The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/17/13 at 12:07 PM ET
Updated 2x with a Riley Sheahan story at 1:13 PM: The Syracuse Crunch decided to spend Sunday morning busing back to upstate New York after defeating the Grand Rapids Griffins on Saturday night, but the Griffins were able to take a slightly shorter route as they begin to prepare for Game 6 of the Calder Cup Final:
Busing around the southern shore of Lake Erie takes over 12 hours. Red Bird III ferried the Griffins to their destination in exactly one hour's worth of flight time.
TMR reader Craig from Grand Rapids took this photo of the plane embarking upon its trip:
Fox 17 took note of the Griffins' method of travel, as well as their tasks at hand....
The Grand Rapids Griffins are en route to Syracuse, N.Y. to play the Crunch in Game 6 of the Calder Cup Finals.
The team boarded a bus at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids Monday morning, and then Red Bird III, one of the Detroit Red Wings' charter planes, at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Cascade Township.
24 Hour News 8's Larry Figurski is traveling with the Griffins, so stay tuned for updates throughout the trip.
The Griffins led the series 3-0 but the Crunch won games Friday and Saturday at Van Andel Arena to send the series back to New York.
Game 6 is at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the War Memorial at Oncenter in Syracuse.
Game 7, if necessary, is at 7 p.m. Thursday, also in Syracuse.
As did the Grand Rapids Press's Peter J. Wallner, who provided a timeline of the Griffins' rough playoff road:
The Griffins left Van Andel Arena and Grand Rapids without hoisting the AHL trophy for the first time, and while that may have been a disappointment to fans following back-to-back sellouts, the circuitous route to playoff success isn’t anything new.
“We haven’t won one easy series in the whole playoffs,” Tatar said. “So I guess that’s just the way it is.”
The Griffins practice in Syracuse today after flying out this morning aboard the Red Wings charter plane to prepare for Tuesday’s Game 6 of the series.
This time, they have let a 3-0 series lead dwindle to 3-2 with the final two games back in Syracuse. But if the past is a predictor, they are just making it interesting.
In three postseason rounds, the Griffins played 17 of a maximum 18 games to reach the finals. That included a full five games against Houston, six of seven against Toronto and the full seven against Oklahoma City.
Five, six and seven-game series (plural) prior to what will at least be a six-gamer, with 5 games in the first round being the maximum you can play during that particular AHL round. If that ain't the hard way, I don't know what is.
From the Crunch's perspective, the Syracuse Post-Standard's Lindsay Kramer offers five reasons for Crunch fans to be excited and three reasons to worry, and as I'm cheering for the Griffins, I'd prefer to accentuate the negative after offering one positive.
This "good" part genuinely worries me:
The top line is dancing again: AHL MVP Tyler Johnson scored his first goal of the Finals in Game 5, and added a sick assist on Mark Barberio's goal.
Richard Panik and Ondrej Palat are fighting each other for the title of the best player in the Finals. Panik has scored a goal in four straight. Palat is 2-3 in his last four games and his 1-on-3 rush to set up Johnson's tap-in was highlight reel stuff.
Fatigue most commonly takes its toll on defense. The Griffins have been tired and sloppy in their own zone and if they need to keep taking an extra breath or two this trio will put on a show.
The Griffins have missed Adam Almquist like nobody's business since Panik concussed him out of the series.
As for some happy negatives...
Grand Rapids is dominating the Crunch end: The Griffins' top six forwards are creating quality chances on virtually every shift. It usually takes a great defensive play, super save or a crossbar to frustrate them.
They are experienced and unflappable, as evidenced by their ability to answer Crunch momentum with quick return strikes of their own. As good as Desjardins is right now, the Crunch can't keep counting on him turn aside this wave.
The Griffins know they can win in the War Memorial: Grand Rapids opened the series with a pair of wins in the barn. It only needs one here now to skate the Cup on Crunch ice. There will be nothing intimidating about the rink size or loud fans that says they can't do it.
That's the weirdest part of this series: home teams tend to dominate in any sort of championship final, and yet the Griffins have won the only home game thus far.
The Crunch are practicing as I write this, and it should be noted that hard-hitting defenseman Radko Gudas, who's got a playoff beard that makes him look like a grizzly bear and has a playoff beard that describes his play to a tee, will play on Tuesday:
Otherwise, the Red Wings-related part of this entry is pretty repetitious (I covered most of this stuff at length during the overnight report) though that's not necessarily a bad thing:
1. In the fan participation department:
- TSN's Play of the Year semifinal pits a Pavel Datsyuk goal against the Kings against Blues goalie Jake Allen's turnaround save vs. Calgary, and voting actually continues for one more day, closing at 12 PM EDT on Tuesday;
- The Detroit Free Press is asking fans to pick their favorite Michigan sports championship, and while I get the feeling that one of the Tigers' World Series wins will take the vote, seven of the Wings' 11 Cup wins are represented;
- And if you missed it, the Wings will hold their annual equipment sale on Satuday at Hockeytown Authentics:
The sale starts at 11 AM EDT, but again, if you really want to spend significant dollars on the "good stuff," you're going to need to ask a season ticket-holding fan whether they'd be willing to lend you their admission slip for Friday night's pre-sale.
2. I happen to think that any Red Wings pursuit of Stephen Weiss would essentially replace Valtteri Filppula with a slightly more consistent Valtteri Filppula, and I don't belive that the Wings need that kind of element given that:
- Joakim Andersson, Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist are all graduating from the AHL on a full-time basis next season (Two-way center who can win faceoffs? Check, and he's bigger and grittier. Playmaking forward who loves to work along the side and end boards? Check, and he goes to the net and has a bit of an edge to his game, too. Slick, speedy winger who can put the puck in the net? Check, and he actually takes most of his shot attempts instead of passing them to his teammates. Well-done, replacement-by-committee committee).
- Going after Weiss would both handicap the Wings' ability to re-sign the ever-coy-auf-Deutsch Damien Brunner, and it would all but exhaust the Wings' pre-cap-compliance buy-out budget for acquring a big forward who goes to the front of the net and bangs home rebounds, which is something the Wings really need given the fact that Tomas Holmstrom's role has only been partially filled by Justin Abdelkader, given that Daniel Cleary may not return, given that Todd Bertuzzi may or may not return from his back issues, and especially given the fact that Johan Franzen has, for better or worse, shifted his game toward the playmaking sniper's role as opposed to a net-front-man's position--and let's not forget that Franzen was honestly more effective and engaged as a center than he was at wing last season.
All of that being said, the Wings have been interested in Weiss for a couple of seasons now, and MLive's Brendan Savage reiterates the Weiss-tire-kicking narrative:
Elliotte Friedman of CBC reported that the Red Wings are among the teams that have expressed an interest in negotiating with Florida Panthers center Stephen Weiss, who is an unrestricted free agent. Friedman said the Panthers are talking with Weiss about a possible contract extension but that several teams are interested in acquiring the 10-year veteran before he hits the open market July 5.
"They have several teams that have contracted them and said, 'if you do decide to trade him, we are interested,' " Friedman reported Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada's Hot Stove segment. "The three I could confirm were Dallas, Detroit and Toronto."
To negotiate with Weiss before he hits the free-agent market, the Red Wings would have to part with a draft pick. They've shown interest in Weiss in the past.
Weiss is small at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds but he's a skilled center who is a good skater and two-way player.
If the Red Wings lose Filppula, who is also an unrestricted free agent, Weiss could potentially center their second line and allow Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk to play together on the top line.
Weiss, who made $4.1 million last season in the final year of a six-year $18.6 million deal, played 17 games last season after a wrist injury ended his campaign March 3. He had one goal, three assists and a minus-13 rating.
I'm just not particularly interested in him. I know the Wings believe in replacing a lost asset with the same type of player, but Weiss could earn a Filppula-demand-like $5 million on the open market, and the honest truth is that he'll probably remain with the Panthers.
3. Speaking of Friedman, he published his, "30 Thoughts" column for this week as I was writing this, but all he did was repeat his report:
13. The Stars, Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs have contacted Panthers GM Dale Tallon about getting Weiss' negotiating rights should he fail to re-sign him. After Hotstove Tonight, another source pointed to New Jersey as a possible destination since Devils head coach Peter DeBoer coached Weiss in Florida.
In the end, I believe that Weiss will remain with Florida, and it's the Wings who will flip someone's negotiating rights in sending Filppula elsewhere--if they're lucky enough to not lose him, period.
4. And finally, here are some words of NHL draft consolation from a former member of the Wings' front office, who insisted to the Dallas News's Mike Heika that those who possess first-round picks will probably find what they're looking for on June 29th in Newark (and the Wings pick 18th overall):
"It's a good draft," [Jim] Nill said. "There's a lot of good players and there's going to be a lot of good players in the second round. It's a strong draft. … There's good forwards, there's good defensemen. If you want smaller, skilled guys, they're there. If you need some bigger power-forward guys … it's a good variation of players."
Update: DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose's first post-season "By the Numbers" player profile involves someone who won't be back in Ian White:
25: He played in the fewest number of games in his last seven seasons. The latest time he played so few games was as a rookie, eight years ago, when he appeared in just 12 games for the Maple Leafs in the 2005-06 campaign.
32: Number of blocked shots that he had during the season, amounting to 1.28 blocks per game, which was second-highest on the team behind Niklas Kronwall, who registered 1.73 blocks per game.
18: Was a healthy scratch in 18 games, including the final nine contests of the regular season that he did not dress for. Only defenseman Kent Huskins (21) was listed as a healthy scratch more than White.
Update #2: The Free Press's Aaron McMann spoke to Wings prospect Riley Sheahan about his maturation over the course of the past season:
“He’s put himself in a position, in the future, to become a Red Wing,” first-year Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said. “It’s impossible to say (when), but it has to do with opportunity and how he continues to improve.”
Maturing has been part of the process, too. A bizarre fall drunken-driving arrest in Grand Rapids in which Sheahan, then 20, was wearing a Teletubby costume resulted in a one-game suspension and the organization seeking help for him. His blood-alcohol content level was registered at .30, more than four times the legal driving limit in Michigan.
“Coming in from a school where the schedules are a little different and you’re playing with guys your own age, you get a little more leeway to slack off,” Sheahan said of the maturation process. “Here, as the season has gone on, I’ve definitely learned a lot.”
Sheahan has been able to put distractions behind him, tallying 36 points — including 16 goals — in 72 regular-season games for Grand Rapids.
He said his off-season will be spent adding muscle and finding a skating instructor to improve his stride and explosiveness — something Red Wings coach Mike Babcock suggested after Sheahan's April call-up.
“I’ve got to get a little stronger,” said Sheahan, listed at 6-feet-2 and 207 pounds. “I have a big frame, but I need to get a little muscle on me.”
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