The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/16/13 at 03:08 AM ET
I felt guilty writing the Lashoff entry because of what was going on at the time, and I really don't feel like writing this morning...But the world continues to rotate and the hockey world reacted appropriately to what happened in Boston on Monday. All I cay say, the Red Wings and their prospects already said, reminding us all that, in the greater scheme of things, we follow a kid's game played by professional athletes, and in the end, we're all on the same team:
With that out of the way--my thoughts and prayers are with those in Boston this morning, with everyone who was affected by the tragedy as the Boston Marathon's enormous participation and attendance means that this devastated people all over the world--and as the Chief said, I also hope they get whoever the *#$%@& did this.
But today marks day 88 of the 48-games-in-99-nights demolition derby that is the 2013 NHL season, and the Red Wings will hold a brief practice at Joe Louis Arena before boarding Red Bird III for a flight to Calgary.
They'll play the Flames on Wednesday, receive another "off-day" after flying to Vancouver, and they'll prepare to face what will be both the playoff-determining portion of their season and perhaps its most brutal:
Days 92-99 of the NHL season see the Wings playing 5 games in eight nights, starting with Saturday's game in Vancouver. Then they head home for an April 22 tilt (Monday) against a team chasing them in the Phoenix Coyotes, April 24 and 25th (Wednesday and Thursday) games against the Kings and the playoff-spoiler Predators, respectively, and on Saturday, April 27th, the Wings face what may be a win-and-you're-in game in Dallas against the "pesky" Stars.
The Wings received assists from some of their foes on Monday and no help from others. As of this morning, the 20-15-and-7 Wings have 18 Regulation-or-Overtime wins and 47 points, and they're in 8th place...Simply because they have a game in hand over the 20-16-and-7 Columbus Blue Jackets, who also have 47 points but have played 43 games to the Wings' 42 (they also trail in ROWs as they have 15).
Columbus defeated Colorado 3-2 in overtime, and if the Wings don't make the playoffs, it's entirely possible that Wings fans like you and me will be saying, "Thanks, Bobrovsky," because goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky's been balls-out fantastic for Columbus. Pro Hockey Talk's James O'Brien offers context regarding Columbus's win:
The Columbus Blue Jackets stayed in the playoff hunt with a dramatic 4-3 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday.
Their formula seems to be set: Sergei Bobrovsky remained the constant force with a revolving set of other heroes giving the team yet another victory despite a tiny margin of error. In this case, Nick Foligno (OT winner) and R.J. Umberger (late game-tying goal) were the ones who made the difference.
Here’s how the race for the West’s eight seed looks after Monday:
8. Detroit (idle tonight): 20-15-7 for 47 points with six games left
9. Columbus: 20-16-7 for 47 points with five games left
10. Dallas (lost 5-2 to Chicago): 21-18-3 for 45 points with six games left
11. Phoenix: 18-16-7 for 43 points with six games left*
It won’t be easy for the Blue Jackets. Their next four games are on the road as they face the three California teams and then fellow fringe competitor Dallas (then they finish at home against Nashville).
After all that’s happened, are you really willing to count Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets out, though?
* – The Coyotes currently trail the San Jose Sharks 3-0, so that could change from 43 to 44 or 45 points with five games left depending on the outcome.
Phoenix lost 4-0, so they remain at 43 points with 6 games remaining (and they have 18 wins and 15 ROWs), and the Wings now trail San Jose by 2 points, 49-47, though the Sharks (21 wins, but only 14 ROWs) are theoretically within reach;
The Wings now trail the Minnesota Wild by 2 points, 49-47, as the Wild (23 wins, 19 ROWs) defeated Wednesday's opponent, the Calgary Flames, 4-3 (and Joey MacDonald's playing fantastically well for the Flames);
The Wings trail the idle St. Louis Blues by one point, 48-47 (23 wins, 20 ROWs), but St. Louis is the only one of the Wings' pursuers-and-or-targets that has a game in hand on everybody else;
And the Dallas Stars (21 wins, 19 ROWs) remain two points behind Detroit with 45 thanks to a hand given to Detroit by the Chicago Blackhawks, who defeated Dallas 5-2.
So that's where the Wings stand--and yes, we are at a point, regardless of whether the Wings win out or not, where "help" is welcome and necessary.
On Monday afternoon, the Associated Press's Larry Lage took note of the super-tight playoff race in the Western Conference...
The Detroit Red Wings are doing everything they can to extend their post-season streak to 22 years, preparing diligently and playing hard, before turning to TVs and cellphones to watch the competition.
"I would be lying if I told you I didn't," Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard acknowledged. "Of course we're going to watch and be looking at the standings and want to know what we have in front of us. It's in our own hands. It's up to us to go out there and get wins."
The Red Wings earned two points they desperately needed Sunday night with a 3-0 victory at Nashville, putting them in eighth place—at least for a day—in the Western Conference standings. The streaking Dallas Stars, Columbus and Phoenix are all close enough to end Detroit's remarkable run. And things are exciting all over the NHL.
I'd call it freak-out-panic-inducing scary, but I have an anxiety disorder.
Detroit easily has the NHL's longest active post-season streak, surpassing the second, third and fourth longest runs. San Jose has been to eight straight postseasons, Pittsburgh six while Boston, Philadelphia and Washington are tied with five each. The Red Wings are on the best post-season roll since the St. Louis Blues were in 25 straight from 1980-2004, and if they make it to 22 later this month, the franchise will break a tie with the 1948-69 Montreal Canadiens for the fifth-longest post-season run in NHL history .
The regular season ends April 27 with 13 games scheduled before the playoffs.
"I'm sure it's going to come down to the last day for us—and a lot of teams," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said.
“It’s upon us in the dressing room to get the job done,” Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “I think a lot of people would be happy to see us miss the playoffs. We’ve got to go out there and play with the same sense of urgency when we get to Calgary.”
Detroit has 47 points and Dallas still has 45 points. Both teams have also played the same number of games. However, the Stars they hold the tiebreaker (regulation and overtime wins, or ROW). Dallas has 19, while Detroit has 18.
“I just thought from my perspective, we’ve been playing pretty well here of late,” said Babcock, whose team is 2-1-2 over its last three games. “You don’t leave the rink as happy as you could be when you lose in a shootout, but actually the last time I didn’t like our game was in Phoenix (April 4).
“It’s good to get the two points (against Nashville),” Babcock continued. “I looked at the last nine games in three-game segments. I felt if we got four out of every six points we’d have a chance. (Sunday) morning we were out of the playoffs. We’re in it right now. (Minnesota) is right there with us, St. Louis is only a point up, so there’s lots of us in that mud puddle trying to find a way to swim.”
And after writing all of the blather above, it turns out that I can very easily point you toward the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa and say, "He broke it down for y'all instead," producing scouting and schedule reports for all of the teams I mentioned. His assessment of the state of the Wings reads "goes a little somethin' like this"...
The way affairs are evolving, the Red Wings must beat the Stars by points in the standings to make the playoffs. Tying them is unlikely to be enough.
Or, they must catch the Wild or Blues, who both have one game in hand and easier remaining schedules. But, the Wild plays four of six against unlikely playoff contestants, the Flames, Oilers and Avalanche.
And, the Blues play six of seven at home.
Or, the Red Wings must catch the Sharks, who are two points ahead and have a game in hand. But that is the longest shot for the Red Wings.
The feeling among the Red Wings is that they control their destiny — and they will prevail. Despite a fluctuating roster because of retirements, trades and injuries, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said whether they make the playoffs is the standard by which the 2013 team will be judged.
"I think we've done a lot of good things," Holland said. "We control our own fate."
And the scouting/schedule reports follow his story.
Red Wings notebooks: Sometimes repetition ain't bad, and MLive's Ansar Khan confirmed the Free Press's Helene St. James' news that the Wings are keeping Brian Lashoff in the mix. I don't know what that says about the team's confidence in Ian White, Carlo Colaiacovo or Kyle Quincey, but Khan breaks things down simply here--the Wings are keeping Lashoff here even though he's not playing because they wouldn't be allowed to recall him for any regular season or theoretical playoff games unless they suffered a "roster emergency" (i.e. the Wings legitimately couldn't dress six defensemen due to injuries), and that rule applies until the Grand Rapids Griffins, who are playoff-bound, are eliminated:
Brian Lashoff will remain with the Detroit Red Wings rather than be reassigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins as previously planned, general manager Ken Holland said on Monday.
Coach Mike Babcock said on Sunday that the club was sending Lashoff to the Griffins so that he could play some games. He has been a healthy scratch the past five games.
However, if the rookie defenseman is sent down he can't be recalled except on an emergency basis. That's because the club used the maximum four recalls allowed after the April 3 trade deadline on Lashoff, Danny DeKeyser, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson so that they would be eligible for the AHL playoffs.
I was quite impressed with your comments regarding the praise levied toward Danny DeKeyser on Monday, so while I'm happy to kind-of-sort-of re-post the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness's story about what Babcock and DeKeyser himself had to say regarding the fact that DeKeyser played more than any player not named Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Jakub Kindl on Sunday:
“He has ability,” Babcock said. “(He’s) a defensive defenseman who has great range and lots of confidence and he keeps playing more and more. We like that he goes back and gets the puck and doesn’t make a ton of mistakes. He’s come from college hockey to be a regular in our lineup. We got nine D and he’s finding a way to play. Good for him but better for us. If you’re a fan of the Red Wings it looks like you may have a player there for a long time.”
He’s played in five straight games as the Wings are in the midst of trying to qualify for the postseason. DeKeyser, 23, was one of the NHL’s most sought-after free agents last year before deciding to stay at WMU. That again was the case this year where DeKeyser’s representatives met with a number of teams before choosing Detroit.
“I knew there would be a chance to play if I worked hard, so that’s what I was looking for when I came here,” said DeKeyser, who signed a two-year, entry-level contract on March 29. “I’m just trying to get confidence. Every game here I feel more and more comfortable with every shift so I just got to keep it going and play a simple game.
“I just try to go out there and play hockey,” DeKeyser continued. “When it comes down to it, you’re going out there and playing games, so these are big games and I know that. I’m just trying to go out there and play hard. That’s all I can do right now.”
DeKeyser, who’s averaging about 17 minutes of ice time per game, picked up his first NHL point in Sunday’s critical 3-0 win over the Nashville Predators.
“It was something that’s real exciting for me,” said DeKeyser, a De La Salle graduate. “It’s nice when you get your first NHL point, it’s something you kind of dream of as a kid.”
Since you duly noted that anointing DeKeyser a franchise savior would be dangerous--repeating our, "Hey, Jonathan Ericsson's going to be a #1 defenseman!" mistake--and you're right, but I want to point out that the Wings' expectations for DeKeyser do not include #65 developing into a #1 defenseman.
Early scouting report on Danny DeKeyser, the Western Michigan free-agent defenceman the Oilers tried to sign as a free agent but lost out to the Detroit Red Wings: He skates and handles himself defensively like Jeff Petry of the Edmonton Oilers. He’s a good skater with a big body, a defensive D-man. He played 11 seconds short of 20 minutes against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday at the United Center (more than Jakub Kindl), as the Wings try to hold on to eighth place in the Western Conference. That says the Oilers weren’t wrong to make a pitch for him, although would there be room for two blue-liners of the same ilk (Petry and DeKeyser)?
A reliable, stay-at-home defenseman who is at his best in his own zone … Uses his outstanding mobility, reach and outstanding positioning to neutralize opposing forwards … Not a dynamic offensive defenseman, but an efficient puck-mover who makes excellent decisions breaking out of his own zone … Tall with a large frame, but still needs to add strength coming out of college … Described by Red Line Report as a “strong all-compass skater” who “plays with a nasty edge” and who is an “outstanding penalty killer who blocks a ton of shots” … Projects as a solid top-four defenseman, although offensive limitations may prevent him from being a top-pairing guy.
Let's get this straight, folks: the Red Wings believe that, in a couple of years, Brendan Smith will be a top-pair defenseman. But the Red Wings believe that both Lashoff and DeKeyser will be solid #3/4/5 defensemen, the kinds of Swiss Army Knife players that will essentially do what Kyle Quincey was supposed to do--replace Brad Stuart while providing the Wings with solid penalty-killing, good outlet-passes, an abundance of simple-play-making skills that will make them pleasantly invisible more often than not, and a bit of a physical bite.
Lashoff has better positional skills and is a little more physical; DeKeyser's got better wheels and may or may not have more offensive ability.
But the Red Wings do not expect Smith, Lashoff or DeKeyser to suddenly become Niklas Kronwall II and Brad Stuart IIA and Brad Stuart IIB. They're 24, 22 and 22, respectively, and it may take another three years before the gents hit their prime.
Until then, they're honestly #4-5-6-7 defensemen (at present, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl are the "top three" for better or worse, and I hope that the Wings make "hard decisions" about players like Quincey, Colaiacovo and White in order to give the team the cap space necessary to genuinely pursue another top pair defenseman to spell the incredibly-overworked Kronwall), and the Wings expect the trio to have ups and downs and rotate in and out of the lineup.
Sometimes they're going to struggle, and sometimes they're going to make terrible mistakes. That's part of the learning process in the NHL, and that's okay.
If you're looking for the next Smith in terms of offensive potential, look to Ryan Sproul or Xavier Ouellet, if not the dark-horse x-factor that is Adam Almquist, should he fill out that tiny little body he's got.
Lashoff and DeKeyser aren't top-pair defensemen, and the Wings don't expect them to become top-pair defensemen. They expect the pair to develop into steady, reliable contributors, and as far as the Red Wings are concerned, those kinds of "fill the middle" players are just as invaluable as superstars because they simply go out there and get the job done with no fuss, no muss, and often little attention paid to their efforts.
Unlike the sticky wickets the Wings find themselves with in terms of going forward (somewhat literally) with Mikael Samuelsson (expect him to be bought out), unrestricted free agents-to-be Filppula, Danny Cleary and Drew Miller, and to some extent, Cory Emmerton and Patrick Eaves given that the Wings hope to have Darren Helm and Todd Bertuzzi in their lineup next season, given that the team's obviously going to re-sign Damien Brunner, and given that RFA's-to-be Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist and the signed-till-next-summer Tomas Tatar all have merited full-time spots on the roster, never mind your and my hope that the team will both add a top-pair defenseman and a goal-scoring forward this summer...
I don't believe that the team will buy out Johan Franzen, however.
His cap hit is manageable, and I hate to tell you this, folks, but the immediate future in terms of top offensive prospects consists of small players in Calle Jarnkrok and Teemu Pulkkinen, as well as the dark horse that is Landon Ferraro, with the larger Tomas Jurco, Martin Frk and the project that is Marek Tvrdon at least 3-4 years out, and the almost-NHL-ready Riley Sheahan and players like Louis-Marc Aubry and Trevor Parkes projecting as grinders, not goal-scoring machines.
The Free Press's Helene St. James notes that the frustrating Mule is finally contributing to the cause...
Franzen scored an insurance goal in Sunday night's 3-0 victory at Nashville, intercepting a careless Predators' pass and finding the back of the net with a swift backhand. It was Franzen's second goal in two games, third point in three straight games and seventh point in seven games. He has scored as a winger, his usual position, and while at center between Valtteri Filppula and Daniel Cleary.
"Mule's been good," coach Mike Babcock said after Sunday's win.
Franzen has size and skill to dominate, but he has earned a reputation for being soft over the past few years. That tarnish would fade a bit if he keeps playing like he has over the past several weeks. He spent seven games in February sidelined by a hip flexor, and all players need a few games to get back into game shape after returning. Granting Franzen three to do that, the numbers add up to 16 points in his past 20 games.
Only twice has he gone two straight games without a point in the past 20 games. He had a three-point night last month at Anaheim. He scored last week in Chicago against the best team in the Western Conference. He has pleased his coach two straight games, with Babcock saying Sunday: "I thought him and Fil in Chicago were our best line with Clears, and then tonight they were solid as well. That's important for us."
Franzen's turned into something of an assist machine, and I know that's not what the Wings signed him to to provide them with, but he is adding offense to the mix on a relatively consistent basis, and given the desperate situation the Wings find themselves in, there's simply no time for the team to split hairs about whether Franzen's fulfilling expectations as long as he's helping ANYbody fill the back of the net.
As St. James suggests (I can't quote her entire article), the Wings rather desperately need players to help Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, and with Damien Brunner turning inconsistent due to fatigue and the fact that he's still acclimating to the NHL, with Valtteri Filppula and Danny Cleary offering incredibly inconsistent offensive production and Gustav Nyquist playing like what he is--a rookie who's got to work on strength training this summer--Franzen provides an element of size, strength and offensive ability that the Wings don't possess otherwise.
The Wings considered Franzen, 33, so important in 2009 they signed him to an 11-year, $43.5-million extension, an average salary-cap hit of $3.95 million. Teams get amnesty buyouts this summer as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, but the Wings aren't going to use one on Franzen. He's a proven scorer, as he's reminding everyone again.
It's much easier for the Wings to clear cap space by buying out two of Samuelsson ($3 million due next year), Colaiacovo ($2.5 million next year), Quincey ($3.775 million due next year) or Gustavsson ($1.5 million due next year) at 2/3rds of their salaries, not bringing back the majority of Filppula, Cleary, Miller (I happen to think that Miller's earned a spot on next year's team) and White, and moving Emmerton, Eaves, Quincey or Gustavsson as necessary--though we should not expect all of the above-named players to be moved--than it is to get rid of Franzen's massive 6 years and $22.5 million in real-world dollars renaming on his deal.
So he's going to keep driving us crazy for years to come, but that's okay as long as he contributes to the cause.
In the prospect department, in playoff hockey, James De Haas and the Penticton Vees climbed back into the BCHL final via a 3-2 win over the Surrey Eagles, who they trail 2 games to 1, and De Haas registered an assist on the game-winning goal. The teams play again tonight;
In the USHL, Mike McKee and the Lincoln Stars will begin their playoffs against the Sioux Falls Stampede tonight (in Sioux Falls, South Dakota);
In the ECHL, the Toledo Walleye will attempt to tie their first-round series against the Cincinnati Cyclones tonight in Toledo. The Walleye trail the Cyclones 3 games to 2, but they've rallied for 2 straight wins since Wings prospect Jordan Pearce has taken over for Kent Simpson in the net, and Andrej Nestrasil, Willie Coetzee, Max Nicastro and Trevor Parkes have contributed to the cause offensively;
On Monday, the OHL and QMJHL semifinal schedules were finalized. In the OHL, the Eastern Conference Final pits Andreas Athanasiou's Barrie Colts against Alan Quine's Belleville Bulls, and the series starts in Belleville on Friday, April 19th;
And the Western Conference final pits the team in my backyard, the Plymouth Whalers, against the London Knights, with that series also starting on Friday, April 19th in London, ON (note to non-Michiganders: when people in Michigan say "London" and do not include "England" in their geographic description, they're talking about the Ontario town that's almost halfway between Toronto and Detroit).
In the QMJHL, there aren't "conferences" (16 teams, 8 make the playoffs, the end), but the two semifinals involve Red Wings prospects. Martin Frk's Halifax Mooseheads play the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies starting on Saturday, April 20th, and the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, captained by one Xavier Ouellet, will tangle with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar starting on Friday the 19th.
And as a FTR, the Grand Rapids Griffins have clinched a playoff spot, but they don't know who they'll meet yet. The Griffins wrap up their regular season schedule with a home game against the Peoria Rivermen on Friday the 19th and road games in Cleveland (against the Lake Erie Monsters) and Chicago (against the Wolves) on the 20th and 21st.
The AHL used to have divisional playoffs (which the NHL's going to readopt next season), but at present, they utilize the same system the NHL's employing this year, with teams 1-8 in each conference battling each other and the 3 divisional winners earning automatic home-ice advantage.
Also of Red Wings-related note: One more power rankings list hit the wires on Monday night. CBS Sports' Brian Stubits assesses the state of the Wings as follows:
18 [Red Wings]: It's hard to overstate how big that win in Nashville was on Sunday. The Wings were going the wrong way fast having lost three in a row and six of eight but the win gets them back on track and keeps the pressure on the pack.
RedWingsFeed caught this before I did: the Kitchener-Waterloo Record's Ryan Young reports that former Wing turned player agent Igor Larionov has reached an arrangement with a Waterloo Junior B team, the Waterloo Siskins, to serve as a place for young Russian players to play hockey (mostly because the Russian developmental system sucks, even with the KHL spending money to establish the MHL, Russian junior hockey is designed to encourage 16-to-18-year-olds into signing KHL contracts, which lock up players' rights until their 28, so if a junior-aged player wants to play in the NHL, he basically needs to leave Russia).
As usual, Larionov picks his clients carefully, so he's not bringing over a whole team of Russian-born kids who aren't quite ready to play Major Junior Hockey. Instead, he's asking the Waterloo Siskins and their president, Curtis Clairmont, to accomodate two top prospects-in-the-making:
"I told them I have some really high-end players coming up and they would like to be in Canada to play with the goal of making it to NHL,” Larionov said Monday at Grey Silo Golf Course during an event to announce the Siskins’ inaugural golf tournament on June 13. “I think it will be a good starting point for the Russian players to get used to the North American style and physicality, while obviously getting to know the game, country and people and preparing for the next level — the OHL and the NHL.”
Having foreign players arrive in North America prior to their draft year has become a calling card for Larionov’s prospects. Both Yakupov and Galchenyuk played for the OHL’s Sarnia Sting before being taken first and third overall, respectively, in last year’s NHL draft.
Clairmont noted that the application to bring in the Russian players, which includes a $1,900 per-player transfer fee, must still be approved by Hockey Canada. Waterloo went through a similar process last season in acquiring forward Jakub Jelen from the Czech Republic.
The two prospects Larionov named as likely arrivals for the upcoming season are goaltender Leo Lazarev and forward Artem Artemov, both eligible for the 2015 NHL draft.
Larionov said Lazarev has been training with Red Wings goaltender coach Jim Bedard and Artemov will be spending time in the off-season working with Yakupov and Galchenyuk.
With no shortage of coaches asking Larionov to check out potential prospects, the man known as “The Professional” said he won’t put any player in a situation he doesn’t feel they can handle.
“Not everyone can play in North America,” Larionov said. “But these boys are mentally and physically ready and I’m sure they’re going to be top players for this team even though they’re young.”
The Red Wings are holding something called the "Hockeytown BrewHaHa" on Saturday, April 20th at the Joe, bringing food trucks, craft beers and local bands onto the ice (covered) for a food-and-drink event. It costs $37.50 to attend, but Thrillist reports that there will be 7 food trucks and 20 beer vendors in attendance. Bring a designated driver or someone allergic to alcohol to drive you home!
As a reminder, those big "April in the D" bobbleheads of Nicklas Lidstrom and Kris Draper are being given away as part of a contest held by WYCD 99.5 FM;
Also from RedWingsFeed, WWJ Newsradio 950 is going to give away tickets to the Wings' April 24th game against LA during its "Hat Trick Monday" on April 22nd;
And I told Paul this and I'm going to tell you this: I'm going grocery shopping today with the mom, and it's going to be one of those epic two-cart runs, so I will be gone for part of the afternoon and will return in the evening.
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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.