The Blues had 109 points last season, tied for second-best overall in the NHL and one of the best showings in franchise history. A roster that lacks star power but is well-balanced with two No. 1-caliber goalies is virtually unchanged, providing continuity.
Brian Elliott had a breakout season, making the All-Star team in a job share with Jaroslav Halak that produced a league-leading 15 shutouts and the Jennings Trophy. The stingy duo compensated for a grinding offense that ranked in the bottom third of the league but figures to get a boost with a full season from forward David Perron, who had 42 points in 57 games after recovering from a concussion, and 21-year-old rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, who’ll be on the second line with speedy Andy McDonald and Alex Steen.
Holding it all together is the NHL coach of the year. The 61-year-old Hitchcock has a team ready to be pushed after the Blues got dumped in a second-round sweep by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Kings last May.
“Obviously, you want to remember what it felt like for them to end your season when there was so much promise and so many people behind you,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “We’ve just got to build on that, remember how they beat us, why they beat us.”
Forward Chris Stewart prepared for a rebound season after a meager 30-point output by shedding 15-20 pounds. Hitchcock was struck by the fitness level of veteran forwards Scott Nichol, 38, and Jamie Langenbrunner, 37, joking that “somebody must have given them new legs for Christmas.”
The Blues hit the ground running, like the rest of the NHL, with six games in the first nine days. Opening night presents an immediate test with the Central-rival Detroit Red Wings at home on Saturday night. There’ll be no shortage of adrenaline while they reconnect on the ice.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way, I don’t think,” Oshie said. “It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be exciting.”
What do the Blues think about being deemed Central Division Champions and Stanley Cup winners already? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jeremy Rutherford says that the Blues don't necessarily believe the hype, but they certainly want to live up to it:
“I don’t view the (predictions) as anything other than rhetoric,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “You are what you are. Everybody has all of these power rankings or whatever — you are what you are. It’s all the stuff you hear about until you play your first game, and then where you fit is up to you.”
The Blues, who opened their season Saturday against Detroit, have brought back 22 players from last year’s roster. That continuity is expected to be an advantage for the club during a lockout-shortened, 48-game regular season. But the Stanley Cup finals?
If the Blues are playing in late June, it will mean they found a way to take the proverbial next step, a huge step considering their four playoff victories last season were the fewest of the final eight teams in the postseason.
Several Blues say it’s possible, however, basing their belief on these factors: they’re under the tutelage of Hitchcock from day one this year; they came to training camp knowing their identity; they gained valuable experience from last year’s playoff trip; they have a sour taste left over from the way it ended.
As Rutherford notes, Hitchcock took over for the deposed Davis Payne in November of 2011, and then rattled off the vast majority of the Blues' 43 wins and took them to a second-round showdown with the eventual Cup winners in the Los Angeles Kings. Hitchcock says that his team is more ready to literally and figuratively imprint their identity upon their opponents this time around:
“I think we’re comfortable,” Hitchcock said. “The ‘get to know you’ stage is gone. I can get after people in a one-on-one way that I don’t have to get to know them (first). I can just move into the areas that I move into. So that part is comfortable.”
Under that pretense, Hitchcock will continue to preach a team-first mentality, which focuses on escaping the defensive zone, being physical on the forecheck and controlling the puck. Winning the time of possession clock is essential.
“We have that identity in this room,” veteran Scott Nichol said. “When you don’t have an identity, you’re grasping at straws from game to game on what identity you want to play. If you ask everybody in this room, there’s no selfishness, nobody cares about individual stats. It’s all team and just competing and going through people. … That’s our identity.”...
“We feel that we have something to prove still,” said [Jamie] Langenbrunner, a two-time Stanley Cup winner. “We made a step last year to get ourselves in that top group and fell short of where we wanted to go. We saw first-hand what it takes — L.A. and the way they played – that next step.”
The Blues' "next step" theoretically begins tonight, and they did speak to the Belleville News-Democrat's Norm Sanders about their excitement regarding opening the 2013 season at home...
"I don't think you can describe it," Blues captain David Backes said, trying to put the feeling of standing on the ice before a sellout crowd. "It's that goose-bump feeling; this is what you dream of. You've got 18,000 or 19,000 people, standing-room only, crazy people going nuts...you talk about not needing any motivation, it's all there for you. If you can't play in that circumstance, you're not a pro. All the guys in here are more than ready to go."
"I think we're all excited to get going," Blues forward Jamie Langenbrunner said. "It's been great having all the fans here at practice with us all week. We're just looking forward to getting rolling and getting back on our mission of where we're trying to be at the end of the year."
There aren't many new faces for the Blues. Rookie Jaden Schwartz saw spot duty last season while Russian rookie winger Vladimir Tarasenko will be making his NHL debut.
A strong training camp performance helped Schwartz earn a roster spot. The versatile forward has been skating at left wing on a line with Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said the intense week-long training camp has kept him from thinking too far ahead.
"Right now there's a million things running through it, did I cover this, and 'Oh God, I forgot about that,"' he said when asked if he still gets excited about season openers. "To me it's more of the grocery list, knocking things off and making sure you're paying attention to details. You're not losing sight of that."
As for playing against the Nicklas Lidstrom-less Red Wings, even Langenbrunner admitted to Sanders that it will be weird for both the Wings and their opponents:
"That's going to be real strange," Langenbrunner said of Lidstrom's absence from a Blues-Red Wings game. "He's probably one of the greatest player of my generation... he was a class act both on and off the ice and a great competitor. I'm sure he's going to be missed in that locker room, but they obviously have a good hockey team and will continue to be a strong force."
NHL.com's David Kalan sets up tonight's match-up as follows, and his preview serves as our pivot point between the Blues' and Wings' press corps and locker rooms:
Big story: After months of waiting, the Blues will finally begin the defense of their first Central Division title in 12 years. Detroit's night might be even more dramatic, however, as the Wings play their first game of the post-Lidstrom era.
Red Wings: Many teams made dramatic personnel moves this offseason that significantly altered their rosters. But few teams in the League have to deal with as difficult a transition as the Wings, who for the first time in 22 years will be playing without future-Hall-of-Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom announced his retirement this offseason and while Detroit, owner of the NHL's longest string of postseason appearances, still returns with a talented, deep and experienced lineup, it's hard to imagine there won't be a void in the locker room -- to say nothing of on the blue line -- that must be filled.
Henrik Zetterberg will be tasked with replacing Lidstrom's leadership, having been named the Wings' captain earlier this week, but Detroit is lucky that Cup-winning veterans like Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Cleary and Johan Franzen will also be there to grease the Winged Wheels. As for the defense corps, replacing Lidstrom is likely an impossibly tall order, but Detroit did sign Carlo Colaiacovo away from St. Louis in September to bolster its back end, a move that could pay immediate dividends Saturday night.
Blues: St. Louis has waited a long time to raise another banner at Scottrade Center, but 12 years after the Blues won the franchise's only Presidents' Trophy, they will have a 2011-12 Central Division champions banner to keep it company. The task of getting another banner for 2012-13 -- or even a banner of greater significance -- will be a considerable challenge in the loaded Central Division, but St. Louis believes it has the pieces in place.
The Blues' top six scorers from last season are all returning, including potent defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, and St. Louis still has 2012 Jennings Trophy winners Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott in net, which means the ingredients are there for another division-title run. That potential run, however, despite the void Detroit has to fill on defense, will face a stiff test on opening night.
Injury report: Detroit is already facing setbacks on the injury front. Darren Helm (back) and Todd Bertuzzi (groin) won't play Saturday while Mikael Samuelsson (groin) is doubtful and Colaiacovo (shoulder) is questionable for his first potential reunion with his former team. … St. Louis could potentially be without a major contributor as Pietrangelo (ankle) is considered questionable, though he did participate in the Blues' final team scrimmage Thursday.
The Red Wings do have someone on their roster who is very familiar with the Blues. Carlo Colaiacovo will be making his Wings debut playing against his former employer, having spent the past four seasons in St. Louis, and he offered this take on his previous team to the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan...
Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo always told the same thing whenever a reporter asked him about the St. Louis Blues, where Colaiacovo played last season. There was something that stood out about those Blues.
"I know the thing I said when I played with them was 'I'd hate to play against this team because they play so hard,'" said Colaiacovo, who signed a two-year contract the day before the lockout began with the Red Wings. "I know what to expect and it's going to be a hard game. They bring it every night."
But Colaiacovo also insisted to Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji that the Blues still respect the Wings as something more than a would-be also-ran:
"When I was there we always wanted to model ourselves after the way the Red Wings played," Colaiacovo said. "We were great division rivals from the time I got there. Heated battles. Every game was a tough game to play."
Colaiacovo actually took a tour of Joe Louis Arena a few days ago to familiarize himself with his new home.
"It was a real special feeling, sort of the tradition you feel," Colaiacovo said. "Once you walk in the room and you see all the great names on the wall, the Stanley Cups on the wall, it makes you feel that we’re here to win a Stanley Cup.
"I’ve always seen pictures of this room, but to finally be in it — this is one of my favorite arenas to play in even as a visiting player. To actually be in the room and be part of the team, I feel pretty special about that. I’m excited. I’ve had nothing but a smile on my face since I’ve been here. I just hope for better days ahead."
The Red Wings skated with the following lines during practice on Friday, and they are probably indicative of what we'll see tonight...
But we're going to slowly expand our focus as the last of the "season preview" articles hit the wires this morning, starting with the Free Press's Helene St. James, who expertly tied together the themes of Wings-related interest going into tonight's game with the larger challenges the Wings face this season.
St. James coined the 48-games-in-99-nights term, at least for Wings fans, and she duly notes that tonight marks the start of something of a marathon and something of, as I'm calling it, a demolition derby:
For the healthy, there's an opener against a team that won the Central Division last season and expected to contend for the Stanley Cup this season. The Blues are coached by Ken Hitchcock, have two highly regarded defensemen in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk and two talented rookies in Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz.
"We had a real good series with them last year -- every game was tight and hard," coach Mike Babcock said. "They were physical games, competitive games. It was hard to win in their building. They're a good hockey club. They've got real good depth. They've got good forwards and they've got two stars, I think, on the back end in Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk, with some veteran guys. They're set up."
Detroit's injuries have ravaged what Babcock hoped to be his third line, leaving only Daniel Cleary standing. There's plenty of depth to replenish from, but Babcock said he hadn't decided whether to call on Patrick Eaves or Jan Mursak. Cory Emmerton is in because he's a center, which the Wings need on the fourth line because Justin Abdelkader will have to move up a spot to fill in for Helm.
The Wings like what they've got on their top two lines, which will feature Pavel Datsyuk between Henrik Zetterberg and newcomer Damien Brunner and Valtteri Filppula between Johan Franzen and Mikael Samuelsson. At least, they like what they've got in theory, as Babcock has said all through a very short start-up period, wait and see what happens once games begin.
"Camp's been real short and we've tried to get as much details done and skate the best we can and try to get to know each other again and figure it all out," he said. "It's been good. I think the urgency for all teams in the league is going to be heightened, so the intensity has got to be higher. I mean, you don't have as much to play with."
For the sake of avoiding injuries, Babcock won't have the time to force his charges to practice their way out of trouble, and the Wings' players know it:
"The biggest focus is taking care of ourselves, making sure we get treatment we need and the nutrition we need," Johan Franzen said. "We have to be ready to go all the time."
In normal times, Babcock sits down in the summer and plans when to have the Wings practice, and when to give them a day off. This abnormally fast-paced schedule has him wondering when to cut out morning skates, when to limit practices. Rest is as much a weapon as repetition.
"We're going to have less practices just because you play every other day," he said. "So you just set up the schedule to allow yourself to skate and work on details the best you can and keep guys as fresh as you can at the same time. But practices are part of the game as well, so we'll just figure it out as it comes."
Widening the perspective a little more, the Windsor Star's Bob Duff spoke to some of the gentlemen who are hoping to ensure that Lidstrom and Stuart's departures do not yield a catastrophe on the blueline...
"There's no one in here that's going to be able to take his place," Wings defenceman Jonathan Ericsson said of seven-time Norris Trophy winner Lidstrom. "All of us together have to take another step in our game, try to contribute the best way we can to fill the spots we missed. Stewie was a huge player in the penalty kill. We've got some new guys and myself, too, we have to take another step. On the power play, Lidstrom's going to be missed, so Kronner (Niklas Kronwall) has to take another step."
Opportunity is knocking for some of Detroit's younger de-fencemen who've been waiting in the wings, and they'll need to prove they're up to the challenge.
"There's going to be a lot more minutes," said Brendan Smith, Detroit's top pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft. "(Lidstrom) played in all positions - power-play, penalty kill, even strength, four on four. Whatever it was, he dominated. We've just got to come in and play well as a unit and that will take care of itself there. You can't replace a guy like Nick Lidstrom. Nobody in the NHL can."
Fourth-year Wing Jakub Kindl (groin) will miss Saturday's opener, but he recognizes that after a couple of seasons as the extra defenceman, this is his best chance to establish himself as a regular presence.
"We all know there's only one Nick," Kindl said. "Who knows when another one like him will come along? We all wish he could still sit next to us in the locker room. We all wish he was still on the ice next to us as a leader. But yeah, it's an opportunity for everybody, a huge opportunity for all the D on this squad."
Minus their superstar, the Detroit defencemen believe they must accomplish more as a collective.
"We've just got to go out as a D corps and do the best we can do," Smith said.
If you can speak Swedish, Lidstrom happened to speak to Sveriges Radio's RadioSporten on Friday, and suggested that the Rangers and Kings are Cup favorites, while his fellow 2013 World Championship ambassador, Peter Forsberg (Lidstrom, Forsberg and Mats Sundin are promoting the 13 Worlds as their preliminary rounds will be jointly held in Stockholm and Helsinki, with the medal rounds taking place in Stockholm) is picking the Penguins to win...
While Fox Sports Detroit's Larry Murphy spoke to KMOX's Ron Jacober on Friday night to preview the 13 NHL season...
If you're interested in reading one more Western Conference preview, here's how the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jeff Gordon sizes up the Wings (tagline first, capsule preview second)...
The Detroit Red Wings are coping with multiple losses. Defensive cornerstone Nicklas Lidstrom is retired, as is career pest Tomas Holmstrom. Hudler is in Calgary now. The Red Wings reload with defensive prospect Brendan Smith and Swiss winger Damien Brunner, but can they sustain their puck-control style with three stalwarts missing?
DETROIT RED WINGS
2011-12 record • 48-28-6 • Coach • Mike Babcock.Newcomers • Damien Brunner, Mikael Samuelsson, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jordin Tootoo, Jonas Gustavsson,
Key losses • Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Brad Stuart, Jiri Hudler.Outlook • How will Motown find life after Nicklas Lidstrom? He leaves a big hole with his retirement, but rookie Brendan Smith is emerging as a strong top-four defenseman. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg should start quickly after piling up points in Europe. Brunner could surprise after starring in Switzerland alongside Zetterberg.
But what do the Wings think about all these prognosticators and their predictions? They're not exactly taking predictions to the bank, as they told the Detroit News's John Niyo--readily admits that the Wings aren't as full of holes on the roster as they are full of questions to answer over the next 99 nights:
"Isn't that the same thing we hear every single year?" goaltender Jimmy Howard replied, when asked about the doomsday talk in Detroit, where the Wings are five years removed from their last Stanley Cup. "I mean, I'd be very (reluctant) to write us off so soon."
Soon enough, we'll find out if this well-worn script is headed back to rewrite. And a frenetic NHL schedule — 48 games in 99 nights, beginning with today's shotgun start across the league — won't leave much time for revisions, or reversals of fortune, for any team, particularly the travel-challenged Red Wings stuck in the Western Conference.
But given the parity of today's NHL, with a salary cap balancing the talent and an easy-as-1-2-3 point system compressing the standings, there's also no definitive reason the Wings can't keep the streak alive. Which is exactly what longtime general manager Ken Holland told his players earlier this week as they returned to work following a maddening 119-day labor war. There's no time to lose, certainly. But this is no time to lose, is it?
"Who are the Cup contenders?" Holland asked, before answering himself. "I believe the Cup contenders are the 16 teams that make the playoffs. Just look at the Stanley Cup playoffs year after year after year."
Last year, for instance, it was one of the last teams in the playoff field — the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings — that was the last team standing in June, hoisting the Stanley Cup. In the seven seasons between lockouts — work stoppages apparently are like Zamboni rides for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman — there were seven different Cup winners and 12 different franchises that reached the Cup final. And where once there were brooms aplenty in the spring, now it seems as if every playoff series is destined for a winner-take-all Game 7.
"It's parity," explained Holland, whose team's playoff run is the longest active streak in any of the four major U.S. pro sports. "People look at our team and I think they compare our team against teams past. Those teams past — those Detroit and Colorado and Philadelphia (teams) from the late '90s and early 2000s — I don't know if there's any of those teams left. The cap makes everybody close."
Holland is more than willing to admit that doomsday is not impossible...
"At some point in time, the Detroit Red Wings are going to miss the playoffs," said Holland, who is quick to point out his team hasn't had a top-10 draft pick since 1991. "It might be 10 years from now. It might be this year. I don't know. We've got to play the games."
But that's the whole key: the Wings have to play their games and find out what they really have. Henrik Zetterberg believes that the team isn't in too much trouble as it's never rushed anyone into action until they were ready before...
"The good thing about this organization is, they never put players that are not ready out there," Zetterberg said. "You spend a few years, your role gets bigger and bigger, and when they think you're ready, you get the chance."
And the Wings' true alpha male in the locker room, coach Mike Babcock, is excited to see how things shake out...
"So the bottom line is: Here's more opportunity," said head coach Mike Babcock, itching to get going after seven full seasons in Detroit and nine months off. "Let's see what guys do with it."
But the ever-diplomatic Holland, who offered similar comments to the Globe and Mail's Eric Duhatschek, is the one saying, "The proof is in the pudding" this time around:
"We're trying to compete with the best teams, we're trying to stay in a playoff spot," said Holland, beginning his 16th season as GM and his 30th overall with the organization. "There's an overhaul, a reload, a new era of players coming along. And if we can continue to be competitive, you're not gonna notice it as much. But when the team falls out of the playoffs, then you notice it."
In other Wings news, if you missed it, Patrick Eaves has been cleared to play, as the Detroit Free Press's George Sipple notes:
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock didn't tip his hand after Friday's practice at Joe Louis Arena as to which forwards would replace Todd Bertuzzi (illness) and Darren Helm (back) in tonight's opener.
One option is Patrick Eaves, who was cleared to play after more than a year after suffering a concussion. Eaves said he got the news Thursday afternoon.
"Before camp I was starting to feel good and ready to try things out," Eaves said Friday. "I've been feeling good all camp."
Eaves said he didn't know when he played in the Red-White scrimmage on Tuesday night that he'd be cleared so soon.
"It was a big step for me, at least personally to be in a playing setting," he said.
The healing process hasn't been easy.
"It was rough, it was very rough," Eaves said. "I had a great support staff with my wife and family and doctors and teammates. I wouldn't have made it without them, but it was a long, rough road. To be back cleared is a great thing and I'm very fortunate to be playing."
This is definitely a "season preview"-style story. The Detroit News's Holly Fournier spoke to Brendan Smith about his feelings regarding finding a permanent NHL home with the Wings. He's going to start tonight's game alongside Kyle Quincey, and he knows that no matter what happens, this season, anyway, he's going to stay in Detroit.
But that doesn't make Smith any less grateful for the time he spent with the Grand Rapids Griffins:
"I was fortunate to play in Grand Rapids (for the Griffins)," he said.
Like Smith, defensemen Niklas Kronwall once donned a Griffins jersey during the 2004-05 lockout. Experience in Grand Rapids also will help Smith's transition, Kronwall said.
"Smitty's been one of those guys just waiting for this opportunity," he said. "He's been getting a lot of ice time (in Grand Rapids) and I think that'll really help."
Tonight's game marks an end to Smith's six-year journey from first-round draft pick to a regular job in the NHL. He was drafted 27th overall by the Wings in 2007. He has since developed his skills with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Griffins.
"They kind of draft you off of potential," Smith said of the Wings' strategy. "You've just gotta keep working out."
At Wisconsin, Smith had a breakout third year in the 2009-10 season, scoring 15 goals and amassing 37 points over 42 games. He then signed with the Wings in 2010 and was off to Grand Rapids. While in Grand Rapids, he gained valuable advice from veteran defenseman Chris Chelios.
"You know what he's telling you is right because he's done it for so long," Smith said.
Smith got a taste of the NHL last season when he earned a brief, 14-day stint with the Wings. He scored his first NHL goal and had six assists. Then came news that he had made the team for the 2012-13 season.
"They told me to get a place (near Detroit)," he said. "When they said that, I was ecstatic. That's the end all, be all I guess."
USA Today's Kevin Allen just happened to mention Smith as one of his top ten NHL rookies:
9. Brendan Smith (Detroit Red Wings): With Nicklas Lidstrom in retirement and Brad Stuart in San Jose, the Red Wings would like Smith to play among their top four defensemen.
He is feisty and likes to jump into the play when the game is on the line. Smith, 23, has played two full seasons in the AHL, and he seems to have learned how to pick his spots to be an offensive gambler. He had seven points in 14 games for the Red Wings last season.
"There is a chance here for somebody to get 20 minutes per night, and he has been a successful point-producing defensive (player) in the colleges and the American League," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "There is going to be an opportunity to play some power-play minutes for us."
In the participatory journalism category, the Free Press's Helene St. James will be holding a chat with Free Press readers on Freep.com at 2 PM on Monday;
In the multimedia department, the Free Press's Julian H. Gonzalez posted a 27-image photo gallery from Friday's practice, and I'm happy to say that today's foreign-language news consists of a video of Henrik Zetterberg speaking to Blick.ch, in English, subtitled in Swiss German. Be careful with Blick, because European newspapers...Well, they make U.K. newspapers' Page 3 girls look tame, and their nudity is of both equal-opportunity and on the front page;
And at some point this morning, MLive's Ansar Khan's story about the Wings' "inexperienced defense" will become publicly accessible, but at present, it's a dead link.
In the prospect department:
- In the ECHL, the Toledo Walleye defeated the Fort Wayne Komets 5-3, with Willie Coetzee scoring 2 goals, and the Walleye's website provides a recap;
- In NCAA hockey play, Ben Marshall didn't register a point in the University of Minnesota's 5-1 victory over North Dakota, but Nick Jensen scored two goals in Saint Cloud State University's 5-2 victory over Denver;
- In the QMJHL, neither Blainville-Boisbriand Armada captain Xavier Ouellet, or his fellow Wings prospect and Victoriaville Tigres forward, Phillipe Hudon, registered a point as the Armada defeated Victoriaville 5-1, but Martin Frk had a goal and an assist in the Halifax Mooseheads' wild 11-2 win over Quebec;
- In the OHL, Alan Quine had two assists in the Belleville Bulls' 7-2 win over Niagara, Ryan Sproul registered an assist in the Soo Greyhounds' 5-3 loss to Saginaw, and Andreas Athanasiou registered an assist but was stoned in the shootout in the Barrie Colts' 3-2 shootout loss to Sudbury;
- And in Europe, from DRW Prospects on Twitter:
Teemu Pulkkinen's Jokerit Helsinki dropped a 3-1 decision to Tappara;
Calle Jarnkrok's goal came in Brynas IF's 3-2 victory over Timra IK, Mattias Backman's Linkopings HC lost 3-2 to the Frolunda Indians, and Alexei Marchenko and CKSA Moscow got thrashed 8-1 by Barys Astana.
Also of Red Wings-related note:
- I give the Battle Creek Enquirer's Will Kowalski chutzpah points for picking the Wings to win the Cup for the hell of it;
- Captain Zetterberg popped up in an Associated Press story about the lockout:
"The lockout hurt the game, so we definitely want to do everything we can do to give them a good show," Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said.
- I will delicately point you to We All Bleed Red's channel on YouTube for highlights from the Red vs. White scrimmage;
- And former NHL coach Steve Ludzik told a helluva tale to the Niagara Falls Review:
To Smitty: Love ya. Gordon Howe.
Guests in my basement always cast a quizzical eye towards the framed colour picture of a handsome, hulking Gordie Howe in his prime. The handwriting is bold, neat and legible. The autograph tells a great story, recalling the three weeks he spent with the IHL’s Detroit Vipers in August 1998 in preparation for his sixth decade playing professional hockey.
I was his coach. Dinners, lunches, breakfasts, a couple of coffees every morning, and a couple of beers in the evenings for 21 days. I ate it up. It was incredible stuff for a young coach, rubbing elbows with Mr. Elbows himself.
My balloon of importance would be popped by Gordie at the press conference announcing his return to the age of 69.
With more than 100 newspaper columnists, television reporters and former teammates among those in attendance, Mr. Hockey grabbed the microphone. Pointing a finger in my direction, he spoke.
“I want to say thanks to a special coach and person,” he started, my chest expanding with every adjective. “Great spending time with you ... aahh, umm ... coach Smitty.”
I was stupefied. Ludz, Ludzy, Ludzik are some of the nicknames I’ve answered to, but Smitty was not one. No one corrected Gordie at the time, certainly not I.
It became our joke and we always laughed about it years later. He is the kindest man I have ever met.
Update: and this is why I don't follow the team utilizing my magic powers of OCD and follow the prospects as closely. I done forgot that Jake Paterson was a big reason why the Saginaw Spirit defeated Ryan Sproul's Greyhounds, given that Paterson is the Spirit's goalie and all...
That, and scouring box scores is not a precise science 100% of the time. Make that a goal for Ben Marshall in the University of Minnesota's 5-1 win over North Dakota:
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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.