The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/04/14 at 04:46 AM ET
This morning's entry's going to be something of a mishmash, so please bear with me.
The first bit of news I have isn't "big" per se, but it's particularly pertinent given that Gustav Nyquist (Sweden), Tomas Tatar (Slovakia), Jakub Kindl (Czech Republic), Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser (USA) begin their World Championship journey this Thursday, May 9th: After Sweden dropped a 3-2 decision to the Czechs at the Oddset Cup, the last round of the Euro Hockey Tour (and final warm-up tournament promoting the World Championship), Team Sweden coach Par Marts told Expressen's Mattias Ek that Calle Jarnkrok will be joining the Three Crowns/Tre Kronor, but Wings forward Johan Franzen's staying home.
Just as Jimmy Howard's about to become a dad for the second time, Mrs. Franzen recently gave birth to the couple's second child, so I'm guessing that baby duty trumped hockey this spring. Given the seasons that Franzen and fellow no-thanks-I've-got-diapers-to-change teammates Niklas Kronwall, Pavel Datsyuk and Howard all faced difficult, injury-marred seasons, less wear and tear is not a bad thing.
For the record, Tomas Tatar's Facebook page and website confirmed that he's been named to Slovakia's official Worlds roster. The Worlds are taking place in Minsk, Belarus this year, and NBCSN will be airing Team USA's preliminary round (a.k.a. round robin) games.
Belarus is 7 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time, but most of their games are taking place at either 4:45 PM or 8:45 PM local time--subtract seven, and you get 9:45 AM or 1:45 PM EDT start times, which are tolerable. There are a few 12:45 PM local time starts (5:45 AM EDT), but this is a little easier to deal with than, say, those 3:30-AM Olympic starts.
The IIHF makes a big-ass deal about the fact that it freely streams games around the world--minus the participating countries--and I haven't figured out a way to get around their Geoblocking without paying for a foreign IP address, so I'll be noting when the Wings play, and probably listing whatever streams I find for those of you who want to watch the games in the U.S. or elsewhere in the comments section.
Back over on this side of the pond, Saturday's chatter involved Franzen and Mikael Samuelsson, and I'm not sure if these matter much to you, but the Free Press's Helene St. James added a set of photo gallery-based final Wings grades to the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan's offering.
I'm sure that the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness (who provided Saturday's controversial stories)
and MLive's Ansar Khan will follow shortly. Some websites kind of milk the grades by posting a few players at a time or a position-by-position assessment, but that would make me feel weird (it's fine for other websites, but I get Catholic guilt about drawing things out to milk page hits or stretch out content, which you probably know by now is not "my thing")...
So how do you want me to approach player assessments, if at all? I think that the practice has merit, but I'm not a fan of the A-to-E/F scale, and there's always a question as to whether one wants to accentuate the positive or be "brutally honest" about the players' performances after a disappointing showing like this past season and playoff run's mixed bag results.
I'd appreciate it if you let me know whether you want me to do grades or whether you'd prefer that I just move on via the comments, Twitter, Facebook, email (georgemalik at kuklaskorner dot com) etc. If you're not interested, I'm just going to move on.
Regarding another controversial player, this morning, the Free Press's St. James discusses the uncertain future of Stephen Weiss, who remains married to the Wings thanks to his $4.95 million salary for the next 4 years and the fact that he's played half-a-season's worth of hockey, all while injured, as he tried to play through a pair of injuries which required significant reconstructive surgeries (left wrist surgery and hernia surgery).
Weiss is at least "here" until the Wings and any possible training partners figure out what the 31-year-old can do, and whether the NOT-amnesty-buyout-eligible forward can rebound into 20-goal, 50-point-scoring form, or whether his wrist and groin issues have slowed that sneaky shot and sapped his strong skating stride.
Ken Holland was very blunt about Weiss's status as an unknown quality, as St. James noted:
General manager Ken Holland revealed last week that Weiss had undergone a minor procedure to release scar tissue that had built up from the surgery Weiss had back in December. He remains unable to work out, and that isn’t going to change for at least another month.
Holland spoke of Weiss needing to have “a great summer,” while conceding it’s possible that may not happen, because Weiss hasn’t been able to recover from the sports hernia surgery he had at Christmas. Months of rest lead to a return trip to surgery, and now it’s back to waiting — and wondering.
“We’re going to continue to look for answers to why is he not getting healthy,” Holland said. “It’s hard to know where he’s going to be in September. A lot of where he’s going to be in September is really going to be about, is he going to be able to ... have a June, July and August where he’s able to hit the gym and come to camp healthy, fit, ready to go.”
“We made a significant signing — we thought Stephen was going to be our second-line center,” Holland said. “It was a disappointing year. He struggled early, and then he had a bit of a groin injury, then he came back. My take would be that probably a month before we shut him down in early December, he was probably having groin injuries. He had surgery, and we thought he’d be playing coming out of the Olympic break. He never felt right. I thought he’d be healthy six weeks ago. We need him to get healthy before anything positive can happen.”
In terms of the moves the Wings can make given that they aren't buying out Franzen and can't buy out Weiss, we know that the Red Wings plan on upgrading their blueline.
If the Wings chose the "build from within" option, RedWingsCentral reports that the team's quite bullish on more than just Ryan Sproul and Alexey Marchenko.
RWC spoke with Wings director of player development Jiri Fischer about all of the Wings' defensive prospects, including the non-waiver-exempt Adam Almquist as well as Mattias Backman, Xavier Ouellet, Nick Jensen, Sproul and Marchenko, and Fischer believes that the Wings have a bright blueline future:
“We have six real NHL prospects (on the blue line) we are super, super excited about,” said Red Wings director of player development Jiri Fischer. “They are legit NHL prospects. Availability (of jobs) is limited … We are super excited about our youth, our depth … Now, we hope these guys will be able to bridge over to the NHL and have success at that level.”
Each of the six is unique. Ouellet plays a heads-up, two-way game; Marchenko is mobile, steady and mistake-free; Sproul has tremendous size and dynamic skating and shooting skills; the undersized Almquist is one of the best offensive defensemen outside of the NHL; Backman is a finesse defenseman who can play at both ends of the ice; and Jensen is an incredible skater and defensive stalwart.
Who is the best bet to graduate?
“To put certain guys ahead of others, it may not be fair,” Fischer said. “It depends on availability (of jobs) and need.”
Fischer also spoke about Adam Almquist's potential at length, and given that Almquist isn't particularly big (5'10"-ish), "heavy" (175 pounds? If he's eaten a big lunch? And his pockets are full and his shoes are on when he gets on the scale?) or right-shooting, he's an underdog despite having posted 4 goals, 49 assists and 53 points in 73 AHL games played this past season. Can the little guy make it?
“That’s been kind of the story for the past several years since we’ve drafted him, and all he’s done is gotten better,” Fischer said “He’s gotten stronger ever year, more muscular every year, and now it’s going to be up to (head coach) Mike Babcock to see where Adam would potentially fit on the roster and if he can run the power play. If not, decisions are going to be made. But at the AHL level he’s done everything we’ve asked of him. He’s run our power play in Grand Rapids and done a phenomenal job.”
If the Wings go the free agent route, you and I already know that the team's interested in Matt Niskanen and Dan Boyle, probably on long and short-term contracts, respectively given that Niskanen's a rising star at 27 and Boyle's in a different situation at 37 going on 38 years of age.
If the Wings are to go the trade route, we've been told that Christian Ehrhoff (31 and signed to a "lifetime contract," with a divisional rival in the Sabres, no less--though Ehrhoff's suggested that he's open to a trade) and Alex Edler (28 and more affordable, but coming off a disastrous season in which he finished at a staggering -39 over the course of only 63 games played).
The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa floats another name into the trade mix, and this player is both a right-shooting defenseman and someone who hasn't fit in very well with a Western Conference team:
If the Wings can land a right-shot defenseman, they could improve their breakouts. Pucks would get up to their fast and skilled forwards quicker. A pace-pusher like [Brendan] Smith could return to his strong side. A righty would also help Detroit’s power play. They need someone who can tee up one-timers when Pavel Datsyuk dishes from the right-side half-boards.
One candidate could be Dennis Wideman. The ex-Bruin is on Calgary’s books for three more seasons at $5.25 million annually, according to http://www.capgeek.com Widem.an played his final game on March 5 before the Flames shut the right-shot defenseman down because of an upper-body injury.
Wideman would be a good fit in Detroit. If he played with a mobile partner, Wideman wouldn’t have to rush the puck. He’s good at making seam passes like ex-Wing Brian Rafalski.
The Flames are rebuilding under new GM Brad Treliving. If they wheel the 31-year-old Wideman, the Flames could get younger and free up cap space.
I'd imagine that Kindl and Lashoff would go the other way in any trade, but I'm wary of the concept that the Wings may have to move one of their promising youngsters and a draft pick as well.
The fact that the Flames would start the 2014-2015 season with a Capgeek-estimated $27 million in cap space, waaaaaaaayyyy below the "cap floor," would suggest that the Flames wouldn't want to "dump" Wideman, either--if they plan on moving him at all.
Interestingly, Wideman's salary bumps up to $5.25 and then $6 million in real-world dollars at the end of his contract, and The Sports Forecaster describes the 6,' 200-pound defenseman (who just turned 31) as follows:
Assets: Owns excellent puck skills and is a quality asset at the point with the man advantage. Can log a lot of minutes and is a solid puck-moving D-man.
Flaws: Doesn't play the body nearly enough, and struggles in defensive-zone coverage. Will cough up the puck at the wrong time. Lacks consistency.
Career Potential: Veteran offensive defenseman
In my opinion, Wideman, who's bounced around from St. Louis to Boston, Florida, Washington, where his 46-point 11-12 season numbers yielded the Flames' $ (he also posted 50 points for Boston), is a little leaky--save his 50-point season with Boston in 08-09, he's consistently finished as a minus player--but he is an option.
Back to Shinzawa:
The Wings also could pursue help via free agency. Pittsburgh’s Matt Niskanen is scheduled to reach UFA status. But Niskanen will have multiple suitors if he hits the market. The Wings would have to overpay to land the 27-year-old.
“Times have changed in the National Hockey League,” Red Wings GM Ken Holland said during his end-of-year press conference. “July 1 free agency is a time for support players and secondary players. Teams now sign their best players to long-term contracts. They don’t hit the market. I told the team this morning that a lot of what we try to do has to be internal.”
The Wings like Ryan Sproul. The right-shot defenseman was one of Detroit’s two second-round picks in 2011 (left-shot defenseman Xavier Ouellet was the other). Sproul scored 11 goals and 21 assists in 72 games for Grand Rapids, Detroit’s AHL affiliate. But Sproul is only 21. He’s played in one career NHL game. Experience matters.
That's where Blashill's comments come in, and where reality comes into the equation, too.
As RedWingsCentral's Mattias Backman stats note, Backman's played 3 full seasons (and parts of 2 others) in a men's league in the SHL, with a solid team in Linkopings HC, and he's 22 years old;
Alexei Marchenko had ankle surgery, cutting short his first North American pro season, but he also played a full season for CSKA Moscow during 12-13, and he played parts of 3 other seasons with CSKA, too, and unlike the tall-but-skinny Backman (6'2" and 176 pounds), Marchenko's stats very faithfully list the 22-year-old at 6'2" and 212 pounds.
I suppose you could mine Capgeek's UFA list and say that Andrei Markov's bad knees and status as 35 going on 36 in December don't scare you given that he's a consistent 45-point-producer over a full season, that one could do worse than the 37-year-old Marek Zidlicky, one of the Bruins' leftover pieces in the 28-year-old Andrej Meszaros, that 31-year-old Tom Gilbert perfectly fits the right-shooting, mobile-and-affordable bill, that 35-year-old Derek Morris is a "safe" pick or that 39-year-old Sami Salo's best days aren't behind him, that Brooks Orpik's ankle issues don't detract from the Wings' most physical option in a 33-year-old bruiser with some skill...
Or you could connect the dots and suggest that the Wings' familiarity with a certain Jim Nill and oodles of cap space make the concept of trading for 40-year-old Sergei Gonchar's $5 million salary--and hoping that a defenseman who's looked a step slow in Ottawa and now Dallas is indeed only 3 years removed from a 32-point season whose production could be found again with Detroit--all very reasonable given Ken Holland's M.O...
But those are pretty much the Wings' options in a nutshell, unless you're a fan of Nikita Nikitin, Anton Stralman, Raphael Diaz, Joe Corvo or the perpetually-injured Willie Mitchell.
There's no magic bullet, and in terms of my gut feeling, I think that the Wings will either stand pat--to the point that I give going with "the kids" a 50-50 chance of occurring--or I expect them to lose out on Niskanen (my guess is that he'll re-sign with Pittsburgh), to choose not to go after Ehrhoff due to the concept of within-division trades coming back to burn both teams six times a year, to go after Edler as a reclamation project because the Wings wanted him during his draft year and/or because his shitty season should knock his trade value back down to realistic standards (as opposed to the rumored Canucks asking price of two of Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco, AND Anthony Mantha, AND a first-round pick, as of last summer)...
Or I think the Wings will end up inking somebody like Boyle to a 1 or 2-year deal to bridge the gap between needing to immediately and significantly upgrade the defense (way beyond what Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff can give the team) and simply allowing "the kids" to fill that gap.
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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.