The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/17/14 at 11:34 PM ET
Warning, warning, rant ahead! I promise this is the last one for a while...
Thursday served as a superb, "There is no real off-season" reminder for me.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and new assistant coach Tony Granato gave superb radio interviews, as did Ted Lindsay; Pavel Datsyuk held a press conference at his hockey school, after playing against a team of media members that included Red Wings Grinder's Alexey Kovalevch, and more than a few mid-day stories popped up (most notably, MLive's Brendan Savage reported that the Wings aren't close to re-signing Danny DeKeyser or Tomas Tatar), all after the Wings officially announced contract extensions with Mitch Callahan and Andrej Nestrasil early on Thursday morning.
This evening, Callahan thanked the Wings for re-signing him...
And the Free Press's Helene St. James weighed in regarding Callahan's uphill climbs in terms of attempting to make the team out of training camp (both players seem content with returning to Grand Rapids at this point), with St. James wondering aloud whether Callahan might get picked up on waivers if he's demoted...
Callahan, however, is certain to pique interest, because he’s coming off his best season with 26 goals and 18 assists in 70 games for Grand Rapids — more than double the 20 points he had in 2012-13, a season that culminated with Callahan helping the Griffins to the Calder Cup championship. Callahan, 22, also racked up 51 penalty minutes last season, giving him 247 total over 189 AHL games.
Callahan, a right wing who shoots right, appeared in one game with the Wings, a 4-2 loss on March 25 at Columbus. A week later, back in the minors, he was the recipient of a Ryan Sproul slapshot to the face that left Callahan with a fractured jaw and down 10 teeth. He tweeted a photo of his mouth captioned, eloquently, “ouch,” — and it quickly topped 5,000 retweets. He returned four weeks later in the playoffs.
Come September, Callahan enters a Wings training camp that has 12 forwards under one-way NHL contracts. That number will grow to 13 once restricted free agent Tomas Tatar is under re-signed, and 14 with the expected return of star forward Daniel Alfredsson. And that’s not counting Tomas Jurco, who can be shipped to the minors without waivers but who made a favorable impression in Detroit the second half of last season.
Callahan isn’t a great skater, but he’s got the type of grit ideal for a fourth-line role player, and he plays bigger than his 6-foot, 190-pound frame.
While the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness reviewed Callahan's NHL debut this past season to find a strong peer recommendation in his notes:
Callahan made his NHL debut last season, playing one game and not registering a point in just over nine minutes of ice time.
“He creates havoc around the other team’s goalie,” Riley Sheahan said last season of Callahan. “Other teams don’t like playing against him. He’s a great guy to have on the team and he brings a lot of character and I think he’s going to be good for us.”
Callahan has 247 penalty minutes in 189 career games with the Griffins.
His 26 goals last season were a career high. His previous high was 11 in 71 games.
“It’s kind of funny because you look at all the goals, none of them are real pretty,” Callahan said when he was called up. “(I’m) just screening in front of the net, working hard in front of the net. I think I got four or five where the D shot it and it hit me. Just from working hard in front of the net and stirring it up and working hard.”
The Wings still have restricted free agents Danny DeKeyser and Tomas Tatar to get deals down with prior to training camp.
I think that Callahan's exactly the kind of scrappy, net-front player the Wings need to round out their lineup, but I am also incredibly biased in this regard. I've interacted with him since the Wings drafted him in 2009, and I remember when dentists were trying to save his initial set of two front teeth. He's an absolutely fantastic human being and a very hard-working, level-headed player, so I wish him all the best and then some.
After Mike Babcock spoke with Detroit Sports 105.1 FM's Ryan and Rico this morning, CBS Sports' Chris Peters, Pro Hockey Talk's Mike Halford and the Free Press's Brian Manzullo all partially-transcripted the interview.
This evening, "Nichols on Hockey's" Chris Nichols transcripted the interview's "juiciest" parts as well (and this is just part of a longer transcript):
The free agency period did not exactly go as you and Ken Holland had planned.
“No, but what I would tell you is no bad contracts and so to me, that’s a home run. It’s a silly season where we overpay everybody and then you end up with guys on your team you overpay too much and it sets you up bad economically and it doesn’t help you either. Did we target guys? Yes. Did they come here? No. Last year we were fortunate to get Alfredsson to come. This year we had targeted a couple of d-men and that never happened. That’s the parity in the league now. It’s all part of the process. I’m real comfortable. We have a young group. We’re getting better each and every day. I think we need to let our young people grow. We signed enough players to buy our kids time in the minors. We have four d-men who are going to play here eventually and probably be upgrades on our roster. How much time do they need? We don’t know the answer.”
So you’re planning on bringing defensemen up from Grand Rapids?
“We’re going to play the best players. Just like we did last year. It’s always a hard thing when a veteran who is on a one-way contract doesn’t make the lineup, but that’s life. We’re committed to the growth of this team. Most franchises to get back on top have to get bad for 10 years. That’s not our plan. We scrounged to get into the playoffs to the last two years in a row and did a real good job. We had a good run against Chicago. I didn’t like us in the playoffs last year against Boston, but we like what we have coming. And we like our kids. So the biggest thing is not to rush it. We could really use some puck-moving D. Well, we just happen to have some puck-moving D in the minors. Big guys that can skate. When are they ready? We’re sure not going to rush them, but if they’re capable of taking jobs they’re getting the jobs.”
How long do you want to be in Detroit?
“Well, I like being here. I like the ownership. I like the commitment to win and I like what we’ve got going on. My relationship with Ken Holland, I believe, is second to none. Is it rosy every day? No. Do we battle? Absolutely. In saying all of that though, we have an understanding and I think we work well together. So I’m a big believer the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. And yet these are big decisions for people, but I’m sure confident things are all going to get worked out.”
What motivates you to be so intense as a coach?
“Well, I don’t know the answer to that question. I just do what I do. This is what I believe. I believe I change drastically every year. And try to get better and I hire people all the time. Nobody has gone through more coaches than me with people moving on and when you bring in new people they help you get better and change and work hard at getting better and evolving. Am I warm and cuddly every day? I am with my family. I think I care a lot about my players. When you care about people, you make them do it right. When you don't, and there's lots of coaches that don't, then their teams don't do it right and they don't have success. So sometimes... you go to a meeting and no one talks about the white elephant in the room. You don’t have a hard meeting and everyone leaves and talks behind each other’s back. That doesn’t happen with the Red Wings. We just have the hard meetings. We get it out front. Does it piss people off once in a while? Absolutely. But it also leads to behavioral changes and getting things better. So you know what, I'm not apologizing for that stuff at all. I like to be treated honest. If Ken Holland’s got something he wants Mike Babcock to do, when he tells me I do it. If he doesn’t tell me, I can’t read his mind. That’s kind of the way I look at it. Now, I think it's easy to stand on the sidelines and second-guess everything all the time. I think that's what you get paid to do and the more controversy you can create in the media, the more they like you. And the more bloggers we have, the more controversy we have. But that's all part of sport. What I've found is that if the people in the hockey department make the decisions, we're employed. When we start looking for answers in the media, we'll be in the media pretty soon."
Babcock was asked about Tony Granato near the end of interview and noted that Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, and Ray Shero about Granato, all recommended him highly.
I can't deny that I took offense to Babcock's comments about bloggers and fans as a whole.
The first damn thing that Babcock said to me when I met him, after asking what I did for a living, was, "Oh, so you start fires," and I responded, "No, I actually try to put them out."
I get that he coach and GM would run quite the shitty ship if they took public opinion into any of their personnel decisions, and I get that they don't have to like the fact that they're getting taken to the woodshed over a controversial re-signing. They're allowed to be as ambivalent regarding their "audience's" opinions as any authors of hockey action might be, and yes, they are paid to make the decisions because they're professionals who know more about the game than we do given that they've spent their entire lives working in Major Junior and professional hockey.
I agree with that completely, and generally speaking, I tend to trust that they're making the "right" decisions, even if I disagree with them--or at least that they're making the "wrong" decisions while trying to do what's best for their team, doing best in terms of attempting to win games, and doing their best in terms of what will make fans happy in the long run in winning both regular season and playoff games.
However, Cleary, Holland and now Babcock have all reacted to the controversy regarding UFA season and/or the team's signings--which have frayed fans' trust in the veracity of their GM and coach's real convictions as to whether the "best players" are truly being offered contracts and earning playing time based upon merit and merit alone--rather derisively, suggesting that it's social media's fault that "everyone has an opinion" these days, suggesting that fans' opinions simply don't matter...
And in Babcock's case, going on the offensive, suggesting that it's those damn bloggers who are to blame for the negative atmosphere surrounding the signing of someone Babcock has insisted will rebound quite nicely, per the Free Press's Manzullo...
Babcock also said about Dan Cleary, who re-signed with the Wings earlier this month: “Last year, he didn’t bring anything. But the year before, he was a key component, leadership-wise, forechecking-wise. ... We had a decision to make. We signed Dan to what I consider a great contract. Hardly any cap hit whatsoever. What we’re betting on is he’s training with (Mike Barwis). ... We’ve been told that (Cleary’s) knees have really come on, if he’s on one leg like he was last year, he can’t play on our team. If he’s on two legs, he can help us win.”
The key to the deal, it seems, is Cleary’s knee. It was a problem throughout last season, forcing him to miss the final 22 games of the regular season and Detroit’s entire five-game playoff loss to Boston in the opening round. Even when he was able to play, the 35-year-old looked a step slow, scoring just four goals and eight points in 52 games, posting a minus-11 rating.
But a summer working with Red Wings trainer Mike Barwis — who Babcock called “the best in the business” — has led the Wings to believe Cleary’s knee issues are a thing of the past, though they’re still cognizant of the risks involved.
“We’ve been told that his knee’s really come on,” Babcock explained. “If he’s on one leg like he was last year, he can’t play on our team. If he’s on two legs, he can help us win.
“Is it going to happen for sure? No. Would we have wasted the money if he can’t play? I guess. Is it a calculated decision and risk on our part? Yes.”
Babcock's antagonistic with the press by nature, and while he certainly insists that he doesn't give a flying *#$%@& about criticism, he sure pays a lot of attention to it...
I will grant you that some bloggers do indeed "start fires," too, but from day 1, it was made very clear to me that if I made shit up or wrote things that I wasn't willing to defend to players, coaches and general managers' faces, I'd lose my posting privileges in a hurry. I am in fact held accountable for my content and commentary, and I do in fact have hell to pay if I do not conduct myself in a professional manner.
When an NHL team starts making decisions based upon media, blogger and fan commentary, they're in trouble in a hurry. But when an NHL team makes controversial player personnel decisions and then suggests that any negativity involved is the fault of the perils of social media or "fires" set by the all-bad-apples that are bloggers, as opposed to, y'know, valid opinions that one must simply deal with as the people who make decisions for a professional hockey team...
That kind of thin-skinned talk does nothing to help fray the nerves of the fans who don't quite believe that the GM or coach's actions this fall will do anything less than revert to their, "Kids aren't the answer"/"Veterans win jobs by default" prior norm, and the blow-off-and-then-blame moves by the player, GM and coach, especially the coach, come off, "That line of thought is not allowed!" editorializing that gives the organization a bad name.
That, and it's no way to mend fences with the pissed-off people who pay your *#$%@& salary by purchasing tickets, memorabilia, cable/satellite TV packages, etc. If you say you're not going to make decisions based upon what people think, and then you say that what people are thinking is stupid, you're not making a winning sales pitch.
I don't have to like what my audience has to say, but they're the people who make my blog what it is, so I have to respect them (as long as they're not total idiots). The vast majority of Wings fans aren't total idiots, and they'll talk to you for an hour about why the Cleary signing was baffling in terms of statistical performance and playing merit, and they're not all wrong.
[Edit, edit, per reader suggestions, I PROMISE that this is the last time I will bring this stuff up. It's time to...
No more, I vented, I feel better, you kinda had to deal with it and I'm sorry if it's beating the horse into pulp, but I'm gonna move the *#$%@& on now.
Whatever. /end edit]
Otherwise...Babcock addressed an entirely different topic, discussing his former assistant coach Tom Renney's new role as Hockey Canada's president, in an interview with the Canadian Press:
The 59-year-old [Renney], who spent the bulk of his professional career as an NHL coach, considers it his "mandate" not to just oversee gold medals but to make hockey enjoyable and protect it as other sports are fighting for athletes' time and interest. He called that "point one" of his regime and specifically emphasized wanting to introduce hockey to Canadian immigrants.
"We have to make the rink a destination," Renney said. "We want to make sure that leadership in every community across the country is sound and value-driven to make sure that the experience is something that will last a lifetime so that we continue to grow the game."
Babcock had Renney on his coaching staff with the Detroit Red Wings the past two seasons and considers him the right man to lead that charge.
"The Canadian game for me is a huge deal," Babcock said in a phone interview. "The more I've been involved the more Canadian you feel and the more you want the game to be Canadian, and in order to do that the grassroots hockey has to be a huge priority. ... Tom can't get enough. In the summer, I go to the lake, I go water-skiing, I go hunting, I do things. I'm sure Tom's working on drills this morning. That's just Tom, he loves it."
Renney will also have to appoint a coach. Babcock has gold medals from Vancouver and Sochi.
"The other day when he was telling me he was taking the job, I said, 'Tom, don't call,"' Babcock said. "He started laughing and said 'I'll be calling for sure.' I have no idea. ... I really believe you earn the opportunity to coach the Canadian Olympic team, and you earn the opportunity by continuing to be a top coach in the National Hockey League that wins. So three years from now they can decide."
In the Alumni Department, part 1, from The Score's Justin Cuthbert:
[On this day in] 2002 - Red Wings name Dave Lewis 25th coach in franchise history
Dave Lewis receives the unenviable task of replacing the legendary Scotty Bowman as the next head coach of the Detroit Red Wings.
An assistant under Bowman, Lewis won three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings before succeeding him. He guides the Wings to consecutive 48-win seasons, including a Presidents' Trophy in 2004, but is unable to build on successes in the regular season.
Detroit wins just a single postseason series under Lewis before management allows his contract to expire in 2005.
Most-recently, Lewis served as an assistant coach under Kirk Muller in Carolina, but was fired in May.
In the Alumni Department, part 2: the Prince Albert Herald reports that a former Wing will be posthumously inducted into the Saskatchewan Hall of Fame this Friday:
Another former Wheat King, Plenty-born McCrimmon led the team to a WHL championship in 1979 before he was selected 15th overall by the Boston Bruins in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft.
In a long NHL career with the Bruins, Flyers, Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings, Hartford Whalers and Coyotes, McCrimmon ammased 403 points in 1,222 games. In his first season as head coach of the Kontinental Hockey League’s Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, McCrimmon was killed in a plane crash along with 42 others on board.
In the Alumni Department, part 3, fluff department: The QMI News Agency listed Chris Chelios as one of 10 athletes who should have "stuck" to his primary sport (hard-hitting news here, just for Mike Babcock):
CHRIS CHELIOS: The former Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings defenceman really wanted to put together a bobsled team for the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics. He tried to qualify for the Games as a member of the Greek bobsled team, because of his Greek roots.
Chelios’ team wasn’t good enough to make the Olympics, but he still made the U.S. men’s hockey team and was named captain.
And finally, once again, we're trying to come up with ideas as to how to improve the inclusiveness of the comments section (great suggestions about the concept of not letting readers attack the author but not each other, perhaps posting a disclaimer and/or codes of conduct, finding someone who'd be willing to moderate the section using "up" or "down" votes, if not, "This person is being an *#$%@&" reporting, to self-or-other-police, etc., and "User Name First, Comments Second" might allow you to scroll on instead of reading first...Not sure the "no swearing please" vote will have much traction though, and the Free Press does this neat thing where you can show or hide comments as you wish, perhaps that's a good answer). Please share your opinions regarding what we can do to build up the TMR community in the comments section, on Twitter, Facebook or via email. The goal here remains improving the community as opposed to being punitive for the sake of being punitive.
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About The Malik Report
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.