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Red Wings mid-day news: Babcock talks Conn Smythe; on Niskanen, Sproul, Brendan Lemieux and Pierre

Updated 4x at 3:44 PM: Amongst this afternoon's brief slate of Red Wings-related news stories:

First, regarding the overnight report, I was playing "devil's advocate" for a reason. I was attempting to both prepare you for the onslaught of wacky and generally bogus rumors that are about to hit the wires between now and July 1st, and I was also trying to let you know that I am as human as you are when it comes to trade and free agent rumors. I try to remain realistic because:

1. The Wings' relentlessly consistent general manager has suggested that the team will target exactly one free agent or trade target this summer in a puck-moving defenseman;

2. I believe that the Wings don't need any "roadblock" signings at this point: instead, I feel that one puck-moving defenseman will allow the team to maximize the talent of is smaller-but-speedy forwards (both on the roster and in the system) by re-igniting the team's puck possession game.

As for today's stories, they're kind of "tangential." Wings coach Mike Babcock made some intriguing comments about Drew Doughty's Conn Smythe candidacy while speaking with ESPN's Craig Custance (in an Insider-only entry which also taps Scott Niedermayer and Martin Brodeur regarding their Conn Smythe candidates)...

“Every team that wins the Stanley Cup, they have a marquee D-man,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said, taking a moment to chat on Tuesday. “I think of Orr, Nicklas Lidstrom, Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara.”

...

“He doesn’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about stuff. He just plays. He has great instincts,” said Babcock, who has gotten to know Doughty well while guiding Team Canada to two gold medals with Doughty as one of his thoroughbreds on defense. “When he screws up or someone hits him, he gets better. He doesn’t get worse, he gets better. He embraces it. I think he believes he’s a high-end guy. But let’s be honest, to win like they’ve won, you have to have a whole group of special players.”

...

Babcock agreed that Doughty has a strong case for Conn Smythe, but like Niedermayer, he suggested that Quick should also be in the conversation. Quick is not a guy who is always mentioned by media and fans in this debate, mostly because of his early playoff struggles and numbers that aren’t at the standard he set in the past. His save percentage is at .910, compared to .946 when he won the Stanley Cup in 2012.

“Yeah, but doesn’t Quick get to a point in the game where he doesn’t let any in?” Babcock said in supporting his case that Quick and Doughty both deserve consideration.

“Those would be my guys right there. Those two guys,” Babcock concluded. Devils goalie Martin Broudeur knows this Kings team well as the goalie who tried to do in 2012 what Henrik Lundqvist is trying to do right now.

Custance continues at length.

Regarding the Red Wings' search for a top-pair defenseman via free agency, you might want to note the comments one Matt Niskanen made to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Rossi...

Niskanen, set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, said he will be watching the Penguins' coaching search with great interest.

The 27-year-old defenseman has a close relationship with recently fired coach Dan Bylsma and an even closer one with assistant coach Todd Reirden, whose return to the team is in limbo. New general manager Jim Rutherford said the team's assistant coaches haven't been fired but are permitted to interview with other teams.

“Dan being dismissed won't affect my decision,” Niskanen said. “However, I will pay attention to what the coaching staff is going to look like. It's not the only factor in the decision. But it is a factor.”

...

Niskanen is not necessarily interested in finding the most lucrative offer. He has said he was “in love” with Pittsburgh and the Penguins.

Rutherford's hiring hasn't altered Niskanen's feelings.

“I don't know a ton about him,” said Niskanen, who added he had a feeling of guilt when the news broke that Bylsma had been fired.

“I really enjoyed playing for (Bylsma),” Niskanen said. “He gave me a chance to get back on track in my career. I learned a lot from him. I will forever be appreciative of what he meant to me as a player.”

Regarding the draft on June 27th and 28th in Philadelphia, again, The Sports Forecaster's list of "Draft Sleepers" is superb, but if I'm going to play "Devil's Advocate," this player, mentioned by Pro Hockey Talk's Joe Yerdon, is at the top of my "Irony Alert!" list:

There are going to be a lot of familiar last names at the 2014 NHL Draft, but one of them might pop up for a familiar team.

Barrie Colts forward Brendan Lemieux is of interest to the Colorado Avalanche. Brendan’s father, Claude, has a bit of history with the franchise as he was part of the 1996 Stanley Cup-winning team.

As Mike Chambers of The Denver Post writes, Claude’s connections with former teammates Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic might help lead to Brendan putting on an Avalanche sweater in Philadelphia.

“Whether it’s my dad’s relationship with Patrick or my relationship with Patrick, they’re not going to base their decision around that,” Brendan Lemieux said Tuesday. “It’s bigger business nowadays, and I know they’ll draft the best player available and what they need. I’m looking forward to whichever team picks me, but if I go to Colorado at No. 23, I won’t be disappointed at all. It will be a dream.”

Brendan is the 28th-best North American skater according to NHL Central Scouting. He had 27 goals and 53 points in Barrie this season and was a teammate of potential top pick, defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

Yerdon wonders whether the Wings would consider picking him, and to that, I have a simple answer, noted by the National Post's Michael Traikos. Traikos interviewed the younger Lemieux at the draft combine:

Brendan Lemieux has already shown that the apple doesn’t fall from the tree. In his first month in the Ontario Hockey League, the Barrie Colts winger was suspended for eight games after shoving Kingston Frontenacs defenceman Roland McKeown (the 27th-ranked prospect) headfirst towards the boards, separating his shoulder.

Lemieux finished this season with 145 penalty minutes and had three fights. But he also scored 27 goals and 53 points in 65 games — and led the Colts with seven goals in 11 playoff games — an indicator that the agitating forward can hurt opponents in a variety of ways.

...

After the interview ended, Lemieux then got up from his seat and started to walk out of the restaurant. As he did, he passed a table where Draper, who is now the special assistant to the GM for the Red Wings, was sitting. The two shared a look.

Draper then smiled and said, “We’ll see you [for your interview] tomorrow.”

Regarding the Wings' own prospects, Kyle McIlmurray from Winging it in Motown penned a superb profile of Ryan Sproul, anchored with stats and clips...

[W]hat do we have here? We have a young offensively-gifted right-handed defenseman. Is he ready for the NHL level? My opinion is, who cares? Even if he isn't entirely ready, there is only so much competition that the AHL can provide for "developing" a player. We saw it with Brendan Smith.. PK Subban was in the same draft class as Smith, and was drafter after him. Subban played two seasons in the OHL then one in the AHL. After that he was brought into Montreal on a pretty awful defense and put up 38 points. On the other hand, Brendan Smith played three seasons of college hockey with Wisconsin and then was brought to Grand Rapids to play for three seasons. I fear that when you over-ripen a player in the AHL, you completely sell the compete level of the NHL short. While you're developing a player to be dominant in the AHL, they come into the NHL and are so used to AHL play, that they get worked all over the ice. I fear that may happen with Ryan Sproul, but I really really really hope that it does not.

You really need to gauge what you have before you decide if they need to be over-ripened or not. Will it work to have Sproul in the AHL for two to three seasons then make the jump to the NHL level? I don't think so. I feel like putting him into the NHL earlier on gives him a chance to season himself for the competition that actually matters. So what if he makes some mistakes? He'll learn and develop even more. Not to mention competing at the pro-level will benefit his growth and strength.

...

The 6'3" 185 lbs native from Mississauga, Ontario would be best fared for NHL competition. His offensive instincts are something that cannot be swept away, in my opinion. Small or large defensive miscues can be taught, offensive firepower cannot. Who wouldn't love to see Ryan Sproul starting all offensive zone power-play shifts paired with Niklas Kronwall? His rocket of a shot would be absolutely lethal next to Kronwall's mobility with his puck-movement. Even if Sproul has to start next season in the AHL, I think he should end it in Detroit.

Just to be clear, I think the duo of Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul is the future of this organization, and to be quite honest.. I think Ouellet is in the same boat as Sproul, just a different style of player. I would also like to see him in Detroit. Maybe I'll post more about him later on as this dreary offseason inches by.

In broadcast news, part 1, Grand Rapids Griffins captain Jeff Hoggan did a pretty solid job of co-hosting WZZM 13's morning news (the Griffins are selling season-ticket packages today, too):

In broadcast news, part 2: WDFN's Matt Sheppard engaged in an intriguing interview with...PIERRE MCGUIRE this morning!

In a programming note, if you have Fox Sports Southwest, they're going to be airing a 30-minute interview with Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill on this Friday at 10 PM CDT;

And finally, I don't like having to do this, but I kind of have to:

Over the past three years that the Wings have held development camps in Traverse City, I've asked for your help in raising the finances to cover my hotel and gas bills, and you've been amazingly and remarkably kind in affording me the opportunity to "work for you"; due to my present financial circumstances, I'm afraid that I have to ask for your assistance again.

If there's any way that you can lend a financial hand in my attempts to get up to Traverse City for the summer development camp and/or eventually to attend the prospect tournament and main camp in the fall, I would be incredibly grateful for any help.

I'm sticking with Paypal as it's the most direct route (though I will also do the whole, "Give me your address and I'll send you a check or a few bucks in the mail" thing, too), and you have to use my email address, rtxg at yahoo dot com, as the recipient.

Here's the button:

If you can aid the cause, I'd be incredibly grateful; if you can't, I understand, and as usual, literally any amount helps. You'd be surprised how many $5, $10 and $20 donations end up paying my way. Thanks.

Update: In charitable news, from the Grand Rapids Business Journal's Rachel Weick:

A local hospital is hosting a boxing fundraiser with local celebrities to knock out cancer one punch at a time.

Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is hosting a celebrity boxing event this Friday in Grand Rapids at 7 p.m. at the West River Hall at The DeltaPlex Arena.

Put Cancer on the Ropes will benefit the pediatric hematology and oncology program at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. The pediatric hospital partnered with the Michigan Golden Gloves Association, a youth sport organization in Grand Rapids, for the celebrity boxing event.

Devin Pierson, development coordinator at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, said it’s great to have the whole community come out and support the hospital at the family friendly event.

“It is just a really unique event. It is not your typical golf outing or gala, and it is something everyone can attend,” Pierson said.

At the ring

The event will feature several of local celebrities boxing: Casey Jones, the weekend sports anchor at WOOD TV 8; Dan Harland, sports anchor at WZZM TV 13 Grand Rapids; Corey Olsen, sports reporter and photographer for MLive.com and The Grand Rapids Press; Shmitty, from 104.5 WSNX; and Bob Kaser, voice of the Grand Rapids Griffins.

During Put Cancer on the Ropes, a signed New York Jets game-day jersey from Grand Rapids native David Harris will be auctioned off to raise funds for the hematology and oncology program.

The event will also include a group of judges for the match: George Heartwell, mayor of Grand Rapids; Luke Glendening, from the Detroit Red Wings; and Dr. James Fahner, division chief of hematology and oncology at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

Tickets

A bleacher general admission to the event is $15, and a VIP ticket is $100 to view the event from a table with appetizers.

There are also several sponsorship packages being sold as part of the event.

Children’s hospital

Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital has 212 patient beds and more than 200 pediatric physicians providing care across multiple programs, including pediatric cancer and pediatric blood disorder services, as well as bone marrow and stem cell transplants.

 

Update #2: WDIV's Dave Bartkowiak Jr. weighs in on the Wings' free agent defenseman options, and his #1 choice scares the hell out of me:

1. Andrei MarkovAndrei Markov

Current team: Montreal Canadiens
Age: 35
2013-14 stats: 7 G, 36 A, 43 P, +12
2013-14 cap hit: $5,750,000

Andrei Markov is a veteran defenseman who, at 35, hasn't showed many signs of slowing down. Following two seasons (2010-11, 2011-12) marred by injury, he's missed just one game with Montreal. He played 81 games this past season and the full 48 in the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13. Markov tallied 10 points (1 G, 9 A) in 17 playoff games with the Habs this year.

His experience and world-class skill could help a Red Wings group with holes on the blueline. He's a playmaker, no doubt. Detroit needs someone like Markov who can mix into the top 4 and help them move the puck in offensive and defensive zones. He's also no slouch when shooting from the point (he had 8 power play goals in 2012-13) and he's been known to dish out some big hits.

Markov's biggest drawbacks are his price and his age,. He also shoots left-handed like virtually everyone else on the Wings' blueline. Ken Holland and Mike Babcock have made it very clear they are looking for at least one right-handed d-man.

That said, I would be pretty excited about a fair-priced two-year contract with the Red Wings that would keep him here until he's 37 Rumor is he's looking for a three-year deal, which may be a stretch at his age. Also a question, since he led the Habs in average time on ice at 25:14, would he agree to less ice time and being paired up with a less-experienced player?

Markov may be a long-shot. After all, he's an aging veteran without a Stanley Cup ring so he's likely looking for a contender. Are the young Red Wings that team?

His knees are wonky as wonky an be and he's staying with Montreal anyway.

Update #3: According to Hokejportal.net, Tomas Tatar scored a hat trick in a charity hockey game--an inline game--and he dedicated the hat trick to Pavol Demitra.

Update #4: According to Iltahleti, David McIntyre, who played for the Griffins this past season, has signed with SaiPa of the Finnish Liga.

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Comments

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Small or large defensive miscues can be taught

Why would you want to teach someone how to make miscues?

In seriousness though, if the Wings can find that fabled top-four guy to shore up their D I think it would be interesting to have two of Ouellet/Sproul/Marchenko platooning on the bottom pairing.

All seven of Detroit’s regular d-men played at least 48 games due to various injuries, so even having those guys not playing every day, they would likely get a lot of time in and would either one of them be any worse than Kindl and/or Lashoff?

Posted by Garth on 06/11/14 at 01:01 PM ET

Hootinani's avatar

In seriousness though, if the Wings can find that fabled top-four guy to shore up their D I think it would be interesting to have two of Ouellet/Sproul/Marchenko platooning on the bottom pairing.

Having the defensive depth they have at the AHL level, it would be ridiculous to start next season with Kindl and Lashoff in the lineup, even with Quincey’s probable departure.  Maybe keeping one around as a #7 isnt out of the question, but IMO both have overstayed their welcome on the blueline.  If they do bring in someone solid via trade or FA, its a no brainer.

Posted by Hootinani on 06/11/14 at 01:17 PM ET

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Absolutely agree. There’s no justification for keeping #6 and #7 defensemen who have proven to be nothing more and who are the type of guys who play #6 and #7 defense for fringe playoff teams. To advance the team, there absolutely has to be an upgrade there. Start rolling these guys out there day in, day out and see which ones stick and which ones need more time to “ripen” in the AHL.

It seems like Backman has elevated his name into the “just about NHL-ready” discussion and Jensen has added his name to the “promising, NHL-potential” defense prospects.

All that said, if we’ve realistically got 5 guys who are NHL-worthy but none who crack the top 2, we still have a hole. I don’t care how many guys we have who can play, I care about how many are true difference makers and anchors of the next successful Red Wings core.

Posted by VitoLambruski on 06/11/14 at 01:20 PM ET

MoreShoot's avatar

Wasn’t Ouellet / Marchenko a regular pairing in GR?  I expected that pair to both advance because they both seemed the most advanced and mature.  Although it might be now that Backman is also ahead of Sproul.

Posted by MoreShoot on 06/11/14 at 01:25 PM ET

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The only moves I would suggest would be bringing back Alfie for 1 yr @ $4M and trying to get Dan Boyle for max 2 yrs @ $4.5M per yr.

If Alfie doesn’t come back, I would try for Vrbata @ $4M for 2 yrs. If that doesn’t work, go with the kids we have.

If we don’t get Boyle, then Kronwall & DeKeyser, Ericsson and Smith, Kindl & Lashoff and have Almquist starting as #7.

After the first 27-28 games next season, make decisions on Kindl, Lashoff and Almquist. If they stay, fine. If they fail, trade them for the best draft picks we can get and bring up Sproul, Marchenko and Ouellet.

Posted by Heresy from Aiken, SC on 06/11/14 at 01:26 PM ET

MoreShoot's avatar

I’ve always thought Trouba was another Doughty in the making.  I’d move Sproul and Almquist in a NY minute for him, but I don’t think Winnipeg would bite.

Posted by MoreShoot on 06/11/14 at 01:39 PM ET

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Compare Trouba in Winnipeg to Mantha in Detroit. Would you trade Mantha for Almquist and Sproul?

Posted by VitoLambruski on 06/11/14 at 02:00 PM ET

MurrayChadwick's avatar

“Every team that wins the Stanley Cup, they have a marquee D-man,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said, taking a moment to chat on Tuesday. “I think of Orr, Nicklas Lidstrom, Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara.”


A point I continue to make over and over. If you don’t have a true #1 Dman, or a True Elite Tender, your a pretender, and that defines the current Detroit Red Wings roster.

Let’s hope one of our young stud dman, become a league great.

Posted by MurrayChadwick on 06/11/14 at 02:22 PM ET

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Trouba vs Mantha is not quite apples to apples.

Trouba has already spent a year in the NHL and is easily a Top 4 D-man. He averaged 22:26 of ice time last year and played pretty well most of the season.

Mantha was fantastic last year but he still hasn’t even had a chance at the NHL level yet.

I am sure Winnipeg would never give up Trouba for Almquist & Sproul at this point.

Posted by Heresy from Aiken, SC on 06/11/14 at 02:24 PM ET

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Although it might be now that Backman is also ahead of Sproul.

Is he?  My insight into some prospects is limited (that is, limited to TMR and Redwingscentral, basically) but RWC has the D prospects ranked Oullet, Sproul, Marchenko, Backman.

Compare Trouba in Winnipeg to Mantha in Detroit. Would you trade Mantha for Almquist and Sproul?

Just in case Kevin Cheveldayoff is listening, yes.  Yes I would.

Posted by Garth on 06/11/14 at 02:28 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

I’m on the Marchenko train. To me, he’s got the best chance of “turning pro” in a hurry.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 06/11/14 at 02:31 PM ET

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Just in case Kevin Cheveldayoff is listening, yes.  Yes I would.

Posted by Garth on 06/11/14 at 03:28 PM ET

You misunderstood, Garth. I was saying that how we feel about Mantha is how Winnipeg feels about Trouba (although Heresy is probably correct in that Trouba has established himself at the NHL level already, which only furthers my point). My point was, I wouldn’t trade Mantha for for Sproul and Almquist (which the previous person suggested we offer Sproul/Almquist to Winnipeg for Trouba). I was pointing out that we wouldn’t trade Mantha for those guys so why would Winnipeg trade Trouba for them?

Seems like you read Mantha for Trouba. If that’s what you meant, I’d agree with you as well. “How quickly would you like Mantha in Winnipeg?” would be my exact response.

Posted by VitoLambruski on 06/11/14 at 02:34 PM ET

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Posted by VitoLambruski on 06/11/14 at 03:34 PM ET

No, I understood.  I was joking, saying that Cheveldayoff should absolutely trade Trouba for Almquist and Sproul.

Obviously not as clever as it sounded in my head.

After the first 27-28 games next season, make decisions on Kindl, Lashoff and Almquist.

1) Almquist is gone.  They’re not going to re-sign the guy who is, like, fifth on their D prospect depth chart.
2) Why give Kindl and Lashoff more time?  Is 231 NHL games not enough to make a decision on Kindl?  I mean really, next thing you know he’s going to be signing a +35 contract with everyon still saying “let’s just give him a little more time”.

The problem with Kindl and Lashoff is that either one might be a capable 7th guy, sitting in the press box expect when needed to cover injuries, but because Detroit has both of them, one is going to be an everyday defenseman.  And the other?  Well, Lashoff is supposedly the 7th defensemen yet only two guys played in more games that he did last year.  When you’re talking about Detroit, at least in the recent past, you’re talking about having your 7th defenseman play more than he sits because of injuries.  In each of the last two years Detroit had seven defensemen who played more than half of their games.  Might as well have someone who’s actually good rather than just a warm body.

Another problem?  Both of Detroit’s 7th D-men are on multiple-year, one-way contracts.

And yet another problem?  Maybe the most ridiculous problem?  Kindl, a guy who should is a #6 defenseman on his very very best day, is making two point four million dollars a season.

Posted by Garth on 06/11/14 at 02:53 PM ET

MoreShoot's avatar

To clarify, I said I would gleefully move Sproul and Almquist for Trouba, but that Winni probably wouldn’t bite.  I got the jones for Trouba watching him as a freshman at UM thinking, jeez, this kid has NHL star written all over him already, and doesn’t seem to lack anything (size, speed, mobility, grit, shot, maturity).

Posted by MoreShoot on 06/11/14 at 02:55 PM ET

awould's avatar

The worrisome thing to me is these D prospects are starting to stack up. It will soon reach a point where they will all need to be given their proper “try out” with the big boys and there just won’t be room. At least one or two need to be worked into the lineup now. The downside is they could be marginally worse than the Lashoff/Kindl quality, but the upside is way up and the need is apparent.

Posted by awould on 06/11/14 at 04:20 PM ET

SYF's avatar

“He doesn’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about stuff. He just plays. He has great instincts,” said Babcock, who has gotten to know Doughty well while guiding Team Canada to two gold medals with Doughty as one of his thoroughbreds on defense. “When he screws up or someone hits him, he gets better. He doesn’t get worse, he gets better. He embraces it. I think he believes he’s a high-end guy. But let’s be honest, to win like they’ve won, you have to have a whole group of special players.”

I’ll never forget it.  Doughty took a hit along the boards just as he cleared the puck from behind his own net to a waiting Kings defenseman.  The hit was clean, but hard and the sumbitch LAUGHED.

Posted by SYF from The Revenge of Johnny E on 06/11/14 at 04:53 PM ET

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To clarify, I said I would gleefully move Sproul and Almquist for Trouba, but that Winni probably wouldn’t bite.  I got the jones for Trouba watching him as a freshman at UM thinking, jeez, this kid has NHL star written all over him already, and doesn’t seem to lack anything (size, speed, mobility, grit, shot, maturity).

Probably wouldn’t bite?? No chance in hell they would bite. They wouldn’t trade us Trouba for Mantha straight up.

Posted by A II R on 06/11/14 at 06:25 PM ET

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There’s no justification for keeping #6 and #7 defensemen who have proven to be nothing more and who are the type of guys who play #6 and #7 defense for fringe playoff teams.

I would have hoped that after this year, when the Wings were down fairly deep into the AHL roster just to ice a team, people would be a little more aware of the need for organizational depth at as many positions as possible.

I don’t think you necessarily have to keep BOTH Kindl and Lashoff, but considering the team is already shedding Quincey and that while a top 4 guy is being targeted that doesn’t mean they’ll be signed… well, an extra dman or two isn’t the worst idea in the world.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 06/11/14 at 08:12 PM ET

Avatar

well, an extra dman or two isn’t the worst idea in the world.

Yeah, obviously the organization would better to have a couple awful defensemen, because having warm bodies is more important than talented players.

Your logic is why the Red Wings have a logjam of mediocrity in the bottom six forwards.

Posted by Garth on 06/11/14 at 08:19 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

I fully expect the Wings to keep Kindl and Lashoff to start the 14-15 season, and I’m still wondering when or whether the team will sign Nathan Paetsch to a 2-way deal to give the team a little veteran relief from the AHL.

The rule on defense really is that you want to be 10 NHL-capable players deep to start training camp—just as the Wings usually start training camp with 16 NHL-capable forwards—and the team won’t shed depth unless younger players pleasantly force their hand.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 06/11/14 at 08:21 PM ET

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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.