The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/04/14 at 03:32 AM ET
This early morning's crop of Red Wings-related news is particularly scattered in terms of its subject matter, and the first part involves a significant amount of Mythbuster-y, "Well, there's your problem"-type responses.
So here we go.
Part the first: Many, many, many of you weighed in on Adam Almquist's decision to inform the hockey world that the restricted free agent-to-be would be quite happy to play for HV71 Jonkoping of the SHL should he not make the NHL this fall and/or be in the Red Wings' NHL plans.
This is somewhat understandable given that his name has not appeared in Ken Holland, Mike Babcock, Kris Draper or Jiri Fischer's discussions of the Wings' crop of potentially NHL-impactful defensemen who may or may not compete for roster spots this upcoming fall--if a player who feels that he's fallen out of favor has an option to leverage so as to force the coaching or management staff's hand, he's going to utilize his option.
We're still not sure whether Almquist has been invited to or will take part in the Wings' summer development camp and/or fall prospect tournament, and we still don't know what the Wings plan on doing regarding the 5'11," 170-ish-pound defenseman. Does the team plan on re-signing him? Does the team plan on trading him? We don't know yet.
Well, here's your problem: While Almquist has played 2 seasons in the AHL and posted 53 points in 73 games this past season, the Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins' coaches and the organization's player mentors have asked Almquist, who was drafted at about 5'9" and maybe 150 pounds, to do one thing: to work on his level of fitness and to not just put on weight, but to also work on his strength.
Every indication suggests that the one thing Almquist has not been able or willing to do is to assuage the coaching, player mentoring and management staffs' concerns regarding his ability to compete at the NHL level in terms of strength and fitness.
That's not good. That requires you and me to wonder whether Almquist is going to join the legion of Wings prospects who have played solidly enough at the AHL level, but have not been willing or able to focus on the one thing that the Wings asked them to improve so as to maximize their chances of NHL success, to the point that the players have been more than willing to leave the organization instead of exiting their comfort zones.
Their ranks include "Hat Trick Dick" Axelsson (homesickness), Igor Grigorenko ("Hey, Igor, can we take this metal rod out of your foot so you can skate better?"), Johan Ryno, the 6'6" prospect that Babcock gushed about in Mantha-like terms regarding his potential as a physical checking forward (didn't feel like hangin' out), Daniel Larsson ("Get out to the top of my crease? WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO CHANGE ME?"), Stefan Liv (God rest his soul, but still, "I have to wait my turn? Meeeehhhh..."), and a bunch of North American prospects who haven't been signed because the only thing they've been asked to do is the same thing Almquist has been asked to do--hit the gym--and they've said, "NHL contract or not signing with an NHL team for the sake of hitting the gym and getting bigger? Oh come on, this working out thing is hard!"
Contrary to the comments section's suggestion, Adam Almquist's issues with fitness and/or the team's concerns about his levels thereof do not have to do with Ken Holland sitting in a room alone, plotting the Red Wings' demise, which is apparently what some of you think he does.
The Red Wings are clearly concerned about Almquist's ability to compete for pucks and win battles along the boards, behind the net and in front of the net against NHL-sized players. They've spent the past two seasons asking him to improve his fitness levels, and at present, they do not appear to be satisfied with the results.
That's not on Ken Holland. That's not on Kris Draper or Ryan Martin. That's not on Mike Babcock, Jeff Blashill, Jim Paek, Spiros Anastas, Jiri Fischer or Chris Chelios. That's on Adam Almquist.
All of that being said, it's June fourth. We'll find out whether the team plans on re-signing him or trading him--as he is a restricted free agent-to-be (per Capgeek; all subsequent salary figures come from Capgeek), the Wings can simply cut ties with him by not tendering him a qualifying offer; conversely, they can retain his rights by submitting him a qualifying offer, even if he and his agent doesn't accept it and he chooses to bolt to Europe.
Then we will find out whether he has been invited and/or shows up to the Wings' summer development camp in July, whether he can take part in the fall prospect tournament, and if all of those things happen, whether he earns a spot on the Wings' roster during training camp, and if he does not, whether he's traded or simply waived.
Between now and the start of the 2014-2015 NHL season, there's a lot that might or might not happen, and there is in fact a management team, including managers, coaching staffs (plural) and prospect mentors (plural), in charge of Almquist's future. Ken Holland is not sitting in his room playing Dungeons and Dragons, Red Wings Roster Version, and rolling a "Team Damage 1D20."
Part the second: The Free Press's Helene St. James addresses the possibility that the Red Wings could bid on 27-year-old unrestricted free agent-to-be Matt Niskanen, should the Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.
As St. James notes, Niskanen, 27, earned $2.5 million this past season, and registered 10 goals, 26 assists and 36 points over the course of 81 regular season games, finishing at +33. During 13 playoff games, he registered 2 goals and 9 assists for 11 points, finishing at -2.
Niskanen is everything the Wings are seeking in a defenseman: In the prime of his career, shoots right, a mobile puck-handler, a sturdy 6 feet and 200-plus pounds. He has demonstrated what he’ll do when given an opportunity, emerging as a stud defenseman while teammate Kris Letang recovered from a stroke. A third (three goals, 12 assists) of Niskanen’s points came during man advantages; imagine how having a right-handed-shooting defenseman on the point could help the Wings’ power play (especially if right-shooting forward Daniel Alfredsson returns).
Here's your problem, as St. James notes:
There’s much to like — what about anything to dislike? For starters, the estimated price tag. Niskanen stands to be the finest defenseman on the market. His last contract was for two years and $4.6 million. He could conceivably triple his salary, to the tune of a $7-million-per-season offer. That sounds staggering, but nobody cashes in like defensemen do as UFAs. The Wings will have salary-cap space to throw such money around, but it is hard to see them going that high, as it would be $1 million more than captain Henrik Zetterberg’s $6-million cap hit and a good $2 million more than that of No. 1 defenseman Niklas Kronwall.
Even $6 million a season would be a gamble for someone with one banner season out of the past six. That’s ultimately the question the Wings need to answer: Is Niskanen worth the big-money risk, or is there a safer way to upgrade on defense?
The fact that the Red Wings could easily be out-spent (assuming that the team's "internal cap" is now $7.5 million, which is what Pavel Datsyuk will earn during the 2014-2015 season) in Niskanen bidding is one particularly scary part of the equation.
The fact that Niskanen's previous full seasons include point totals of 21, 10, 15, 35, and 26 points, with the 35-point season taking place in 2008-2009 and the 26-point season taking place in 2007-2008, are also concerns.
But the biggest problem involves the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins are searching for a new general manager presently, and according to the Pittsburgh Penguins' media corps, it's the ownership who is going to be in charge of player personnel moves.
According to those who've analyzed the Penguins' perilous salary cap situation, and especially according to those who follow the Penguins on a regular basis, it is more likely that the Penguins would trade Kris Letang and his $7.25 million cap hit for the next 8 seasons than they would allow Niskanen to walk as an unrestricted free agent.
If we are to believe those who have connections to Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, the Penguins don't plan on letting Niskanen walk to begin with.
The concept that Niskanen will in fact likely remain a Penguin yields a roadblock that's more than speedbump-sized in terms of the Wings or any other NHL team's desire to sign Niskanen as an unrestricted free agent.
Part the third: On Saturday, St. James also indicated that the Red Wings might be interested in acquiring Vancouver Canucks defenseman Alex Edler, a 28-year-old defenseman with a $5 million cap hit for the next six seasons, and a 28-year-old defenseman who finished at a staggering -39 over the course of only 63 games played for John Tortorella's Canucks this past season.
Edler's been on the team's radar since European super-scout Hakan Andersson discovered both Edler and Johan Franzen playing on seperate Swedish third division teams during the 2003-2004 season. The Wings wanted to pick Edler with their first draft pick in 2004, the 96th selection, but the Canucks swept Edler up with the 91st pick, and as such, the Wings picked a player they knew would've been available in the 4th round in one Johan Franzen.
Here's your problem: The Canucks are "under new management," with John Tortorella having been fired and Trevor Linden having been tasked with turning the team around as its president of hockey operations. Linden recently hired Jim Benning as his general manager, but Linden is in charge...
And the Vancouver Province's Ben Kuzma reports that Edler is officially off the market, because Linden views Edler as a reclamation project:
“He’s got all the tools to be a dominant No. 1 defenceman,” Linden said Tuesday from Ottawa where he addressed a Canadian Men’s Health Foundation national launch of a fitness initiative. “He’d be the first to admit he didn’t have a good year, and part of our job is to recapture the Alex Edler that we all know he can be. He has the skill-set that every team wants and we just have to get him back where he should be. There isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t have its hand up for the opportunity to have an Alex Edler. It’s not in our consideration. We want to work with Alex; we have to get his game back, and I know he’s committed to doing that.”
Edler, 28, is viewed as a reclamation project who maybe wouldn’t command what the Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks were willing to part with at the draft before the Swede’s six-year, $30-million-US contract extension kicked in, along with his NTC. The Wings have never replaced Nicklas Lidstrom or Brian Rafalski, and the Panthers can dangle their top pick to try and allow first-round 2010 pick Erik Gudbranson to develop methodically. But the Canucks hold the No. 6 pick and seem poised to make it.
In a sour season in which Edler had seven goals, just 22 points and a league-worst minus-39 rating — often looking lost in a zone-defence system that put a premium on positioning — he was also suspended for three games for the Tomas Hertl hit Oct. 10 and missed 16 games with a knee strain suffered Dec. 3. But he did average 23:17 of ice time per game and has a good power-play point shot, though it could stand to be a bit more accurate.
“I’m at my best when I don’t think too much and just react out there and trust my instincts,” said Edler. “That’s something I have to get back to next year. There were a lot of changes this year and a lot of new things to get used to. I didn’t have the year that I should have had, but I know I’m a good player. I’m going to have to come back next year and do a better job at being better every game and being more consistent.”
All this could mean the Canucks are considering trading Jason Garrison — back to Florida? — or are considering him as a compliance buyout option later this month because Frank Corrado should become more of a roster mainstay. Garrison, 29, is a $4.6-million cap hit that pays $5 million next season plus a $1.5 million bonus before the contract trickles down to $2.5 million in its final year.
“We’re going to have some very difficult decisions this summer and do everything we can to make the team better now and in the near future,” said Linden. “We have to make some adjustments and changes for sure.”
Part the fourth: Regarding the Wings' back-up plans on defense:
1. Christian Ehrhoff may be intriguing, but I must repeat, repeat and also repeat that the 31-year-old with the $4 million cap hit for the next seven seasons that Ehrhoff is property of the Buffalo Sabres, the Red Wings' Atlantic Division rival, and trading for Ehrhoff would require both that the Red Wings surrender significant assets to pay for Ehrhoff's price, that the Wings would have to pay a trade-within-the-division premium, and trading for Ehrhoff would require that the Red Wings feel comfortable with the concept of trading significant assets to a team that will become a regular playoff opponent when-and-or-if the Sabres' management turns the team around.
2. Marek Zidlicky re-signed with the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, leaving Dan Boyle (38; earned $6 million this past season), Andrei Markov (35; earned $5.75 million this past season), Kimmo Timonen (39; earned $6 million this past season, has insisted that he wants to remain in Philadelphia) and Tom Gilbert (31, earned $900,000 this past season) as the only real viable "offensive defensemen" available amongst this crop of unrestricted free agent-to-be blueliners.
So things are getting...Interesting in a hurry.
[edit/update 3. Make that super interesting. New Jersey Devils defenseman Adam Larsson also told Norran that, should the New Jersey Devils not offer him a one-way contract, he'd be happy to play for Skelleftea AIK of the SHL instead [/end edit].
In news regarding international exploits, Variety's Justin Chang penned a review of Red Army, the documentary starring former Red Wings defenseman, Russian Minister of Sport and current Vladivostok Upper House of Russian Parliament Representative Slava Fetisov.
This is just part of a longer, very positive review:
A star on the ice and one of the most revered hockey players of all time, the now 56-year-old Fetisov is no less magnetic as the center of Polsky’s film, guiding us through the ups and downs of this massively successful and closely guarded Soviet enterprise. Fetisov and four other key players — high-scoring right-winger Sergei Makarov, left-winger Vladimir Krutov (nicknamed “the Tank”), skinny-but-tough center Igor Larionov (“the Professor”) and defenseman Alexei Kasatonov — formed a nearly invincible unit known as the Russian Five, who proceeded to dominate the sport for the next decade.
For all their success, however, by the late ’80s, the members of this close-knit group found themselves increasingly fed up with Tikhonov’s brutal training regimen and the generally oppressive nature of life as professional athletes. (Fetisov recalls how the coach didn’t even give him time off to visit his father on his deathbed, while legendary goalkeeper Vladislav Tretiak describes the frustrating circumstances that led to his own premature departure from the team in 1984.) Disillusioned and exhausted, Fetisov and others looked to North America, wooed by NHL scouts and the possibility of playing hockey in a country that offered rewards, luxuries and liberties they had never known in their homeland. But they learned the hard way that Soviet officials were not willing to relinquish their star players without a fight, despite the superficial appearance of increased openness and flexibility during the glasnost era.
From there, the film becomes a stirring, often infuriating tale of personal dreams clashing with political imperatives, and Fetisov’s struggle is cast in heroic terms as he recalls being ostracized by friends and beaten by authorities, and even losing his best friend, Kasatonov, as a result of his decision to defect. The difficulties didn’t stop after he succeeded: While Fetisov went on to experience great success with the New Jersey Devils and, later, the Detroit Red Wings (with whom he won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997 and ’98), he opens up here about the challenges of being an athlete without a country — playing in a foreign land for a team that didn’t always understand his methods (the Soviets’ complex moves were initially dismissed in some quarters as “Bolshoi ballet”).
On one level, “Red Army” is a potent study of an unusually incestuous link between sports and politics, and the enormous personal toll it exacted from players forced to serve multiple masters. On another, it’s the story of how the brave migration of a few athletes opened the door for many more to follow suit, flooding the ranks of the NHL with Soviet talent including Larionov (who joined the Red Wings) and Makarov (Calgary Flames). Given that there are no fewer than 34 Russian players in the NHL, including superstars like Alexander Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk, Western audiences may well read the film as an uplifting narrative of communist forces ultimately ceding to, and indeed strengthening, their capitalist foes. But the strength of “Red Army” lies in its deep appreciation for the many ironies of the situation, the bone-deep complexities of national identity, and the fact that, on some level, home will always be home — as Fetisov, who remains an active figure in the Russian hockey world, can and does personally attest.
Again, here's the trailer:
In a performance review of a very different kind, the Globe and Mail's Jared Lindzon asked Team Canada 2014 Olympic coach Mike Babcock to discuss his ability to make key personnel decisions both before and during the Olympics while enduring the shift-by-shift critiques of an entire nation's worth of nit-picky hockey fans (sounds like us Wings fans):
“You’ve got to decide whether you want to lead or follow,” Mr. Babcock said. “When they hire me to make decisions, that’s what they hire me to do.”
Mr. Babcock, who has been head coach of the National Hockey League’s Detroit Red Wings since 2005, said that throughout the tournament he had to make difficult decisions, many of which were met with criticism, but believes that strong leaders – in any endeavour – need to leave their emotions at the door if they’re going to be successful.
“If you address the hard issues, then you’re ready to move on, you’re ready to get better,” he said. “In any walk of life, you know who’s working, you know who’s not working, but you have to address it. We avoid addressing it because we don’t want to hurt any feelings, and then it just lingers. To me, that’s the biggest issue in sports and in business.”
For Mr. Babcock, there was no time to spare the feelings of his high-calibre hockey club in Sochi. He said that the all-star talent, who are used to being the top players on their respective NHL teams, had to learn how to take a back seat at times during the tournament.
“If they didn’t play well, they didn’t get to play, and the guys who played the best, played the most,” he said. “Kind of like in business, you’ve got to reward your top performers if you want success.”
This part is particularly intriguing:
With the Detroit Red Wings 2013-14 season now in the history books, Mr. Babcock plans to “spend some time at the lake with family” before getting back to what he does best, studying his opponents, watching up-and-coming prospects and working hard at making his hockey club stronger with every season.
Though he’s proud to represent his country in international competition, Mr. Babcock couldn’t say whether he’d consider coaching an NHL team in Canada. “I coach the Red Wings right now, and I’m really fortunate to have that opportunity. I enjoy it a lot, and am not thinking about much else.”
Should that change in the future, however, Mr. Babcock is confident he can bring his winning formula just about anywhere.
“I believe the puck follows around good players and I believe winning follows around good coaches,” he said. “I believe the guy running a successful business in one place can run a successful business anywhere. Am I right? I don’t know. That’s just what I believe.”
Regarding persistence of a different kind, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose's latest "Red Wings Firsts" article involves Luke Glendening's first NHL goal, which was 52 games in the making:
“It was just I think overall just a feeling of relief just to get that monkey off my back,” said Glendening, who scored early in the third period of Detroit’s 5-3 loss at Montreal. “I don’t know I guess it was a special moment for sure, I didn’t really have to do much. Abby made a great pass and I just had to put my stick on the ice but it was a moment of relief for sure.”
The score came just two weeks after the center established a franchise record among rookie forwards for the most games played without a goal. Cummy Burton, who played his entire 43-game Detroit career without scoring a goal in the late 1950s, established the drought mark that was surpassed by Glendening on March 22.
The Grand Rapids, Mich. native couldn’t help but smile when recalling the congratulations he received from teammates after the little known scoreless streak finally came to an end in his 52nd game with the Red Wings.
“I mean everyone I think was pretty happy,” Glendening said. “Everyone was razzing me a bit after my streak and my record that I set so everyone was pretty happy.”
But no one was happier than Glendening’s linemates: Drew Miller and Justin Abdelkader.
“I think me and Abby might have been more excited, or I don’t know I was screaming in his face, Abby was yelling, it’s great for him to get that first goal finally,” Miller said. “He’s been waiting for a while and I think the pressure was starting to get to him a little bit but it was a big goal at the time and I’m happy for him, he could get it.”
His goal was one of the only good things that happened during that game:
In predictive news, the Free Press's St. James is picking the New York Rangers to prevail over the Los Angeles Kings and win the Stanley Cup, and Aftonbladet's Per Bjurman received the following predictions from Swedish-speaking players with Wings ties:
"Jimmy Fallon vs. Jimmy Kimmel. Fifth Avenue vs. Rodeo Drive. Madison Square Garden vs. Stapels Center. The Hamptons vs. Malibu. Seinfeld vs. 90210. Per Bjurman vs. Gunnar Nordstrom. Lundqvist vs. Quick. New York 4 games, Los Angeles 3 games. Conn Smythe: Henrik Lundqvist"--Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings
"It's difficult to predict the final when both teams deserve to be there. But I think the Rangers will draw the longest straw in a long series"--Nicklas Lidstrom.
"Rangers champs, 4-2 in games. The goaltender's game becomes crucial, and I have the feeling that everything the Rangers have been through has made them very close-knit as a team. On a mission." --Daniel Alfredsson, Detroit Red Wings.
"4-2 in games to LA. I like their depth as a team and their goalkeeper's been damn good, although the Rangers have Lundqvist, one of the best goalies in the game, I don't think that's going to be enough. Advantage LA." --Tomas Holmstrom.
"I believe LA will win in 6. Hoping for the Rangers, with Henke [Lunqvist] the MVP." --Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings.
"Kings" --Johan Franzen, Detroit Red Wings.
"I believe it'll be 4-games-to-3 Rangers." --Jonas "the Monster" Gustavsson, Detroit Red Wings.
"I think LA takes it in 7, and I hope that the blogger [Bjurman, who is based in New York] will get up really tired and exhausted." --Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings.
Derek Lalonde, a former Ferris State assistant coach, is the new coach of the Toledo Walleye, an East Coast Hockey League team that is an affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings.
Lalonde was an assistant coach with the Bulldogs from 2002-06 under coach Bob Daniels, helping the team to the school’s first-even CCHA regular-season championship in 2002-03.
Most recently, he has been the head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League the past three seasons. He had a 125-65-14 mark in Green Bay, earning USHL coach of the year honors after leading the Gamblers to the Anderson and Clark Cups in 2011-12.
Another former Ferris State assistant coach and player, Jeff Blashill, is the coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wings' top affiliate in the American Hockey League.
Lalonde was also head coach of Team USA's U19 National Team, which captured gold at the World Junior A Challenge in November of 2013.
And finally, in the Twitter department:
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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.