The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/01/14 at 02:09 AM ET
Beware: An auto-play highlight clip lurks within: Ye Olde Stomach-slash-Sinus virus hit me again on Wednesday, so I apparently slept through some controversy.
With the vast majority of the Wings' locker room clean-out day comments having already been made, the Detroit News's John Niyo's column suggesting that Mike Babcock might "have an out," as an unrestricted free agent-coach-to-be.
On Wednesday afternoon, Detroit Sports 105.1 FM's Matt Dery spoke with Yahoo Sports' Nicholas J. Cotsonika about Babcock and the Wings' offseason changes to come...
As something of a set-up for this:
The Free Press's Evil Drew Sharp also focused on Babcock's future this morning...
Mike Babcock is playing this smart, letting everyone know that he’s perfectly comfortable without a contract extension beyond next summer.
That inevitably will ignite that special “if you’re not for us, you’re against us” Detroit parochialism. But Babcock would be crazy to sign a new deal with the Red Wings now because, like everybody else, he can’t be sure what direction the Wings are headed following another abbreviated playoff spring.
It’s basically a message to general manager Ken Holland: Show me what you’ve got this summer.
Are they bold? Or are they boring?
And then Sharp went doofy...
This could prove to be a very interesting summer in the NHL, with early rumblings that two superstars could be on the trading block — Nashville’s Shea Weber and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin.
Nashville general manager David Poile told the Tennessean recently that he has no interest in trading the Predators’ captain, despite Weber’s monstrously front-loaded 14-year contract, which pays him $42 million in salary and bonuses over the next four years.
Weber would fit perfectly with the Wings — a bruising yet skilled, right-handed-shooting No. 1 defenseman with one of the harder shots in the game. That would look nice on the power play, wouldn’t it?
Weber would also cost the Wings an arm, leg, kidney, heart, the barn and all the horses in it. It's not going to happen, and Ovechkin would be equally expensive for something of a post-Anna Kournikova Sergei Fedorov (i.e. not as good as a player whose priorities were on the ice prior to being a rock star).
My "gut" tells me that Matt Niskanen won't even make the free agent marketplace, so I believe that the Wings will end up either signing an aging-but-relatively-effective Dan Boyle, or that they'll trade for Alex Edler at a severely discounted price (getting Christian Ehrhoff would be complicated due to the in-division dynamics), and while the Wings will have oodles of cap space, I don't believe that they'll go after any forwards with Mitchell Callahan and Landon Ferraro out of waiver options (the same is true for Adam Almquist, but the team seems to have soured on him).
Ken Holland did make an appearance on WDFN's Matt Sheppard show--for 20 minutes...And his slightly angry standoffishness is rare to hear, and perhaps a little refreshing. I don't agree with every aspect of Holland's philosophy, but he's realized that this spring's playoff failures mean that he has to back it up with offseason moves:
In terms of this morning's topics of note:
"It's been really fun, a great group of guys and I see a lot of potential here so yeah, I can see it," Gustavsson said Tuesday after the Red Wings cleaned out their lockers following a first-round playoff loss to the Boston Bruins. "I like it here. If they want me, at that point we would talk about what they want, terms and all that. But like I said, I like it here. I could absolutely see myself playing here for 10-15 more years because I had a lot of fun and as I said, a great group and a really good organization."
As well as his desire to eventually be an NHL starter:
"Obviously I think every athlete wants to be as good as they can be and reach as high as they can," he said. "But that being said, it's not like I can go out on the open market and demand a starting role somewhere because there are a lot of good goalies and you gotta compete to get to that point. I'm just going to try to go where I can feel like I can take that next step. It could be here and if so, that's great. And if nothing happens here then you look at other stuff."
The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness also spoke with Gustavsson about the numerous injuries he's battled over the past two seasons:
“I mean it’s been a lot of injuries, you don’t want to have those for yourself and for your team,” Gustavsson said Tuesday during the Wings’ locker cleanout at Joe Louis Arena. “You want to be out there to be able to be part of the team every day, every day of the season so of course that sets me back. I’m going to keep working on it to prevent injuries like that.”
Gustavsson has missed a total of 23 games on five separate occasions with three different types of injuries last season....
“I felt like I found a way that was working for me at the end of the season so hopefully I can build on that,” Gustavsson said. “The groin felt really good for the second part of the season for the most part so that’s something I’m going to keep working on and that’s something I need for myself too because I want to be playing at a high level for a long time and I want to try to take the next step and that’s part of taking the next step.”
Pleiness noted that Holland was ambivalent about Gustavsson's future...
“We might,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said when asked if the team will need to search for a backup goalie next season. “We believe we have a 60-game No. 1 goalie. Is Petr Mrazek, as a 22-year-old, better off playing 15-18 games in the NHL or is he better off playing 65 games in the AHL for one more year? That’s the internal conversation we’ve got to have.”
Mrazek has played in 11 regular season games in parts of of two years in Detroit going 3-5-0 with a 1.74 GAA and a save percentage of .927. Two of his wins were shutouts.
And Holland made a very, very wise comment about Wings fans' desire to see everybody else:
“Everybody is enamored with (Anthony) Mantha and Mrazek and the people that aren’t here,” Holland said. “Well, the people that are here now, we were enamored with those people three years ago. Now they’re here and (people) want to know who’s next. It’s human nature. That’s why I try to keep (prospects) out of here as long as possible because there’s big expectations when you play in the NHL, there’s passion, there’s emotion and when a player doesn’t live up to those expectations and that hope, people get down on them real fast.”
Again, as the Windsor Star's Bob Duff noted, while Babcock's a big Gustavsson fan, Mrazek's...Almost ready?
“We believe we’ve got a 60-game No. 1 goalie,” Detroit GM Ken Holland said of Howard. “Is Petr Mrazek, as a 22-year-old, better off playing 15-18 games in the NHL or is he better off playing 65 games in the AHL for one more year? That’s the internal conversation we’ve got to have.”
For the record, Gustavsson was upset about one thing and only one thing on Wednesday: He told Expressen's Gunnar Nordstrom that Team Sweden coach Par Marts didn't even inform him that he wasn't going to be part of Sweden's World Championship team.
According to Gustavsson, he simply received an email press release the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation stating the team's goaltending situation, and while he's healthy and wants to play alongside Gustav Nyquist in Minsk, Belarus, he's been snubbed.
Regarding the World Championships, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose noted the Wings' participants...
The 17-day tournament in Minsk, Belarus begins May 9.
[Justin] Abdelkader and [Danny] DeKeyser will be joined in Minsk by Red Wings teammates Jakub Kindl (Czech Republic), Tomas Tatar (Slovakia) and Gustav Nyquist (Sweden). Both Tatar and Nyquist played in the Sochi Olympics in February.
At least five other Red Wings were asked to play in the two-week tourney, but they declined offers for various reasons, including forward Tomas Jurco, who represented Slovakia at the Sochi Games, but the Red Wings decided to send him to Grand Rapids where he’ll help the Griffins defend their 2013 Calder Cup championship in the AHL playoffs.
Team USA asked Wings goalie Jimmy Howard to join the roster but his wife is expecting the couple’s second child soon. The same went for defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who turned down Sweden because of the recent birth of his son Douglas. And Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, who are overcoming injuries, will not play in Belarus.
Johan Franzen's considering an offer from Team Sweden, but he and the Mrs. welcomed their second child recently...
Two groups of eight teams each will compete in a round-robin format among their group with the top four teams from each advancing to quarterfinals. NBC Sports Network will televise and stream all USA games beginning with the May 9 opener against the host team, Belarus, at 1:45 p.m. EDT.
The gold medal game is May 25, the same day that Red Wings legends Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom will be inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Minsk.
MLive's Ansar Khan also took note of the Worlds' Detroit factor...
DeKeyser, 24, had four goals, 19 assists in 65 games during his rookie season. He averaged 21:38 in ice time and led the team’s defensemen with a plus-10 rating. He called it “a learning experience.”
“Just learned that an 82-game schedule is a grind,” DeKeyser said. “I didn’t even play 82 games and it was still a grind, so just have to be ready to play a lot, that many games next year.”
The playoff series was a struggle for Nyquist and Tatar, neither of whom registered a point after a breakout regular season. Nyquist (48 points) led the team with 28 goals and Tatar (39 points) was second with 19.
“Obviously, it (playoffs) is a different game," Tatar said. "Nobody did good in the series. It didn’t matter if you were a young guy or a veteran”
Jimmy Howard, who was on the U.S. Olympic team, has a good reason for not committing.
"My wife is eight months pregnant so she really doesn’t want me to be over in Belarus just in case anything happens," Howard said. "I’ll be sticking around here for a while."
As did the Free Press's Helene St. James, who focused on the Wings' American representatives:
DeKeyser, 24, is coming off of a very strong rookie NHL season that saw him produce 23 points in 65 games, along with a plus-10 rating.
Coach Mike Babcock said he thought DeKeyser "faded a bit in the playoffs, but I thought he was still strong." Babcock has been a vocal fan of DeKeyser since the defenseman joined the Wings out of Western Michigan a year ago, picking the Wings as his destination after being pursued by every team in the NHL. DeKeyser got into the lineup within days of practicing and looked at home thanks to his rangy skating and headsy play. He suffered a broken hand two games into the playoffs and ended up finishing the 2013 season helping Grand Rapids to the Calder Cup championship.
DeKeyser couldn't be sent to the Griffins this season without clearing waivers, so instead, he'll go compete against tons of other young NHL talent at worlds.
In the injury department, I had a bad feeling that Stephen Weiss was trying to "play through" his groin issues as he felt pressure to justify his big contract with the Wings, and in this instance, being "proved right" was an awful feeling.
Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji took note of some particularly revelatory locker room clean-out-day comments from Weiss:
"Coming down for the first game of the year and thinking, 'How are you going to get through the game?' is probably not the right way to start," Weiss said Tuesday. "It's not my first year. I've been around a bit and should be a little bit smarter, and should have spoken up earlier. Maybe some of this could have been avoided."
Weiss, 31, was limited to 26 games this past season and underwent surgery in Philadelphia on Dec. 23.
Although Weiss expected to be able to return after the Olympic break, he was still experiencing pain and eventually was shut down for the rest of the season.
"It's been a big disappointment, but I don't know how much I'd change -- other than being a little smarter in the summer and maybe a little smarter at the start of the season, not trying to play through these types of things as much as I did," Weiss said. "Even though it was my first year (with the Wings) and I wanted to do things the right way, maybe taking a little time off at the start of the season would have done me better than pushing through and trying to be a little bit of a hero that way."
As you know, Weiss had a second surgery to release scar tissue--a surgery performed by Dr. William Meyers, the Wings' go-to groin specialist--and Wakiji reports that Weiss will spend the offseason training with Gary Roberts in Toronto. Roberts has earned a reputation as a superb trainer for Toronto-area players.
What does Holland think about Weiss's future?
"He's basically played a half a year the last two years," Holland said. "It's hard to know where he's going to be in September. That small surgery that was performed last week, was that the answer to what ails him? Is he able to have a June, July and August where he's able to hit the gym and come to camp healthy, fit and ready to go? Or are we going to wake up in early June and he's where he was a month ago, and we're going to continue to be looking for answers as to why he isn't getting healthy? I don't have an answer for you. I thought he'd be healthy six weeks ago."
The, "Players need to have a big summer and get healthy" theme also resonated through coach Babcock's comments, as Michigan Hockey's Stefan Kubus noted...
“A big summer for our guys is absolutely critical,” Babcock said. “We’ve had so many injuries this year, so if you’ve been an injured player for a long period of time – if you’re Darren Helm, Franzen, especially if you’re Z whose had surgery, if you’re Pav and you’re going to have surgery – conditioning is absolutely critical.”
And Kubus' column steers us toward the, "What's next?" topic. Babcock suggested that the Wings must improve their defense...
“Right-handed shots. (Alexey) Marchenko and (Ryan) Sproul are right-hand shots that really can move the puck and play well… (Brian) Lashoff played way more than we anticipated. The growth of (Danny) DeKeyser… I thought he was still strong. The growth of (Brendan) Smith, obviously (Niklas) Kronwall, we missed (Jonathan Ericsson) Big E, just because of his size. He needs to get healthy, get in shape and get ready to go, as well.”
While he said an upgrade on the back-end is necessary, the bench boss also believes that free agency may not be the path to take this summer. Because the team has the benefit of developing and growing from within the organization via drafted prospects, Babcock said the team will surely be a much younger one overall next season.
“I think a lot of that growth can be from within. We’ll spend some time here in Grand Rapids now just to watch and see how good our young guys on the back end are. We feel we can improve our back end from within, and that’s critical. We’ve got some good right hand shots down there that have a lot of skill.
“I think we’ve got lots of pieces here. We’re going to be way younger than you’re used to. I think our veteran leadership is going to be Pav, Z and Kronner and then we’re going to end up with a lot of kids on this team. I’m not certain going outside, unless you can get exactly what you’re looking for, is worth it when we’ve got so much right here within. We think we can be a way better team just because of the growth right within our organization.”
Babcock and Holland continued while speaking with CBS Detroit's Ashley Dunkak...
“I think there’s this perception that July 1st free agents, there’s this hockey store, there’s this fantasy hockey league that I’m running, or playing in, that you can go get superstars,” Holland said. “Those days are over. That was a bit of the league prior to 2005. Those days are over.”
Detroit could trade away some of its prospects, of course, but Holland seems reluctant to do that.
“We’ll make a trade, but the trade’s got to make sense,” Holland said. “There’s no use me trying to trade three of these young players for one player, and you wake up in two years and those three players are going to be real players. Maybe these younger players are better than we think.”
And both parties addressed the team's goaltending...
The bottom line is we need good goaltending, like every team in the league needs good goaltending, and so the challenge for him is to really compete off-season-wise,” Babcock said. “[Howard]’s 29 or 30 now, and so you got to work harder the older you get, in the offseason, to be that much fitter to improve your game.
“We need him to be back better than ever,” Babcock added later. “Whether Mrazek plays here or whether [backup Jonas] Gustavsson plays here – Gus got half our wins this year, so the bottom line is if you’re going to be playing every day, you’ve got to earn the right to play every day. And if you’re going to be a tandem, then that’s what happens. The other guy’s got to earn the right to have a half. So we’ll see what happens.”
With Holland adding this regarding a certain Anthony Mantha:
The prospect whom fans most want to see might be 19-year-old Anthony Mantha. The Red Wings drafted him 20th overall in 2013, following a season in which he scored 50 goals and racked up 39 assists in 67 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. While Holland floated the possibility of Mantha coming to Detroit, the general manager also emphasized that Mantha has to prove he deserves the spot more than another player.
“If Anthony Mantha is ready to play in the National Hockey League next year and he beats somebody out, he’ll play in the National Hockey League,” Holland said. “But if he can’t beat anybody out, we’re not just going to put him on the team because he had a great junior career. I don’t believe in entitlement. I don’t believe in handing people jobs. I believe you come in and you take somebody’s job.”
WDIV's David Bartkowiak Jr. discussed some of the Wings' players who will provide "internal" improvement, as well as a pair of players who are on the outs...
Nyquist, Jurco, Sheahan and Tatar will be looked to for offensive production. DeKeyser has the potential to a be a top-two defenseman, as does Smith. Andersson and Glendening are both strong two-way forwards who can kill penalties.
Those are just the guys we've seen actually play a lot with the Red Wings this year. Holland and Babcock seem excited about even more talent still with the Griffins.
"Ryan Sproul had a tremendous rookie year in the (AHL). He had three points in a playoff game the other night in Abbotsford," said Holland.
He talked about a lot of young defenseman he said he likes, especially the ones with right-handed shots. In fact, both the GM and coach made an emphasis for more right-handed shots.
"(Alexei Marchenko) and Sproul are right-hand shots that really can move the puck and play well. Are they guys that can fit in? That can help us? We'll end up making some changes on the back there, for sure," said Babcock.
Meaning, the future of Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff in Red Wings sweaters is unclear -- at least one of them might be gone by next season.
And the Hockey News's Lyle Richardson posited the following in his Wings off-season "rumor round-up":
The Wings are in the midst of a transition period, cycling in younger talent to replace aging players. Holland could use some of his youth (Jakub Kindl and Joakim Andersson) as trade bait. Given their cap space and history of keeping pace with a rising cap ceiling, he will likely go the free agent route to address his needs.
The Detroit News's Gregg Krupa also added some food for thought in a Tuesday night column:
The Red Wings are likely two years into a three- to five-year rebuilding process en route to playing in the Eastern Conference finals, let alone for a Stanley Cup.
As they start preparing for next season by traveling to Grand Rapids to watch the Griffins in the AHL playoffs, Holland and Babcock will formulate a plan. Expect it to involve quite a bit more of the same.
While it may continue to challenge the patience of some fans fretting about one playoff series victory in three seasons, the Red Wings will continue to emphasize development from within.
Consider it nearly certain we will see Ryan Sproul, 21, a second-round pick in 2011, and Alexey Marchenko, 22, a selection in the seventh round, skating for the Red Wings regularly on defense as soon as the start of the season.
Consider it less likely, although not impossible, a free-agent, puck-moving blue liner like Joni Pitkanen of the Hurricanes, or more preferably, Matt Niskanen of the Penguins, will arrive, or that the Red Wings will acquire someone like Keith Yandle of the Coyotes or Victor Hedman from the Lightning via trade.
Hedman's not going anywhere, Yandle would cost a mint, and Pitkanen is a superb 30-year-old defenseman, but he's spent far too much of the past two seasons sustaining injuries.
“Now, is there a player or two prior to free agency, is there a trade or two as we head toward the NHL draft that we can make that can make us better?” Holland said. “We’ll explore.”
And that is where the finagle room comes in. Two other defensive prospects, Xavier Ouellet, 20, a second-round pick in 2011, and Mattias Backman, 21, selected in the fifth round the same year, also are on the way, and Holland and the professional scouts begin to see an inventory of interchangeable parts.
“You know, it takes two to make a deal,” Holland said. “But we’ve got lots of kids.”
The Wings' three leaders remain Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall, however, and as Michigan Hockey's Kubus noted, Datsyuk isn't satisfied with the team's results over the past five seasons, just like his coach, general manager and captain:
The 35-year-old Datsyuk is set to undergo an MRI and further testing later this week to determine whether or not he need surgery to repair his right knee. It was evident he didn’t have the jump that we’re used to seeing due to said injury, but despite that, he said the team just flat-out needs to be better, as well.
“We need rest to make sure energy fine and start working again,” Datsyuk said. “We need to not make it 24 playoffs; we need to win the Cup.”
Datsyuk enters the first year of his new, three-year deal in 2014-15, where his cap hit rises from $6.7 million to $7.5 million. In 45 regular season games this year, the Magic Man tallied 37 points and was one of the lone bright spots for Detroit in the playoffs, recording three goals and five points in the five-game series.
Head coach Mike Babcock said his Russian star centerman will continue to be part of what will be an especially important leadership core for an unusually young Red Wings team next season. He echoed how important it was for a player like Datsyuk to have a big summer in terms of recovery and preparation.
“We’ve had so many injuries this year, so if you’ve been an injured player for a long period of time – if you’re Darren Helm, Franzen, especially if you’re Z whose had surgery, if you’re Pav and you’re going to have surgery – conditioning is absolutely critical,” Babcock said.
In terms of the Red Wings' draft options, Michael Petrella penned an exhaustive take on the Wings' potential strategy and possible first-round picks for DetroitHockey.net. I'm not in "draft mode" yet, but Petrella's article is a fantastic primer.
NHL.com's already conducted a few mock drafts (as TMR reader Ian Fleming Dunham pointed out on Twitter) and released its set of draft rankings, and I'm a fan of Halifax Mooseheads winger Nikolaj Ehlers.
The Wings have tapped the QMJHL pretty heavily over the past couple of seasons, so my gut feeling is that they'll go back to the Q for one more first round, but one never knows, and I try not to get attached to draft prospects as there's a 29-out-of-30 chance that other teams will pick 'em.
Also of Red Wings-related note: in the business department, MLive's David Muller reported that the M-1 Rail line that will connect downtown with mid-town will be completed within two years.
The Ilitches are project-backers, and the Detroit Free Press's JC Reindl reports that the MotorCity Casino is carrying a boatload of debt, which may explain why they didn't leverage its revenues to help build the Wings' follow-on rink (which is supposed to be built by the start of the 2015-2016 season);
And I wish that Pavel Datsyuk was healthy enough to prove the Canadian Press's Stephen Whyno's assertion that Patrice Bergeron is the NHL's best all-round player wrong:
Bergeron doesn’t just help Bruins players. Red Wings centre Riley Sheahan, who was a key piece of their run to the playoffs, said he studies Bergeron’s game to improve his own.
Even players at other positions appreciate what Bergeron brings to the ice. Detroit defenceman Brendan Smith has noticed Bergeron’s game even more now that brother Reilly is his teammate in Boston.
“He reminds me of (Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg) because he’s so good defensively, he’s so good offensively,” Smith said. “He’s above the play. He makes good decisions. He’s a second quick. He’s strong on the puck. He makes good reads. You go through the list about a player like Bergeron.”
I've got an appointment that's going to keep me away from the computer during Babcock's interview today, but we'll get it up as soon as possible after I get home around 2:30.
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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.