The Malik Report
by George Malik on 09/13/13 at 07:28 AM ET
I guess we'll start here: As noted yesterday, the Left Wing Lock's Sarah Lindenau conducted a very blunt and candid interview with Tomas Tatar, who was not thrilled to hear that the Wings had re-signed Daniel Cleary--which all but assures that the Wings will move 2 of their 17 forwards until Darren Helm's healthy and ready to play, and a third forward whenever Helm is finally healthy--and Tatar pulled the, "If the Wings don't want me, they can trade me or I'll play in the KHL" card out of his hat again:
“It is going to be a hard battle, but I am a young guy so I am ready for the battle,” Tatar said. “I don’t know what is going to happen and they signed new guys so I don’t really know what their plan is. I am just going to try and prove that I belong there and it’s up to them if they choose me or not.”
The competitive forward is a proven goal scorer and has shown he can create offense at every level including the NHL. Last season, Tatar was called up for four games where he netted four goals and seven points in that span. He’ll have to continue that productivity when the exhibition season starts next week to make a strong push for a roster spot.
“Obviously I will try and play my best, but sometimes it doesn’t go your way,” he said. “It’s kind of scaring me a little because sometimes you can’t play the five best games in your life. I think I proved that I belong in the NHL these four years so these games shouldn’t be the final decision factor, but I am going to play the best that I can.”
The 22 year-old must clear waivers to be sent to the AHL and he’s made it clear he isn’t interested in a fifth season in the minors.
“I have been in the AHL for four years and we won a Calder Cup,” Tatar said. “I love Grand Rapids, but I don’t think it makes sense for me to be in that league anymore. I want to play in the NHL, but if there is no room with the Red Wings then hopefully another team picks me up on waivers or I am traded.”
Tatar’s agent has also fielded multiple calls from the KHL over the summer and if he can’t land an NHL job then playing in Europe is a strong consideration for the diminutive forward.
“I have lots of options and teams in the KHL have called asking about my plans for this season,” he said. “I want to do my best to make the NHL, but if that doesn’t happen then I will probably play in Russia.”
Daniel Cleary’s return to the Detroit Red Wings increased the number of NHL-tabbed forwards to 17, three more than they will carry. For a guy trying to establish a footing, much less hoping to become a regular, the competition for a job just got more crowded.
“It’s going to be really hard,” Tatar said after practice at Centre Ice Arena. “We have like eight exhibition games and it’s part of the season. Maybe you’re not scoring, nothing is going your way - I wouldn’t be happy if this is going to decide my next future.”
Tatar, 22, is at the point in his career when he has to make the Wings, because he can’t be sent down without waivers. He appeared in 18 games last season for the Wings, producing four goals and three assists, but mostly starred at the AHL level with the Griffins, where he collected 23 goals and 26 assists in 61 games, followed by 21 points in 24 games as he helped Grand Rapids to the Calder Cup.
“I was really happy I was doing good, there were lots of good moments,” Tatar said. “I was really happy I could help win.”
The challenge now is for Tatar to show he belongs at the NHL level. He’s not going to be used in an offensive role with the Wings, so he’s got to figure out how to work as a role player before he can make an argument for more minutes.
“I think I’m a skilled player,” Tatar said. “I can bring some really good offensive part of the game. I know Mike wants me to get better on defense, so I will try to get better at that and will try to manage the puck and not lose it a lot, so hold it for us. I think this is going to be my focus for the season.”
And I just can't blame the guy at this point. He's been a good soldier in Grand Rapids, he won the Jack Butterfield Trophy as the AHL's playoff MVP his past spring and he's ground it out in the AHL since he was 18.
I'm hoping that Mike Babcock and Ken Holland understand that the Wings' long-term success depends on affording Tatar, Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist every chance to succeed on this Red Wings team, and that doing so may mean having to let some "role players' go for the sake of allowing younger players to grow into their roles, but that's just me.
Holland offered this about Tatar and Nyquist to MLive's Ansar Khan:
“Both played well for us last year. We like them both,'' Holland said. “Tats was the AHL (playoff) MVP with 16 goals; that's a lot of goals in a league where it's hard to score. Certainly, the expectations are they're going to be on the team.''
But, Holland also said of Nyquist, “There's a chance he could go to the American League. He's a good player. We want to win. We're going to try to ice our best team against Buffalo (in the season opener Oct. 2).''
As Khan notes, Nyquist's waiver-exempt--for now:
If the Red Wings are unable to trade a veteran, they might be forced to send down Nyquist, at least temporarily. He loses his waiver-exempt status after playing two more NHL games. That would preclude the team from assigning him to Grand Rapids, since there is no doubt he would be claimed off waivers.
“I’ll just have to make it an even harder decision for them to make, show them what I’ve got,'' Nyquist said.
Tatar, 22, has patiently waited for his opportunity to play in the NHL, spending four seasons with the Griffins. He showed much promise during an 18-game stint with Detroit last season (four goals, three assists).
He can't be assigned to the minors without being exposed to waivers (he surely would be claimed).
“They always have lots of guys here and it's a big battle for, let's say, one spot,'' Tatar said. “Even when you play good it's really hard for them to change something when they still have option to send you down. This year it's a little different for me (not being waiver-exempt), but I'm still going to battle for my ice time and I want to make sure I play real good in camp and show I deserve more ice time. I have been waiting for that chance a little longer (than most). This year I got the chance and I try to show I belong here.''
I hope so, I really do.
In cheerier news, the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan pointed out that this is the Red Wings' first real training camp since 2011, and the gents were very happy to be able to get back out on the ice without knowing that they had to almost immediately prepare to play 44 games over the course of 99 nights...
“It was fun to be out there again,” [Henrik] Zetterberg said of the action on the first day of camp. “This is Day 1 and it’s fun to go out and play and skate again. It’s another step and fun to actually scrimmage.”
[Justin] Abdelkader looked comfortable going to the net and complementing [Pavel] Datsyuk and Zetterberg’s offensive prowess.
“Playing with those two guys, it’s fun,” Abdelkader said. “They’ll find you. You have to be ready with your stick on the ice all the time because the puck will end up there. I can bring something different to that line, whether I’m there or not, who knows? It’s the first day.”
Because of the lockout last season, training camp consisted of a few days of practice and no exhibitions. Getting back to the regular routine this season will be a positive experience, [coach Mike] Babcock said.
“For the new guys coming in, it’s very important to have training camp, so they can understand, get comfortable, feel good about themselves,” Babcock said. “This will be a month of getting better before we even start (the regular season).”
As the Free Press's Helene St. James notes, training camp's also affording Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss, who are playing alongside Johan Franzen, the opportunity to acclimate to their new surroundings...
“[Franzen's] been around with Babs a lot of years here,” Alfredsson said. “He knows what to expect, so he made sure I didn’t mess up too much. He said he would in trouble if I did.”
“It was great to get out there, try to get used to get new players and new systems,” Weiss said. “It’s not going to take long. The key for us is to hold onto the puck and make sure we’re making plays. The longer you stay together with certain people, the more chemistry you’ll find.”
Weiss finds a lot about the Wings great: It’s “awesome” that they’re committed to competing for the Stanley Cup every year, it’s “awesome” to be surrounded by so many skilled players.
“The Mule is a big, strong, skilled guy,” Weiss said. “Daniel has been around forever, and his intelligence is amazing. To play with those guys is pretty special.”
Alfredsson isn’t going to be a surprise on the ice — he’s a world-class player — but he has been one on the greens.
“It’s fun to have him here in camp,” Zetterberg said. “It’s fun to show him around, have some time to play some golf, even though he’s much better than me.”
For all the Swedes the Wings employ, Zetterberg said Alfredsson “was probably the last Swede I expected to play with over here. When he got here, I was really happy, excited to see what we can do together.”
And while the Traverse City Record-Eagle's James Cook duly notes that Daniel Cleary's return stole the show for day 1 of training camp...
“Tuesday, I was ready to go to Philly,” Cleary said. “And then I just couldn’t go. I decided to come out and meet with Babs and Kenny to get closure on the situation. I had to know deep in my heart, ‘Was it going to happen?’ We figured out a way to get something to happen, to get something signed.”
Cleary reportedly had an offer for a tryout contract from the Flyers, with the potential to earn a three-year, $8.25 million contract — $2.75 million a year. Instead, he took $1.75 million to return to Detroit.
“I’ve got a great relationship with Kenny (Holland) and I believe in myself,” Cleary said. “I just think we’ll see how it plays out. I know people are probably thinking I’m not the smartest guy or whatever, but I have to do what is right for me — and I did it.”
Cleary said he passed his physical Thursday and is expected to skate with the team in today’s practice and scrimmage.
“We’re happy to have Dan back,” Holland said. “We tried to re-sign him in the summertime. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a solution. The last few days, Dan had some opportunities elsewhere and I guess was close to a deal. He wanted to have one last conversation with me and Mike Babcock. He jumped on a plane (Wednesday), flew up here and we met him at the airport.”
While he was addressing the congregated media, Drew Miller and Niklas Kronwall walked by. “Hey, look who’s back!” Miller jokingly shouted over the throng of reporters.
Again, as Cook notes, the newcomers and returnees alike were very happy to be able to do more than simply jump in to games, all while feeling like the Wings were making the right moves to return to Cup-contending status:
Detroit signed Daniel Alfredsson and Weiss and extended Pavel Datsyuk’s deal, giving the franchise a better chance to have success as it shifts to the Eastern Conference. The Wings also re-signed veteran forward Danny Cleary on Thursday, agreeing to terms on a one-year deal for $1.75 million.
“It’s really refreshing,” Weiss said as the Red Wings began training camp Thursday in Traverse City. “Those were some of the things that the coach and Mr. Holland stressed in the summer. They try to win the Stanley Cup every year and they’re going to try and do what they have to do to make that happen. That’s awesome for me, coming here and try to do whatever I can to help out.”
With established veteran stars like Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg already in the fold and adding two proven vets in Alfredsson and Weiss, the Red Wings aim to improve their offense from a year ago, when they struggled to manufacture goals. At 2.54 goals per game, Detroit was 20th out 30 NHL squads.
“One of the things we wanted to accomplish in the off-season was secondary scoring,” general manager Ken Holland said. “Last year, we were fifth in the league in goals against. We needed to be a little better in the goal-scoring department. Injuries were a factor, but we also changed the personnel. We added Alfredsson and Weiss. Weiss has 48 points in five of his last seven seasons. Alfredsson is a guy that’s a shooter and gives us another dimension on the power play. We’re excited about the additions. Obviously, it’ll take some time for the chemistry and for Mike Babcock to decide on the line combinations.”
Both Weiss and Alfredsson said the camp being away from Detroit was great for their acclimation to their new teammates.
“For a new guy, this is the perfect environment,” Alfredsson said. “I feel bad for my wife, being at home with four kids by herself this week. But for me, this is great. A new guy on a new team. All my time is going to be spent with the guys. It’s something I’m going to try to make the most of to make the transition here a lot easier. Anytime you’re together for this amount of time, you’re going to get to know everyone a little bit better. We’ve had a couple golf tournaments, a couple functions, so getting more comfortable every day with the guys. This is a beautiful place. It’s nice to get up here and get away from the city of Detroit a little bit and spend some time up here.”
“I came to a lot of Wings games when I was up there,” Weiss said. “You always imagine yourself playing for them one day, so to get that chance is pretty special. Playing in Joe Louis Arena is pretty special, and playing with players like Pavel and Henrik and guys like that that I was watching back then is exciting.”
In other news, as Paul noted, former Red Wings defenseman Ian White is taking part in the Winnipeg Jets' training camp as a pro try-out, and he spoke with the Winnipeg Free Press's Melissa Martin about his status...
"Getting closer to camp, it seemed like there was hardly anyone being signed," he said. "The cap going down threw a big monkey wrench into everyone's plans."
So now, for a veteran of five NHL teams and 503 regular-season games, a new plan: White will battle to make the cut. The Jets have 18 blue-liners in camp, with seven on one-way NHL contracts already and few spots up for grabs. There's also Zach Redmond, who appeared to solidly install himself with the big club before his horrific leg injury last season and talented youngsters Jacob Trouba and Julian Melchiori will push for their NHL chance.
A pro, though, can't get caught up worrying about all of that.
"Your mindset's gotta be that you're going to fight for a job, and show you deserve to be here and can help the team win," White said. "I know I have a lot of game left. I'm only 29, and as a D-man, that's kind of where guys start really getting into their comfort zone."
Besides, there's a little extra spark in getting a chance at home, for once. White remembers playing shinny as a kid and dreaming about pulling on that old Winnipeg jersey; he has his own kids now, aged four and two, and his family will soon settle into a house in Waverley West.
"It's a really neat feeling, not having to move," he said. "It seems like I've been moving for the last decade, every year, twice a year."
As well as how things went down in Detroit...
The Steinbach-raised defenceman sat as a healthy scratch for 18 games, the second most of any Red Wing.
"It's brutal," White said Thursday, still flushed from the first day of the Winnipeg Jets' training camp. "You never want to sit out like that, especially when you know you can help the team... It was definitely not the way I thought it was going to go."
The Red Wings want to remind us that their, "Day in the Life of a DRW Fan" contest is still running...
And I'm going with, "This is what it's all about" regarding the following pair of stories from the Traverse City Record-Eagle's Dennis Chase:
To Jim and Sue McCarty, the Detroit Red Wings are more than just a hockey team.
"We love hockey," said Jim McCarty, as he waited outside Centre ICE for player autographs at the team's training camp opener Thursday. "But the Red Wings have gone way overboard for us personally. They've done a lot of very nice things for us and we're forever grateful."
The McCartys work hospice in the Bay City area. They often raise money, and spirits, for grief-stricken families. The Red Wings have helped immensely.
"We've had benefits and the Red Wings have always come through with something that we could use for silent auctions," McCarty said. "I had a friend pass away in March and (Wings GM) Ken Holland called me personally. He wanted me to meet him for one of the games. He wanted me to come up to his suite so he could hook me up with the stuff he was going to give me for the benefit. Unfortunately, it was Ash Wednesday, and my commitment was to be in church. Kenny still came through and sent the stuff express mail and we got it the next day. When a guy calls you up on your personal cell phone and says, 'This is Kenny,' it gets your attention."
That man who died was a dear friend of McCarty's. His family needed money to pay the bills.
"He had cancer for 15 years," McCarty said. "Just a super, super nice guy. He had done any number of things for other people, so it was fitting we did this. We served 1,200 spaghetti dinners (at the banquet). The Red Wings jersey, though, was the big hit."
A Pavel Datsyuk signed jersey netted close to $1,500 in the auction. The team supplied other items as well.
"It was unbelievable," McCarty said. "The Red Wings are so in tune to people. It's not just the sport."
Times two, per both Cook and Chase:
Matthew Litchfield, keeping warm in his Detroit Red Wings sweatshirt, watched from along the boards Thursday morning as the team opened training camp at Centre ICE. The Traverse City 9-year-old was a honorary Red Wing on this day. He and his family guests of coach Mike Babcock.
It was a day the Red Wings, along with staff and volunteers at the training camp, wanted to make special for a boy who has endured so much the last 10 months. Matthew was diagnosed with a brain tumor last October — on Halloween — and has spent most of those 10 months in treatment at the University of Michigan Hospital. He’s now home and in hospice care.
“The prognosis is not good,” his mother, Heather, said. “He’s essentially terminal. The doctors told us to bring him home and let him enjoy the rest of his months. Who knows how long? I don’t think we’re seeking any further treatment. It had progressed quite a bit since he’s been through all his chemotherapy and radiation. There’s not much else they can do. This is it.”
Matthew was able to meet, among others, Jimmy Howard, Chris Chelios, Kirk Maltby, Mickey Redmond, Niklas Kronwall, Jiri Fisher and Babcock. Babcock made it a point to introduce himself to the family before practice, and chatting with Matthew for several minutes.
Perhaps the biggest surprise came later when officials presented the Litchfields with nearly $3,000.
Larry Angove raised $1,700 around the community. Terry Marchand, Centre ICE director, rounded it up to $2,000 with a donation from the arena. The Fedorinchik family and Hallmark Construction — which hauls team equipment during the Prospect Tournament — donated their tips and raised more funds for another $750. The cooks from Munson that made team staffers food in the suite chipped in and donated $100. Camp volunteers — the drivers — pitched in and bought Matthew a Red Wings blanket to keep him warm at the rink.
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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.