The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/11/14 at 03:16 AM ET
If I may be blunt, this time of year is less than fun for a "play-it-straight" blogger and/or a "play-it-straight" website.
From today's general managers' meetings on toward the draft on June 27th and 28th in Philadelphia, and then as free agency approaches, the free agent and trade rumor mills go into uber-overdrive, and I feel like I spend more of my time putting out fires than I do actually covering hockey (and I work pretty dang hard to find news stories at this time of year).
Between absolutely baffling trade scenarios involving the Red Wings, suggestions that the team's restricted free agents-to-be will be poached (you're going to have to trust me when I say that Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar and Danny DeKeyser are not the belles of the RFA ball), questions about free agent unsigned prospects due to Sweden-via-New Jersey-via-Ottawa rumors, and of course there are at least a few Wings fans--again, the same Wings fans who were preaching the, "Play all the kids, waive all the vets" line--who now believe that the Wings need to sign multiple free agents at every position, which is a wee bit confusing...
And mostly not bloody likely.
I expect that the Red Wings' biggest decisions involve whether the team will bring back Jonas Gustavsson and Daniel Alfredsson, how much money the team needs to offer the aforementioned Sheahan, Tatar and DeKeyser to lock them up for longer-term, how the team's going to bolster its blueline via either free agency or trade, and resolving its assistant coaching situation (the Sun-Sentinel's Harvey Filakov reports that Bill Peters and Tom Renney, among others, will chat with the Panthers' owners on Wednesday)--all while firming up its draft plans--with the team's hopes to sign Mike Babcock and Gustav Nyquist to contract extensions taking a back-seat to more imminent matters until early-to-mid July.
Given that the Wings don't have a second-round draft pick thanks to the David Legwand trade, I gave The Sports Forecaster's list of "Draft Sleepers" a good read (could an Edgars Kulda slip to the 3rd round? Yep, this year, definitely) and given that--as noted on Tuesday--Jim Nill's Dallas Stars are going to be picking right before the Wings' 15th overall selection in the first round, I was glad to read the Dallas News's Mike Heika confirm what I've been hearing all along regarding which players will go where after the "Top Five":
Question: Haven't been paying much attention to the lead-up to the Draft. Who are some prospects to pay attention to and what are the possibilities for the Stars?
Heika: It's sort of a wide open field at 14. In fact, there are some who believe you can toss a blanket over a group from about 12 to 30. We'll see. There are a ton of left wings available, and the Stars have a need for left wings in the organization, so I would concentrate on that group right now. As for top names, Aaron Ekblad and Sam Reinhart are the top two to watch. There is also talk that Florida might be willing to trade the first overall pick, so that makes things interesting.
The "good news" for Wings fans in the most immediate sense of the term is simple: because this is supposedly a "weak draft," it's entirely that a player several mock drafts and draft experts have as guaranteed top-10 picks could end up falling to that 15th spot, and it's just as likely that the Wings (and Stars) might choose to "trade down" in the first round to reacquire a second-round pick, and the team could still emerge with a top-ten talent.
As far as I'm concerned, the Red Wings need to let their speedy forwards shine by bolstering their blueline, so I don't look at Capgeek's lists of unrestricted free agent-to-be forwards, defensemen or goaltenders with a whole lot of hope save perhaps the Wings landing a "bridge" defenseman--mostly because I don't believe that Matt Niskanen's worth $7.5 million a season, because I don't believe that there's any way in hell that Mike Ilitch's pizza money could convince the Canadiens and Geoff Molson's...Molson money to not match an offer sheet for P.K. Subban, and because I basically want to see the Wings make one or two calculated moves and then not screw up this whole "youth movement" thing.
But reading this from the Toronto Sun's Mike Zeisberger reminded me of what's inevitably to come from both fans and media types alike:
As the weather outside heats up, so have the trade discussions being held on the cell phone of Dave Nonis.
“There have definitely been more calls in the past week,” said Nonis on Tuesday evening, speaking from New York.
And why wouldn’t there be? With the NHL’s entry draft less than three weeks away and free-agent frenzy poised to be unleashed on July 1, teams know that the next month is key in any rebuilding — or, in some cases, retooling — endeavours.
But the real groundwork for potential deals comes during the GM’s meetings in the Big Apple on Wednesday. As Nonis points out, “no matter how many times you’ve talked on the phone, face time with your colleagues always seems to speed things up.”
There are plenty of big names said to be on the market — the Joe Thorntons, the Patrick Marleaus, the Ryan Keslers, the Brad Stuarts, just to name a few. And when it became known that the Leafs had kicked tires on Thornton, among others, the Internet blew up.
Ken Holland echoed those remarks regarding in-person conversations--ever-so-cautiously--over the past couple of weeks, and while the Wings aren't in the market for Thornton, Kesler, Marleau or, if we believe what we read, Alex Edler...
The Brad Stuart remark got me thinking, thinking about a trade and-or free agency conversation that we might need to actually have.
If the Red Wings aren't able to land a Niskanen, a Dan Boyle or a Tom Gilbert, would you be happy to see the team go after a Matt Greene instead?
For that matter, do you believe that the team needs to not only add an offensive puck-mover, but also to perhaps bolster the back end with a stay-at-home defensemen?
I don't believe that the "youth movement" philosophy accommodates 2 such signings and/or trades.
We certainly know that Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff didn't cut it during the playoffs, and we know that Ryan Sproul, Xavier Ouellet, Mattias Backman, Alexey Marchenko, Nick Jensen and possibly the no longer waiver-exempt Adam Almquist should yield at least 1 or 2 solid NHL defensemen (not everybody pans out), but we don't know exactly when those players will be ready to "steal" the jobs of the aforementioned Kindl and Lashoff.
At the same time, I would rather that the Wings--for once--don't hedge their bets that none of the above-listed names aren't ready for NHL duty, even if that means starting the 2014-2015 season with Kindl and Lashoff as defensemen 5 and 6, if not 6 and 7 (should the team add said puck-moving defensemen).
If the Wings don't add a puck-mover, I'd be fine with the team doing nothing as opposed to adding another stay-at-home guy who wouldn't help the team's breakout. I want to see the team return to its puck possession-via-puck-moving-defensemen blueprint. I believe that improving the breakout is the most expedient way to maximize the scoring and physicality of the team's current forward lineup.
You may not, and while I certainly haven't heard suggestions that Brad Stuart's on the block--and after returning to the Bay Area to reunite with his family, Stuart's posted two middling seasons with the Sharks, who may or may not be interested in retaining him because he's...a step slow...
I can't deny that seeing his name out there made me stop and think.
I'd suggest that when we hear names like that dropped sans source, perhaps we ought to remember that every veteran the team adds to the mix yields another roadblock for the youth movement, but what do I know?
Along those lines, on Sunday, the Free Press's Helene St. James posted a list of 9 free agents who she believes the Wings should target, and this morning, the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan upped that list to THIRTY players.
This guy gets my "STAY THE *#$%@& AWAY, HE'S RAY *#$%@& SHEPPARD" (i.e. lots of finishing ability, but not much in the way of game-breaking offense on his own) endorsement...
Left wing Thomas Vanek, Montreal. 2013-14 season: 78 games, 27 goals, 41 assists, 68 points. Age: 30. Salary: $6.4 million. Vanek will be the biggest name on the free agent market, but some teams won't be as interested after an uneven postseason with Montreal. A former University of Minnesota star, there's speculation Vanek wants to play for the Wild.
And I had a thought about this guy:
RW Daniel Alfredsson, Detroit, 68 games, 18 goals, 31 assists, 49 points. Age: 41. Salary: $5.5 million. If Alfredsson decides to play another season, it'll likely be with the Red Wings. But can he stay healthy over a long season? Does he want to continue? Alfredsson still has one of the hardest and most lethal shots in the game, and he's a leader in the locker room.
When we talk about the Wings losing Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski's offense, we tend to foget Stuart's status as a "glue guy," we tend to ignore Tomas Holmstrom's invaluable power play performance not only as a goalie-screener and shot-tipper, but also a puck-retrieving maestro, and I think that the retirements of Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby have been understated in terms of their impact upon the team.
The reason I'm such a big "Bring Back Alfie" person involves not only his 18 goals and 49 points--it also involves the fact that the Wings' young players seemed to play calmer, more focused and more effectively with Alfredsson on the ice, on the bench and in the locker room. Wings of both young and advanced ages raved about Alfredsson's leadership, and Babcock praised his status as a huge part of the leadership group when Zetterberg and Datsyuk went down with injuries, too.
To me, Alfredsson's leadership makes up for the fact that, at 41, he's either superb offensively or frickin' inconsistent depending on the game. To me, if he can stay healthy, you can't bottle his leadership or his chemistry with the Wings' youthful group of players, and to me, that's why you bring him back, even if he presents something of a roadblock to a young forward.
I am most certainly interested in this gent, but I think he's going to be priced out of the Wings' range in a hurry...
Defenseman Matt Niskanen, Pittsburgh, 81 games, 10 goals, 36 assists, 46 points. Age: 27. Salary: $2.3 million. Niskanen is coming off a career-best offensive season, a perfect time to be an unrestricted free agent. But how much of his performance is based on playing with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin? The Red Wings and many other teams will be interested -- if the price is right.
And as such, I'd be happy with either of the following instead...
D Tom Gilbert, Florida, 73 games, 3 goals, 25 assists, 28 points. Age: 31. Salary: $900,000. A late signing by the Panthers, Gilbert had a surprisingly effective season at both ends of the rink. Gilbert had such a positive influence on and off the ice, the Panthers are interested in re-signing him. He'd probably appreciate the security at this point in his career.
D Dan Boyle, San Jose, 75 games, 12 goals, 24 assists, 36 points. Age: 37. Salary: $6.6 million. The Sharks have already told Boyle they're not re-signing him. A few years ago, Boyle would have been one of the bigger names available. Boyle can still be a fine bridge to a defense transitioning to younger players. All of which makes the Red Wings an ideal fit.
But Kulfan names three players who I think are overrated: Brooks Orpik (hoo boy, ankle issues = waaay less mobility), Anton Stralman (great third-pair guy, or a #4 defenseman? Sure, but not anything more, and not an offensive contributor) and this guy:
D Derek Morris, Phoenix, 63 games, 5 goals, 12 assists, 17 points. Age: 35. Salary: $2.75 million. Morris hasn't lived up to his early career potential, but he would be a good minute-munching, offensive defenseman for certain teams (Red Wings included). Staying in Phoenix, where Morris has put down roots, remains a strong option.
The Orpiks, Stralmans, Morrises, guys like Ron Hainsey, Andrej Meszaros and Andrei Markov (whose terrible knees will remain in Montreal) are the types of players who make me say, "Whoa there, if the team's not substantially upgrading its defense, there are FIVE GUYS in Grand Rapids who might be 'ready,' six if you include Almquist. Why throw up a roadblock just to plug a hole?"
I cannot deny, however, that I read Brad Stuart's name and I forget the times that he'd be plodding around in the corner for some reason while an opposing player snuck into the slot, or how Stuart and Lidstrom getting beat by a forward who snagged a "home run" pass was almost as bad as watching Nick and Larry Murphy try to catch a similar player, and I think, "Heyyyy, he played here, and his daughter's over 18 now, so there are no custody issue...WAIT STAY ON MESSAGE STOP GETTING SENTIMENTAL."
The reality of the situation--and the bottom line here--is that you and I are going to read hundreds of trade rumors and free agent rumors over the next three weeks, but we're more likely than not to see the Wings make only a handful of moves. They will most likely involve re-signing Jonas Gustavsson, re-signing Daniel Alfredsson if he wants to continue playing, possibly extending Sheahan, Tatar or DeKeyser before July 1st, probably resolving their assistant coaching situation, drafting six or seven players, and then the Wings going out and trying to trade or sign ONE offensive defenseman to improve their puck-moving corps.
It can be fun to dream up a perfect trade, restricted free agent offer sheet or unrestricted free agent scenario, but the reason I don't tolerate rumors likely is simple: the Red Wings tend to move in a deliberate, predictable and less-is-more manner, and after the last three years' forays into Samuelssons, Tootoos, Quinceys, etc., maybe it's not a bad thing to hope for "less"movement yielding "more" in terms of results this time around.
Somewhat ironically, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose's "Red Wings Firsts" focuses on Adam Almquist's first NHL goal:
In just his second career NHL game, Adam Almquist sported a smile that could be seen from miles away. He had good reason to celebrate. The rookie defenseman had notched his first career NHL goal to give Detroit a 2-0 lead over Dallas on Nov. 7, 2013.
“I got a really, really good pass from (Henrik) Zetterberg,” Almquist said of his goal. “I walked into the slot and got it and shot it and luckily it went in.”
Unfortunately for Almquist, his accomplishment was achieved in a loss, as the Stars mounted a 4-3 comeback to hand the Red Wings their fourth straight loss at the Joe Louis Arena for the first time in four years. Almquist’s goal was a bright spot of the game, but there’s no doubt that he would’ve traded it for the W.
“I’m pretty sure he would exchange that for a win, but it’s fun to see him get rewarded,” Zetterberg said.
“That was (too bad) we couldn’t get the two points we wanted,” Almquist said. “It was a bitter end, bittersweet. We worked hard and deserved to win.”
Cue the video:
In the "Bad Memories" department, the Ashbury Park Press's Chris Rotolo spoke with former New Jersey Devil Jim Dowd about the Devils' Stanley Cup-winning sweep of the Wings in 1995...
"That was a different scenario back in 1995 than what we're seeing this year," said Dowd, who spent 16 seasons in the NHL with 10 different teams, including the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders, and his longest tenure of four seasons with the Minnesota Wild. "The Red Wings won the Presidents' Trophy (best regular season record in the NHL) that year and were the heavy duty favorite against us. They had a ton of firepower, so what we were able to do that year was a pretty monumental upset."
Dowd played a pivotal role in the 1995 Cup finals when he silenced a daunting Joe Louis Arena crowd in Game 2, collecting a rebound late in the third period off a Shawn Chambers shot from the point, and chipping the puck on his backhand past Red Wings goalie Mike Vernon to put the Devils up 3-2 en route to a 4-2 victory.
The Devils completed the sweep at home after consecutive 5-2 decisions. The Kings look to wrap up their series tonight at Madison Square Garden, and unfortunately for Rangers fans, Dowd sees some similarity in the business-like atmosphere that surrounded his New Jersey club, and this 2014 Kings team.
"With us it was all business," said Dowd, who led Brick Township to the 1985-86 NJSIAA State Championship. "That was my second year in the NHL, and I was playing with guys like Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, and John MacLean. If we lost a regular season game, there were no smiles in the locker room until we won again. When we were in the playoffs and the finals we were there for the purpose of winning. That was it. And you can see that same focus with this Kings team."
And I don't know about you, but Fox Sports' Erin Malinowski's recollection of "Five Improbable Comebacks" from which the Rangers can draw inspiration was hammered into me as if the Wings dropped their 3-games-to-none lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs yesterday:
1942 Stanley Cup Final
It remains, to this day, the most famous and unlikely comeback in hockey history, but the fact is that the Detroit Red Wings really had no business ever being up 3-0 on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first place. With a dismal 19-25-4 regular-season record, the Wings had to win not one but two three-game series to make the Final. Toronto, by virtue of its second-best record of 27-18-3, had to beat only the top-seeded New York Rangers to advance.
After the Red Wings won the first three games, they led 2-0 at home in Game 4, but the Leafs pressed their way back for a 4-3 win. (The night proved so calamitous for the Wings that Detroit coach Jack Adams ended up punching an on-ice referee in the face after the game's conclusion.) Toronto won the next two games, 9-3 and 3-0, but was losing 1-0 at home in Game 7 with just 20 minutes to play before scoring three clutch goals.
Under the radar, part 1: As noted by Michigan Hockey's Stefan Kubus, Bauer Hockey is changing its changing its corporate name to "Performance Sports Group Ltd," and Reuters reports that it's going to "go public" on the Toronto Stock Exchange and New York Stock Exchange.
Why? Very quietly, Bauer--which is the majority equipment-seller despite Reebok-CCM's partnership with the NHL and other developmental leagues, and despite earnest efforts by Easton and Warrior--ended up buying Easton's baseball and softball brands, and according to the gents on ModSquadHockey, they've let Easton-Bell Sports twist in the wind, and Easton's hockey division is not doing very well.
Given that Reebok is trying to switch its identity to that of a "fitness brand," and that we're likely to see NHL'ers wearing Adidas jerseys and apparel (Adidas owns Reebok) and more and more CCM gear as Reebok-brand hockey gear disappears, and given that Easton's footing is not particularly strong right now, we may see a very different equipment picture emerge over the next two or three years...
Under the radar, part 2: This is just as "hard to call." The Russian Hockey Federation is holding its elections shortly, and kind of out of the blue, Slava Fetisov decided to run for the FHR's presidency (per F-Sport) opposite Vladislav Tretiak.
Initially, Fetisov insisted that he felt that Tretiak shouldn't run unopposed, but over the past couple of days, Fetisov's cranked up his rhetoric, he's pointed out that he spent seven years as Russia's Minister of Sport, and people are starting to suggest that Fetisov might in fact provide a more proactive approach to reforming and expanding Russia's youth hockey programs than Tretiak, who's turned out to be a staunch supporter of letting the KHL and the National Team do the legwork in terms of setting developmental examples.
The Plymouth Whalers are selling season ticket packages for their 25th Anniversary season...
I don't know if the Wings are still having their prospects train with Aaron Downey, but the Orangeville Banner's Chris Halladay reports that Downey's still training a staple of young NHL'ers and NHL prospects, including Dallas's Brett Ritchie, at the family farm in Shelburne;
And finally, I looked at the hotel prices for Independence Day Weekend, and they're terrifying, so I'm going to have to continue asking for assistance in order to afford to get up to Traverse City to work at the Wings' summer development camp.
Over the past three years that the Wings have held development camps in Traverse City, I've asked for your help in raising the finances to cover my hotel and gas bills, and you've been amazingly and remarkably kind in affording me the opportunity to "work for you"; due to my present financial circumstances, I'm afraid that I have to ask for your assistance again.
If there's any way that you can lend a financial hand in my attempts to get up to Traverse City for the summer development camp and/or eventually to attend the prospect tournament and main camp in the fall, I would be incredibly grateful for any help.
I'm sticking with Paypal as it's the most direct route (though I will also do the whole, "Give me your address and I'll send you a check or a few bucks in the mail" thing, too), and you have to use my email address, rtxg at yahoo dot com, as the recipient.
Here's the button:
If you can aid the cause, I'd be incredibly grateful; if you can't, I understand, and as usual, literally any amount helps. You'd be surprised how many $5, $10 and $20 donations end up paying my way. Thanks.
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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.