The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/06/13 at 12:21 PM ET
Updated at 1:19 PM: A little under 24 hours after the Red Wings signed Daniel Alfredsson to a 1-year deal and Stephen Weiss to a 5-year contract, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the magnitude of what happened--very admittedly, as someone who's still in utter shock that Alfredsson's relationship with Ottawa's management soured so quickly that he'd leave the team, and as someone who tends not to cheer for other teams, but has a Daniel Alfredsson jersey hanging in my closet.
I know he's 40, and I know that he's not necessarily what he once was, but he's on "my" team now--and as far as Ken Holland and Mike Babcock are concerned, the additions of Stepehen Weiss as a second-line center and Alfredsson as a complimentary player who can "play his own game" just as much as Weiss will, well, both Holland and Babcock suggested that the pair will give the Wings a more balanced lineup than they had at their disposal with Valtteri Filppula, Damien Brunner and Daniel Cleary in tow, and as such, adding the pair was more than worth producing a cap crunch in addition to set of roster-crunch-alleviating moves to come.
As I said last night, I'm not sure if the Wings are "better," as so many scribes suggested, or whether losing Brunner's speed and the potential impact of the "hot Brunner" we saw over his first dozen-or-so games with the Wings, losing Filppula's speed and his flashes of potential, and probably witnessing Cleary's leadership and grit depart, all for the sake of snagging a center with Filppula's defensive aplomb and a splash of Cleary piss and vinegar in Weiss, and all for the sake of adding a 20-goal and 50-to-60-point-scorer who's got a year or two left--and it should be said, in no small part due to the team's desire to accommodate Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar's offensive growth over the long haul (never mind adding yet another Swedish mentor for Calle Jarnkrok)--may have in fact yielded what ESPN's Scott Burnside deemed to be circular moves by a team that, in Burnside's opinion, is back in the same place where it started personnel-wise.
In terms of the psychological and PR impacts of the signings, obviously, Holland and the Wings' management team reestablished some of the, "We're going to make the moves we believe will best position us for a long playoff run" swagger it had lost since 2009, and the players who signed here certainly suggested that a certain blogger's belief that the Wings don't have any horses on defense did not detract from Detroit's still-intact status as a destination for players who want to win championships.
The Wings' beat writers were effusive in their praise of the management's aggressive tack:
the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa suggested that Ken Holland "got his fastball back"; the Free Press's Helene St. James argued that the Wings' made reputation-restoring moves that give the team the kind of balance, at least up front, that it needs to make a long playoff run; I adored the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness's bluntness in distilling the, "We've come here to win" quips from Alfredsson and Weiss's presser, and the Windsor Star's Bob Duff is spot-on (pardon the fan speaking) in suggesting that Daniel Alfredsson's competitive fires and leadership will make his signing a whole different animal from what turned out to be a Mike Modano signing involving a player who was, in Duff's words, "playing out the string."
Frankly, if you read DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose's "master copy" of the conference call held by the team and players (Alfredsson's in Gothenburg, Sweden right now, and I believe Weiss is in Toronto, so the pair will not be introduced formally or handed jerseys until the fall), the most exciting part of it all involves both players stating that they want to be nothing more and nothing less than part of the machine, and that they're putting their talents at the disposal of Babcock, the coaching staff and their teammates, embracing the pressure they'll face while being good soldiers:
Weiss (opening remarks): “I echo some of the same things. Coming from Florida and being there for about 10 years, only playing in the playoffs one year it was a pretty easy decision to come and play for Mr. Holland and Mr. Babcock and this Red Wings’ organization that’s had the culture of winning over the years and like Alfie said their goal every year is to win the Stanley Cup and to come to a team and be a part of that is really exciting. I’m thrilled to be given the opportunity to come to this team and do everything in my power to help out and fit in and do what I can to help the Red Wings reach that ultimate goal.”
Question for Alfredsson: What options did you have and why Detroit?
“I can’t say I had 29 choices to make. I did have some teams that were interested and expressed their interest and I talked to a few teams. I just really like the way Detroit plays hockey. It’s a puck-possession game, a push the pace game and I just think with the personnel they have throughout their lineup I think I can come in and be of help in different areas and be part of something really good. I know quite a few of the guys from before. I know their personalities. I know how they play. The culture of Detroit really appealed to me with all the conversations I’ve had with different players that have been there.”
Question for Weiss: You're moving out of Florida and into a hockey hotbed, Hockeytown, does that give you reason to be excited?
“Absolutely, yeah, it’s something that I’m real excited about, actually. I got a good taste of it playing in Plymouth and going to Wings’ games and being in that building and playing in there over the years a few times. It’s a pretty special place, so I’m looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to the pressure of playing in that type of market. It’s been a long time since I’ve done it, but I’m hungry to be a part of that type of situation again. I think my game will thrive.”
Question for Alfredsson: When you talked to Zetterberg did you talk about playing on same line with him and Datsyuk?
“They’re the best two-way players in the game. I feel that’s the strength of my game, is playing a two-way game. I love watching them play and the whole team play with or without the puck because they do so many good things, little things that many people can’t pick up. They perform extremely well under pressure and in important situations. In talking to Henrik, he hadn’t made up his mind who he was going to play with yet. … No, I’m just kidding. It’s obviously going to be Babcock’s decision.
“He was just happy that I was able to join as a right-handed shot. For me, playing, even with Stephen, as left-handed players should open up a lot of chances for me. I talked to him about a lot of things, but not just hockey, but living around Detroit. He was very complimentary. I have a large family with four boys, young boys that he thought they would find everything in Ottawa, in Detroit.”
This morning, MLive's Ansar Khan filed one of those notorious 7 AM-publish-date articles, and he raved about the management's moves, echoing the othe beat writers' remarks...
It was like the old days, when the Red Wings made headlines every off-season by acquiring big-name players.
The Red Wings landed their main target – skilled second-line center Stephen Weiss – plucking him out of the Florida sunshine for five years at $24.5 million. That came shortly after they reeled in right wing Daniel Alfredsson for one year at $5.5 million in a stunning move, convincing the future Hall of Famer who spent his entire 17-year career in Ottawa that he would have a better chance to win his first Stanley Cup in Detroit.
Framing the signings in terms of the Wings' current roster and new divisional rivals...
The Red Wings have a much brighter outlook heading into 2013-14 as they move to the Eastern Conference, joining a division with Boston, Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Florida and Tampa Bay.
This is a deeper, more confident club, one that battled to make the playoffs on the final day of the season and then came within a goal of eliminating the Chicago Blackhawks, who went on to win the Stanley Cup, in the second round of the playoffs.
Young players gained valuable experience, several of them playing key roles in the Grand Rapids Griffins' AHL championship run.
And noting that the team believes it's going to return to playoff contending form:
“I feel good about our nucleus,'' Holland said. “I feel good that Pavel Datsyuk re-upped ( three years) and we have Pav around for four more years. We believe that we have a tremendous goaltender in Jimmy Howard (signed for six years). With the addition of Alfie and Stephen, we think we’re going to be a lot deeper up front.''
The annual forecasts of demise for the franchise will take a hiatus this year. The 22-season playoff streak should not be in jeopardy. Their acquisitions, coupled with growth from young players, should make the Red Wings a formidable club once again.
Now, the Red Wings have upgraded their skill level with Alfredsson and Weiss, who make players around them better.
The story is obviously very different in Ottawa. In addition to yesterday's crop of Senators divorce news--Nicholas J. Cosonika's take, Michael Grange's suggestion that Alfredsson pulled a Brett Farve and Bruce Garrioch's confirmation that the relationship between the Senators and Alfredsson had soured over money, respect and thanks to a wining-and-dining period that allowed Alfredsson to truly contemplate himself playing for another team, and to me, the comment most damning to both parties was the one Alfredsson made about "fan anger," as noted by the Ottawa Sun's Garrioch:
"I expect there will be resentment and anger from fans, as I think there definitely should be," said Alfredsson. "I have my favorite sports teams, too, and if something happens with a player and it doesn't benefit my team, I don't like it. But I know what I've done in Ottawa. I gave it everything I had throughout my career and have so many people to thank. They have been almost too good to me.
One could argue that Alfredsson's pissed off about the Senators' management not making moves to help their team when it came to retaining their captain at a salary proportionate to his "worth."
Today, the Ottawa Citizen penned an editorial addressing his departure, discussions of his charitable legacy and fan reaction, one request to not villify him, and, if we are to believe the Ottawa Citizen's Wayne Scanlan, a must-revisit article from one of Alfredsson's closest confidants:
I don't agree with that assessment, but there is an "us against the world" mentality in Ottawa...and while folks like Garrioch stir the rumor mill, the Ottawa Sun's Don Brennan is a "spirit of the thing" guy. He offered the following regarding Alfredsson's departure:
Formerly commended for his fierce loyalty to the organization that drafted him two decades ago, Alfredsson admitted he was "selfish" to take an offer the Senators would have easily matched, because he wanted a better chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Maybe going to Detroit gives him that -- and maybe it does not. In this NHL cap era, there are no guarantees. Instead, he ruins his pristine reputation as a "lifer" with one team and all that he can be assured is he'll get to keep his jersey number. No Red Wing wears 11 and -- while 9, 10 and 12 are among those hanging from the Joe Louis Arena rafters -- it is not retired, either.
Yes, Alfredsson earns the right to work where he wants after all he has done in Ottawa. But his timing for making this decision sucks. The Flames traded Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh for a first-round pick and two college prospects at the deadline. It stands to figure Alfredsson would have fetched the Senators a similar return.
Instead, they get zip for a guy that has made about $70 million from the organization -- granted while giving plenty back -- in the last 18 years. It would have even been easier to stomach had Alfredsson not waited until late Thursday night to let the Senators know of his plans.
"He had no obligation to tell me anything," said GM Bryan Murray. "The only thing is if J.P. (Barry, Alfredsson's agent) would have told me two or three days ago this was a very strong possibility, I could have maybe set my target on an additional player (Friday), which I didn't do. We ended up getting two players which we're very happy about getting. but losing Alfie is a big blow.
Nobody is wishing ill will on Alfredsson now, but if I'm the Senators I may be less inclined to offer him a cushy front office job after he retires.
At the very least, I don't go out of my way to create one for him, whereas that would have been the case before all this went down. The thing is, Alfredsson might have had a better chance to win a Cup in Ottawa than Detroit, with [Bobby] Ryan as a teammate here.
He knew Murray was poised to make that trade. Yet the captain still decided to jump ship, tarnishing his legacy in the process.
Compare that to Stephen Weiss's exit from Florida, and it's a world away--both in terms of the player who exited and the reaction, with Weiss and GM Dale Tallon admitting to the Miami Herald's George Richards and the Sun-Sentinel's Harvey Filakov that a player who was one of the faces of the franchise (seriously) left town because the Panthers didn't have the budget to re-sign him, having been restricted by owner Cliff Viner to the $48-50 million mark (and we shall not speak of the fact that Shawn Matthias, the prospect the Wings gave to Florida in the Bertuzzi trade back in 2007, is flourishing).
As such, there were no hard feelings, even with Weiss going to a division rival.
Filakov issued a few more Tweets about Weiss overnight:
And in a very, very different vein, while the Wings signed AHL-only-contracted Luke Glendening to a 1-year, 2-way deal ahead of this upcoming week's summer development camp, the presences of the turning-pro Ryan Sproul, Xavier Ouellet, Richard Nedomlel, Alexei Marchenko and Nick Jensen, as well as the development of Adam Almquist and Max Nicastro (and the team's retention of Gleason Fournier) all added up to too many defensemen and too much size to squeeze in undersized defenseman and AHL-only-contracted Chad Billins, who exited the organization to join the Calgary Flames.
“It was definitely an exciting time to win the championship with Grand Rapids,” Billins said. “I just can’t thank them enough for the opportunity they gave me. I got to enjoy that for a couple weeks, and you’ll have that forever, that championship. But it’s still a business, too, so then you have to focus on what you’re going to do next year.”
Billins had 10 goals and 27 assists for the Griffins in 76 regular-season games. He led the team’s defensemen with 14 points (two goals) in 24 playoff games. He was never called up to the NHL, but because of his contract, that wasn’t surprising.
“They have a lot of great defensemen (in Detroit) and I still need time to develop,” Billins said. “I was on a one-way deal, and Detroit would have had to re-sign me. I don’t hold anything against them at all.”
The Flames have five NHL defenseman under contract, and had three others on two-way deals as of Friday.
“They’ve got some good D-men, and just because (Friday) is the big signing day, they’re getting some good players and have good players already,” Billins said. “I can’t worry too much about that. You can only worry about what you can control, and doing what, I guess, has got me this far.”
Where does all of this leave us, especially given that we have yet to find out whether the team will retain Cleary's services, or where Damien Brunner will end up?
I spent two-plus hours writing this entry to give you as much context as possible with which to form your own "day after" opinions, and to try to process the magnitude of what transpired over the last 24 hours myself.
Where are we at?
I think the Wings are indeed a better team over the short haul, but I still believe that much of the team's success depends on Darren Helm's return to health (there's been good news on that front), Todd Bertuzzi coming back to give the Wings the grit and streaky scoring that the team hoped Jordin Tootoo would provide, up front, the continued maturation of Joakim Andersson as a two-way pivot, Gustav Nyquist as a playmaker and scorer and Tomas Tatar as someone who has the potential to exceed Jiri Hudler's "upside" as a feisty sniper with grit and jam...
And the defense is indeed a work in progress. Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson have proved themselves as #1/2 defensemen in my opinion, and I'm glad that the Wings extended someoe who went from waiver wire fodder to a solid contributor in Jakub Kindl, but whether Kindl and Danny DeKeyser are #3/4 guys, whether Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith can do more than terrify Wings fans every time they hit the ice, and whether Brian Lashoff's skating can improve to the point that he reestablishes himself as a Brad Stuart-style utility defenseman, even if it's only as a poor man's one...I don't know.
I get the feeling that the Wings don't have the assets or cap space to snag Alex Edler from Vancouver without selling a good chunk of their prospect stable to buy a stud horse, and as such, I'm sticking to my, "You know, I don't think we'll really know what the blueline's gonna look like until the Wings finally add someone at the 2014 trade deadline" guns.
Did these signings make the Wings a Stanley Cup contender all over again? Are they free agency "winners" despite Filppula and Brunner's departures, and Cleary's likely exit?
I don't think that question can be answered until we see what a healthy Weiss can bring, what Alfredsson's capable of, whether Helm and Bertuzzi can return, whether "the kids" up front and on defense can continue to improve, and whether Babcock, Tom Renney and Bill Peters can find the right combinations to succeed in terms of both scoring 3 goals a game instead of two, bailing out Jimmy Howard a little more regularly (whether Jonas Gustavsson can rebound and back Howard up, or whether the team will need to bring up Petr Mrazek every time Howard needs a rest, that's another big question), and whether the team can finally score on the *#$%@& power play and kill some *#$%@& penalties...
That's all going to play out over the course of training camp, the exhibition season and the first couple months of the regular season.
We'll have to wait and see, but at least psychologically speaking and in terms of our pride as Wings fans, you and I can say that our team's restored some of its swagger and "roar" in making an incredibly bold signing in Alfredsson and another savvy one in banking on a player that the coach clearly wanted wearing red and white in Weiss.
Update #2: Sportsnet's Ian Mendes, who is their Ottawa-based reporter, reports that Alfredsson's teammates are pissed off...
[W]hile the Sens players respect Alfredsson’s latest choice, they do not agree with his decision. They were initially shocked when they heard the news. That shock turned to disappointment when they heard Alfredsson’s public explanation that the Red Wings were closer to a Stanley Cup than the Senators.
And while Alfredsson had no intention of slapping his old teammates in the face, that’s exactly what he did. He admitted his decision was “selfish”, so he honestly meant no disrespect to Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Chris Phillips and Chris Neil. But thru a strange and backhanded way, the manner in which he left town could be the best thing that ever happened to this group that remains in Ottawa.
Instead of wallowing in the departure of their captain, the Sens players can view this as a galvanizing moment. Someone who was inside their locker room believes he has a better chance of winning with Detroit than he does in Ottawa.
In the world of professional sports, there is nothing more satisfying than proving the doubters wrong. And when the doubter just happens to be your ex-captain, it makes the motivation all the more intriguing.
If Alfredsson had made this decision two years ago, when the on-ice product was in a state of disarray, nobody would have questioned his thought process. After the 2010-11 season, it was clear the Senators were at least three years away from contending. If he signed with Detroit or Boston in the summer of 2011, the prevailing sentiment from the nation’s capital would have been “Good luck and we understand.”
But we’re now in Year 3 of that re-build. The Senators have made the playoffs in each of the last two years — showing a marked improvement with Paul MacLean behind the bench. They have the goaltending. They have arguably the best defenseman on the planet. And they have a decent group of forwards in their prime — including Jason Spezza, Kyle Turris and now Bobby Ryan. This is the best the Senators have looked since reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2007.
And does he get a jab in at the Wings? Yep.
Both teams finished the regular season with the same number of points and both were bounced in the second round. Detroit’s core of players is older and hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since George W. Bush was in office. You can call the Red Wings a lot of things, but a team on the rise isn’t one of them. If you think the Senators trip to the Stanley Cup final is a distant memory from 2007, just remember that Detroit’s last Cup win came the following year. In hockey terms, that’s ancient history.
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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.