The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/23/13 at 01:44 AM ET
I understand the palpable, "Holy crap, it's late July and we're starting to talk about the Olympics!" excitement surrounding the past couple days' worth of "orientation camp" news and Monday's announcement that the Red Wings coach Mike Babcock would helm Hockey Canada's entry at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia...
But the talk of "snubs" and "players who clearly aren't in their respective countries' Olympic plans" have gotten more than a little bit overblown of late, especially given that the Russian Hockey Federation may be the only one that can afford to insure its players against injury should their NHL'ers step on the ice (as Yahoo Sports' Sean Leahy noted, the Americans won't skate and the Canadians probably won't hit the ice, either; and yes, that's why the NHL ensuring that the International Olympic Committee would pick up the tab for insuring player contracts was such a HUGE make-or-break-the-deal point for the league)...
So the "selection" process really plays out over the course of the regular season, and the thrust of these camps involves providing the players with information regarding systems play, what it's going to take to make the final cut and, more than anything else, preparing for a trip to the sunny, cheery Caucasus Mountains (see: Sochi's 20 miles from Georgia and 200 miles west of Grozny, Chechnya, woo!) as opposed to serious-ass nuts, bolts and make-or-break scenarios.
In terms of who's participating in "orientation camps" and the rest of Monday's Olympic-related hockey news:
- Mike Babcock may be the only member of Team Canada's coaching staff (see: Lindy Ruff, Claude Julien and Ken Hitchcock) who has not won a Jack Adams Award, but he coached Canada to a gold medal in Vancouver in 2010, so the Lambert-esque, "And he didn't even win a Cup like coach Moustache!" quips seem downright silly, frankly. Ken Holland will also serve as an advisor to Team Canada's GM, one Steve Yzerman.
The Fan 590 posted the management's conference call (it's 27 minutes long), and Babcock took part in it, appearing at the 7-minute mark (surprise surprise, he wants "200-foot players" on his team, which is especially important on 100-foot-wide ice [the NHL's rinks are 85 feet wide]) and at both the 24:30 mark and 26-minute mark, but he mostly stays quiet while Yzerman carries the conversation:
- The Canadians did not name any Wings to their 47-man orientation camp roster. That camp takes place in Calgary, Alberta from August 25-28.
NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale took note of some of Babcock's comments regarding goaltending on the conference call:
The goalie invitees for Canada's camp are Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks, Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes, Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals and Corey Crawford of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
After taking over for Brodeur during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Luongo led Canada to the gold medal, including a 34-save effort in Canada's overtime win against the United States in the championship game.
Brodeur dressed as the backup to Luongo, while Fleury was the third goalie in Vancouver. Canada coach Mike Babcock said he is anticipating a good competition between the five goalies invited to camp, which is scheduled Aug. 25-28 in Calgary.
"No question there's a whole bunch of guys vying for that job," Babcock said. "It's not a lockdown position like it's been in the past, so the first three months of the season will be very important in making that decision."
Luongo finished 5-0 with one shutout, a 1.76 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in five games during the 2010 Games. Brodeur was 0-1 in two games, with a 2.90 GAA and .866 save percentage. Fleury did not play.
"We have a great nucleus of players that all want to play for Canada and getting off to a good start in the [NHL] regular season and showing how good they can play is going to be important for them if they want to play on the team," Babcock said.
- The Slovaks already held their pre-Olympic gathering in Poprad, Slovakia and the Tatras mountains on July 1st and 2nd, and both Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco took part, hanging out on Lomnicky stit, playing soccer and engaging in mostly shirt-less tennis games;
- The Czechs held their pre-Olympic orientation camp on July 18th and 19th, and while Petr Mrazek attended the shindig in Kravare, only 21 players took part, and Jakub Kindl wasn't one of them. That doesn't mean that he's out of the running for the team;
- Teemu Pulkkinen was not invited to Finland's orientation camp, but former Wing Valtteri Filppula will attend;
- Pavel Datsyuk will take part in the Russian orientation camp in Sochi, Russia on August 23rd and 24th. Datsyuk also Tweeted that he's holding his annual youth hockey camp in Yekaterinburg for the next two weeks;
- To me, the Swedish orientation camp's list of invitees is the perfect example of what happens when you attempt to cobble together a roster as of early June. The Swedes will have a powwow in Stockholm from August 12th-14th, and Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen, Jonathan Ericsson and even Gustav Nyquist will take part, but as of mid-July, Daniel Alfredsson wasn't on the invite list.
It's not like Alfredsson's out of the Olympic mix, but as of the time that the press release was first posted in late June, the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation didn't know whether Alfredsson was going to be playing hockey at all during the 2013-2014 season, so he was left off the roster. At 40, he may have an uphill battle, but it's not like he's out of the mix as somebody who can still score 20 goals and post 50-60 points over the course of an NHL season, as well as someone who's taken part in four Olympic games for the Swedes. The regular season will tell the tale...
And it should be noted that players like Markus Kruger and the Swedes' captain on their World Championship-winning roster this past May in Stockholm, Niklas Kronwall's brother Staffan, were also left off the invite list;
- And as you may have already heard, Jimmy Howard, Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser were among the invites to Team USA's orientation camp, which will take place on August 26th and 27th at the Capitals' practice facility in Northern Virginia.
The U.S. is going to engage in an interactive conference call on Tuesday morning...
And Justin Abdelkader spoke with MLive's Ansar Khan about his invitation to the U.S. Camp...
“Hopefully, I bring attributes they're looking for and they see me as someone who can help them out,'' Abdelkader said.
USA Hockey invited 48 players to the camp, which will feature no on-ice practices due to the high costs of insuring player contracts. It's an opportunity for the coaching staff, headed by Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma (Grand Haven), to get to know the players.
The players' performance over the first 2½ months of the season will go a long way toward determining if they make the final cut of 25 who'll go to Sochi. Team USA is expected to reveal its roster in late December.
“It's about trying to get out to a good start,'' Abdelkader said. “They'll be watching closely. Just play my game and let the rest take care of itself. Hopefully, I'll have a chance to represent the USA.''
Abdelkader gained valuable international experience playing on the larger ice surface during the 2012 World Championships in Sweden and Finland (one goal, three assists in eight games).
“They got to see me on the bigger ice surface; just getting that experience under your belt helps,'' Abdelkader said. “I enjoyed (the bigger ice – 15 feet wider than NHL rinks), it gives you more time and space. The game is different, but speed is big part of my game.''
Abdelkader, who also represented the U.S. in the 2007 World Junior Championships, said he dreamed of representing his country in the Olympics while growing up.
“It's a huge honor anytime you can represent your country,'' he said. “The Olympics brings the country together. You have pride every time you put that USA jersey on. To have an opportunity to make the Olympic team, this is a step in the right direction. I'm thrilled.''
Jimmy Howard's definitely in the mix as one of the team's starting and/or alternate goaltenders, and he spoke with DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose about his goals...
“This is what you dream about when you’re a kid, of possibly partaking in the Olympics,” said Howard in a phone interview on Monday. “It just brings me one step closer. I have to put everything together in the first half of the year, not only for the Wings, but it will also give me a shot at playing in the Olympics.”
The 29-year-old Howard has represented the U.S. in three World Championship tournaments. He also spent three seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor.
Howard led all goalies with a 1.33 goals-against and .954 save percentage as the U.S. won gold in the U18 World Championships in Slovakia in 2002. Howard, Justin Faulk and Paul Stastny were named the three best Team USA players in the 2012 World Championships. Howard also competed in the U20 World Championships in 2003.
While he has proudly worn the red, white and blue in the past, Howard understands that the competition for the three goaltending spots on the Olympic roster will stiff.
“The competition will begin on Oct. 1 when the season starts,” Howard said. “And you better get off running because for me there are a lot of good, young, U.S. goalies with Craig Anderson, Cory Schneider, Ben Bishop, there’s quite a list of guys. If you want to go and play in Sochi you better be focused from the beginning because it’s going to be a battle for those three positions.”
Howard has never taken his patriotism lightly. He first competed internationally for the U.S. following 9/11, which inspired him to include the words “Let’s Roll!” on the back of his goalie mask. So, just the chance of bringing an Olympic gold back home excites him.
“Every single time you get the chance to partake in an event where you get to put on the U.S. jersey it almost sends chills down my spine,” he said. “I know a year ago when I went and played in the World Championship I can’t remember previous to that when I was so nervous for a hockey game. Maybe my first NHL game or first Stanley Cup playoff game. I was actually pretty nervous because when you put on that jersey you’re not just representing an organization you’re representing the whole country.”
And the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness spoke with both Abdelkader and DeKeyser about heading to Arlington, VA hoping to turn some heads:
“It would be an extraordinary opportunity to represent my country,” DeKeyser said. “It would be something I would definitely remember the rest of my life. Growing up as an American kid playing hockey you always watched Team USA playing in the Winter Olympics and you always hope for them to win. It’s some great hockey that’s played over there. You look at some of the names that have been invited to camp and that’s a pretty special group to be a part of and just to get a shot.”
Abdelkader and Howard both gained valuable international experience during the 2012 World Championships.
“They got to see me on the bigger ice surface, just getting that experience under your belt really helped me,” Abdelkader said. “I enjoyed (playing on the bigger ice), it gives you more time and space. The game is different but speed is a big part of my game.”
DeKeyser, 23, made quite the impression during his brief stint with the Wings after signing a free-agent deal right out of college.
“Sometimes my head is spinning a bit still,” DeKeyser said. “I’m just trying to stay focused, keep my head on straight and keep working hard. Everything that’s been going on over the past few months has been great. I know that I need to keep working hard to keep those opportunities coming.”
DeKeyser definitely qualfies as someone with an "outside shot" at making the team:
He’ll compete with the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Cam Fowler, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Seth Jones, Nick Leddy, Brooks Orpik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Suter, Jacob Trouba and Keith Yandle to earn a spot on the team.
And again, no skating = the camp invite is more like, "We like you and we're watching you, so welcome to the program, but it's not like you're going to dazzle us with your verbal skills here, kid."
On Team Canada's conference call, Babcock and Yzerman reiterated Abdelkader and Howard's points of emphasis--that the first couple months of the 2013-2014 season will in fact determine which of the 25 roster spots (teams can dress 8 defensemen on the big ice, too, so things are a little different in terms of how Olympic hockey works)...
And it must be noted that Yzerman's comment about not taking an "All-Star Team" to Sochi reminds us all that good support players like Abdelkader may very well end up heading to the Abu Dhabi of post-Soviet Russia because you need fourth-liners and solid defensive players to succeed.
The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan did a superb job of summarizing what's ahead for the players and coaches alike by taking note of one of Babcock's remarks...
“The big thing for our coaching staff and our players is to understand completely how we’re going to play,” Babcock said. “Understand that the players won’t be playing as much as they normally do with their (NHL) teams, and accept a role and play the best you can. It’s not going to be about any individual. It’s going to be about Canada.”
And by noting that DeKeyser's heading to the U.S. camp expecting to "be a sponge" as opposed to, say, dressing or speaking to impress the Americans' Olympic staff:
“I had no idea what to expect but when I got the information, it was just a big thrill,” said DeKeyser, one of 48 players invited to the Aug. 26-27 camp in Arlington, Va. “That’s what you dream about, for the chance to represent your country in the Olympics. I’m just really excited and can’t wait to begin the process.”
Along with the three Red Wings, several local NHL players also were invited to the camp: goaltender Ryan Miller (East Lansing, Sabres), forward Ryan Kesler (Livonia, Canucks), and defensemen Jack Johnson (Ann Arbor, Blue Jackets), Cam Fowler (Farmington Hills, Ducks) and Jacob Trouba (Rochester, Jets).
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, a Grand Haven native, is slated to lead Team USA.
While DeKeyser appears to be a long shot to make the final roster, just having the chance to attend his first camp with no international tournament experience is something he can’t wait to do.
“I want to go there and soak up all the knowledge the program can give,” DeKeyser said. “I don’t really know what to expect. I’m just going to go down there and work hard and enjoy the experience and learn what I can.”
If you head over to NHL.com, TSN or Sportsnet's video pages, you'll find over an hour's worth of roster/camp invite dissection from the "experts," but the Olympic orientation camps are just the start of the process for new participants like DeKeyser, explanations of a) what to expect systems-wise, b) accommodations-wise (players are bringing their families to a region that honestly scares the hell out of me, and there's apparently little or nothing to do at present in the yet-to-be-completed Olympic village and facilities) c) and, "What you need to do to impress us" outlines for the players with more realistic expectations of making the Olympic team...
But if we're going to be talking about inclusions vs. snubs (for the record, I would imagine that almost every "snub" from at least the U.S. and Canadian camps will get, "We're still interested in you" phone calls over the next week or two), what the teams are going to look like and what kind of roster it really takes to succeed...
That kind of conversation really and honestly needs to wait until November, when both stars and role players have impressed or performed short of expectations.
Don't get me wrong, in places like Russia, where the games are an inherently political beast, and it really IS about "who you know," snubs like Ilya Bryzgalov's are meant to send a very strong message, but...It's frickin' post-Soviet Russia, where Igor Larionov was asked to be the GM of the Russian team, but he didn't just decline the invite--he flat-out refused it, and did so very publicly--when he was told that the Russians could not guarantee that Larionov would be able to run the team without being told who to pick and who "Coach Bill" (Zinetula Bilyaletdinov) should play, because everyone from Putin on down's allowed to make "polite suggestions"...
But the politics are more about "us" than the teams, at least for the next couple of months.
I know that it's summer and that some of you feel a little bit "bored"--but for me, DeKeyser's reaction's the neatest one as he was genuinely surprised by his invitation, as he told the Free Press's Helene St. James...
“That’s pretty cool for me — my first time being invited to anything like that,” DeKeyser said Monday. “It was pretty surprising to me. I didn’t hear any talk about it.
“Any chance to get a chance to play for your country, anybody would take that opportunity.”
DeKeyser is one of 18 defensemen invited. He’s among the longer shots to make the final cut, but his smooth skating and nimble puck-moving skills will help argue his inclusion to a tournament played on the larger Olympic ice. If nothing else, receiving the invitation is a tremendous boost to a young player’s confidence, and getting the opportunity to rub shoulders with the likes of Ryan Suter and Keith Yandle will be a thrill.
“That’s going to be a great experience,” DeKeyser said. “I’m going to do my best to make the team. The game that I play is the game that got me here, the game that people recognize. So I’m just going to try to play my game as flawlessly as I can. If can continue to do that, that will be my best chance to make the roster. There are some great guys on there. It’s a pretty special group to be a part of. I look forward to the experience.”
And you can file this article from the Toronto Star's Cathal Kelly (an admitted Wings fan in Toronto, but still a bit of an odd duck) in the, "Shit I'm going to try to avoid like Royal Baby News over the next four months":
On a long enough timeline, nearly every coaching hire is a bad idea.
Like Aztec sacrifices, they all head up the side of the temple in front of the parade. A few years later, they’re thrown down from the top.
The size of this loop — the time it takes to get from hero to dictionary definition of “idiot” — is exaggerated at the international level. The public lens is more focused. Whatever coaching there is to do, there is less time to do it. In the end, you put the available talent out on the ice, and light a few more candles than usual.
Mike Babcock, God bless him, has wandered into the patriotic minefield for a second time. Hockey Canada announced Monday he will return to coach the only team that really matters in Sochi come February.
Kelly continues, but the mixed metaphors do, too, and we get enough of those kinds of, "I can't talk about one sport without talking about three others to make weird comparisons" stuff from Evil Drew Sharp around here.
In other news, speaking of "premature proclamations," Sportsline's Brian Stubits decided that July 22nd was as good a time as any to issue his first power rankings list of the 2013-2014 season:
5. Detroit Red Wings: Big loss: Damien Brunner. Big addition: Daniel Alfredsson. Hard to deny the Red Wings got better. Alfredsson was the big addition, but getting Stephen Weiss was significant as well. He can finally help them fill the second-line center void. The D still isn't the best you'll see but with Jimmy Howard in net they were plenty good last season. I have them a touch high, but obviously I like what they've done for right now.
The Bergen Record's Andrew Gross offers a slate of free agency "Winners and Losers," too:
RED WINGS: Signing Daniel Alfredsson away from the Senators for a Ray Bourque-esque run at the Stanley Cup, as well as ex-Panther center Stephen Weiss, should make up for the loss of center Valtteri Filppula to the Lightning.
The Grand Rapids Griffins on Monday announced that they have agreed to terms with goaltender Tom McCollum on a one-year AHL contract.
McCollum, 23, set career bests last season in wins (18), goals against average (2.63), save percentage (0.904) and shutouts (2) and posted an 18-11-2 record in 31 appearances, helping the Griffins capture the Midwest Division title, en route to their first Calder Cup championship. The fifth-year pro ranks among the franchise’s all-time goaltending leaders with 113 games played (3rd), 6,320:02 minutes (3rd), 45 wins (T5th), 2,728 saves (3rd), three shutouts (T9th) and five shootout wins (7th).
Detroit’s first choice (30th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, McCollum also appeared in 42 games for the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye from 2009-12, sporting a 19-16-4 record with a 2.84 GAA and three shutouts. The Sanborn, N.Y., native made his NHL debut with the Red Wings on March 30, 2011, making five saves in a relief effort versus St. Louis.
The Wings retained McCollum's rights by tossing him a belated qualifying offer when he was a restricted free agent, but an AHL contract at least strongly indicates that McCollum will spend his year battling Jared Coreau for the back-up's spot behind Petr Mrazek.
The Wings are still affiliated with the ECHL's Toledo Walleye--they re-upped their affiliation with Detroit for 2 years as of last summer--and as a rule, they've accepted up to six Grand Rapids Griffins players at one time since the team was re-incorporated as the Toledo Storm's successor, and as their ownership group also runs the AAA Toledo Mud Hens, there's no reason to expect the team to part ways with the Wings anytime soon.
All of that being said, the Walleye also accept up to six players from the Chicago Blackhawks and/or the AHL's Rockford IceHogs as their AHL/NHL affiliation is split between the Wings and Hawks, and Jordan Pearce had to battle against Alec Richards and Kent Simpson during the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons, respectively, so it's not as if McCollum or Coreau will be given the Walleye's starting spot on anything but an as-earned basis.
In the multimedia department, the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan took a look at, "Key dates on the Red Wings' 2013-2014 schedule" via a photo gallery;
In interactive-type-stuff, the Free Press's Helene St. James will hold a chat on Freep.com at 11 AM EDT today;
In the charitable news department, again, Pavel Datsyuk's holding a hockey school in Yekaterinburg, and he tends to host underprivileged kids every summer...
And the Nunatsiaq News's David Murphy reports that Jordin Tootoo's heading north from his off-season home in the British Columbia interior to visit his home province this upcoming weekend:
Eastern Nunavut hockey fans can rejoice — National Hockey League player and the Inuit world’s most-celebrated athlete, Jordin Tootoo, is making his way back to the Baffin region this July as part of the Nunasi Corp.’s 2013 community tour.
Tootoo will visit Kimmirut, Qikiqtarjuaq, Clyde River, Cape Dorset and Sanikiluaq from July 26 to July 28.
“He’ll share his message about setting goals and working hard to achieve them,” said Nunasi’s director of communications and marketing, Franco Buscemi.
The promotional tour started almost a decade ago in 2004.
This is the first time Tootoo will do the annual tour as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, having previously played for the Nashville Predators since 2003.
Tootoo will talk about the importance of education, since his parents “always stressed to him how, when we were always down south playing hockey, that they wouldn’t let him advance without him graduating high school” said Buscemi.
Although Buscemi says Nunasi isn’t making a profit on these tours, the Nunavut Inuit birthright corporation will also be promoting Nunasi and its subsidiary companies, “to let people know about employment opportunities, training opportunities and different programs.”
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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.