The Malik Report
Red Wings overnight report: the ‘most unique’ World Championships; on Renney and Babcock; Sproul too
by George Malik on 05/09/14 at 03:11 AM ET
The World Championships begin today with a pair of games that might interest Red Wings fans--Danny DeKeyser and Justin Abdelkader's Americans will battle the host Belarussians at 1:45 PM EDT on NBCSN, and Tomas Tatar's Slovaks face Jakub Kindl's Slovaks at the same time--but this story isn't necessarily Red Wings-related.
If you've read any of the IIHF's profiles of the teams participating in the Worlds thus far, however, be it the Americans, Czechs, Slovaks, etc., you will find that the teams are very young. Thanks to a combination of a bit of Olympic fatigue for the usual participants, injuries, certain large contributors teams' still taking part in the playoffs (Anaheim and New York), and other factors (see: baby duty for Niklas Kronwall, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Jimmy Howard), the teams' NHL participants are at a bare minimum as compared to the normal amount of NHL-heavy rosters (though the Canadians are the tournament's only all-NHL-player-participant team)
As a result, Kindl might be on the Czechs' top defensive pair; Tomas Tatar will serve a key scoring role for Slovakia; the Americans really do look more like a team of just-too-old-to-play-in-the-World Junior Championship players, as IIHF.com's John Sanful suggests; and, as I posted on Thursday, Expressen's Jonatan Lindquist noted that the Swedes' top line consists of an Olympic fourth-liner in Jimmie Ericsson, a player left off the roster altogether in Calle Jarnkrok and a player who was the team's "13th forward" in Detroit's Gustav Nyquist.
Belarussian time is only 7 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time, and most of the games will be played at either 9:45 AM or 1:45 PM, so if you're able to either watch some of the U.S. games or snag an illegal stream at work, this is going to be a very, very different kind of tournament from the 2012 Worlds, when Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall, Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler, Pavel Datsyuk, Kindl and Tatar were all taking part (Hudler's still playing for the Czechs).
Normally, it's a foregone conclusion that the teams full of NHL players will prevail with patriotic fervor in play, especially given that the last few Worlds have involved home-ice advantage for Finland and then Sweden; this time around, the roster are made up of a rag-tag bunch of younger NHL stars, a few cagey veterans and mostly "perimeter" players, a bunch of KHL'ers and a combination of European pro players who aren't going anywhere and a few Europeans who still want to find NHL employment via this tournament...
And "this tournament's" being held in Minsk, Belarus, a location so cheerily human rights-friendly that Amnesty International is officially protesting the location. There was a HUGE media push to relocate the tournament away from Alexander Lukashenko's totalitarian paridise (and just like his buddy Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko mysteriously becomes the best president to ever play hockey when he skates with the Belarussian national team).
To make a very long story longer, whether you're a Red Wings fan who's enjoying bouncing between reading about the exploits of Anthony Mantha (whose Val-d'Or Foreurs are tied 2-2 with Baie-Comeau in the QMJHL's championship series, which resumes tonight) and the pesky Tyler Bertuzzi (whose Guelph Storm can wrap up the OHL championship tonight) and the Grand Rapids Griffins (who lost their second round-opener against Texas on Thursday) and the NHL playoffs, or even if you're just an NHL fan who wants to watch something different while pretending to work, the World Championships are fun to watch, and the lack of NHL participants is going to make this tournament absolutely fascinating.
Young NHL'ers and NHL prospects will play with and battle against European pro players who want to earn NHL spots, and half of the teams--Italy, Kazakhstan, France, Latvia, Denmark, Norway, Germany and Switzerland--are so "weak" that you'll witness a ton of "round robin" play routs, as well as a few staggering upsets, because one-game elimination means that even Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Americans, the Canadians, Russians and the surprisingly-strong Swiss can easily find themselves in another Slovakia-vs-Latvia situation when the playoff rounds begin on April 22nd.
As USA Today's Kevin Allen notes, this might be Team USA's best opportunity to earn a World Championship in some time:
[T]he Americans have won only three medals in the last 50 years at the men's senior World Championships.
"I think it just shows how hard it is to win a medal at this tournament," said Jim Johannson, USA Hockey's assistant executive director for hockey operations.
The Americans are hoping to conquer their final frontier by winning back-to-back medals at the World Championships, which begin on Friday in Minsk. The USA, coached by Peter Laviolette, plays host Belarus (1:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network).
"It would be huge for the identity of this team and program if we could win medals two years in a row," Johannson said. "But we need the pressure to come from within the playing group and not from external forces or the management group or USA. We need the core players to say, 'Guys, we've got to medal.'"
The Americans' roster is...different--and that's the point:
This year's No. 1 goalie is Tim Thomas (Dallas), who has experience playing on the wider European rinks. He is playing in his seventh World Championships and was a member of the 1996 bronze-medal team.
Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Tyler Johnson is the team's No. 1 center and he will play with Brock Nelson (New York Islanders) and returning Craig Smith (Nashville Predators). Forward Tim Stapleton, who plays in the Kontinental Hockey League is also back.
The defense will be the team's strength with returning Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg Jets) and Jeff Petry (Edmonton Oilers), plus Seth Jones (Nashville), Danny DeKeyser (Detroit Red Wings), Jake Gardiner (Toronto Maple Leafs) and others.
In terms of more Red Wings-specific news, you might view this Tweet from Darren Dreger as good news...
And while the Maple Leafs' decision to give Randy Carlyle a 2-year extension allows Mike Babcock to stop making radio appearances, if you've listened to any of the interviews I posted on Soundcloud or here on TMR, you'll know that this line, noted by the Free Press's Steve Schrader and posted in Thursday's overnight report, has become something of a refrain--though Schrader immediately blows Babcock's lines off:
“I tell people all the time, I got a good place to hunt, I got a good place to waterski, my family’s happy, my youngest girl’s finishing school next year so I’m free that way, but there’s not reason to move if you don’t have to move or if it doesn’t excite you to,” Babcock said. I’ve always been a big believer the grass is always greener right here at home as long as you fertilize and water.”
He also added he wants to be where he’s wanted, plans on being in the league a long time, and there will be opportunities. Like Tom Izzo says ...
Anyway, Babcock, who will be starting his 10th season with the Wings, also was asked if even good coaches can wear out their welcome with a team.
“Who do I have I’ve coached a long time?” Babcock said. “Franzen, Kronwall, Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Kronwall, the leaders of our team, I have unbelievable relationships with. I have a good relationship with the Mule, as well.
“So I’m not concerned about that. Basically, coaching my team’s like college hockey in a lot of ways now. There’s been such a turnover in the last four years that I don’t feel like I’ve been coaching these guys a long time because the reality is I haven’t been.“
And again, from the CBC:
Babcock is a Jack Adams Award finalist along with Colorado's Patrick Roy and Tampa Bay's Jon Cooper.
The Red Wings, despite a franchise-record 421 man games lost to injury, qualified for the post-season for a 23rd consecutive year, squeezing into eighth and final playoff spot in the NHL’s Eastern Conference with a 39-28-15 record.
And they did it with star forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on in the injured list for extended periods. Nine Red Wings made their NHL debuts this season and Babcock iced 38 players in all.
“This year was a ton of fun,” Babcock said. “We had tons of kids who were willing to do what you asked them to do and in the end they were good enough to get us in the playoffs. But we weren’t good enough to keep playing.”
The media's fixation on Babcock believing that the "Grass is Greener" simply because they would leave the Red Wings for another team, especially a Canadian one, if they were NHL coaches has become so annoying that you'd think it's a near-masturbatory, change-your-pants-after-you-write-or-say-it refrain (think: the Avs' announcers describing a Forsberg goal, circa 2002), but the coach and GM in this town are honest to a fault, and the coach and GM have repeatedly stating that the coach is going to helm this team through its "transition phase."
Finally, the Free Press's Helene St. James has taken her tack from the Wings' coach and GM's consistent "Much of our improvement will come from within" message. She's starting a series of articles profiling the Wings' prospects, starting with a certain bombastic, right-shooting defenseman who many of you are excited about in Ryan Sproul:
Sproul is currently starring for the Grand Rapids Griffins as they defend their Calder Cup championship. He is in his rookie year in the American Hockey League, having played for the Griffins in two games the previous season. He starred for the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie team in 2012-13, earning outstanding defenseman honors after producing 66 points in 50 games.
Sproul continued to impress in Grand Rapids during the regular season, when he had 11 goals and 21 assists in 72 games. Entering the Griffins’ second round of the playoffs, he had two goals and two assists in four games.
Sproul is young — he turned 21 in January — and defense is a tough position to play because the margin for error is smaller than it is for a forward. He’s intriguing to the Wings, though, because he’s 6-feet-3, nearly 200 pounds, and he shoots right. The Wings don’t have any right-handed shots on the their back end as it stands right now, and coach Mike Babcock cited this as one of the top priorities to address shortly after the playoffs ended.
Another plus for Sproul: He has a consistent history of success already in his career. He showed a knack for offense throughout his OHL career, scoring at least 20 goals both his second and third years. After a first year with the Greyhounds saw him finish at minus-15, he was a plus-16 the next season.
St. James continues and wonders where Sproul might fit in on the 2014-2015 Red Wings' roster.
I would add a word of caution: while Babcock's raved about Mattias Backman's "finish" and Sproul and Alexey Marchenko's status as a right-shooting defenseman, I don't expect the Wings to simply give up on Adam Almquist.
As I've told the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa and USA Hockey Advantage's Ian Fleming Dunham on Twitter, it's incredibly hard to believe that the team's going to simply allow a player who posted 49 assists and 53 points in 73 games go to another team via the waiver wire simply because he's 5'10"-ish, weighs 170 pounds and shoots left.
Is that the kind of player the Wings want to replace Jakub Kindl or Brian Lashoff in April or May? Nope, but Babcock has duly noted that the vaunted Anthony Mantha's probably destined for Grand Rapids because "pace" is the most important part of one's hockey game come September, and Mantha's "pace" is lacking because he's a 19-year-old dominating in a league of 16-to-20-year-olds.
Come September, Almquist plays with significant "pace" and he moves the puck up the ice, and that's what the Wings really, really need. I'd argue that Almquist and Alexey Marchenko, who's 22 (Almquist is 23), is indeed a right-shooter (and is a big 6'2," 212-pound player) are the most NHL-ready blueliners the team has in its prospect pipeline.
Two or three years from now, we really could see Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet playing as a pair on the Wings' blueline, and down the line, Nick Jensen's intriguing because he's not a passer as much as he's a puck-skating defenseman, but even as a non-betting man, I'd place bucks on Almquist and Marchenko being the players battling it out for a roster spot when the exhibition season winds down in late September and early October of this year--regardless of whether the Wings sign or trade for an established top-pair defenseman or whether they stand pat.
I do hope that you join me in watching the Worlds as well as trying to find a way to watch the Griffins. The games will be fun to watch and we're likely to see Nyquist, Tatar, DeKeyser, Abdelkader and even Kindl build foundations for more successful 2014-2015 seasons as a result of their status as first-line players (or nearly so in Abdelkader's case).
Sorry for all the bolding, too. It just seemed like that kind of entry, and I roll with things instead of prewriting.
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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.