The Malik Report
by George Malik on 10/04/13 at 03:50 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings headed to Carolina to battle the Hurricanes this evening (7 PM EDT, FSD/FS Carolinas/97.1 FM, preceded by a Wings season preview at 6 PM on FSD) literally preparing to tangle with a team that's been sitting and waiting for them.
Well, practicing and waiting for them, but pretty dang close. While the Red Wings defeated Buffalo on Wednesday, and are kicking off a slate of back-to-back games tonight (the Wings play in Boston on Saturday night), the Hurricanes open their 2013-2014 campaign with tonight's home opener, and the Raleigh News & Observer's Chip Alexander reports that Canes owner Peter Karmanos will be in attendance tonight:
Karmanos said the franchise financially “looks fine” despite the Canes not reaching the playoffs the past four years. Rutherford said the club’s season-ticket totals dropped by about 1,000 from last year, citing increased ticket prices as the chief cause of the decline. He said he was pleased with corporate sales and said suite sales were the same as last year.
“We need to sell more,” he said. “If we play well, people will come.”
The Hurricanes have a 10-year agreement with Fox Sports Carolina that has increased franchise revenue. For the first time since the team moved to the state in 1997, all 82 regular-season games will be televised.
Of his departure from Compuware, Peter Karmanos said it was not upsetting or bittersweet.
“Not really, because I really wanted to retire 10 years ago,” he said. “But I felt a responsibility to the people there. We were going through the dot.com bubble situation and a large amount of business went away. But I’ve been trying to get out of there since. It’s been 40 years. I’m 70. It doesn’t have the same effect as it would have at, say, 58. If anything it’s been 10 years longer than I expected. And I won’t be blamed if it goes in the tank."
Team-wise, as the News & Observer's Alexander notes, the Hurricanes are moving into a more difficult division, and despite a strong preseason (Carolina went 3-and-3 but won their final three games), they face both a challenging schedule and a much more difficult slate of regular competition:
Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals – those are the first four opponents. The Canes also play the two most recent Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, in October.
To reach the playoffs, the Hurricanes must find a way to compete in a division with the Pens, Flyers, Caps, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets. It may not take career years from all of their big guns, but it likely will take very good years.
“We need those guys to be solid, consistent,” [Hurricanes coach Kirk] Muller said. “They need to be on-board and believing in what we’re all about.”
Muller expects his top line of Eric Staal, Semin and Jiri Tlusty to again be one of the league’s best. He expects Jordan Staal, who turned 25 last month, to be one of the league’s most effective two-way forwards – a sentiment shared by Jordan’s big brother.
“He looks very confident, looks very strong,” Eric Staal said. “Regardless of offensively of what he does, he’s the kind of player you win games with, just the way he plays the game and how he demands better out of the people he plays with. They have to play strong on both sides of the puck.”
That’s what Muller wants from Skinner. He’s only 21 and is capable of scoring 30 or more goals, but Skinner hasn’t yet shown Muller enough defensive intensity.
“If he can make that commitment, I think his offense just comes natural. He’s a goal-scorer,” Muller said. “I think it’s a big year for him.”
The Hurricanes signed pro try-out Radek Dvorak to a 1-year contract earlier this week, and while they won't have Joni Pitkanen's services this upcoming season due to a broken heel, and they won't have Tuomo Ruutu ("upper-body injury") or Tim Gleason (concussion) in the lineup tonight, Alexander noted that top prospect Elias Lindholm returned to practice on Tuesday after battling a "hand injury" (Lindholm was the 5th pick in the 2013 draft)...
Lindholm was used Tuesday on the fourth line, with Brett Sutter and Kevin Westgarth. Radek Dvorak was on Eric Staal's line with Jiri Tlusty, while Jordan Staal continued to center Nathan Gerbe and Pat Dwyer, and Riley Nash with Jeff Skinner and Drayson Bowman.
And Alexander Semin returned from a similar injury on Wednesday, yielding the following lineup:
Semin is a veteran forward, has been skating with assistant coach Rod Brind'Amour and was an easy fit back on the line with center Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty and on the first power play unit.
With Semin back, the lines were tweaked a bit. The second line remained the same, with Jordan Staal centering Nathan Gerbe and Pat Dwyer. The third line had Riley Nash at center with Jeff Skinner and Radek Dvorak, who still was without a contract on Wednesday morning.
Lindholm, Brett Sutter, Kevin Westgarth and Drayson Bowman alternated on the fourth line.
Muller said no decision had yet been made but that the Canes might dress six defensemen for the opener. Ryan Murphy was back at practice after being recalled Tuesday from Charlotte (AHL), giving the Canes seven D.
The reason I'm tossing off all of these personnel notes involves a) trying to paint something of a narrative picture and b) trying to figure out what the Hurricanes' lines will consist of.
On Wednesday, CarolinaHurricanes.com's Michael Smith reported that Lindholm found his way on to the power play...
In today’s practice, the coaching staff brought Lindholm into the mix on the first unit with Semin, Tlusty, Staal and Ryan Murphy, who rejoined the team on Wednesday after his technical, one-day reassignment.
“It’s possible [Lindholm] can jump in there. He’s a right-hand shot that we’ve always wanted on that unit in the slot,” Muller said. “He’s a good playmaker, and he can score from there.”
The team’s second power play unit consisted of Skinner, Jordan Staal, Nathan Gerbe, Jay Harrison and Justin Faulk.
And on Thursday, Alexander anticipated that the Canes would dress this lineup tonight...
The Canes’ top line from last season – Eric Staal, Semin and Tlusty – will stay intact, given the good production and chemistry it had last season. Jordan Staal will center Gerbe and Patrick Dwyer, and Riley Nash will center the third line with Skinner and Radek Dvorak on the wings.
Muller had four forwards alternating on the fourth line Thursday – Lindholm, Drayson Bowman, Brett Sutter and Kevin Westgarth.
Muller said the Canes likely will dress six defensemen. During Thursday’s practice, Faulk was paired with Andrej Sekera, Harrison with Murphy and Ron Hainsey with Brett Bellemore. Mike Komisarek also is available on the back end.
Looking at the Canes’ probable lineup against the Wings, nine players will be 25 or younger. Lindholm, 18, is the youngest and Dvorak the oldest at 36.
Whilte noting that Muller prepared the Hurricanes for the 13-14 season with something he didn't have under his belt last year--a full training camp. In theory, that should help the Hurricanes overcome any jitters as one of the last NHL teams to begin play:
“You want them to have that nice, nervous energy,” Muller said. “You want to make sure you do it in a smart way. That’s the trick for an opening home game. We’ve got a good opponent coming in and I think the key is just go out and play. We’ve just got to relax and have fun. … Just go out, get a shot, get a hit, simplify.”
The training camp was Muller’s first as an NHL head coach. He took over as coach when Paul Maurice was fired in November 2011 and was forced to do everything on the fly. Then came the NHL lockout last year. When it ended, there was only time for a couple days of training camp and the games began.
This year, Muller finally could instruct, install systems, evaluate players, slowly reduce the roster, try different combinations and play six exhibition games. Then, as he put it, he could fine-tune everything in the days leading up to the opener.
“We’ve had enough time to cover everything,” he said.
If you want to listen to Muller speak with the media, the Hurricanes' PR website posted an audio clip of Muller speaking with the media, and it's useful given the fact that Hurricanes coverage is...lacking in terms of depth or breadth...
And the Canes' website posted clips of Dvorak and Patrick Dwyer speaking with the media as well:
The News & Observer's Luke DeCock noted that the Hurricanes have high expectations for defenseman Justin Falk...
Even before Joni Pitkanen was lost for the season, his position as the Carolina Hurricanes’ nominal No. 1 defenseman had been usurped by a shaggy-haired youngster with a perpetually busted lip only six months removed from his 21st birthday.
Justin Faulk’s meteoric rise up the depth chart in Carolina hasn’t gained much attention around the NHL, but this season that may change quickly. Not only will Faulk have a chance to make the U.S. Olympic team, but he’ll also be integral to any success the Hurricanes have.
If his career continues to blossom, Faulk is the kind of player who could end up winning the Norris Trophy someday – at the moment, a laughable assertion to anyone who hasn’t actually watched him play closely and a realistic one to anyone who has.
“If you’re in a larger market, certain players get talked about more than others. That’s just the nature of being in those areas,” Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said. “If he plays the way I know that he can and our team does well, he’ll be as well known as he needs to be, for the right reasons. For a young kid playing that position, I don’t think people realize how good he could be.”
And Staal told the Canes website's Michael Smith that the team's prepared to prove its numerous doubters wrong:
“We don’t see a lot of love nationally in some of the predictions, but that’s fine,” Eric Staal said. “We’re going to go about our business and do what we have to do.”
“If they were always accurate, we might as well go to Vegas,” joked head coach Kirk Muller. “I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been on teams that we’re supposed to do really well and we get off to a tough start. I’ve been on teams that people have been like, ‘Wow. Where did these guys come from?’”
Asked if he tried to avoid reading what the press says about the team, Staal said it’s something that’s hard to avoid.
“We’re all in this sport and business, so you want to stay in the loop as far as certain things that are going on in the league,” he said. “They’ve predicted that for a long time with the teams we’ve had down here, and I’m pretty sure we were picked close to last the year we won the Cup. We know what we have down here internally, and now it’s about performing and showing what we can do, and that starts Friday.”
“In here, I’m more like hey, what’s our vibe in our room?” Muller said. “That’s what’s important.”
The vibe is upbeat. It’s eager. It’s tenacious. It’s a will to work together toward a common goal of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2009.
“We believe strongly in the pieces we have in this room,” Staal said with confidence.
The AP's game preview adds statistical context to the above-mentioned names...
Semin, who signed a five-year, $35 million deal in March and finished with 13 goals and 31 assists last season, will again play on the top line with Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty.
Staal led the team with 53 points while Tlusty scored a team-best 23 goals, and that line produced much of the scoring for the Hurricanes (19-25-4), who haven't made the playoffs since 2009.
It won't get any easier for them in the new Metropolitan Division, which includes Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia, the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders, New Jersey and up-and-coming Columbus.
"It's going to be tough. It's a good division," defenseman Justin Faulk said. "Obviously, there's a lot of teams that are pretty good. But we're looking forward to it. Every team's good in the league. Every night, anyone can win, and I think we're pretty confident with the group that we have in here to do a pretty good job."
[Jeff] Skinner, who had 13 goals and 11 assists in 42 games last season, enters his fourth NHL season seeking his first playoff appearance.
"We just want to make the playoffs. That's what everyone plays the game for," Skinner told the team's official website. "I haven't been there yet. That's the goal, and that's what everyone is striving for."
Detroit has four of the last five meetings.
And NHL.com's Brian Hunter's preview will serve as our pivot point between the Hurricanes and Red Wings' perspectives:
Red Wings [team scope]: A pair of veterans generated all the offense Detroit would need in its opener as Mikael Samuelsson and Pavel Datsyuk scored 36 seconds apart midway through the first period. That proved to be enough for Jimmy Howard, who started his bid to be the U.S. goalie at the 2014 Winter Olympics by stopping 19 of 20 shots and outdueling Buffalo's Ryan Miller.
Samuelsson, limited to four games last season by injuries, scored the season's first goal by redirecting a shot by Cory Emmerton.
"As a fourth line, your job is to be hard on teams, have the puck more than them and make it hard for them and when you score goals that just helps the team," Emmerton said.
Hurricanes [team scope]: Life didn't get any easier for Carolina with the dissolving of the Southeast Division and the Hurricanes' subsequent move into a Metropolitan Division that includes the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and an old neighbor that's frustrated them for years in the Washington Capitals.
After dropping their first three preseason games, the Hurricanes finished with three straight wins. They've battled injuries to top draft pick Elias Lindholm and key returnees Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin, but all three returned to practice this week and with the top two lines centered by Eric Staal and Jordan Staal they've got the nucleus of a strong offense.
"Jordan's line is set. Eric's line is set," coach Kirk Muller told the team's website. "It's just a matter of looking at the third and the fourth and seeing what the right combinations are there."
Injury report: Red Wings forwards Darren Helm (back), Jordin Tootoo (shoulder) and Patrick Eaves (knee) and goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (groin) are on injured reserve. … Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen (heel) is on injured reserve and won't play this season. Forward Tuomo Ruutu (lower body) and defenseman Tim Gleason (concussion) are expected to miss Friday's opener.
Perhaps the Red Wings' press was just as eager to prepare for a difficult road trip in unfamiliar territory as the Wings were, because the Wings hopped onto Red Bird III about 90 minutes after practice ended, and the beat writers kept their coverage very, very brief.
The Free Press's Helene St. James noted that Daniel Alfredsson skipped Thursday's practice...
Forward Daniel Alfredsson stayed off the ice as the Detroit Red Wings practiced today but plans to be back when they're playing.
General manager Ken Holland told the Free Press that Alfredsson "has slight tenderness in his groin." Alfredsson missed a handful of games during the exhibition season for the same reason but isn't concerned that this pain will linger.
"I feel good," Alfredsson said after getting treatment. "Just a maintenance day. Three games in four nights, so I'll be ready to go."
The Wings, 2-1 winners over Buffalo in their season opener Wednesday, next play Friday at Carolina, followed by Saturday at Boston. Alfredsson said he plans to play in both games.
As did the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness:
"It’s the reality of being 40,” Alfredsson said. “Just being smart about it. I definitely would like to practice. I enjoy practice. But now with camp and starting the season with three in four you got to be careful.”
After the Hurricanes the Wings play at Boston on Saturday. Tomas Tatar filled in on his line at practice.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Tatar, who was a healthy scratch in Wednesday’s opener. “I’m waiting to see, I think the lineup sheet will be up tomorrow. I’m getting in game shape with (assistant coach) Tom Renney out there,” Tatar added. “We’re trying to work after practice so I’m not out shape, we’re skating a lot. I’m ready. So whenever a spot will be open I’ll jump in there.”
Wings coach Mike Babcock made it known prior to the season opener he would be going with a more veteran lineup until those veterans are unable to perform to the level he wants.
“It’s the life,” Tatar said. “What can you do? I’m just trying to not get out of it, stay focused and be prepared.”
Babcock told MLive's Ansar Khan that he plans on playing Tatar either tonight or tomorrow...
“We can put him in at anytime and we’ll see what happens, if he plays in one of these two games or doesn’t, I don’t know for sure,'' Babcock said. “Think about that more on the flight and by tomorrow morning have a decision on our lines for tomorrow.”
Babcock said of Tatar: “The puck follows him around; the puck goes in the net when he’s out there. He knows how to play, he’s competitive. He’s a good player.”
Khan updated Jordin Tootoo's status...
Right wing Jordin Tootoo (bruised shoulder) is closer to returning but probably not this weekend.
“Feels pretty good, did a lot of battle drills in the corner, putting a lot more pressure on the joint, no aches and pains thus far,'' Tootoo said. “It's a day-to-day process. I think a few more practices where there's a lot more contact and battle drills in the corner just to get a bit more of a test is probably what I need before I play a game. I play a pretty rough game, I just want to make sure mentally I'm comfortable and playing 100 percent.''
And he noted that Babcock was very pleased with Alfredsson's contributions to the Wings' power play--because he shoots, shoots and shoots some more:
“You can make all of the nice plays that you want,'' Babcock said. “Alfie, he’s a smart player, he’s got good puck poise. The other thing I like about him is he shoots it. You got to shoot it on the power play to have any success. Pass it around does you no good. You start with a shot and you get it back and that creates motion and that is deception, so when you all stand still, stick-handle it and pass it nothing happens. He’s done a good job of shooting. He’s done a good job with motion. He’s done a good job with patience, so obviously, we think we’re set up to have a better power play.''
The Wings' power play is a work in progress, having not scored on Wednesday and having produced very middling results during the preseason, but Babcock was happy with Wednesday's effort:
“We had the puck on a string, but we have to score in the end,'' he said.
Khan continues and speaks with Alfredsson about "pulling his weight" at even strength and on the PK as well, but I can't quote his entire article.
The Red Wings told the Macomb Daily's Pleiness that they're aware that taking seven penalties in an opening-night game isn't the way to go, but they understand that every season begins with a "crackdown"...
“I think every year we think they’re going to call it tight at the beginning of the year and then it eases up,” Drew Miller said. “I don’t think the refs think that way, but for some reason that’s how it seems to shake out the way. We can’t take that many penalties, especially the 5-on-3 ones, going down two men is tough.”
Buffalo had a pair of 5-on-3 power plays on Wednesday, one in each of the first two periods, lasting all of two minutes and 22 seconds and could only muster two shots on goal.
“The positive side, I thought out PK did well,” Miller said. “From (Jimmy Howard) to the D to all the forwards that were a part of it we were systems strong and that’s kind of how we finished last year. We bought into playing a certain way and it’s carried over to this year. It was definitely a positive thing."
It wasn't nearly as bad as the Wings' season-opener a January ago...
"Last year St. Louis I think scored four power play goals on us in the opener and our percentage was killed after that game,” Miller continued. “It was nice to get that first game going seven-for-seven and build off that to keep the percentage up. We all take pride in that. We want to be at the top of the league.”
The Blues were 4-for-5 with the man advantage in last year’s opener.
Jimmy Howard was happy enough with his team's performance in front of him, and he told Pleiness that the old adages are the best ones here:
“It was a great start off to the year,” Howard continued. “The past couple of years we could have been a lot better on the penalty kill, but it was a great start last night. This time of the year is when they call it tight. They’re going to call everything to keep the sticks down. You just have to play through it and keep your stick down on the puck.”
Paul noted that DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose wrote a helluva article about one of my favorite Wings in the extremely "underrated" Joakim Andersson--I believe that Andersson is one of those rare players who makes everyone around him better, regardless of whether he's playing in a defensive role, a dedicated offensive role, or last spring's, "I'll let Nyquist and Brunner deke and dangle and I'll cover up after 'em" mix of the two--and he certainly played well on the PK:
“A lot times especially in the beginning of the year the refs are even harder, so you really have to think about what you are doing with your stick and with your hands so you don’t grab hold of anything, or hook anyone,” Andersson said. “You have to think a little extra for the first couple of games.”
Last season, the Wings were among the teams with the fewest penalty-minutes in the league, averaging 9.8 minutes per game. The Wings had to kill seven or more penalties three times last season.
“I think some of the penalties were a little stupid,” said captain Henrik Zetterberg, who received two minor penalties Wednesday. “In the same way at the beginning of the year the refs are really picky. They’re really taking all the lateral sticks, you know, the slashing, they take it all. We know it. We’ve got to prepare better and think about it even more.”
Roose also noted Alfredsson's absence from practice, and he pointed out that Mikael Samuelsson hopes to rebound after what was an absolutely terrible 2013 campaign (see: four games played, mostly missing time due to a groin pull, a broken hand suffered blocking a shot in practice and then torn pectoral muscle):
“Last year was last year,” Samuelsson said. “I have a mindset that it's a new year. I have to start off fresh. Back to square one and I have to work for my spot.”
Samuelsson’s first-period goal was his first regular-season goal in a Red Wings’ sweater since March 29, 2009.
“It was nice to get that goal after last year,” said Samuelsson, whose next goal will be No. 150 in his NHL career. “It could go both ways, you could struggle in the start and then who knows. You look around the room and there are a lot of good forwards in here. You have to earn your ice time. If you keep scoring every game you’re going to earn your ice time. But it’s only one game.”
The Wings will have a "pesky" and "plucky" opponent on their hands in the underdog Hurricanes this evening, all jittery, jumpy and energetic in their home opener, and they'll play the big, bad Bruins on Saturday, during what the Free Press's Steve Schrader's calling a "sports-watching extravaganza" for Michigan sports fans.
They'll need all hands on deck to at least earn a split and hopefully take three of four points--because it's the Wings who will end up with their heads behind the scheduling 8-ball as they have the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th off, and then the team will end up playing 4 games in 6 nights (on the 10th against Phoenix, the 12th against Philly, and then the 14th and 15th in Boston and Columbus), 5 in 8, 6 in 10, etc. as the team will end up playing eight times between the 10th and 23rd.
By the end of the month, when the Wings hit the road in Vancouver, they'll have played 12 games, and the vast majority of this month's 13 games are smooshed into two-and-a-half weeks' worth of time.
Long story long, the Wings need to take as many of the points as they can out of tonight and tomorrow's games, and then they're going to need to rest up, because their schedule gets pretty brutal on Thursday the 10th, and from there, there's no let-up until a very brief respite before the first Western Canadian swing.
Red Wings notebooks: Speaking of a different kind of "brutality," the Red Wings and Hurricanes were both asked about the role of fighting in the NHL in light of George Parros' injury, and as you might expect, they offered different takes on the issue.
Westgarth, who helped the NHLPA negotiate the present CBA, told the Raleigh News & Observer's Chip Alexander that fighting still has a place in the game...
If anyone can relate with George Parros, it's probably Kevin Westgarth. Like Parros, Westgarth is a Princeton man. Big and tough on the ice, both are bright, personable people off it. Parros is a willing fighter, if called to do that. So is the Canes' Westgarth, whose knuckles may perpetually stay reddish and bruised.
"We're playing an incredibly violent game," Westgarth said Wednesday. "We're lucky to do it. But there are risks that go with it."
Westgarth said he was watching the Montreal-Toronto opener Tuesday night when the Habs' Parros was knocked unconscious as he attempted to fight the Maple Leafs' Colton Orr. As Parros tried to throw a punch, Orr slipped while tugging on Parros' jersey, sending Parros face-first into the ice.
Parros, who suffered a concussion, had to be taken off on a stretcher and was carried by ambulance to a Montreal hospital. The 33-year-old forward was released Wednesday and will play again this season, but the sickening injury, which quickly stunned and quieted the Bell Centre, has ignited more debate over the value and relevance of fighting in the game of hockey.
Canes general manager Jim Rutherford told TSN on Wednesday, "We've got to get rid of fighting. It has to go."
Canes defenseman Tim Gleason is out with a concussion. The team has not said how Gleason was injured, but it occurred in a preseason game Sept. 21 in which Gleason fought Jarred Tinordi of the Canadiens.
"That was a freak thing last night obviously," Westgarth said. "It was a perfect storm of bad timing. Obviously it's something you never want to see. My heart goes out to George. He had a tough battle back from his shoulder injury. He had a good game and he and Colton had a good fight before in the game."
The Red Wings aren't so sure whether it's just "bad timing."
While 97.1 FM made sure to tell us all that Mike Valenti believes the league, "Should embrace violent stigma and be more entertaining," because it's the NHL's "only shot to grow the sport," the fact that Steve Yzerman was one of the GM's who told TSN's Darren Dreger that fighting should at least result in a game misconduct struck a chord.
Jordin Tootoo echoed Westgarth's remarks while speaking with MLive's Ansar Khan...
“Fighting has been a part of the game since Day 1,'' Tootoo said. “It's about having respect for each other and … what's called changing momentum of a game. It's a difference-maker, but at the same time you're not going out to intentionally hurt the guy. For me, I play a pretty rambunctious style of hockey that allows other teams to have a hate on me and I got to be able to back it up. I do, and I feel comfortable in doing that.''
Justin Abdelkader sees no problem with fights that occur in the heat of battle.
“I think there's still a place for fighting,'' Abdelkader said. “I think what they're trying to do is take out the staged part of the fighting, but I think it's still part of the game, part of the history.''
Drew Miller believes enforcers play an important role, but he acknowledged safety concerns, particularly to a player's life after hockey.
“You have to respect the guys that do it on a night-to-night basis,'' Miller said. “I think it does create a spark when needed, momentum shifts, but I don’t know where you draw the line where that’s more beneficial than someone’s health. If it was all gone it would be different and weird. But with a transition period maybe it would become normal eventually.''
Niklas Kronwall's comments to Fox Sports Detroit's Art Regner weren't echoed by his coach:
“I believe that fighting definitely has a place, I really do” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Can you make it like Stevie (Yzerman) was suggesting, a game misconduct or something like that? I think you can look at that.
“But if we want to make a difference, if we want to change something, it has to be a sit down (between players and the league). It has to be something that you really go over the benefits, the upside and the downside to each idea, and make sure everyone is on the same page.”
Kronwall, one of Detroit’s player reps, realizes that fighting is a complex issue. He doesn’t have a problem with two guys dropping the gloves and squaring off, but if a player is targeted, he feels that’s wrong and needs to be addressed. Kronwall is adamant, however, that the players will never agree to ban fighting.
His coach, Mike Babcock, thinks otherwise.
“When your league is so much against head shots and the penalties are so severe -- fighting’s a head shot isn’t it?” said Babcock, who's unsure if there's a fine line here, if you should allow players to scrap but throw the book at them for targeting the head.
But Babcock sounds confident the days for NHL fisticuffs are limited.
“For sure, there will be a day, I don’t know when,” was Babcock’s response when asked if he thinks the NHL will ban fighting someday. “You’re always judged in the court of public opinion, are you not?”
Babcock continued, as the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa noted:
"The other night, when I was watching that game, I thought it was a farce,” Babcock said. “And I thought it was uncalled for and did not need to be. George is laying there on the ice. It's 2013, the last time I checked, and we're talking about taking all of the head shots out of the NHL and that stuff's going on? I don't know. To me, I don't understand it, actually.
"Everyone will tell you it has a place in the game," Babcock said. "There's lots of hard, hard games that don't allow fighting.
"I don't have all the answers there. I just know that the way we've made it now, you've got helmets and some guys don't, and they're taking them off or not taking them off (when fighting). To me, that's not two guys mad, fighting. That's something else. And you know when you see a guy get hurt like that, you wonder what you're doing.
"The good thing is, as a coach, I'm not going to get a lot of say in that matter. So it really doesn't matter what I think. But I imagine the subject is going to come up, and when your league is this much against head shots and the penalties are so severe; fighting is a head shot, isn't it? So, I don't know where the fine line is there. I don't know how you take the heads shots out of the game and allow scrapping."
Both the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness and the Free Press's Helene St. James posted clips of Babcock's comments--and not all of them are about fighting...
St. James weighed in as follows...
The Wings consider using a roster spot on a pure enforcer a waste of money. Jordin Tootoo was brought in a year ago to add what’s called a “sandpaper” element, but he didn’t play in the playoffs, or down the stretch last year, and he begins this season sidelined by a sore shoulder. Even if he were healthy, as may soon be the case, he’s got a different fight ahead of him, in that he’d need to show why he should bump someone else from the lineup.
Todd Bertuzzi has had some fights with Detroit, the kind that come about spontaneously most of the time. He was the one guy on the Wings who stood up for captain Henrik Zetterberg in the 2012 playoffs, after granite-jawed defenseman Shea Weber — a decade younger than Bertuzzi — slammed Zetterberg’s head into the boards at the end of the previous game. Justin Abdelkader has been in a few tussles, but it’s clear he’d rather be passing the puck to Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk than duking it out with anyone.
On the subject of tempers, few men in hockey have a shorter fuse than Patrick Roy. He famously burned the bridge to Montreal during a game against Detroit in 1995, during which the Wings scored on him nine times before he was pulled in an eventual 11-1 loss. He hasn’t cooled down now that he’s head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, screaming at the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday through a glass partition even as the Avs celebrated a 6-1 victory.
And Krupa prefaced his comments with this video:
Krupa offered predictably thoughtful and particularly well-written commentary:
“How much is the hockey and how much is the fighting, we don’t really know,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, after he studied the brain of the late, beloved Red Wings enforcer, Bob Probert.
Dani Probert, Bob’s widow, told The New York Times, “In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe fighting is what did this to Bob. It was hockey — and the checking and hits, things like that.” She is no doctor. But she loved a hockey player.
For all my life, I have thought fighting a necessary part of the NHL game. And I still believe that even after eliminating all body-checking that targets the head and fighting, brain damage will remain a problem as long as violent contact is allowed, even if only below the shoulders.
Which is why I think the unnecessary fights in hockey are like crashes in NASCAR, more pornography than anything I enjoy watching.
But when Henrik Zetterberg is repeatedly cross-checked in the lower back or when Shea Weber takes Zetterberg’s head in the palm of his massive glove and rifles it off the Plexiglass twice, Zetterberg’s teammates must defend him. In part, because if they do not, there will be more violent abuse.
I am not sure it is wise to eliminate fighting. But more regulation is plainly in the offing, and fans absolutely must reconsider for what they cheer. Please do not leave your morals and judgment in the car when you enter the rink.
I'm going to quote what I said to the Boston Globe's Kevin Dupont when he raised the subject on Twitter:
I grew up at the tail end of the Chuck Norris Division era, when Bob Probert's famous bouts with Tie Domi, with former Bruise Brother partner Joey Kocur and frequent bouts with Wendell Clark, Basil McRae, and the old line brawl in 92 when everyone on the team, including Tim Cheveldae, got into it with the Bruins' bench are all fresh in my mind.
When someone like Shea Weber plays volleyball with Zetterberg's head, I believe that there should be consequences for those actions, and given that the league suspends players for spearing others in the groin, and generally suspends players who retaliate by injuring their opponents with malice aforethought, I believe that the Webers of the league have to know that they're going to have to "go," even if it's in a "staged" fight in the next game.
But I don't believe that we hockey fans watch a league where there's any point in what the Canadiens and Maple Leafs engaged in. I agree with Babcock--it was a farce, and it was simply unnecessary. If you're going to "send a message," fine, I understand that, but if you feel it necessary to enforce "the code," you should understand that the consequences mean one less skater on the bench for the remainder of the game.
What about late-game fights? I'd imagine that suspending a player and making a team dress 17 skaters is plain old punitive, as is a full-game suspension, but if the league made the players drop a grand into the Player Assisstance Fund, I'd be fine with that.
The game is beautiful and it's not a return to the rough-and-tumble seventies that will "grow the game." Riding that fine line between extreme skill and extreme violence is what hockey's always been about, and there have always been mechanisms to relieve the pressure when a line is crossed, but we don't need to wrench the tap open when that safety valve's released.
In other news, in the charitable news department, per PR Newswire:
Mylec Hockey Signs Detroit Red Wings Captain Hendrik Zetterberg to Multi-Year Endorsement
Winchendon, MA, October 04, 2013 --(PR.com)-- Mylec President Ricky Laperriere announced today that 2008 Stanley Cup Champion and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Henrik Zetterberg will endorse and promote Mylec Hockey's Street and Ball Hockey products in a multi-year agreement. All royalties will be donated to the Zetterberg Foundation.
Mylec has been an industry leader in the street and ball hockey products to the sporting goods industry for over 40 years. Mylec products are proudly made in the USA in Winchendon, MA, at a new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility opened in October 2011. "The Zetterberg endorsement brings a lot of excitement to our future marketing efforts in taking our brand to the next level," according to Laperriere.
Zetterberg, who recently was awarded the 2013 NHL Foundation Award for his numerous community initiatives outside of his on ice performance views "the Mylec partnership as an extended involvement for him to influence and assist young players of every age to participate in Street and Ball Hockey. The most important goal for every player is to enjoy the hockey playing experience and have fun playing the game-I share that vision with Mylec."
As Paul noted, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame's 2013 Induction Ceremony--and its induction class includes Peter Karmanos, Michigan State legend Ron Mason and Warren's Doug Weight--will take place at the MotorCity Casino on December 2nd, and if you weren't already aware of the USA Hockey-related event at the Big House on January 1st, MLive's Pete Cunningham has some news for you:
The Winter Classic is already going to be a USA vs. Canada affair, and USA Hockey is upping the ante.
USA Hockey will announce the lineup for the 2014 Sochi Olympics during the television broadcast of the outdoor game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium on New Year's Day. The Olympic tournament will begin five weeks after the Winter Classic in Sochi, Russia.
Players on opposite teams could become teammates during the game.
Players on both teams are candidates for the spots with Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, defenseman Danny Dekehyser and forward Justin Abdelkader all in the mix. Toronto forwards Phil Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk are strong candidates for the team along with defenseman Jake Gardiner.
Some former Michigan players could have their names announced that day as well with defensemen Jack Johnson and Jacob Trouba both vying for roster spots. Johnson was a member the silver medal winning 2010 Olympic team.
In the alumni department, "Good story" version: TSN's Kerry Fraser recalled a coach-versus-coach tiff that involved Patrick Roy's former team:
I don't think I ever saw another coach that could get under the skin of his opposing bench boss the way Scotty Bowman could unhinge Marc Crawford, especially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Scotty was the master of game day antics. The Avs' visiting team dressing room door was painted in the afternoon with toxic enamel and greeted Crawford and his players when they arrived prior to game time on one occasion. I could smell the paint from ice-level near the Avs bench! On another occasion, the length of the players' bench length was altered. When asked, Scotty would calmly reply he knew nothing of it and was just part of regularly scheduled building maintenance!
In what was already powder keg matchups between the Wings and the Avalanche, Marc would scream with neck veins bulging at Scotty from a position where the two benches would meet. Once again, Scotty would have that calm little smirk on his face that would infuriate Crow all the more. When these dustups happened, my objective was to try and calm Marc since Scotty already had ice water running through his veins (and often ice cubes in his mouth from the bucket). I told Crow one time on the bench not to let Scotty get to him so much because he was playing right into the Master's hands.
In the alumni department, "Odd story" version: Expressen's Oscar Brostrom reports that Brett Lebda turned down a contract offer from Leksands IF of the Swedish Eliteserien;
In the alumni department, this will make me verklempt version:
The man was an absolute warrior as a hockey player, and the man is an absolute warrior as a person. Vladdie appears in the Detroit News's David Gurlanick's gallery from the Wings-Sabres game, and the dignity with which he lives his life is inspiring and touching.
(Speaking of photo galleries, both 97.1 FM and Michigan Hockey posted day-late galleries from the home opener on Thursday. The picture anchoring Mickey Redmond's 32-minute interview with Detroit Sports 105.1 FM's Drew Lane is pretty cool, too)
This is pretty cool, per ESPN the Magazine's Dan Friedell (and click to embiggen):
I must have taken one too many pucks to the head, because the sense of humor in Grantland's Spike Friedman's first-NHL-night tongue-in-cheek recap escapes me:
The Detroit Red Wings made an early two-goal lead stand up in their first game as an Eastern Conference team, taking their season opener against the Buffalo Sabres 2-1. "It's tough," said Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg after the game. "We had to get rid of all our board shorts and flip-flops, invest in some blazers and khakis." Zetterberg then looked down at himself, attired nattily by Brooks Brothers, and sighed, before saying, "The Eastern Conference sucks. I feel like I sold out, man."
In the prospect department, in Sweden, Mattias Backman played 20:58 but didn't register a point in Linkopings HC's 6-3 win over HV71;
Hockey's Future's deemed Gustav Nyquist to be the league's 28th-best prospect:
28. Gustav Nyquist, LW – Detroit Red Wings
Height: 5-11, Weight: 185, Spring ranking – 34
Nyquist has emerged as one of Detroit’s top prospects, and could work his way into a regular role on the Red Wings’ top-nine this season. Although he lacks size, he plays a high-energy game and displays a wide array of offensive tools, including superb skating ability. His smart play at both ends of the ice and, in particular, his offensive creativity and puck skills make Nyquist a difficult opponent to play against and an exciting performer to watch. Given the skill around him and his two-way scoring abilities, Nyquist looks primed for a breakout season in 2013-14, although much of that breakout may happen at the AHL level as he has been sent to Grand Rapids to begin the season.
And NHL.com's Justin Goldman had this to say about Petr Mrazek's fantasy hockey value:
5. Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: "The Dazzler" has a chance to earn some starts for Detroit over the next few weeks while Jonas Gustavsson deals with another groin injury. Mrazek is an ultra-competitive, confident and athletic talent that relies on instincts to be successful. He's known as one of the top second-effort goalies in the AHL, as he led Grand Rapids to a league title by posting a .916 save percentage in 66 games last season.
And finally, given that we're talking about "jitters," I thought this quip from Daniel Alfredsson, via CBS Detroit's Ashley Dunkak, is a good "closer":
As the Red Wings as a group adjusted to life in their new conference, Alfredsson worked into a rhythm with his new teammates. A 17-year NHL veteran, Alfredsson spent his entire career until this season with the Ottawa Senators. He could not deny he felt a little nervous before Wednesday’s season opener.
“It’s a new situation,” Alfredsson said. “I knew exactly what to expect when I was in Ottawa, what was going to happen before the game, who worked in the arena and who I know. It’s different fans, and you definitely want to show your best side, and that makes you nervous I think.”
“I wanted to have a good game and definitely wanted a big win here tonight,” Alfredsson added. “I think that made me nervous. Overall I feel – I’ve been here over a month now and gotten to know most of the guys and feel comfortable in the locker room. It hasn’t been that different. It’s still you come to practice, it’s the same setup, you have meetings before the games. It’s new guys, I knew some of them from before, so it’s been a lot of fun and it’s nice to win the first game here.”
Keep 'er going.
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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.