The Malik Report
by George Malik on 08/17/13 at 04:26 AM ET
NHL.com's "30 in 30" slate of team previews shifts its focus to the Red Wings today, offering a quintet of articles discussing the Red Wings' present status as moving to the Eastern Conference, its roster changes, questions that the team faces, the team's "X-Factor" and possible future contributors.
EJ Hradek's video discussion of the state-of-the-Wings going into the 2013-2014 season serves as something of an introduction to the proceedings (and yes, this was posted a few days ago):
NHL.com's David Kalan was tasked with penning the "here's how things stand" article--and the vast majority of the Wings' "30 in 30" slate--and after accounting for the Wings' geographic and personnel changes, he concludes with the following (these articles are quite long, and they're more than worth reading in their entirety):
[M]uch of the gang is still here. Center Pavel Datsyuk, who at 35 led the team in scoring last season with 49 points in 47 games, signed a three-year extension this offseason, while captain Henrik Zetterberg and his 48 points in 46 games will still be on Datsyuk's wing on the top line. Johan Franzen, who had arguably the best all-round season among Detroit's forwards after Datsyuk, should bring his steady production at both ends of the ice, and the Wings could also get a boost from the return of a healthy Darren Helm, who is expected to center the third line after missing all but one game last season due to a back injury.
On the back end, [Niklas] Kronwall remains the elder statesman for a crop of blueliners that has a strong mix of youth and experience. Jimmy Howard, who signed a $31.8 million extension this offseason, should again be among the League's top goaltenders.
The Wings spent much of last season lingering around the eighth spot in the West, an unfamiliar place for the franchise with the longest current run of postseason appearances in the League, which now stands at 22 seasons. Much of that could be chalked up to a weaker offense than normal -- Detroit was tied with Vancouver for 19th in the League in goals last season -- which the team expects to be fixed by its offseason additions.
Despite their anemic scoring, however, once the Red Wings solidified themselves in the top eight, they proved they still belonged with an impressive first-round upset of the Anaheim Ducks and a near upset of the eventual-champion Blackhawks.
Regardless of their new conference, with the pieces the Red Wings have in place for next season, a 23rd consecutive playoff berth should be in the offing, even if it takes Detroit some time to adapt to its new lineup and division. And given the talent on the roster, there's no reason to think the team can't make a run at its fifth Stanley Cup championship in the last 18 years.
In the Motor City, it would seem the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Corey Masisak discusses the additions of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss, the departures of Valtteri Filppula, Damien Brunner, Daniel Cleary and Ian White (as well as the Carlo Colaiacovo buy-out), and he then cobbles together a prospective line-up (with some fantasy hockey notes serving as a sidebar story)...
Justin Abdelkader - Pavel Datsyuk - Henrik Zetterberg
Gustav Nyquist - Stephen Weiss - Daniel Alfredsson
Johan Franzen - Darren Helm - Tomas Tatar
Drew Miller - Joakim Andersson - Todd Bertuzzi
Mikael Samuelsson - Jordin Tootoo
Niklas Kronwall - Jonathan Ericsson
Jakub Kindl - Danny DeKeyser
Brendan Smith - Kyle Quincey
NOTES: Nyquist looked like a potential star in the playoffs, so it is possible he passes veteran Franzen on the depth chart. Coach Mike Babcock also might look for a little more distribution of speed among the top three lines by splitting up the old guys (Franzen and Alfredsson).
Babcock liked Abdelkader on the top line with the two superstars, and the addition of Weiss allows the coach to continue to play them together. Tatar is one of several young players who could squeeze into a crowded forward corps; any of the Red Wings' deep crop of prospects (Tomas Jurco, Calle Jarnkrok, Teemu Pulkkinen, Martin Frk, Riley Sheahan) could pop up in that spot at camp.
Helm missed most of last season with a back injury, and his availability at the start of this season is in question. If he needs more time, Andersson will not end up as the best fourth-line center in the League, but rather back in the No. 3 spot where he was in Helm's absence. Cory Emmerton could be the odd man out if a trade isn't made, but if Helm isn't ready he slots in as the No. 4 center.
Kronwall settled in as the team's first No. 1 defenseman not named Nicklas Lidstrom in a generation and played quite well. Babcock, typically tough on young players, fell hard for DeKeyser and quickly gave him important minutes before a broken thumb derailed his postseason. If Smith and Kindl take another step forward in their development, this group will be sneaky good in 2013-14.
Gustavsson was shaky at times behind Howard, and prospect Petr Mrazek is getting close to being ready for a real chance in the NHL.
Kalan asks six questions the 2013-2014 season Wings face, and I think numbers five and six are most pertinent:
5. Is Detroit's window finally closing? -- Since the Red Wings reached the 1995 Stanley Cup Final, their first in 29 years, they have not gone more than six years without winning a championship. With their last title coming in 2008, they would appear due in 2014, but given Detroit's struggles for most of last season, perhaps it's just the opposite.
The Red Wings were outside the top eight in the Western Conference for significant stretches last season and speculation ran rampant that their League-best run of playoff appearances was about to end. Eventually, Detroit recovered and wrapped up the seventh seed before nearly advancing to the conference finals, but there is no denying the team is getting older. Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Mikael Samuelsson, Henrik Zetterberg, Todd Bertuzzi and Niklas Kronwall are all huge parts of the Red Wings' core, and all of them are over 30 years old. Add Weiss, 30, and Alfredsson, 40, to the mix of elder statesmen, and Jimmy Howard, Jonathan Ericsson and Drew Miller will all join them in the 30-plus club during the season.
Being 30 years old isn't a death sentence for your career, of course -- many of these players are still in their primes -- but it does mean Detroit is aging and even if it doesn't come this season, the team will need to start the youth movement soon if it doesn't want a prolonged rebuild in its future. As the season wears on, the grind could have an impact on Detroit's aging roster, and that could reveal whether the Red Wings have one more Cup run in them, or if it's time to turn the page on the current era.
6. Can the Red Wings put last season's postseason defeat in the rearview mirror? -- With the Red Wings' move to the Eastern Conference, their longtime rivalry with the Chicago Blackhawks hasn't exactly come to an end, but it has certainly been muted to some extent. The teams will not play nearly as often, nor can they meet in the postseason unless each team reaches the Stanley Cup Final. That mean's last season's second-round playoff meeting might be the denouement of one of the great rivalries in North American sports -- and that might leave a sour taste in Detroit's mouth.
Most will remember Chicago's shocking rally in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final as its signature championship moment, but were it not for a stunning comeback against Detroit in the Western Conference Semifinals, that would never have come to pass and the Wings would have been back in the NHL's final four. But after taking a 3-1 lead in the series, Detroit watched the Blackhawks reel off three straight wins, including an overtime victory in Game 7.
Such a debilitating loss can linger into the next season. Teams that take a 3-1 lead in a postseason series lose less than 10 percent of the time, and of the 25 teams to suffer that fate, just three (the 1942 Red Wings, the 1989 Edmonton Oilers and the 2010 Boston Bruins) rebounded to win the Stanley Cup a year later. If these Red Wings want to become the fourth, they'll need a short memory.
Kalan also examines the Wings' "X Factor"--Jimmy Howard--and riffs off of Howard's 21 wins, 2.13 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and his 5-year, $31.75 million contract extension (that's a cap hit of $5.29 million per season), wondering whether Howard can give the Wings "stability in the crease" after a season in which the team danced all over line separating playoff-qualifying teams from those that book tee times:
As his numbers reveal, Howard's play was not the problem. Detroit struggled to score relative to other years, a fact the team acknowledged with its offseason signings of forwards Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson. The Red Wings averaged 2.54 goals per game last season, the second straight year in which their scoring has declined and by far their lowest output since Howard became the starter.
Those kinds of deficiencies make solid play at the back end imperative, and with the days of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski a thing of the past, the Red Wings are thinner and younger on the blue line than they've been in years. All of this spells out how important it is for Howard to continue his stellar play from last season and provide the Red Wings the stability they've lacked in net throughout their run.
Detroit is expecting Weiss and Alfredsson, or perhaps emerging Gustav Nyquist, to address its offensive issues, but if those additions don't boost scoring as expected, Howard’s performance will ultimately determine the Red Wings’ fate.
The Red Wings do have firepower to spare in their top six and are talented enough to compete for the Atlantic Division crown. Are they a team that can roll four lines for seven games against prohibitive Cup favorites, the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins or Los Angeles Kings? Should the answer come in the negative, a top-flight goalie who can steal games or maybe even a playoff series is a necessity.
Howard showed last season he can be that type of goaltender. In Games 3 and 4 of Detroit's Western Conference Semifinal series against Chicago, he stopped 67 of 68 shots to put the Presidents' Trophy winners, who had swept Detroit in the regular season, on the brink of elimination.
Even as the Red Wings' season ended in an overtime loss in Game 7, Howard was sharp, stopping 33 of 35 shots. If the Red Wings reach the late stages of the playoffs this season, the pressure will be on him to do it again.
They will only go as far as Howard takes them.
And Kalan wraps things up by offering a "top ten" prospect list, including several players who may see some ice time in Detroit as injury replacements and/or "cup of coffee" call-ups (and I'm not sure if Danny DeKeyser counts as a "top prospect" given that he's going to play regularly):
2. Calle Jarnkrok, C: Jarnkrok has limited experience playing in North America, having spent nine games with the Griffins last spring. But in four seasons with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League, he has been a solid playmaker whose numbers have improved each season. At 6-foot and 176 pounds, most scouts believe Jarnkrok will need to fill out and add more muscle to withstand the rigors of the NHL, but his offensive skills -- most notably his superb puck-handling ability -- and his advanced hockey sense are evident.
A second-round pick (No. 51) in the 2010 NHL Draft, Jarnkrok is expected to compete for a roster spot this fall and will end up in Grand Rapids if he does not make the big club, but his future is considered bright. Former Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who scouted Jarnkrok in Sweden, is one of many who have praised the youngster's potential, noting similarities to current captain Henrik Zetterberg. While many project Jarnkrok to eventually be a top-six forward in the NHL, some believe he is good enough to one day be the Red Wings' top-line center.
4. Tomas Jurco, RW: The Red Wings may have prospects with more offensive potential than Jurco, but few can match the 20-year-old for flash -- he's become familiar to hockey fans due to his numerous YouTube videos of puck-handling tricks, and he has offensive skills on the ice to match. After three impressive seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, the second-round pick (No. 35) in 2011 took some time to adapt to playing with Grand Rapids in 2012-13, tallying 28 points in 74 games in his first pro season. But he was much more prolific during the Griffins' Calder Cup run, scoring eight goals and finishing with 14 points in 24 playoff games.
Jurco may have scored the biggest goal of the season for Grand Rapids when he got the winner late in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He will probably be in Grand Rapids again this season, but his dynamic offensive skills could earn him a call to Detroit at some point.
7. Martin Frk, RW: The Czech Republic native had a brilliant 2012-13 season with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in which he tallied 84 points in 56 games and has the look of a future NHL power forward. Frk, who turns 20 in October, impressed at the Red Wings' annual development camp in Traverse City in July -- noteworthy because he admitted being tired after a long season with Halifax. A second-round pick (No. 49) in 2012, Frk was a pivotal piece of the 2013 Memorial Cup champions, following up his excellent regular season with 13 goals and 20 assists in 17 playoff games. In addition to his offensive skills, he has a big body at 6-foot, 203 pounds, which could make him difficult to defend in front of the net once he reaches the NHL.
8. Xavier Ouellet, D: Ouellet won't be the biggest defenseman on the ice if he makes the NHL -- he stands at just 6 feet and weighs in at 187 pounds -- but in juniors he has shown himself to be a responsible two-way blueliner who can become a big offensive contributor. With the QMJHL's Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in 2012-13, the 20-year-old scored 10 goals and had 31 assists in 50 games before stepping his game up in the playoffs with 16 points in 15 games. Ouellet, a second-round pick (No. 48) in 2011, is a talented puck-mover who could one day be a quarterback on Detroit's power play.
In other news, if you missed it, yes, Henrik Zetterberg told Aftonbladet's Linus Norberg that he thinks that Russia's anti-homosexuality law and its application to the Olympic Games is a bad thing. So did half of the Swedish Olympic orientation campers, but Zetterberg's getting the publicity here. As the Free Press's Brian Manzullo notes...
Zetterberg, the Detroit Red Wings captain who will likely represent Sweden in the Olympics, reportedly told Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet that the law is “awful, just awful.”
"I think that everyone should be able to be themselves,” Zetterberg said. “It's unbelievable that it can be this way in this time, especially in a big country like Russia.”
Fellow Swedish player Victor Hedman, who plays for the Tampa Bay Lightning, also had strong things to say about the law: “That's completely wrong, we're all humans. No one should have a say in what way you're sexually oriented.”
Technically speaking, you can translate what he said as, "Terribly, incredibly awful."
In other news from across the pond, the Ruslan Salei Memorial Tournament is taking place in Minsk, Belarus, and Spartak Moscow and Amur Khabarovsk opened the 3-day tournament with wins on Friday, according to Championat's Paul Panyshev;
Back over on this side of the pond, in memorial news of a different kind, the Prince Albert Daily Herald reports that the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders will pay tribute to Brad McCrimmon this fall:
The Prince Albert Raiders will be honouring three individuals from their past when Brad McCrimmon, Jim Bristowe and Doug Winterton will be inducted into the Raiders’ Wall of Honour on Sept. 27.
McCrimmon played two seasons for the Raiders joining the team as a 15-year-old in 1974. The skilled defenseman from Plenty, Sask., scored 23 goals and added 60 assists in his time with the club and as a 16-year-old he was named the top defenseman in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
McCrimmon then went on to the Western Hockey League where he played for the Brandon Wheat Kings for three seasons before being selected 15th overall by the Boston Bruins in the 1979 NHL entry draft.
In 1,222 career NHL games, McCrimmon scored 81 goals and added 322 assists while playing for Boston, the Philadelphia Flyers, Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings, Hartford Whalers and Phoenix Coyotes. McCrimmon retired in 1997 after 18 seasons with a Stanley Cup win in 1989 while with Calgary being the highlight.
McCrimmon would then turn to coaching and after a stint with the New York Islanders as an assistant coach, he returned to the WHL to guide the Saskatoon Blades for two seasons. McCrimmon once again found his way back to the NHL where he served as an assistant coach with Calgary, the Atlanta Thrashers and Detroit Red Wings before taking a job overseas in Russia.
In September 2011, McCrimmon, along with everyone else aboard, was killed when the team plane crashed on their way to the opening game of the season.
In cheerier news, this story from the Vernon Morning Star's Kevin Mitchell made me smile, and it falls under the, "Who knew?" classification:
They play and think soccer 24-7 while applying serious time to their studies. For this, four graduates of the North Okanagan Youth Soccer Association have earned $500 George Stein Memorial Scholarships.
Marty Stein made the cheque presentations in honour of his father, outside the VantageOne Indoor Facility.
“We always look for young people who love and respect the game,” said Stein, a retired player who referees adult leagues. “We are honoured to help them with their post-secondary education anyway we can.”
George Stein, who died in 1996, helped found youth soccer in Vernon some 50 years ago. He and the late Fred Mann were key cogs in the construction of the MacDonald Park clubhouse.
So the Red Wings' resident Western Canadian scout, who recently retired from teaching himself, is both a pillar of the Vernon, BC community and the son of a sporting pioneer of sorts...
In seriously charitable news, via the Red Wings, the Joe Kocur Foundation's charity softball game takes place next Saturday, August 24th, but the Joe Kocur Foundation's online sales will end beforehand:
This story comes from RedWingsFeed, and I hope that I was not the only American who thought, "Huh, that explains why they don't talk like normal Torontonians do" after reading the Cape Breton Post's Steve Ranni's story about Brendan and Reilly Smith, who, as it turns out, are the sons of "Maritimers":
“My father Lester’s family are all Cape Bretoners and East Coasters,” says Brendan, a Detroit Red Wings defenceman. “We try to get here as much as possible. We try to get out here and enjoy this land. It is the most beautiful place and we get to spend the time with our family. That’s why we come here.”
When the brothers were younger, they were able to spend a few months in Cape Breton every summer, but as they climb the ranks of professional hockey, it becomes more difficult.
“The more time we get to spend here the better, but making the jump from college to the pros there are more demands on our training and time,” says Reilly, 22. “We have a gym here that we are looking to expand in the future so that maybe we can spend a month or two.”
Besides the weight training and cardiovacular exercise the brothers are able to do while here, they also participate in some family-run fitness classes, including yoga with their instructor, Aunt Wendy Dwornikiewicz.
They also have an older brother Rory, who is also a professional athlete. He plays for the Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League. The Smiths attribute a big part of their success to their family, especially their parents, Lester Jr. and Deidre, and their gramps, Lester Sr.
“A lot goes out to our parents and our grandfather supporting us and driving us to places,” says Reilly. “I can’t believe how many hours they took off work to make sure we made it to where we needed to be.”
And finally, it's been a very long and very busy week, and I'm hoping that the weekend is quiet as...Oh dear, I have about two-and-a-half weeks until I'm heading up to Traverse City for the prospect tournament and main camp, and of the 14 or 15 days I'm going to have to spend up there, I've got...Three paid for.
Three of 14 is not so good. So, yeah, uh, can you lend a hand?
I hate asking for money, but I plain old can't afford to go up on my own.I will do my best to provide the best level of coverage possible, and as you know, I try to make things interactive and take your suggestions, ideas and critiques into account.
Any amount is appreciated. $5, $10, $20, eight billion dollars...whatever you can afford, it's greatly appreciated.
I'm sticking with PayPal for the present moment as folks are familiar with it, and the email address that you use as my "recipient" ID is my personal email address, email@example.com (regardless of whether you send email to that address or my Kukla's Korner email, firstname.lastname@example.org, they end up in the same place).
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About The Malik Report
The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.