The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/25/14 at 01:54 AM ET
Two days ago, the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan offered an analysis of the Wings' forward corps via an article and attached photo gallery, and this morning, he looks at the Wings' defensemen in article and photo gallery form.
The article allows Wings GM Ken Holland to weigh in regarding the team's inability to land what's become a frickin' unicorn in an elite, right-shooting, free agent defenseman...
“We made offers to players,” general manager Ken Holland said. “They signed elsewhere. That’s going to happen with 30 teams trying to win and with the salary cap. We went in looking to add a right-hand defenseman and we felt we made very competitive offers.”
As well as the reality to which we're still becoming accustomed to--the concept that the team's probably going into the season with its blueline as-is--and unless a Mike Green or Tyler Myers becomes available between now and the trade deadline, that the Wings' "kids" will have to both unseat Kindl and Lashoff and provide an offensive boost:
The return of a healthy Jonathan Ericsson, who missed the end of the regular season and playoffs because of shoulder surgery, and the continued development of Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser, could improve the group as it is currently constructed.
Then, there’s the talent in Grand Rapids, and many made cameos with the Red Wings last season. Young defensemen such as Ryan Sproul and Alexey Marchenko are right-handed, while lefties Xavier Ouellet and Mattias Backman appear close to cracking the Red Wings lineup, no matter which hand is their strong hand.
“We feel we have kids who aren’t far away,” Holland said. “We had young players who got an opportunity last season and helped us make the playoffs. We like the pool of players coming up.”
In the photo gallery, Kulfan offers assessments of the Wings' current defensemen, and I agree that Jonathan Ericsson's return should stabilize the "top six"...
Jonathan Ericsson -- Don't underestimate Ericsson's absence in the playoff series against Boston. Ericsson's size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) would have helped offset Boston's strength. Ericsson, 30, is in his prime and with Kronwall forms one of the better pairings in the league.
While this player may or may not be an "x-factor"...
Brendan Smith -- One of the fans' favorite whipping boys most of last season, Smith actually had a good playoff series, adding to a fine end to the regular season. He was playing a safer, smarter game with less gambling, and his willingness to square off with 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara showed tenacity. Smith is only 25, so there's room to grow his game.
And we have yet to find out what exactly this player can bring to the table offensively speaking:
Danny DeKeyser -- At 24, the sky is the limit for DeKeyser. He can play major minutes, doesn't make glaring mistakes and is one of the better skaters in the league. There's every reason to believe DeKeyser will be a Red Wing for a long, long time.
Kulfan continues with seven more profiles, including ones of Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul and Alexey Marchenko, but there's no Mattias Backman profile.
I'll defer to Kulfan regarding the timing of his columns--he's supposed to break down the goaltenders on Saturday--but by that time, we'll have a pretty solid picture of Holland's takes on his team.
Holland suggested that it's health that will provide the biggest boost to the forward corps, and in a strange way, an article that wasn't posted "online" in a conventional manner will bring us back to the defense.
Michigan Hockey's latest issue, which is available via Bluetoad.com, includes a Dave Waddell-penned article alluded to in this Tweet:
Waddell works for the Windsor Star and is no longer a dedicated "sports beat" guy, so maybe he felt that he had more room to be critical of Holland, but in any case, he lays his dissatisfaction with the Wings' GM plain...
However, the Cleary signing is just the latest troubling sign about what’s been happening in the front office.
Holland has overseen an organization too reluctant to part with the past for a few seasons now. He’s been loyal to a fault at times. Detroit could afford such luxuries when the Wings were perennial contenders and players were lining up to come to Detroit. That’s no longer the case.
By sticking with players too long, the Wings are hindering the progress of the transition to a younger squad they’re trying to complete.
And given that the Red Wings aren't likely to find their elite right-shooting defenseman from within the organization's ranks unless Ryan Sproul or Alexey Marchenko suddenly blossom into superstars, Waddell suggests that Holland's most telling screw-up involves having "lost his mojo" in terms of trading for players, as evidenced by the Calle Jarnkrok and Patrick Eaves and a second-round pick (a 3rd round pick that became a 2nd-rounder when the Wings made the playoffs) for David Legwand deal:
Holland has made 50 trades during his reign as Detroit’s GM, but he’s made only six deals since 2011. Most of those six recent deals were relatively minor, trading up or down in the NHL draft, but his last deal was dreadful.
Acquiring center David Legwand from Nashville for a second-round pick, Patrick Eaves and one of the team’s most intriguing prospects (Calle Jarnkrok) reeked of desperation. On a team that isn’t blessed with a lot of prospects at center, the Wings gave up one of their most interesting ones for essentially five playoff games since Legwand wasn’t deemed worth re-signing.
The inactivity in Hockeytown this summer is particularly tough for Wings’ fans to take when they see Detroit management alumni Steve Yzerman and Jim Nill rebuilding their franchises in Tampa and Dallas respectively with a series of bold moves in both the free-agent and trade markets.
It’s made Holland look overly conservative in a summer when the expectations really weren’t especially high.
Waddell suggests that the Cleary and Quincey re-signings prove that no one "takes the Wings seriously" in terms of their playoff-series-winning ability.
A couple of weeks ago, I would've gone that far. This morning, I look at the two previous "major" trades that the Wings made--Shawn Matthias and a pick for Todd Bertuzzi (Matthias is a still-developing power forward in Vancouver) in 2007, and the draft pick that became (get this) Mike Green, prospect Tomas Fleischmann and a 4th-round pick for Robert Lang in 2004...
And when I look at the team's willingness to send Matthias, Fleischmann, Jarnkrok, and the draft pick that became Green away for immediate help, I look at this summer's Cleary-and-Quincey haul, Stephen Weiss's rough debut, the burying of Samuelsson and buying out of Tootoo and Colaiacovo to make up for the signings two summers ago, etc. etc., and all of a sudden, "The Kids Or Bust" starts making a whole lot of sense.
The management group's free agency record is quite spotty, especially of late, and the Wings' "bigger" post-salary-cap trades, even given the jury's-out statuses on the majority of players the Wings have divested themselves of along the way, and I look at the team's unwillingness to give Jiri Hudler what the Calgary Flames gave him because he "doesn't skate very well" and Valtteri Filppula an extra hundred thousand dollars because a healthy Stephen Weiss is supposedly a better all-round player, and I start feeling a little queasy.
Detroit drafts well, it develops well, but even when Jim Nill and Steve Yzerman were still around, it wasn't setting the world on fire with free agent signings not named Hossa or Rafalski, and its trade record has been iffy since Brad Stuart came here in 2008.
All summer long, I'd stated that I would've been far happier had the Wings not signed anyone after swinging and missing on a top-pair defenseman and that I would've been far happier had the Wings given Cleary the same treatment Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby received in being told that they'd have to make the team out of training camp on a two-way pro try-out instead of what will be a $2.5 million retirement present (plus a $250,000 signing bonus) for #11-turned-71.
At this point, aside from hoping that the team stifles the tabloid fodder by re-signing the coach, and yes, the GM, to contract extensions before the regular season begins--and of course figuring out whether the team's co-leading scorer is healthy enough to play one more season in Detroit on an earned basis--I'd much rather see the team "see what the kids can do" during training camp and let other teams' injuries, cap problems and next summer's free agents-to-be's salary demands yield the kind of truly useful trade that needs to be made closer to the trade deadline than the August primary election.
One could very well argue that, aside from being too ridiculously loyal and continuing to load up on "safety net" veterans, the team's been guitly of being far too deliberate in sticking its managerial fingers in the Big Red Machine's gears instead of relying upon its drafted-and-developed players to "fill holes," and then making more meaningful attempts to retain the players that "fit" here.
The team's ability to land Danny DeKeyser as a free agent prospect, to grab Daniel Alfredsson as a free agent veteran and the occasional subtle trade have been welcome respites from either gross inaction or far too much tinkering and bet-hedging by the management group.
At this point, maybe a little less doubling down for loyalty's sake and a little more allowing prospects to "fill holes" might serve the team's present and future better than continuing to violently jerk the wheel whenever the team's skidding sideways instead of just patiently taking one's foot off the gas and calmly pointing the Big Red Machine in the right direction. This team seems to have the continually-developing personnel to set itself back on track regularly enough...
And when it doesn't, you deal with it, but now is not the time to sell the barn and the horses in it for a Mike Green that probably isn't available to begin with. Now's the time for Ken Holland to go golfing and to talk with fellow Vernon, BC resident Tyler Wright about the next generation, and to listen to what Chris Osgood has to say about Petr Mrazek's potential, and to let time take its course, at least between now and October.
Otherwise...The Free Press's Helene St. James concludes her assessment of the Atlantic Division's teams' offseason moves this morning. Over the past two days, she's noted that the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres have made aggressive moves, but not necessarily the kinds of moves that will immediately pay off with playoff runs. Here's her take on the Sabres' machinations:
Faced with a financial goal of reaching the salary-cap minimum of $51 million, general manager Tim Murray has had a busy off-season, using free agency to sign Brian Gionta, formerly the captain in Montreal; scorer Matt Moulson; and defenseman Andrej Meszaros. Murray also traded for Josh Gorges.
These veterans join a club that has used the draft to add a great deal of young talent, most recently center Sam Reinhart, the second overall pick this summer. There’s also Zemgus Girgensons, the 14th overall pick from 2012, Rasmus Ristolainen (eighth overall, 2013) plus first-rounders like Tyler Ennis and Tyler Myers from a few years ago.
The Sabres have one of the more illustrious claims to fame in goal, with past netminders including Miller, Dominik Hasek and Grant Fuhr. Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth have none such name recognition, but they’ll be battling for the No. 1 job next season. After that, the Sabres will likely to transition to one of their prospects.
St. James has already discussed the offseason moves made by the Senators, Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Bruins and Lightning. In my opinion, the Bruins will remain a pain and the Lightning have gotten even better, but I'm not sure whether the Wings' other rivals for that 3rd divisional playoff spot have improved themselves to the point that they're any more or less of a threat than they were this past season.
The Red Wings' secondary developmental affiliate made a pair of signings on Thursday...
Forward Trevor Bruess and defenseman Corey Fienhage have agreed to terms with the Toledo Walleye for the 2014-15 season.
The Walleye are the ECHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League and the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League.
Bruess hails from Minneapolis, Minn. and skated in 61 games in 2013-14 with the Florida Everblades with 14 goals and a career best 23 assists. He has been an alternate captain each of the last two years for Florida. The 28-year-old forward has appeared in 176 ECHL games between Florida and South Carolina since turning professional in 2009 with 107 points (42g-65a). In 2011-12, he set a career high with 18 goals in 61 games and followed that up with 12 points (5g-7a) in 18 playoff games as Florida went on to win the Kelly Cup. He played with Minnesota State from 2006-09 with 61 points (24g-37a) in 110 games.
Fienhage spent all last season in Orlando posting 17 points (2g-15a) in 63 games with the Solar Bears. The Apple Valley, Minn. native has also skated with Gwinnett in his ECHL career spanning a total of 160 games in which he has nine goals and 36 assists. Prior to turning professional in 2011, the 24-year-old played one full season with Kamloops of the WHL, notching 14 points (4g-10a) in 70 games. He also played two years of college hockey with the University of North Dakota with a total of 39 games played, three assists and 56 penalty minutes.
Leaf Hype Machine warning: velieve what you read from Sportsnet's Chris Johnston at your peril given that Stephen Whyno--a writer for the Canadian Press, not a "blogger starting fires"--was the one who drummed up the "Steven Stamkos could be like LeBron" dial to the point that the Lighting felt it was necessary to posit a corrective Tweet:
Despite the fact he grew up in Michigan, David Booth says it was “a childhood dream” to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I’m very excited to have this opportunity,” Booth, who often travelled to Toronto to play in tournaments as a kid, told Sportsnet 590 The Fan Thursday. “I grew up watching Hockey Night [in Canada] in Detroit so it’s very, very exciting for me. I have a great love for the city, and I’m very excited to be playing hockey for the Maple Leafs.”
I will allow you to "Go Down the Wikipedia Hole" with Grantland's Sean McIndoe on your own (octopus matter! for shame!);
In the, "If you ever wondered how important the Wings' fall prospect tournament is to the rest of the league" department, the Columbus Blue Jackets' signing of a free agent prospect, to an AHL deal, resulted in this press release from the "Chatham-Kent Sports Network"...
Blenheim’s Kyle Hope will officially be a professional hockey player this winter, as the 21-year-old forward has signed an American Hockey League (AHL) contract with the Springfield Falcons.
The top affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Hope will also play for the NHL’s Blue Jackets at the annual NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, which is hosted by the Detroit Red Wings from September 12 to 16.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity for myself to attend the Traverse City Rookie tournament in September with the Blue Jackets and then at the Springfield Falcons camp,” said Hope about his recent signing. “It is a step toward the NHL and I’m very excited for it.”
And I had to smile when Jim Nill said this to the Sporting News's Travis Yost about those dang bloggers:
As for what Nill is looking at currently, away from the proprietary stuff that Dallas internally tracks? He's reading anything and everything that's produced — and Ruff's along for the ride, too.
“Well, first, I love the job you guys do. You are part of the community — part of the hockey world. I love what you write and what you read. We are always — we are all trying to get 3-5% better. It’s a cap world and we are limited. We are always looking for the next thing. That’s the best part of the game.”
“There’s amazing stuff in the blogosphere. We sit down all the time and analyze it. Lindy and I are on the plane all the time and looking at this stuff – we look at it and track it to see if there’s something there. Like I said, we’re all very competitive, and we are all looking for the edge. And whatever’s gonna help us is great for the game.”
I don't need to tell you that there's a who's-who of Kukla's Korner readers, and I can at least say that from time to time, this yahoo writing a far-too-rambly summertime blog entry this morning has gotten some surprising, "Hey, I read your stuff!" nods from "hockey people" employed by major print, online and broadcast outlets and NHL teams.
Whether that's due to me producing "good stuff" or being a rambling idiot is of course up to you to determine
Update: FYI/FTR: Norran.se noted that Red Wings prospect Axel Holmstrom and his pal Sebastian Aho won't take part in Skelleftea AIK's first practice on August 5th because the pair will be taking part in Team USA's World Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, NY from August 2nd to 9th.
Dylan Larkin will represent one of the two U.S. teams, and the "White" and "Blue" teams battle what are Sweden and Finland's WJC evaluation teams, and in Montreal, Zach Nastasiuk and Tyler Bertuzzi will be taking part in the Canadian World Junior Evaluation camp from August 4th to 9th, playing against teams from Russia and the Czech Republic.
I'm not going to be blogging every day between the 2nd and 9th as my mom and I are going to the Upper Peninsula to take part in the family vacation. We haven't had a vacation in two years, so we need it pretty badly, but by the time I'm back in South Lyon, most every European pro team will have begun their training camps, and we'll be all of a month removed from the fall prospect tournament.
Update #1.5: On Twitter, I think that Ryan Sproul and Mickey Redmond will get along just fine...
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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.