The Malik Report
Red Wings overnight report: today, the Wings will clean out their lockers and look toward the future
by George Malik on 05/31/13 at 03:15 AM ET
Under 48 hours removed from a crushing Game 7 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings will assemble for the last time in their 2013 season incarnation at Joe Louis Arena on Friday morning. They'll take their team picture, peel off their uniforms, and both the players and coaches will address the media before for the last formal time.
The players, coach and GM will still give interviews over the next week or so--the post-playoff "news cycle" will last for at least the next 10 days, radio interviews included--but this is a "short" off-season, with the draft slated for June 28th (the Wings' amateur scouts are attenging the NHL's draft combine this week in Toronto, and director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell told NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale that he believes the Wings will find a solid player with the 18th overall pick) and free agency to hit on July 5th, so the players will probably engage in exit meetings with the coaches and management on an accelerated basis, they'll receive treatment for their injuries, off-season workout prescriptions and in some cases, book surgery time...
And the organization will hold a pre-draft, pre-free-agency powwow, bringing its pro scouts, amateur scouts, management and coaches into the same room to prepare for their roster-re-shaping tasks, taking the comments made by the leadership group of players into account as they attempt to move forward, likely exercising at least one of their cap compliance buy-outs, letting some free agents walk, trying to re-sign or flip the rights of others, sign some UFA's based upon the cap compliance buy-out market, and they may very well make some trades.
Sometimes the comments made during locker room clean-out day are revelatory regarding players and the coach and GM's blueprint for the future. Sometimes they're cliched and vague.
We'll find out how much of the former and how much of the latter will hold true early tomorrow afternoon.
And yes, we're likely to read a press release about Alan Quine joining Alexei Marchenko as a newly-minted prospect (the Wings would lose Quine's rights on June 1st), and with the Grand Rapids Griffins struggling in their Western Conference Final against the Oklahoma City Barons, with back-to-back games slated for tonight and Saturday in OKC, Danny DeKeyser may end up joining the Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson on the Griffins' roster if GR rallies from its 2-1 deficit (the Griffins face games in OKC tonight and on Saturday).
And Ken Holland was quite vocal on Thursday, revealing playoff injuries and stating that, mostly, the team still believes that adding Tomas Tatar to the mix and having a healthy Danny DeKeyser, Todd Bertuzzi, Darren Helm and Mikael Samuelsson(???) will yield upgrades from within, and while you and I can play with Capgeek.com and listen to informed sources like ESPN's Craig Custance...
You and I can only play armchair GM, and you and I both know that the Red Wings front office's modus operandi involves a) consistency of message and b) fewer moves than we expect.
We do know that Holland and Kris Draper spent all season long insisting that the team needed another top-four defenseman and top-six forward who is big and can score goals, especially going to the bigger Eastern Conference, and that consistency of message tends to play out.
I will offer my ESTIMATIONS of what might happen this summer, and then I'm going to defer to the GM and to you.
Given that the cap is going down ($70.2 million to $64.3 million) and given that the team has at least one UFA-to-be to sign in Damien Brunner and RFA's to re-sign in Joakim Andersson, Gustav Nyquist, Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith, with all players due for raises and the team, per Capgeek.com, having about $11.8 million in cap space...
And given that Tomas Tatar is owed a roster spot, given that Danny DeKeyser's signing and strong play completely changes the equation on the blueline, as does Brian Lashoff's 1-way contract, given that Mitchell Callahan is probably not ready to succeed Jordan Tootoo as the team's regular-season enforcer, and given that the team appears to believe that Bertuzzi, Helm and possibly Samuelsson will return from their injuries...
1. My gut feeling tells me that, at least on the blueline, and possibly team-wide, the youth movement may be a two-year process instead of a one-year process, especially with the cap going down.
The team's going to have to let some players go, use at least one cap compliance buy-out and possibly trade some others to make room for the returnees, but the team may decide that DeKeyser and the development of Tatar, Nyquist, Andersson, Kindl and even Smith may assuage most of its subtractions;
2. As such, I happen to subscribe to the theory that the team will stand pat on the blueline until next year's trade deadline, and that it will instead target one big free agent forward who can go to the net and jam in rebounds, a la Justin Abdelkader and the still-not-fully-replaced Tomas Holmstrom, and then call it a free agency summer;
3. As the team can use its cap compliance buy-outs both this summer and next summer, and as a lack of secondary scoring and power play scoring doomed the Wings' chances against Chicago (massive mistakes and third-period goals allowed excluded), my gut feeling about Johan Franzen is that he has one more year to prove himself before the team decides whether to buy him out or to keep him for the balance of his contract.
At this point, his 25-goals-per-season status at $3.94 million = a bargain despite the ridiculous amount of money the Wings are actually paying him to frustrate Red Wings fans;
4. In terms of trades--and the Wings may have to make trades and sacrifice a complimentary prospect or two to address their two main needs in the goal-scoring forward and top-four defenseman if the free agent marketplace sucks after cap compliance buy-outs are made by other teams who may remain in cap trouble.
Carlo Colaiacovo's playoff run showed that he's got value, but he may not fit in with the Wings' defense. Brian Lashoff is at least serviceable, and the team may or may not let Kyle Quincey continue to mentor Brendan Smith.
Up front, I don't know if Patrick Eaves or Cory Emmerton have futures with the team if Helm and Andersson are the team's 3rd and 4th-line centers, and I would not rule out moving Jordin Tootoo or Jonas Gustavsson;
5. And I don't know whether Calle Jarnkrok or Teemu Pulkkinen will make the team next season, but at least Jarnkrok's going to be given every opportunity to do so;
5. So, to me, given that the cap is going down this summer, given that the team has to re-sign key young players and Brunner, at least, if not Miller as well, given its track record of sticking with roster continuity and given its youth movement, aside from perhaps adding a net-front, goal-scoring forward...
I'm guessing that the Wings will allow the youth movement to play out for one more season, that they'll more meaningfully address their roster needs after 60-or-so games and about 5-and-a-half months' more analysis of, "What the 'kids' can do" and, "What the team can do if it ever gets healthy," because next year's trade deadline would present a better opportunity for the team to adress its needs on defense as the salary cap should at least rebound to the upper-60-million range in the summer of 2014.
In short, I think that we're in for one more, "Rebuilding on the fly" year, even with a move to the Eastern Conference and pressure to perform ahead of the Hockeytown Winter Festival and the Winter Classic included.
6. But these are my initial educated guesses, and what is said today and over the next couple of weeks will tell us much more about a team that tends to believe that one or two moves--and waiting for a glut of players to decide who stays and who goes during training camp and the exhibition season instead of making trades in July and August--than anything I can toss a guess toward.
And please bear in mind that the Wings can exceed the off-season salary cap by up to 10% and can exceed their 23-man roster by as many players as necessary until "the last day of training camp," which is both old CBA-speak and new CBA-speak for the evening after the last exhibition game.
Holland continued to discuss his team's future on Thursday evening, and he did indeed preach a "stay the course" message while speaking with Associated Press's Larry Lage...
"We have a lot of pieces in place, enough to beat the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks and to be up 3-1 on the top team in the league," he said. "There are a lot of good things going on, but we want to get further than Game 7 in the second round."
The Red Wings hope to get past the second round next year for the first time since 2009 - when they were a win away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions - by agreeing to win-win deals with Damien Brunner, Valtteri Filppula, Daniel Cleary and Drew Miller before they hit the market as unrestricted free agents.
"We had teams inquiring about some of them at the trade deadline, but we made the decision to keep them and see how far they could go," Holland said. "Now, we'd like to re-sign them if their finances fit in with our finances."
As soon as July 5, Holland hopes he can sign Pavel Datsyuk to a new contract so that next season isn't the final one on the superstar's deal.
"We're going to talk to Pav's agent in a while because we would like to get an extension done," Holland said "But we'll see because we're in a cap world."
All of the RFA's will return:
"We want them back, without a doubt," Holland said
A year after swinging and missing in attempts to sign Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, Holland doesn't plan to even attempt to make a splash this summer in free agency.
"There are no quick fixes and free agency isn't the answer," Holland said. "It is just a tool to get finishing touches, but we'll explore trades and we'll keep an eye on players that are bought out of their contracts."
And Holland reiterated his points of emphasis to MLive's Ansar Khan:
“You always want to go further, but certainly there's a lot of positives,'' Holland said Thursday, a day after the Red Wings were eliminated in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. “When you lose (Nicklas) Lidstrom, (Brad) Stuart, (Tomas) Holmstrom, you're going into an unknown because of the caliber of those players.''
To make matters worse, the Red Wings led the NHL in man-games lost due to injury, missing what amounts to a whole third line (Darren Helm, Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson) for essentially the entire season. Those injuries and others afforded opportunity for Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Brian Lashoff to grow. Other young players like Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith and Damien Brunner also gained valuable experience.
“I thought our players, staff and coaches did a great job to play our way in,'' Holland said. “We played the two best teams in the West even. We're right there with a lot of teams.''
He added, “It's disappointing we didn't go further. I'm disappointed for our players, watching how deep they dug, emotionally and physically, to play our way into the playoffs and advance.''
The money's tight and as TPL Hockey noted, the Wings' 50-man roster is packed sans Daniel Cleary, Valtteri Filppula, Drew Miller, Valtteri Filppula or any of the RFA's on the roster:
And now, back to Khan:
The Red Wings have 19 players signed for 2013-14 for approximately $53.3 million. That includes players who either are on a one-way contract or, in the case of Danny DeKeyser and Tomas Tatar, have a two-way deal but are expected to make the roster.
Four more spots will be taken by restricted free agents Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith.
That would put the Red Wings at the 23-man limit, and they still have decisions to make on their unrestricted free agents (Valtteri Filppula, Daniel Cleary, Damien Brunner, Drew Miller). Plus, they would like to add a player or two through free agency, which begins on July 5 this year.
“Players are pushing for jobs,'' Holland said. “It becomes a numbers game. There's some big decisions to be made internally.''
“Next year, we hope to have Darren Helm back,” Holland said. “We hope to have a healthy Todd Bertuzzi. We hope to have a healthy Mikael Samuelsson. You can look forward to September 2013, and think we are going to have a real good competition” at training camp.
This is a new look for the Wings. This team is not as dominant as in the past, but it is homegrown, and it’s the culmination of a plan that started back in 2005.
“In ’05, we made a decision to be way more conservative,” Holland said.
To hoard draft picks.
“Now, we traded a second-round pick in ’08 for Brad Stuart, and I’d do that all day long,” Holland said. “But for the most part, we have tried to spend most or all of our money in the summer with the thought that we didn’t want to get to the trade deadline and trade a high draft pick and a prospect. Now you are starting to see the fruits of that philosophy.”
Yes, the fruit is there. That’s obvious now, and it’s ripening faster than expected.
“We are doing what everybody else is doing,” Holland said. “We don’t have a magical formula. We are trying to be a playoff team in 2014. We are trying to be a playoff team in 2015.”
And Holland told the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa--in an ever-exhaustively-thorough column--that he's going to make the hard sell to fans that is preaching patience with another rebuilding-on-the-fly campaign:
"The whole thing is: How do we become a little better, a little bigger and score a little more?" Holland said. "We're not going to suddenly become an offensive juggernaut or the biggest team in the league. If you look at the Red Wings team from the '90s, it was built through the draft," he added, clicking off the names of Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Vyachelsav Kozlov and Chris Osgood.
Because of a large arena and the willingness of Red Wings owners Mike and Marion Ilitch to spend, they also were one of several teams that could spend more on players, he said.
"There's no financial advantage now," Holland said. "There's no quick fix in the NHL. The process is use the draft picks, develop the players by letting them play in this league, and that means patience. Once you draft and develop players, now you can make some trades and look to free agency. That's how the Chicago Blackhawks, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Boston Bruins, the Detroit Red Wings and the Los Angeles Kings did it," Holland added, naming the last five winners of the Stanley Cup.
Krupa sees the Wings' free agent plans shaking out as follows...
The Red Wings intend to sign Brunner and Miller, and will take a good run at Filppula. But Filppula is among the best free agent forwards, and his price may inflate considerably. Cleary may return, for less money. White, a constant healthy scratch all season, almost certainly has played his last game for the Red Wings.
As for Pavel Datsyuk, who becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, Holland said he will begin discussing an extension with his agent next week. No agreement can be signed, by NHL rule, until July 5. Datsyuk says he would like to play in his native Russia, at some point.
Asked about the prospects of extending Datsyuk's contact this summer, Holland said, "I have no idea. I don't handicap horses."
And Holland's bottom line on the team's need for size--especially given the fact that exactly one of the Wings' nearly-ready-for-a-cup-of-coffee prospects has any size in Riley Sheahan--is that between adding Andersson and DeKeyser and the fact that size is expensive, well...
"Boston is a big team and has had lots of success. Montreal had a lot of success, and they're not quite as big. And Toronto is fast," Holland said. "In this league, I think it doesn't matter, if you're a good team."
In terms of tipping the hand on the team's free agency plans, however, both MLive's Khan and the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness believe that the Red Wings may pull their oldest card out of the book before moving to the Eastern Conference in signing the players who killed them in the playoffs.
As Pleiness notes, the Hawks have all of $2 million in cap space under the slimmed-down cap, have to re-sign RFA's Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger, and Michal Handzus, Michal Rozsival, Jamal Mayers and, very importantly, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg are all unrestricted free agents-to-be.
Pleiness points out that both big Bickell (per Capgeek, he earned $600,000) and the incredibly speedy Stalberg ($950,000 last year and $800,000 this season) are also all of 27 years old, which is young by Wings standards.
Pleiness believes that Bickell may be a perfect fit...
Bickell’s stock has really rose in the playoffs. After a nine goal and 14 assist regular season, Bickell has five goals this postseason and one assist. Bickell, who was also a plus-12 during the lockout-shortened regular season, is in the final year of a contract that pays him $541,667.
The 6-4, 233-pound forward also showed his physical side when he dealt a crushing blow behind the Wings’ goal on Niklas Kronwall, who later was learned to have injured himself on the play.
And he points out that Stalberg was a healthy scratch for both part of the Wild series and the first part of the Wings-Hawks series:
Stalberg could be headed out of town after reportedly getting into it with Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville about playing time, mainly on the power play, in their first-round series with the Minnesota Wild. Stalberg was benched for the first two games of the Western Conference semifinal series with the Wings.
Quenneville denied reports.
“Viktor knows the reasons why,” Quenneville said. “It has nothing to do with anything about our conversation. It was strictly nothing to do with that. At all. That situation wasn’t even addressed.”
Pleiness offers other UFA guesses...
Other possible players the Wings could target Mike Ribeiro, Pascal Dupuis, Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr, Michael Ryder, Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Nathan Horton, Mason Raymond, Ryane Clowe and David Clarkson.
Mike Ribeiro, Washington: He will be the highest-scoring player available (49 points in 48 games) if he doesn't re-sign with the Capitals. The creative, playmaking center gets under opponents' skin. But, he's 33 and won't come cheap.
David Clarkson, New Jersey: A big, tough, abrasive winger who fights and can score goals (15 this season). He shoots right-handed and could be an asset on the power play. He is 29 an will be in high demand.
Nathan Horton, Boston: There is a lot to like about him. He's big (6-2, 229), young (28), skates well, plays hard, shoots right and can finish. But, he's had concussion issues.
Pascal Dupuis, Pittsburgh: A hard-working, two-way winger with a strong all-around game. He's overshadowed on a team full of stars. He had the most goals this season (20) of any current player scheduled to be unrestricted.
Jaromir Jagr, Boston: This future Hall-of-Famer is 41, but it doesn't appear as if he's ready to retire. He had 15 goals and 35 points in 45 games. The Red Wings pursued him as a free agent in 2011 and again this past trade deadline. He seems to go where the money is.
Patrik Elias, New Jersey: The Red Wings made a huge pitch for this skilled center when he was free in 2006, but he re-signed with the Devils. He's 37 now, but coming off a productive season with 14 goals and 36 points.
Mason Raymond, Vancouver: He has tremendous speed and he's young (27). Seems to have an offensive upside, having scored a career-high 25 goals in 2009-10.
Michael Ryder, Montreal: A goal-scoring winger who shoots right. He has good hands, a good shot.
He adds Brenden Morrow to the mix, as well as Jarome Iginla, but he also points out--as we already know--that Morrow's like Cleary in terms of having hard miles on his body, and that Iginla didn't have the Wings on his acceptable list of trade destinations.
In the injury department, the Free Press's Helene St. James revealed some of the injuries the Wings' players sustained during the playoffs, and he confirmed them to Pleiness (and this list does not include Valtteri Filppula's high ankle sprain thanks to Andrew Shaw's slew-foot)...
– Daniel Cleary: He suffered a second-degree separation of the left shoulder and a fractured left finger in Game 5 against Anaheim on hit by Daniel Winnik.
– Niklas Kronwall: He hurt his right hand against Anaheim and then suffered injured right shoulder on a hit by Chicago’s Bryan Bickell in Game 5.
– Jimmy Howard: He suffered a pulled hamstring in the Anaheim series.
Had the Wings advanced they probably would have gotten defenseman Danny DeKeyser back from a broken right thumb he suffered in Game 2 against Anaheim.
DeKeyser, who had surgery on May 7, was set to get cleared on Tuesday and could have returned as early as Game 3 in the series.
Mikael Samuelsson's probable surgery included...
It looks like Mikael Samuelsson may need surgery to repair in injured pectoral muscle.
He suffered the injury on March 31 and missed the final 13 games of the regular season. Returning for Game 7 against Anaheim, he reinjured it again and didn’t play against Chicago.
“He just never healed, but he feels better every day,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “There’s a chance he may need surgery.”
As well as Khan:
Forward Daniel Cleary had a second-degree separation of his left shoulder and a fractured finger, the result of a hit from Anaheim's Daniel Winnik in Game 5 during the first round.
That didn't prevent Cleary from scoring four goals and picking up 10 points. Only Damien Brunner had more goals (five) and Henrik Zetterberg more points (12) among Red Wings.
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall hurt his right shoulder in Game 5 against Chicago, when he was slammed into the boards by Bryan Bickell. He had been playing with an injured right wrist suffered in the Anaheim series.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard was playing with a sore hamstring during the Anaheim series, which is why he left the ice early during morning skates and practices.
Holland also told Pleiness that the team still has faith that Darren Helm will recover from his back issues without having to undergo surgery:
“We’ve got to get him healthy for next season,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “It’s probably going to take half the year to get him up and running.”
Helm played just one game this season due to reoccurring back pain. He however won’t need surgery.
“He’s been to about four doctors and they say there is no structural damage,” Holland said. “The plan is to let him heal and have him ready for training camp. We need him healthy in September.
“In order to get him playing, doctors asked him to push through it,” Holland continued. “He tried that, felt good and then experienced pain. There’s no use for him to push through it anymore.”
In terms of the Wings players' reflections on their playoff run, the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash noted that Brendan Smith had to admit that the Wings couldn't withstand the Blackhawks' push-back in Games 5, 6 and 7 (I will let you read NHL.com's Corey Masisak's "5 reasons" why the Hawks beat the Wings on your own)...
‘‘I don’t know what you guys see. I just know that they’re a great team,’’ Smith said prior to the Hawks’ 2-1 overtime victory in Game 7 on Wednesday night. ‘‘When their backs are against the wall, they push even harder. It’s pretty impressive to see that. A lot of those skill guys actually got a little chippy and try to work a little bit harder and fought battles a little bit more.’’
But even Smith was surprised by what he saw in the playoffs — how the Blackhawks struggle to take advantage of momentum but turn it up a notch when the going gets tough. Just 20 minutes from elimination, the Hawks — who had scored two goals three games while falling behind 3-1 earlier in the series — scored three goals in an 8:52 span of the third period with their playoff lives on the line to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead.
That could be the ‘‘defining moment’’ Hawks coach Joel Quenneville was looking for. Just as Patrick Kane’s game-tying goal with 14 seconds left in regulation in Game 5 against the Nashville Predators sparked the run to the 2010 Stanley Cup, the recovery against the Red Wings — from down 3-1 in general and the third-period flurry in Game 6 in particular — seems like a launching point for a team that was the best in hockey in the regular season.
‘‘It’s impressive to see the competition level bump up that much more,’’ said Smith, a 24-year-old rookie. ‘‘I’ve been saying that, but every game it gets even higher. It’s something I can learn from. I’m a very competitive guy. [But] I think there’s still more for me to even compete at.
‘‘You see it out here. Some of these guys that [people] say aren’t competitive and their give-a-[bleep] meter is really low, you see them come out and play really tough. I don’t think I’ve seen guys like [Patrick] Kane and [Patrick] Sharp play as hard as I have other than this series. It’s pretty cool to see and cool to see their game evolve like that.’’
And the Wings had to lament their missed opportunites while speaking with the Edmonton Sun's Derek Van Diest...
“If you look at Game 1 and 5 in here (United Center), we didn’t play our best,” said Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall. “Other than that, we played some good hockey. We stuck to our game plan and in Game 6, we should have won that one. (Wednesday) was one of those games. Great goaltending at both ends and the puck went off me for the winning goal.”
Brent Seabrook scored 3:35 into overtime in Game 7 to finally put the Red Wings away.
Needing to win their last four games of the regular season just to get into the playoffs, the Red Wings had been battling for their lives for the past two months. They were able to extend their playoff streak to 22 years by getting in, then were rewarded by having to go up against the two best teams in the conference.
“It was a tight series, we played hard,” said Red Wings winger Daniel Cleary. “It was a great Game 7. Guys should be proud of themselves. I thought we played a good game, had a good third period. This is a good team we played. Guys should be proud and disappointed. We had a chance, three chances to close them out and we just didn’t get it done.”
Regardless, with the emergence of players such as Gustav Nyquist, Damien Brunner, Joakim Andersson, and the development of Howard as a high-end goaltender, the Red Wings have the pieces in place for continued success in the future. Although following a devastating loss, that was the last thing on their minds Wednesday night.
“That’s something that will settle in over these next few days,” said Kronwall. “Right now it’s just an empty feeling. There’s a lot of younger guys that made huge strides this year. Right now, it’s always tough when you lose in this spot. It’s just empty right now.”
But the Wings also felt that they played well overall--from the coach on out, as the Windsor Star's Bob Duff noted:
“I thought our guys played hard and really competed,” Babcock said. “I’ve said life is about maximizing what you got and I thought our group did that. I’d like to see a healthy (defenceman Danny) DeKeyser, a healthy (centre Darren) Helm if he’s playing again and we could be a way better team. We need to be better if we want to be in this position consistently and not just by working by being good enough to be in this position. We have some work to do to as a group this summer.”
Babcock drew parallels between this club and the Anaheim squad he guided to the 2003 Stanley Cup final.
“I coached a team in Anaheim that was a lot like this team,” Babcock said. “We weren’t projected to be very good, we missed the playoffs the year before and we got ourselves in and we kept getting better. That team was different, we had some veteran guys and probably some more veteran guys on the backend. It still gave you a chance with good goaltending, good team structure. We came here expecting to win just like we did every night. If we trusted ourselves and trusted our structure we thought we had a pretty good chance to win.”
Smith saw only good things in the future for the young Wings, six of whom saw their first playoff action this spring.
“It’s huge to see how well our team did,” Smith said. “How well we played just shows all the people who wrote us off and thought we wouldn’t even make the playoffs, let along make it this far and almost beat the No. 1 and No 2 seeds. It’s impressive to see how well our staff built us, how good they are and how many people they bring in. It’s great to see our young team do this well and we’re just going to build on it.”
Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji noted that the Wnigs had nothing but praise for their "new" captain..
In the playoffs, Zetterberg led the way with 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) in 14 hard-fought games with the Anaheim Ducks and Blackhawks. It was Zetterberg who scored the tying goal 26 seconds into the third period of Game 7 to give the Wings a chance. It was also Zetterberg who frustrated Chicago captain Jonathan Toews with his suffocating defense.
"He’s been a great leader for us all year," Howard said. "I can’t really say enough good things about the guy. He’s really a class act."
As well as some of their youngsters...
"If you give Gus [Nyquist] a chance he's going to make something happen, that's how good he is, how talented he is," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "He's proven that the last few months, he's taken his game and elevated it to the next level. That whole line had been good."
And as you might expect, Smith weighed on on himself:
"I got a lot of criticism and a lot of praise," the 24-year-old Smith said. "I got both spectrums. It was an interesting playoffs for myself. I think I grew up a lot and matured and learned how to put things behind me and just go out and try to play the task at hand."
In non-player player analysis, I will allow you to read Mitch Albom's ever-weird, "Right side of the brain vs. the left side of the brain Wings reflections" column on your own, so...
1. Amongst the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan's observations:
Sure, the Red Wings season is over, having lost a 2-1 overtime game to the Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. But, the Red Wings are …
* Moving into the Eastern Conference next season, re-establishing old rivalries;
* Stacked with a young roster that should only get better; and
* Led by a core of stars still in their prime.
"We could be a way better team," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We need to be better if we want to be in this position consistently, not just by working but by being good enough to be in this position. We have some work to do to as a group this summer."
Still, the loss Wednesday hurt.
"I'm at a loss for words; I'm more in shock more than anything," Red Wings defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "We battled really hard. It's tough to swallow now, but I couldn't be more proud of a bunch of guys."
1A. Kulfan also penned a slate of player grades-via-pictures, and they include the following:
Daniel Cleary: An unrestricted free agent, Cleary may have earned a job back with his gutty performance in the playoffs. Real character player. GRADE: B
Cory Emmerton: A dependable fourth-line player who can provide offense in that role. But with so many forwards, maybe Emmerton could be trade bait. GRADE: B-minus
Valtteri Filppula: The Red Wings were hoping Filppula could match the level of offensive production of a season ago, but it didn't happen. An unrestricted free agent, it's 50-50 whether he'll be back. GRADE: D
Brian Lashoff: Finished the season in Grand Rapids but showed considerable promise in the 31 games he played with the Red Wings. Has moved himself into the Red Wings' future plans. GRADE: C-plus.
COACHING STAFF: Mike Babcock, Tom Renney, Bill Peters - The regular season wasn't always smooth, but an avalanche of injuries were partly to blame. The special teams weren't always special. But to get this team to a Game 7 overtime against the regular season's best team (Chicago) in the second round of the playoffs was quite a job. And the future looks bright. GRADE: A-minus
2. The Detroit Free Press's Helene St. James believes that the Wings will mostly stand pat because their prospects and in-season free agent signing played so very well (and, via RedWingsFeed, she offered a Capgeek-esque Wings roster breakdown):
In addition to Nyquist and Andersson, two of the biggest positives, two of the biggest reasons why the direction looks so right for next season, are defenseman Danny DeKeyser and forward Darren Helm. DeKeyser plays way smarter than a 23-year-old old new to the NHL. His task in the off-season is to add bulk to a slender physique, but at any weight, he’s mobile and swift with the puck.
Helm was lost this season to a back injury, and his speed and energy was missed. The Wings are banking on Helm being their best addition of the summer. “It’s not a deep free-agent class this year,” Holland said. “The biggest thing that can happen for the Detroit Red Wings is a healthy Darren Helm.”
The summer market lost its two most high-profile prospective assets when Anaheim re-signed Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Maybe somebody attractive becomes available via compliance buyouts. Every team can use two to wipe salaries off their cap hit. The Wings might use one on Jordin Tootoo; he fought and injected energy the first 20-some games of the season, but Babcock stopped using Tootoo as others got healthy, and his future will be addressed this summer.
One guy who won’t be bought out: Johan Franzen. He might leave the team wanting some nights, but he’s consistently around a 30-goal scorer, and at that he’s a good price at $3.9 million.
Some of what happens in the off-season depends on Valtteri Filppula. He’s headed toward unrestricted free agency, and some team will offer him $5 million a year on a long-term deal. The Wings don’t want to, they don’t want to handcuff themselves in a diminishing salary-cap world to a guy who doesn’t deliver more regularly. This is where Andersson’s revelatory play helps — he’s more than capable of being a third-line center, so maybe Helm can be given a shot as a second-line center project, just in case Datsyuk doesn’t play beyond next season.
Otherwise, the focus is on re-signing the restricted free agents, which will happen, as well as unrestricted free agents Damien Brunner and Daniel Cleary.
3. And the Detroit News's Bob Wojnowski penned a superb "spirit of the thing" column...
The Red Wings definitely matched the Blackhawks effort but don't have as many impactful players, not as many scorers. This offseason, Holland must address the three Fs — Franzen, Filppula, free agents. Johan Franzen remains maddeningly inconsistent, but has a big contract and big numbers in the past. Valtteri Filppula, who suffered an ankle sprain in Game 7, is a free agent and still has tantalizing potential, but no way should the Red Wings overpay to keep him.
There are questions, but not as many as a year ago, when Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom retired and Brad Stuart left for San Jose. The greatest defenseman of a generation was gone, and when Detroit went hunting for help, it hit a wall. Free-agent targets Zach Parise and Ryan Suter went together to Minnesota and Holland was left with slim pickings.
There also were lingering questions about Howard's playoff steadiness, which he just answered in stellar fashion. Not that there were concerns, but Zetterberg's first season as captain was a resounding success. After years of Lidstrom's calm, Zetterberg's strong-willed nature created a more delicate dynamic with Babcock's hard-driven style. They worked through it, and both became even stronger leaders.
A lot of young guys gained a lot of playoff experience and should only get better, in theory. Suddenly, the Red Wings have real possibilities, from forwards Damien Brunner, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson, to defensemen Danny DeKeyser, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl. When DeKeyser returns from his broken thumb, and if Darren Helm ever returns from his back issues, the Red Wings will have legitimate depth.
The key is, they need more star depth, and perhaps it comes from one of the young guys. Nyquist and DeKeyser have the skill, and Brunner has the scoring touch (he led the team with five playoff goals). Smith, 24, is alternately stirring and sloppy, but his skating and aggressiveness make it worth the patience....
There aren't prime free-agents available, which again will test Holland's player development expertise. But at least the Red Wings are back to being fully relevant, and the surprising twist is, they weren't even gone that long.
4. As did...Michigan Radio's John U. Bacon? Oh, what the hell, why not:
[F]or hardcore hockey fans – and really, are there any other kind? – this series was a reward. Why? Because the Red Wings and Blackhawks are two of the NHL’s Original Six teams. What are those? Until 1967, the NHL consisted only of Boston and New York, Montreal and Toronto, and Detroit and Chicago. All six have great fans who understand how offsides works, and classic uniforms designed not by Disney focus groups working with computer graphics, but actual human beings working with sewing machines.
Whatever happened between Detroit and Chicago, it was going to be a playoff series to savor. But probably nobody expected the Red Wings to go up three games to one, with three chances to topple the top team in hockey.
And after that start, probably nobody expected the Red Wings to drop games five and six, either, to set up a winner-take-all game seven Wednesday night.
With the score tied, 1-1, the two teams went into a frenzy like no other sport can create. When two baseball teams head to the ninth inning, the game stalls with a parade of relief pitchers and pinch hitters. In football, the players start running out of bounds and intentionally throwing passes into the stands. And in basketball – the worst – we get time-outs, intentional fouls, and a free throw contest. The last two minutes can take 20.
But hockey is the only sport that speeds up as the game winds down. And that’s what happened Wednesday, with the teams battling for their lives. As Willy Wonka said, “The suspense is terrible. I hope it lasts.”
When the seventh game of a hockey playoff series goes into overtime, it’s as close to actual “sudden death” as sports can get. When you’re losing by a few goals, you know what’s coming. But in overtime, there’s no preparing for the sudden ecstacy – or agony.
And that’s why, when Chicago’s Brent Seabrook fired a lucky wrist shot off a skate and into the net, it unleashed a torrent of endorphins in the heads of a few million Chicago fans – and a flood of equally powerful chemicals, going the other direction, in the brains of Red Wing backers.
But the worst part isn’t losing. It’s that one of the best series in recent memory is over -- and now we have to watch the NBA playoffs. Or mow our lawns – which is more exciting.
In the multimedia department, if you wish to listen to the Detroit Free Press's Evil Drew Sharp speak to the Huge Show's Bill Simonson about the Wings (starting at the 3:15 mark), blaming Jimmy Howard for the loss and then moving on to other sports, or Flyers forward Mike Knuble weigh in on the Wings and the playoffs well, their embed players are fine and dandy;
For whatever reason, the Red Wings' YouTube channel chose to post what must have been in-game "Ask a Wing" questions for Darren Helm (Off-day plans? And do you have any "secret talents?"), Johan Franzen (Best roommate?), Patrick Eaves (Your practice routine?), Drew Miller (Why #20?), Brendan Smith (How is the NHL different from the AHL?), Justin Abdelkader (Wings idol? Do you see signs in the stands?) and Jimmy Howard (What do you enjoy about being a goalie? And are you indeed left-handed? [he is]). More than half of the videos just say, "AT&T Ask a Wing," so I don't want to slow down your browsers for commercials' sakes;
For the record, Buzzfeed suggests that Red Wings fans are the NHL's best;
And finally, this is a day late, but it's where I want to finish this entry: SI's Allan Muir noted the following in his Wings-Hawks Game 7 analysis...
Two beautiful moments after it was all over. The first saw Howard skate over to Kronwall, who was down on one knee and obviously blaming himself for the winning goal, and wrap his arm around the defender. We may never know what was said, but the gesture spoke volumes. Then there was Zetterberg, the ultimate sportsman as he went through the handshake line. Some guys offer up a pat and a “good game.” Not Zetterberg. Every Blackhawk got a genuine handshake and several words of congratulations from the captain, who carried the mantle of leadership even after the bitter end.
We All Bleed Red provides us with the first moment (and I will admit that I did a spit take when Sportsnet's Brad May and John Shannon utterly ridiculously completely blamed Kronwall for losing the game, ignoring David Bolland's boarding of Gustav Nyquist. Ditto for TSN's Mike Johnson and Darren Dreger lamenting the Walkom call on one hand and praising the hell out of the refs for not calling Bolland though they felt that it, "Would likely be a penalty in other parts of games or series," as Johnson put it, calling it, "Poetic justice," and Dreger saying, "That IS a penalty, if it's not in overtime, if it's not for what we're about to see in regulation")...
And here's the handshake line, one more time:
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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.