The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/11/13 at 11:52 AM ET
The Grand Rapids Griffins were back on the ice this morning in Grand Rapids, preparing for Games 3, 4 and 5 of the AHL's Calder Cup Final against Syracuse.
The games take place on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, respectively, and if you're wondering about attending, I can tell you that the tickets are being sold through the Griffins' website and from their ticket office for anywhere from $14-36 per game, and the Griffins are not expecting to sell out, so "good seats remain available."
The Syracuse Post-Standard's Lindsay Kramer offers a Griffins-related quip...
With Grand Rapids leading the Syracuse Crunch two games to none in the Calder Cup finals, the Griffins don't have too many things to tidy up in their game.
But one big issue is penalties. Grand Rapids has handed the Crunch 13 power plays through the first two games, with Syracuse capitalizing on two.
"I'm probably most concerned with the number of penalties we're taking," Blashill said after Sunday's game.
While the Post-Standard's Bud Poliquin ponders how the Crunch will "pull themselves out of the Calder Cup Finals ditch"...
Before greeting that Grand Rapids bunch, the Syracuse squad had played 88 games, regular season and postseason combined. And it had gone 54-23-6-5 in those scrums, scoring more goals along the way than any of the 29 other AHL outfits.
The Crunch, then, had been a study in sustained excellence from autumn, through winter and deep into this soggy spring . . . and it had given nobody any reason to think that it would ever be pushed into an 0-2 ditch off to the side of the playoff road. But there are [Crunch coach Rob] Zettler's swells, winless against the Griffins and mostly on merit.
"There were times they were really carrying the play in our end," Zettler said of the Grand Rapids athletes, who'd lost seven times in this postseason before trundling into our burg. "They controlled the puck. They were zipping it around pretty good. We need to do a much better job of eliminating people in our end and not allowing them to continue their forward movement and skate around.
"We have to control the way they play in our end. That's a huge factor for us. They seem to have an extended amount of time, extended shifts, in our end where it was 30 and 40 seconds of us chasing them around. It seems to take away some of our steam, some of our spark. We just have to get a lot more physical."
It is either that, or perish . . . and the latter doesn't make for much of an alternative.
And so, the question: How will the Crunch survive its trip to Michigan and return this competition to its 62-year-old barn where those chants of "We want the Cup!" faded across the weekend like a distant radio station?
"It is," answered Zettler, "what every coach is going to tell you now. One game at a time. One shift at a time. That's how we have to approach it."
And we head back to Kramer as he's noted that Syracuse's biggest supporters outside of New York feel somewhat conflicted as they're rooting for members of an opposing team. The vast majority of the Crunch's players won the Calder Cup with the Norfolk Admirals last June, but the Tampa Bay Lightning ended its affiliation with Norfolk, and the Crunch and Admirals ended up swapping affiliations...
Which makes for a strange tale:
"It was just an unbelievable feeling. We would show the away games, it was amazing how they (fans) would turn out,'' said Craig Davis, owner of Big Woody's Bar & Grill, a sports bar near the Admirals arena. "It was a neat time for the fans. Yeah, it's minor league sports. But you think about how magic feels. You know you're not going to see this team again in your lifetime.''
That reality soon set in, and even though most Norfolk fans saw it coming from a half-season away it still punctured the euphoria.
Parent club Tampa Bay had long been speculated as wanting to move its affiliate to the Northeast, closer to a grouping of other AHL franchises. Syracuse, which couldn't get out of its marriage with Anaheim quickly enough, was waiting with open arms.
Now, the Crunch has reached the Calder Cup finals on the back of many of those former Admirals. This year's Norfolk team, affiliated with Anaheim, did not make the postseason.
But instead of rooting against Syracuse out of spite, Norfolk fans still feel like a small piece of the Crunch players' success remains their own.
"It's kind of like we share the team, a little bit, for some of us,'' Davis said. "We always re-live old times. Trust me. Any time an Admirals fan looked at the standings this year, they looked to see where Syracuse is. Believe me.''
Billins helped set the tone in Saturday's first game of the series with an assist on the first goal of the weekend. Currently, in 20 playoff games to date this year, he has a pair of goals and 10 assists for 12 total points along with a +7 plus/minus efficiency rating. Presently, the Grand Rapids rookie leads all AHL defenseman in playoff scoring this season. During regular-season action, Billins totaled 37 points on 10 goals and a team second-best 27 assists in 76 contests. He placed sixth among the team's scoring leaders while recording seven power-play goals.
Meanwhile, Blashill has the Griffins on the verge of winning their first Calder Cup after becoming the ninth head coach in Griffins history last summer. He moved to Grand Rapids after serving as an assistant coach for the parent Detroit Red Wings in 2011-12, when he helped the team to its 12th consecutive 100-point season and 21st consecutive postseason appearance. Prior to joining the organization, he served as the head coach of the CCHA's Western Michigan Broncos in 2010-11, earning several national coach of the year honors.
Born in Detroit and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Blashill has rapidly ascended hockey's coaching ladder, joining his fourth team in four seasons. He began his head coaching career with the USHL's Indiana Ice in 2008-09, capturing a franchise-record 39 wins and a Clark Cup championship. He compiled a 72-43-5 mark in two seasons as the Ice's head coach and general manager before departing for Western Michigan in 2010.
While in Kalamazoo in 2010-11, Blashill led the Broncos to a 19-13-10 record, doubling the team's win total from the previous season and leading the team to its best conference finish (4th) since 1995-96. Additionally, the Broncos played in the CCHA championship game for the first time since 1986 and earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1996. Blashill was named a finalist for CCHA Coach of the Year and was named National Coach of the Year by College Hockey News, Inside College Hockey and USCHO.com.
Blashill began his coaching career by spending three seasons (1999-02) as an assistant at Ferris State University, his alma mater. He also spent six seasons (2002-08) with Miami University, helping the CCHA's RedHawks qualify for the NCAA Tournament four times while recruiting three Hobey Baker Finalists, four CCHA All-Rookie Team members, 11 first or second team All-CCHA players and six All-Americans. Blashill has also been a member of Team USA's coaching staff three times – at the 2009 World Junior 'A' Challenge, the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship and the 2006 U-18 Junior World Cup.
The former goaltender spent four seasons between the pipes for Ferris State, earning the Bulldogs' Rookie of the Year award in 1994-95 and a spot on the CCHA's All-Academic Team for 1996-97. He also garnered the Ferris State University President's Award for three straight years for having the highest grade point average on the Bulldogs.
Billins joined the Griffins after wrapping up his senior campaign as both an All-American on the ice and an Academic All-American for his work in the classroom while helping the Bulldogs to their first-ever NCAA Frozen Four appearance and a national runner-up effort in 2011-12.
A native of Marysville, Mich., Billins logged 29 points (7-22—29) and 24 penalty minutes in 43 games with the Bulldogs as a senior while claiming American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) All-America Second Team plaudits on the ice.
The veteran defenseman served as a co-captain for the Bulldogs during the team's run to the NCAA Frozen Four, where they were defeated in the championship game by Boston College. The 5-10, 175-pound defenseman skated in 149 games in four years with Ferris State, notching 67 points (17-50—67) and 108 penalty minutes.
Billins was recognized in his final season as both a All-CCHA First Team recipient and the winner of the CCHA's prestigious Scholar-Athlete Award as the Bulldogs claimed the school's second-ever league regular-season crown. He placed second among CCHA defensemen with 25 points (7-18—25) in 31 conference games.
And in the fan participation department, the Grand Rapids Press's Dave Murray reports that fans will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the Calder Cup at MLive's Grand Rapids office tomorrow:
MLive Media Group/The Grand Rapids Press is hosting the Calder Cup at our downtown Grand Rapids Hub, 169 Monroe Ave. NW. We’ve conveniently scheduled this for your lunch break, between noon and 1 p.m. on Wednesday.
The trophy is in Grand Rapids for the first time, and is making just two public appearances. The first was Monday night at Fifth Third Ballpark.
Will you be able to hoist the Calder Cup over your head and skate around in circles? No. You have to earn that.
But the next best thing is posing for a photo with the cup, which we’ll post in a Facebook gallery to show all your friends.
Grand Rapids Press sports writer Pete Wallner tells us that the trophy us named after Frank Calder, who served as the NHL's first president from 1917 to 1943.
The trophy is 24-inches high and weighs 30 pounds. The bowl, made of sterling silver, is 12 inches and eight inches in diameter. The hardwood base is made of poplar.
Meanwhile, I’m feeling pretty good about my friendly wager with Syracuse.com community engagement specialist Brent Axe. The Griffins so far have backed up my boasting.
In news related to the Griffins' parent club, you and I have been talking about the Wings' free agency plans for the last three days, and the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan related the following quip from Ken Holland prior to offering his annotated photo gallery of potential Wings targets and otherwise notable free agents:
“I don't think it’s a big free-agent market as compared to other years,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “The free-agent market every year is going to get a little thinner because teams are signing their best players and nobody is letting those kind of assets hit the market.”
Like every other team, the Red Wings would love to add a top-four defenseman or a top-six scoring forward. And there are players in this market who could offer some help — if they're available and don’t re-sign with their present teams: forwards Bryan Bickell, Viktor Stalberg, David Clarkson and defenseman Rob Scuderi.
But there won’t be any players causing a stir on the level that Ryan Suter and Zach Parise did last summer before they signed with the Wild.
“There are no superstar names out there the caliber of last year,” Holland said. “There are good, secondary players, but they might get signed up (by their present teams).”
Holland has his own potential unrestricted free agents he has to deal with — forwards Damien Brunner, Daniel Cleary, Valtteri Filppula and Drew Miller. Defenseman Ian White will test the market. Not all the free agent forwards are likely to return.
“We have some big decisions because there is a push from below,” Holland said, noting the young talent emerging from minor league affiliate Grand Rapids.
Well, the Fourth Period took Holland's statements and ran with them, suggesting that, in all-capital letters, "RED WINGS [ARE] LOOKING TO MAKE MOVES":
t's no secret the Red Wings would like to add a top-four defenseman and a top-six forward this summer, but the manner in which they go about it remains to be seen.
According to the Detroit News, the Red Wings could chase a few unrestricted free agents this July.
Chicago forwards Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg, Boston forward Nathan Horton, New Jersey winger David Clarkson, New York Islanders captain Mark Streit, and Los Angeles defenseman Rob Scuderi could all be a target for Wings GM Ken Holland, but there aren't any big-name free agents for him to pursue.
"I don't think it's a big free-agent market as compared to other years," Holland told the News. "The free-agent market every year is going to get a little thinner because teams are signing their best players and nobody is letting those kind of assets hit the market."
The Wings could go the trade route this summer, and there are several players they have shown an interest in this season.
Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle, Buffalo Sabres sniper Thomas Vanek, and Florida Panthers winger Kris Versteeg could be three players the Wings try to acquire this summer.
The Red Wings also have their own free agents to focus on re-signing, like forwards Damien Brunner, Daniel Cleary, Valtteri Filppula and Drew Miller.
Yandle and Vanek are the kinds of players who qualify as, "Having to sell the barn to buy a horse" in terms of trade returns, and I have no idea whether the Sabres or Panthers, who are in fact the Wings' new divisional rivals, would want to make any sort of trade with a team they're going to see six times a year and all but assuredly play in the playoffs as they're reverting to get-out-of-your-division-first format.
The Yandle rumor's been around for almost three years now, and nothing's happened yet as every indication suggested that the Yotes wanted Filppula, a first-round pick AND one or two top prospects in exchange for Yandle's services.
Regarding one of the free agents that the Wings may want to pursue, it comes as no surprise that the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus found that Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman is insistent that he will retain Bryan Bickell's services...
Bryan Bickell hasn’t completely played himself out of Chicago with his stellar postseason performance. Not yet, at least.
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman told the Sun-Times on Tuesday that “we’ll do everything we can to bring him back.”
Bickell is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and considering he has eight goals and five assists in 17 playoff games, is due for a massive raise from his current $600,000 salary. With the salary cap dropping from $70.2 million to $64.3 million next season, and with other players needing new contracts, the Hawks will have to get creative to give Bickell the $3 million or more he’s likely to command on the open market.
But Bowman wants to keep him, saying the Hawks helped make him the player he is today.
“I hope so, yeah,” Bowman said. “Bick and the organization go back a long ways. I’ve had a lot of talks with Bryan over the years, going back to our days in Norfolk (AHL) when he first turned pro. He was in and out of the lineup a lot, was inconsistent as a young player, and he had a hard time figuring it all out. So I think back to all those years, Bryan and I have had a lot of discussions over the years on how we can help him be a better player. We’ve worked together and he deserves the credit for sure, but we’ve also helped him get to the point he’s at. We’ve had a lot history together, and we certainly want to continue that. If anything, we’re excited for him taking the next step, cause he’s always had this potential. And now it’s nice to see him bringing it all together and being the player that we wanted him to be.”
In news of a very different variety, I stumbled upon this press release from the NHL Fans' Association this morning:
Hockey Fans Push to Rename the Hart Memorial Trophy the Gordie Howe Trophy
OTTAWA, ONTARIO -- (Marketwired) -- 06/11/13 -- The National Hockey League Fans' Association (NHLFA) is actively lobbying the National Hockey League (NHL) in an attempt to have the Hart Memorial Trophy renamed the Gordie Howe Trophy.
The Hart Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL "player judged most valuable to his team". Since 1924, the trophy has been awarded to 54 different players, including six times to Gordie Howe, second only to Wayne Gretzky who won the trophy a record nine times.
The NHL community owes an enormous debt to Gordie Howe. Mr. Hockey, now 85 years old, was instrumental in building the game for today's generation of owners, players and executives. During a long, successful career spanning five decades, Gordie was the game's marquee player. Away from the rink, Gordie has always been a model ambassador for the sport.
The NHLFA will encourage hockey fans to join a social media campaign to show their support for this change. A Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/GordieHoweTrophy) has been set-up and Twitter account (https://twitter.com/HoweTrophy) established.
The NHLFA, launched in 1998, provides NHL fans a way to express their views on the game and to influence it for the better. There is no charge for membership and to date more than 31,000 fans have registered via the Association's Web site, http://www.nhlfa.com Appro.ximately 60% of NHLFA members are American and 40% are Canadian. Though not affiliated with the NHL, the NHLFA communicates closely with the League and National Hockey League Players Association on behalf of hockey fans.
The Free Press has taken note of the press release as well.
And in the plain old "other stuff" department, Sportsnet's Luke Fox decided to post a slate of "NHL Logo Power Rankings," offering a...unique...take on the Winged Wheel...
4. Detroit Red Wings While Detroit’s status as the centre of the automobile universe has wavered, the Motor City’s hockey logo has not. The emblem practically smells like burning diesel and flies faster than Pegasus renting a Mustang.
I didn't know that the Wings' logo had an odor...Cooked octopus, maybe?
While SI's Allan Muir's "Top Line" compliation of today's must-read stories, and the Toronto Star's Damien Cox offered the following regarding the NHL's opportunity to show that its standard of officiating has not become a complete farce:
[T]he fact that a lot of people will be watching [the Final] also means is that if the NHL were of such a mind, a correction right now would be most helpful. That is, after allowing the rulebook to be stretched, perverted and torn to shreds over three rounds, now would be a good time to re-establish a little structure.
Hell, if they can change the standard halfway through the season and then again the playoffs, they can change it back again.
And let’s face it, things have become rather ridiculous. Sure, the spirit of “letting them play” has merit within the sometimes dubious history of the game, but beyond that, allowing blatant fouls to go uncalled at key points of hockey games has turned these playoffs into a bit of a joke.
The arguments over black-and-white rules like delay of game calls for flipping the puck over the glass and icing seem to have produced a reaction in which anything that is marginal or a judgment call is let go. Bizarrely, the same people who campaign constantly for no-touch icing and common sense are often the same who don’t mind it when no rules are called at all.
Strange, but true. At some point, probably this off-season, it would be worth having the players step forward and tell us if this is really the style of competition they want.
Then again, after finally agreeing to a visor rule, the NHLPA is probably exhausted and needs a little rest.
Anyway, North America and the world will be watching starting Wednesday. If the NHL wishes to let its rules and elastic rulebook define what people see and think, it will be to its own detriment.
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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.