The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/02/13 at 07:01 AM ET
A little under two days removed from the Red Wings' locker room clean-out day, a pair of pundits are already looking toward next season, when the Red Wings will move to what we've been told is a bigger, meaner but more "open" Eastern Conference.
Fox Sports Detroit's Art Regner spoke with several Wings players and the Wings' coach about, as Mike Babcock likes to put it, "Learning how to play in a whole new league," which is especially appropriate given that there was no inter-conference play this past season:
When asked if Detroit will have to change their style of play in the East, coach Mike Babcock said, "Until I’ve been in it for a while, I won’t know the answer to that. I’ve talked to Paul MacLean, (former Wings assistant coach, now head coach of the Ottawa Senators) and asked him the same question. He says it's more physically demanding right from the get-go. As far as fighting and physicality, but he told me he did what he always did, so, that’s what we’re going to do. We will be prepared.”
Justin Abdelkader's hoping that things are a little more rough and tumble, but he duly notes that the Wings are most successful when they play like the Red Wings instead of simply abandoning their style of play to mimic that of every opponent on a game-by-game basis:
"It will be fun,” Wings forward Justin Abdelkader said. “We’re going to play our game, play our style, and play our system.”
“In this day and age it’s a different game. You have to be able to play,” Abdelkader said. “It’s not like the old days when guys would be nervous going into the Philadelphia Spectrum. Fighting is not as big of an aspect as it once was, playing tough doesn’t mean you have to go out and fight.”
The Wings' captain duly notes that the Western Conference has become something of a defensive clusterf*** at times, and as such, he's looking forward to playing a little more offensively-inclined hockey, which is supposed to be the Wings' forte...
“It’s going to be exciting going into next year,” Zetterberg said. “We’re going to see different teams, different cities and the style of play in the east is different, so it’s going to be fun to see how we adjust to that. We should fit in well; we will play within our structure. It’s a little more wide open. It will be fun to see what we can do.”
But Jimmy Howard's going to have to do a lot of video work, to the point that he may be assigned some summertime homework by the coaching staff and goalie coaches Chris Osgood and Jim Bedard, because he hasn't faced an Eastern Conference shooter for two years:
“We haven’t played an Eastern Conference team in a while," Howard said. "It’s going to be a learning process for all of us. The east is a lot of run and gun, it’s just up and down the ice, and the west is a little more structured hockey. There definitely is going to be a learning curve for me.”
In case you haven't already figured it out, the Wings don't plan on making massive stylistic or personnel changes because they'e swapping conferences, and Ken Holland confirmed as much:
“I hear everybody say the east is bigger, the east is tougher,” Holland said. “Anaheim was pretty big and I don’t know if there’s a bigger team in the league than LA. The National Hockey League is the National Hockey League. It you have a good team it’s a good team.”
On an individual player basis, the Free Press's Helene St. James very directly asked Babcock what role Jordin Tootoo (who's owed $1.9 million in terms of his cap hit for the next two seasons while earning $4 million in real-world money) might play for the team in the future on Friday--you can hear her in the Babcock end-of-season-lecure video--and it's a very good question (as Babcock likes to say) given both the team's roster crunch (especially up front) and its cap situation heading into next season.
Babcock praised Tootoo's performance, as St. James noted...
Speaking Friday as the Wings gathered for one last time as a group this season, coach Mike Babcock had nothing but positive reviews for Tootoo. “I thought Toots was great for us. He did everything we wanted from him. He came in, he was physical, he gave us energy.”
But his answer as to why Tootoo didn't play in the playoffs was telling:
As the games grew in importance, Tootoo’s value diminished. “Those guys, the type of player he is,” Babcock said, “gets way more opportunity early in the season, when it’s being silly, than he does in the end and in the playoffs. There’s no penalties in the playoffs. You just can’t take a penalty in the playoffs. There’s not as much stuff after the whistle. There’s mauling each other, but there’s not that stuff.”
Babcock reiterated that he “was thrilled” with Tootoo, but $1.9 million a season is a lot to pay a guy with limited value. Given how much competition there is expected to be for jobs next season, if Tootoo doesn’t fit into playoff plans again next spring, the Wings might buy out his contract, which would then be entering its last year. One upside for Tootoo: The Wings are moving to the Eastern Conference, renowned for being more physical. That could work to his advantage.
Tootoo lost his spot with the Predators after complaining about not playing during last season's playoff match-up against Detroit, but he didn't pull an Ian White regarding his role with Detroit:
“Everyone knows what I bring to the game,” Tootoo said. “The good thing about it is that I can play different styles. I create room out there. I can do all that stuff. ... In the NHL, guys are put into specific roles. Whatever keeps me in the lineup, I’m going to make sure I keep doing it. Fortunately, I was able to help the guys in the regular season with a few big games. As far as playoffs, every guy wants to play. I was ready to go.”
In summing up his debut with the Wings, Tootoo said: “You’ve got to go with what’s put in front of you. When you’re told you’re not going to be in the lineup ... it’s not a good feeling.”
The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness also spoke to a player whose impact was felt in both the regular season and playoffs in Drew Miller, who's an unrestricted free agent-to-be.
Miller wants to stay, but he faces both roster and cap crunch issues, as well as, put bluntly, the best opportunity in his career to find a team that's willing to pay a 29-year-old 3rd-and-4th-line forward waaaaaaaayyyy more than his $850,000 salary earned this past season (at an $837,500 cap hit):
“I would like to stay,” Miller said. “I’ve got to talk to Babs and to Kenny Holland, figure out what their approach is to coming back. I don’t have much more to say other than I’d like to come back.”
It all could come down to if there’s a spot even available for Miller.
“We’ve got some big decisions because there’s a push from below,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said.
With the emergence of rookies Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist, along with Tomas Tatar’s play in his time called up could make it harder for Miller, 29, a deal he’s looking for.
“But being in a position to have options is something that could possibly be looked at but my first choice would be to stay and come back,” Miller said. “I think I found a role that I can play here and they count on me to do that night in, night out, so it’s definitely somewhere I’d like to stay. You just never know. You have to wait and see.”
The Free Press's St. James follows the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan in issuing player grades this morning, and I actually think that her analysis-based "teaser" is great writing about the team as a whole, so I'm going to quote that...
This 2013 Wings team was different first and foremost because for the first time in 20 years, it could no longer rely on Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired a year ago. Also gone: Top shut-down defenseman Brad Stuart, 25-goal scorer Jiri Hudler, net-front master Tomas Holmstrom. Add to that injuries on the back end and up front, and the lineup changed almost nightly. Through it all the usual guys delivered - Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Jimmy Howard - and others surprised, like Justin Abdelkader and Joakim Andersson. Others were decidedly average, like Johan Franzen, and others disappointed, like Valtteri Filppula and Jonas Gustavsson. Some made up for an average regular season with an outstanding playoff performance, like Daniel Cleary.
The Wings came within a victory of the Western Conference Finals, but still lost in the second round, unable to close out the Blackhawks even after taking a 3-1 lead in the series. Weighed against the “work in progress” that they were thanks to so many new faces, the Wings’ overall performance was above average. Easy to say they should have done better, but that’s ignoring the parity that’s leveled the NHL, and the fact that the Wings don’t get top-five or even top-10 draft picks from which to build their squads.
Individually, players have to have played at least 10 games to get a grade. Regular season performances and playoff performances were combined into one grade.
And now I'm pointing you toward the rest of the article for her grades. She's a harder grader than I am.
In the "Spirit of the Thing" department, the Oakland Press's Pat Caputo offers a take on the Wings worth noting as it is entirely possible, if not probable, that the team may make all of one free-agent signing that doesn't involve a current Red Wings player:
The Red Wings have wiggle room this summer. There is maneuverability under the salary cap for general manager Ken Holland to tweak the roster. The Red Wings aren’t in a desperate situation. They don’t have to do anything. They can be a bit choosy rather than overpaying for mediocre or washed-up talent, or trading their youth for veteran castoffs.
Smart and calculated moves inevitably pan out better than knee-jerk reactions. A classic example came last offseason.
There was panic among many Red Wings’ fans when they didn’t sign a premier free agent such as defenseman Ryan Suter or winger Zach Parise. Instead, they signed forward Damien Brunner, who had starred in Europe. Brunner was one of the Red Wings’ top goal scorers during the regular season, and scored key goals during the playoffs.
The Red Wings added ice time for Justin Abdelkader, putting him with Zetterberg and Datsyuk on the top line. He responded extremely well, benefiting the Red Wings’ big guns by creating room on the ice with his rugged play.
Holland was similarly skewered for not making a trade near the deadline with the Red Wings’ spot in the playoffs in limbo. He did, however, sign a college free agent, Danny DeKeyser from Western Michigan, who immediately stepped into the lineup and excelled.
The Red Wings aren’t necessarily a plodding, older team any more. DeKeyser and former first-round draft choice Brendan Smith, both defenseman, are excellent skaters. As they become more confident, the Red Wings’ inability to get the puck out of their own zone, and some of their issues on the power play, will improve.
Those aren’t the only two young players with high ceilings in the near future. Forward Gustav Nyquist is uniquely skilled. He played very well during the playoffs, and it was just the tip of the iceberg.
I'm not sure if Capgeek indicates that the Wings will have much "wiggle room," especially if they re-sign any of their unrestricted free agents-to-be not named Damien Brunner, but the team could have enough roster and cap space to sign either a goal-scoring, net-front forward or a top-four defenseman, depending on what need they want to fill...
But if the team does indeed decide to "go for it" and exceed the summer cap by 10% and use their cap-compliance buy-outs and trade some players, it could address both needs.
You and I both know that Holland and the Wings' management and coaches are a cautious bunch that prefers to build from within and via prospects and draft picks, however, and I think that it's downright dangerous to expect the team to be anything less than extremely conservative in terms of their off-season "game plan."
In other news: The Red Wings' players Tweeted that they were taking in the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle on Saturday...
And Pavel Datsyuk engaged in an intriguing pair of Tweets with the chariman of the Gold Star Mortgage Financial Group, which is a very, very, very large mortgage company here in Southeastern Michigan:
I know that some people are linking Babcock to the Rangers job, but he stated to the media that he's promised his daughter, who will be going into her junior year of high school this fall, that he'll stick around at least until she graduates, and I don't buy the suggestions that Babcock wants to find a "new challenge" by leaving the team to succeed Red Berenson at U of M or to head to a biggest-market team.
He already stated that he enjoyed coaching this year more than he has at any other point during his coaching career, he's finally got an assistant coach who can serve as a Paul MacLean-like buffer between himself and the players in Tom Renney, he has "a whole new league" to learn and this past season's performance may very well have earned him the right to coach the Red Wings for as long as the 50-year-old wants to.
Yes, the grass could appear to be greener for Babcock in New York, and we saw the upwardly-mobile Brendan Shanahan choose to leave the Wings in 2006: A) due to Yzerman's retirement; B) because he and Babcock didn't get along (Shanahan, Robert Lang, Mathieu Schneider and Mike Commodore are the official members of the, "I Left the Red Wings Because I Couldn't Stand Mike Babcock" club); and C) He wanted to play on the biggest stage while setting himself up for a post-career career working for the NHL or NHLPA, and the NHL's headquarters and the PA's U.S. headquarters are located in New York...
But the acres of land more or less take care of themselves here in Detroit, it's a hotbed of Major and Minor Midget, Major Junior, College and Minor Pro hockey in Michigan, the Red Wings are owned and managed very, very well, and the players have always been required to semi-coach themselves, with both the captain and leadership group expected to interact with the coaching staff as Henrik Zetterberg's been doing for years.
For that matter, the coach and the GM usually on the same chapter of the same book, but they're rarely on the same page. Babcock stated during his end-of-season lecture that he's submited his "wish list" to Holland, as he does at the end of every season, but Santa Claus can't give you everything you want (dear Gord, the Rolling Stones puns the Chicago media--and what a bunch of "homers" they are--have tossed off over the last couple of days...);
In the, "Stuff you find on the internet when you have search engine monkeys" department, Red Wings pro scout Marty Stein is based in Vernon, BC, Ken Holland (and Chris Osgood's) off-season home (and Jordin Tootoo lives in nearby Kelowna--the Okanagan Valley region of British Columbia is something of a off-season player destination), and the Vernon Morning Star's Kevin Mitchell (we will hear from him more than once during this off-season as he speaks with Holland at his annual charity golf tournament in early August) reports that Stein is retiring from his day job--the coach of most of Fulton Secondary School's athletic teams in Vernon, BC--after 32 years on the job. Ahem:
The new job Stein is taking up in retirement is really nothing new. He’s been a part-time scout for the Detroit Red Wings for 18 years, recruited by friend and former Viking teammate Ken Holland. Marty has three Stanley Cup rings and has been to Wings’ owner Mike Illitch’s house for post-Cup celebrations.
Stein will now be a full-time bird-dog in western Canada, checking out prospects in the WHL and BCHL.
“I have been scouting between 100 and 128 games a year so now I’ll be doing probably over 150. I make my own timetable for travelling all over Alberta, B.C. and Washington.”
In the "Somewhat Frivolous News" department, the Free Press's Steve Schrader offers his usual Sunday nuggets of wisdom, including the following...
N.Y. Times blogger Nate Silver — the guy known for picking political races and Super Bowls — put his sabermetrics to the question, “Why can’t Canadian teams win the Stanley Cup?” But that’s beside the point.
Along the way, he provided a chart that listed NHL media markets by their number of avid hockey fans, basically by measuring Google traffic.
And Silver ranks the Detroit area — Hockeytown — just 13th with 743,557 avid hockey fans, 15% of its population of 4.9 million.
In raw numbers, that’s less than all of the Canadian cities except for Winnipeg, which has less than 1 million in population. It’s even less than L.A.’s 1-million-plus hockey fans, though that’s just 6% of the population there.
The leader is Toronto, with more than 5 million, or 52% of its population.
The leaders percentage-wise are Calgary and Edmonton, with 67% of their populations considered avid fans. The U.S. leaders are Buffalo at 33% and Pittsburgh at 27%.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong...
Schrader offers a "News Quiz"...
What went wrong with the Red Wings?
A) The referees were against … darn, can’t really use that excuse this year.
B) OK, the NBC announcers were against them.
C) The Blackhawks were against them.
D) Brandon Inge was against them.
An amusing "Stevie Award"...
The "It Was Fun While It Lasted" award
To Pierre McGuire, the NBC guy whose catchphrase was “go out and have fun out there” every time he interviewed somebody. Well, the Red Wings lost three in a row and they’re out of the playoffs, so are we having fun yet? Still, if you’d told us a few weeks ago that they’d take the mighty Blackhawks to a Game 7 ... we’d still be disappointed if they didn’t win and advance to play the L.A. Kings.
Yup, and I fear that I may have to kill McGuire and Eddie Olczyk for coining the, "GOOD NON CALL" line during the Wings-Hawks series.
Is George still angry about the fact that David Bolland's charge of Gustav Nyquist led to the series-winner that the frickin' hockey world deemed "the right team won" and "thank the hockey gods"-worthy as a direct result of the bizarre Hjalmarsson no-goal call by Stephen Walkom?
Schrader's "Souvenir of the Week" is a golf ball bag that looks suspiciously like the Wings players' toiletry bag;
And, regarding the strippers reference: Okay, I haven't been to a strip club since my friend's bachelor party in 2004. It's not my kind of hangout, adoration for the female form included.
But we're going to hear a crap-ton of rumors about the Wings and potential moves or free agent signings in the weeks and months to come, and quite a few of them are going to come from HFBoards. MrAdrianKeith on Twitter let me know that HFBoards users found a French-language report from a blog I've never heard of, whose "DLC" claims that Wings prospect Xavier Ouellet's agent contacted him and told him that the Red Wings and Canadiens were discussing a trade that would send Andrei Markov, Travis Moen, Raphael Diaz or Yannick Weber or Tomas Plekanec or Brian Gionta (way to narrow down your rumored return there, sparky) to Detroit in exchange for Ouellet (and who knows what else).
Because, according to "DLC," the Canadiens' scouts and GM had taken in some Blainville-Boisbriand Armada games (Blainville-Boisbriand is a suburb of Montreal, so attending an Armada game is a 24-mile trip from the Bell Centre to the Centre d'Excellence Sports Rousseau, which is equivalent to the Red Wings' staff making a 27-mile drive from Joe Louis Arena to Compuware Arena to take in a Whalers game), and ZOMG, Ouellet is a good defenseman AND was the Armada's captain AND is French-Canadian!
Listen, dear readers, I'm gonna put it bluntly: Montreal is the center of the hockey rumor universe. Many French-language media outlets (most of the "tabloid" variety), never mind blogs of both good and ill repute, have incredibly lax standards as to what constitutes a "verified" rumor and what is simply someone scrolling down a list of prospects and making shit up.
It is entirely possible that Eklund was in fact born and raised in Montreal given the way he makes shit up for a living. It is entirely possible that Lyle "Spector" Richardson may have taken up his tenure as a Trade Rumor Mythbuster because he's a Canadiens fan, and, well, if there ain't a rumor about every Canadiens player going to two other NHL teams on a given day, the sun didn't come up.
If you've ever been to a strip club in Metro Detroit or Windsor, you probably know that there are a remarkable number of ladies and gentlemen who claim to be from Montreal.
It's such a common statement that one may wonder whether there is a stripper factory located in the Montreal suburbs.
And as many of you know regarding female strippers, the vast majority of them boast body parts which look bigger due to the presence of silicone or saline.
Long story short, rumors from Montreal are kind of like strippers from Montreal. They're nice to look at, but the vast majority of them include what some might call "false advertising."
I'm not going to spend my summer chasing down rumors or reporting them to you. I'm not going to frequent HFBoards and read about made-up trades. I've got to deal with factual stuff and "scoops" from people who are reputable and do not spread and trade rumors for a living.
Or to put it very bluntly, I'm not gonna go chasing after strippers from Montreal with fake breasts. That's not my kind of thing, and there's no point in a bald fat guy who's in a low-paying profession to toss loonies and toonies away for the sake of somebody who's never gonna let me take her out to Harvey's anyway.
Update: MLive's Brendan Savage says that Wings fans voting in a poll as to which player is the team's MVP picked Jimmy Howard, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg as their finalists.
Hard choice. I've gotta go with Howard.
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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.