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The Malik Report

Red Wings mid-day news: on ups and downs, the youth movement, Santa pads and the Winter Classic

The Detroit Red Wings will play games 40, 41 and 42 on Saturday (in Florida), Monday (in Nashville) and at the Winter Classic on Wednesday. The team has a 17-13-and-9 record overall, a 6-10-and-6 home record, and the Wings will be both without Jonathan Ericsson's services for the better part of a month and they'll also find themselves hoping to rebound from a humiliating 3-0 loss to the Islanders when the Wings return to practice tomorrow.

The Wings' season has been downright bipolar, with the team vacillating between long losing or "winless" streaks and several stretches of sustained dominance--with the former types of games outnumbering the latter performances--and the Wings had to admit that their fans had every right to boo the team off the ice on Monday.

In an article discussing the thoroughly mixed status of the Wings' 2013-14 campaign thus far, the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan noted that Niklas Kronwall believes his team has much, much more to give...

“We haven’t played to our potential at all,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We still have a ways to go figuring out how to play. Obviously we’re not very happy with the first half of the season. We’re looking to change that, and guys will slowly come back into the lineup. But we have to find ways to play better than we have been.”

Getting healthy will help. Injuries have decimated the Red Wings — there were eight regulars out of the lineup last week. Then again, many NHL teams go through that these days.

“Injuries are part of it,” Kronwall said. “You have to figure out a way to win every night regardless of who is in the lineup.”

And while Kulfan offers positives, negatives, lists of "studs," "duds," surprises, disappointments and points of emphasis going forward, I'd prefer to accentuate the positives and let you read the balance of Kulfan's article on your own:

They’ve hung in: Despite all the injuries, all the struggles at Joe Louis Arena, and the difficulty in scoring, the Red Wings this morning sit with 43 points and would be the first wild card team in the East (Toronto is second with 41). They’re five points ahead of the New York Rangers, six ahead of Ottawa and have some cushion. They can’t have a run of injuries like they’ve had again. Can they?

Road record: For all the well-documented woes at Joe Louis Arena — and that has been astounding — the Red Wings have been quite impressive on the road. An incredible 11-3-3 record is the best in the Eastern Conference. Can they sustain it in the second half of the season? There are stiff tests ahead, including a swing through California, and important matchups against Philadelphia, the New York Rangers, and Pittsburgh, which will determine the wild card.

The kids are all right: One thing the Red Wings have learned because of the all the injuries is they have depth coming up from Grand Rapids. Forwards Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco and Luke Glendening, defensemen Xavier Ouellet and Adam Almquist, and goalie Petr Mrazek all have been called up from Grand Rapids and contributed in key spots. Tomas Tatar began the season with the Red Wings and has been an asset. The Grand Rapids pipeline has been mighty beneficial.

Regarding said "kids," the Free Press's Helene St. James took note of Tomas Jurco's surprisingly consistent performances over the course of his first five NHL games...

Most forwards who get called up from the minors make their NHL debuts on a team’s fourth line. The Red Wings brought up Jurco earlier this month and put him with future Hall of Famers Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Alfredsson. Jurco played nearly 17 minutes in his debut. He scored in his next appearance and has recorded two goals and one assist after five games.


Jurco, who turns 21 on Saturday, said his experience in Detroit was “awesome. Lots of new experiences for me. To be a part of this organization, it’s an honor.”

The Wings drafted Jurco in the second round in 2011, as usual attracted to a finesse European player. Much like fellow Slovakian and former Red Wing Marian Hossa, Jurco has got great hand-to-eye coordination and the added bonus of being a sizable forward at 6-feet-2, 190-odd pounds. Jurco began his pro career in fall 2012, and last spring helped lead the Grand Rapids Griffins to the Calder Cup, contributing 14 points in 24 games.

Jurco’s emergence as a go-to guy in Grand Rapids facilitated his adjustment to the NHL, where newcomers often learn the hard way just how much more advanced the level of hockey is.

“The speed in the AHL is pretty high, like NHL, but this is more about thinking and positioning,” Jurco said. “You have to know where to be. It’s more about finding the right position.”

And the young players' performances have yielded an obvious question that MLive's Ansar Khan used to lead off a lengthy "Ask Ansar" Q and A session:

Q. I really like the way (Tomas) Jurco, (Riley) Sheahan, and (Luke) Glendening are helping the Wings create a better forecheck, and see this as an area the Wings really need to be better at. What do you think the chances are of (Daniel) Cleary and (Mikael) Samuelsson both being waived in order to fit a couple of these guys on the roster the rest of the season? -- Scott

A. I think they’d like to move Samuelsson; he obviously is the last man in the pecking order and that probably won’t change. He is taking up what soon will be a valuable roster spot. Maybe he’ll agree to waive his no-trade clause. But, he’s 37, earns $3 million and has been unproductive. I’m not sure if there’s a team that would be interested in him even at the trade deadline, when most of his salary will be exhausted.

If he is waived and goes unclaimed, sending him to Grand Rapids would clear a roster spot but shave only $100,000 off the cap since he signed at age 35. But with Stephen Weiss on long-term injured reserve, the cap isn’t as much a concern as the 23-man roster. Samuelsson is taking up a spot that could be much better utilized by a younger player. The Red Wings should explore every avenue of moving him.

Cleary also has a no-trade clause, but I don’t think they’ll move him regardless (through a trade or waivers). He’s struggled but they hope he can turn it around in the playoffs, like he did last season.

Khan believes that Jurco's ready to go now, and as such...

Q. Have any of the Griffins impressed enough that the Wings might put someone on waivers or make a trade to clear up roster space? Who has impressed you the most of the GR guys? -- Frank

A. After waiving Cory Emmerton, Jordin Tootoo and Patrick Eaves earlier this season, Samuelsson is the only other player I could see them waiving. Jurco has impressed me the most among the Grand Rapids players. He has high-end skills, decent size, a lot of potential. They should do what they can to keep him on the roster and part ways with Samuelsson.

I do agree with this observation:

Q. In your opinion, with the way (Tomas) Tatar, (Gustav) Nyquist and Jurco have played, will it possibly change (general manager) Ken Holland’s mentality that our young guys are never ready? Do you think next summer we will re-sign veterans who we all love, but who clearly are (past) their prime or we will give young players more prominent roles? Do you think Jurco has a five-percent chance of staying in the lineup when (the injured players) come back? -- V. Palmer

A. I believe Alfredsson is the only impending unrestricted free agent they will re-sign, assuming he wants to play next season, and I think he will. At 41, he looks energized and appears to be having fun. Maybe they look at bringing back Jonas Gustavsson, but I don’t think the other skaters will be back (Samuelsson, Cleary, Eaves, Quincey, Todd Bertuzzi). No question younger players will be given more prominent roles next season.

We don't live in an NHL world where you can move lots of salary or lots of players--especially given the artificially low cap that's all but laid waste to this year's trade market--over a short period of time, but as much as it pains me to say this, save perhaps Alfredsson and Gustavsson, who may have bought Petr Mrazek another year's worth of starting duty in Grand Rapids...

Samuelsson's being sat in favor of a trio of call-ups, Cleary's time has obviously come and gone, Eaves, Gord bless his skill and grit, has been replaced by younger players, Quincey has been a disaster, and while Bertuzzi sure works his butt off and is focused, intimidating and serves as both a leader and a mentor to younger players, his back issues have finally caught up with him, and given that--again, as the Production Line's Michael Petrella noted--Riley Sheahan, MItchell Callahan and Landon Ferraro are forwards out of waiver options next season, given that defenseman Adam Almquist is in the same department, and given that Jurco is nearly NHL ready, next year will be another "time to let the kids play" years.

I hate the concept of parting ways with Bertuzzi (I would expect that the Wings would buy Jordin Tootoo out), and the fact that Russia's starting goaltender at the World Juniors, Andrei Vasilevski, may be Tampa's starting goaltender around the time that Petr Mrazek takes the reins from Jimmy Howard bugs me to no end, but the Quincey trade has been a bust and Brian Lashoff's proven that he can five the 5-6 hole better than Quincey does.

I still believe that the team needs to add a top-pair defenseman if it is at all able to do so closer to the trade deadline, and I think the Wings may have to make some sort of trade to import one over the summer if they can't land one after the Olympics, but other than bringing Alfredsson back and maybe bringing Gustavsson back, even I am more than willing to suggest that it's time to "let the kids play."



Regarding that outdoor hockey game that's taking place next week at Michigan Stadium, MLive's Ben Freed penned a column about the "puck" that Ann Arbor will drop on New Year's eve;

The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness noted that Petr Mrazek has no misgivings about wearing the following pads on either December 30th or January 1st...

After donning the likeness of Peter Griffin from the TV show “Family Guy” on his helmet after a suggestion from an equipment manager, Mrazek will wear snowman pads for an outdoor game this season.

“It’s kind of cool idea, lots of people like it, some people don’t,” Mrazek said. “I knew a couple people didn’t like it, they think (they’re) ugly or they think it’s like a kid, but no one has it before so I think it’s a good idea. I love it.”

Again it was Grand Rapids equipment Brad Thompson that came up with the idea.

Mrazek, who will wear the pads either when the Griffins play at Comerica Park on Dec. 30 or when the Wings play at Michigan Stadium on Jan. 1, said the last time he built a snowman was a couple years ago in Ottawa.

And the Free Press's George Sipple spoke with the families of Brendan Smith, Luke Glendening and Danny DeKeyser about watching their sons skate outdoors on New Year's Day:

The DeKeysers thought they might have missed a great chance last year when the GLI was played at Joe Louis Arena instead of outdoors when the NHL lockout canceled the original Winter Classic plans and subsequent events scheduled for Comerica Park.

“You never know how things are going to go and the route that they’re going to take,” Mick DeKeyser said. “This is what happened. So now he gets to play outdoors, not for the GLI but for the Winter Classic. Pretty amazing.”

Mick DeKeyser has played in adult hockey leagues for years and still plays pickup hockey.

“I’ve been playing it all my life,” he said. “When Danny was getting older, I would have him come out to some of the skates we had and he would benefit from that.

“I still get on the ice, for what it’s worth. I’m a little older now. You know how that works. Over the years I’ve played on some adult-league teams. Basically now it’s just pickup hockey. I actually skate with Mickey Redmond. I try to skate two or three times a week.”

The DeKeysers, from Clay Township, are busy trying to figure out all the details for the Winter Classic, including transportation and how many family members are going to travel there.

“Danny’s from a pretty big family,” his father said. “We’re going to try to accommodate all that we can, whoever wants to go and whoever can go. Either way, I’m sure it’s going to be fun.”

Sipple's article continues, and it's more than worth your time.




Otherwise, DetroitRedWings.com's Andrea Nelson penned an article about Metro Detroiter MacKenzie MacEachern taking part in the outdoor Great Lakes Invitational as a member of the Michigan State University Spartans, and AWood40 gets us in the mood for the Alumni Showdown with higlights from the Russian 5's debut way back on October 24th, 1995:

Update: Oh, swell, power rankings from Fox Sports' "Iceman Cometh":

18 . Red Wings [highest/lowest] 5/18

GOOD NEWS: Young winger Gustav Nyquist returned after missing three games with a groin muscle injury.

BAD NEWS: Center Stephen Weiss will be sidelined until after the Olympic break after undergoing surgical repairs for a sports hernia. Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson joined the injury parade Monday, suffering an upper body injury.

BOTTOM LINE: Exasperated Detroit fans booed their team off the ice after the Red Wings fell to 6-10-6 at Joe Louis Arena. Can you blame them?

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.