The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/29/14 at 01:45 AM ET
The Red Wings will clean out their lockers after their team photo at Joe Louis Arena around noon today, and as news trickled in regarding Henrik Zetterberg's participation in the World Championships (no go), the potential statuses of the rest of the Wings' potential invitees to Minsk on May 9th (Tomas Tatar will play for Slovakia, Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Jonas Gustavsson may play for Sweden), the Wings sent out an intriguing email message:
The "Thank You Letter" link goes to the following message from Olympia Entertainment CEO Tom Wilson:
Thank you for being a part of another memorable Red Wings season. And while we all would have enjoyed a longer run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, let's look back together at an action-packed year.
The first chapter to 2013-14 actually began at the end of the 2012-13 season when your Wings won the last four games of the regular season to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the seventh seed in the Western Conference. Nearly three weeks later, the team was within a game of the Western Conference Finals. In late June, despite losing several players to the Wings throughout the season, the Grand Rapids Griffins celebrated their first Calder Cup as champions of the American Hockey League. Coach Mike Babcock and Griffins coach Jeff Blashill were developing future players on the fly and creating a winning culture.
Over the past year, the Red Wings prospects and rookies have established an impressive list of credentials:
- Gus Nyquist was the leading goal scorer in the NHL from January 20 through the end of the season with 23 goals and was named the league's First Star of the Week (March 18-24) and the NHL's Second Star of the Month in March.
- Young guns Tomas Tatar, Danny DeKeyser, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco and Luke Glendening played big minutes and established themselves as legitimate NHL players.
- Nine players made their NHL debuts for the Red Wings this season, the most since 1990-91.
- The second wave of prospects continues to collect accolades in the AHL, as goaltender Petr Mrazek and defenseman Adam Almquist were named to the AHL Second All-Star Team, and defenseman Ryan Sproul and forward Teemu Pulkkinen were named to the AHL All-Rookie Team.
- And at the junior level, the Red Wings 2013 first-round draft selection Anthony Mantha was named MVP of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after tallying 120 points in only 57 games (57 goals, 63 assists).
During the offseason, we all celebrated an NHL decision that was a long time in the making: The Red Wings returned to the Eastern Conference.
Just prior to that, captain Henrik Zetterberg began the 2013 offseason by winning the 2013-14 NHL Foundation Player Award. This honor recognizes the NHL player who applies the core values of hockey - commitment, perseverance and teamwork - to enrich the lives of people in his community. Zetterberg and his teammates spent more than 765 hours in the community this season, supporting the team's charitable endeavors. With the collective efforts of the Detroit Red Wings, the Detroit Red Wings Foundation and our players, we donated $402,241 and contributed $574,500 in-kind donations to community organizations.
In September, a team of Red Wings prospects dominated the 15th Annual Prospect Tournament in Traverse City and won the championship for the first time. In November, Red Wings legends Chris Chelios and Brendan Shanahan were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
At year's end, our organization developed and executed a two-week celebration of hockey at Comerica Park. The Hockeytown Winter Festival attracted more than 200,000 people to downtown Detroit, highlighted by the Alumni Showdown that featured one of the greatest collections of hockey legends ever assembled. On New Year's Day, the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs and your Detroit Red Wings combined forces to deliver one of the greatest hockey events in the history of the sport. It will be nearly impossible to top the 2014 NHL Winter Classic.
In February, 10 of our players competed in the Sochi Winter Olympics. Six Red Wings representing Sweden returned with Silver medals, while head coach Mike Babcock and GM Ken Holland celebrated the Gold with Team Canada. And in March, a Red Wings legend and one of the best defensemen in NHL history, Nicklas Lidstrom, saw his jersey raised to the Joe Louis Arena rafters.
Much has been written and talked about the 400-plus games lost to injury during the season. In speaking with Ken Holland and Mike Babcock, I was reminded what makes this sport and this franchise so special. At no time did either of these leaders make any excuses for the team's ups and downs during the regular season. Ken spoke about the integrity of the organization and what it takes to remain a perennial contender, and Mike about the grit and determination of our players.
You, the fans of Hockeytown, have been the one constant throughout the past 12 months. You continue to be key members of our team, as together we create experiences and memories that can rival any sports and entertainment organization in the world.
The past is storied, the present is evolving and the future is bright.
Let's continue to enjoy this experience together.
President, Olympia Entertainment
The "2013-2014 Recap Video" emphasises the development of the Wings' "kids" and the high points of the season, starting with the Wings' prospect tournament win...
Oof, that's a pretty brutal end-of-June-and-start-of-July for me...Right from the draft to the first two days of free agency, and then hauling tail to Traverse City for ten days.
In the "If You Missed It" vein, the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness reiterated Pavel Datsyuk's status for the operating table as "iffy' (again, as MLive's Ansar Khan reported, Stephen Weiss had more surgery, too)...
“It has to be determined whether four months off and a commitment to the gym will give him the power and the quickness we’re used to,” Holland said. “He was still a good player.
“It’s the ligament,” Holland added. “It’s minor surgery, but it takes three months to heal. There’s a question if there’s dead tissue in there. They take the dead tissue out and get the blood flowing in the ligament.”
The team shut Datsyuk, who played in the Olympics, down at the trade deadline. He returned for the final six games of the regular season and played all five games in the playoffs.
“A lot depends on what Pav wants to do,” Holland said. “He doesn’t seem to feel he has the power. We gave him January off, waiting for it to heal and it never did.”
And Pleiness spoke with Holland regarding the team's progress made:
“It was a real experience for many of our players,” Holland said in a phone interview. “We’re hoping this makes us better prepared for next season. I’m proud we made the playoffs for the 23rd straight year,” Holland continued. “It’s hard to make the playoffs, just half the league does. I’m disappointed we’re out, but we got beat by a team that was better.”
Detroit fell in five games to the Presidents’ Trophy winning Boston Bruins.
“We had higher hopes than going out in five games in the first round,” Holland said. “Hopefully, we accomplished some things that can lead to future success.”
What the Wings are banking on is the development of their young players including Danny DeKeyser, Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco.
“DK had a very good rookie season,” Holland said. “He played a lot of big minutes against the other teams’ best players. When (Jonathan) Ericsson went down, Brendan Smith played well with (Niklas Kronwall) in the Boston series. The young forwards came on strong for us in the second half of the year when we needed offense.
“We had some real good things happen to our team,” Holland added. “We’re disappointed we didn’t finish higher in the standings and do better in the playoffs. We are trying to be a playoff team, trying to compete and advance in the playoffs and trying to be a Cup contender.”
And the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan also spoke with Holland regarding some of the team's options for in-house and free agent improvement:
[S]ome of it will be adding some needed punch to the roster, particularly with a defense coach Mike Babcock said needs to get better.
“We have four guys knocking on the door to be ready,” Babcock said. “But we have to improve our back end for sure.”
Prospects being looked at include Xavier Ouellet, Alexey Marchenko, Ryan Sproul and Mattias Backman.
Holland, however, pointed out another obvious need.
“Every team would like to add scoring, and we’re no different,” Holland said. “If there’s something out there that’ll make our team better, we’ll explore it.
If you listened to Chris Osgood or Mickey Redmond speak on Detroit Sports 105.1 FM, you may have heard some bet-hedging regarding the Wings' potential free agents-to-be, with both Osgood and Redmond suggesting that Kyle Quincey and David Legwand might return--if not Daniel Cleary...
The Windsor Star's Bob Duff believes that it's better to be merciless, save inviting the team's co-leading scorer in Daniel Alfredsson to come back if he wishes to play in one more season:
Right-wingers Daniel Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi are both long past their best-before dates and will not be even considered for next season. Had he not been injured during last summer, the Wings would have exercised an amnesty buyout on right-winger Mikael Samuelsson.
Centre David Legwand was a trade-deadline emergency fill when the Wings suddenly found themselves missing the first five centres on their depth chart, but as the team regained its health, Legwand became less of a factor and finished the playoffs skating on the fourth line. There’s no longer a place for him in Detroit.
The other free agents aren’t as cut and dried, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s difficult to envision the Wings giving any sort of long-term deals to goalie Jonas Gustavsson or defenceman Kyle Quincey.
Quincey was much better in the second half of the season than his atrocious first-half performance, but the 2012 move to acquire him for a first-round draft pick clearly hasn’t paid dividends. He’s never looked entirely comfortable in his second tour as a Red Wing and appears destined to play somewhere else.
As for Gustavsson, like Alfredsson, when he played he was excellent, but injuries too frequently kept him from playing. Unless he’s willing to take a one-year deal, his Detroit days are done, because the Wings know they have Petr Mrazek waiting to emerge.
They may have done it partly kicking and screaming and mostly due to the rash of injuries that nearly scuttled Detroit’s season, but the youth movement is now firmly established with the Wings’ braintrust.
“They’ve come here and they’ve replaced people and they’ve earned jobs,” Babcock said of the Wings’ kids, players like forwards Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco. “It’s not like they’re going back to the minors. They’re not. They’re here, they took jobs and they’re going to keep jobs and this is a group we’re going ahead with. With our group we have lots of great kids, lots of good young players. I believe our team is going in the right direction and we see growth every day. That’s a positive thing.”
Duff suggests that the Wings may have as much as $15 million to play with, but glancing at Capgeek will reveal that Danny DeKeyser, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar are restricted free agents-to-be who need to be re-signed, if the Wings choose to part ways with Jakub Kindl, his $2.4 million salary won't be easily disposed of (Brian Lashoff's $725,000 cap hit's easier to divest), and in addition to possibly carrying Daniel Alfredsson's $2 million in bonuses (it's uncertain whether the Wings used their LTIR space to pay that bill), Jordin Tootoo's $1.9 million salary's still on the 50-man roster, even if he remains with Grand Rapids next season.
It's hard to say whether there's space for Joakim Andersson and his $732,500 cap hit on the roster, either.
Again, the Wings also have the non-waiver-exempt Adam Almquist, Mitchell Callahan, Willie Coetzee, Landon Ferraro, Gleason Fournier, Andrej Nestrasil, Max Nicastro, Trevor Parkes--and yes, Cory Emmerton--to determine whether to issue qualifying offers to or whether to simply let the players walk by not qualifying them.
The Wings may or may not want to bring the AHL-only-contracted Tom McCollum back into the organization, too, barring Jake Paterson turning pro, and it bears noting that:
1. Pavel Datsyuk's cap hit will increase to $7.5 million;
2. Going forward, the Wings will also look to lock up next summer's RFA's-to-be in Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco and Brendan Smith over the next calendar year;
3. Just about everybody else is locked up through 2015-2016, but Teemu Pulkkinen, Petr Mrazek, Nick Jensen, Jared Coreau and the already no-longer-waiver-exempt Louis-Marc Aubry will be coming off of their entry-level contracts next summer, so those players either have to fit into the lineup or find gainful employment elsewhere by 15-16.
4. Again, the course of the off-season will proceed as follows:
- Over the next two or three weeks, barring players heading to Belarus to take part in the World Championships (Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Jonas Gustavsson are good bets to take part), the team's trainers will deliver off-season prescriptions in terms of fitness training, and each and every player will engage in an "exit interview" with the coaching and managerial staff. The exit interviews allow the players to provide feedback as to what they feel the team needs to do to improve, and the coaching and managerial staff issue "prescriptions" of their own to the returning players and prospects. They also tend to get a feel as to whether potential unrestricted free agents wish to remain with the Red Wings, and they let said players know if the organization has interest in retaining their services.
- Around or after the time that the exit interviews take place, the coaches, management and pro and amateur scouts have the first of two or three "powwows" to assess the shape of the roster to come, the progress made by the team's prospects (and which players will be either signed to their first pro deals or retained if coming off of entry-level deals), the team's draft targets and potential free agent and/or trade additions. The team tends to have a second meeting in early-to-mid June, formalizing its draft strategy, and then a third meeting prior to the start of unrestricted free agency.
- With the World Under-18 championships wrapping up, the Wings' amateur scouts will return to North America and may make some final rounds as the QMJHL, OHL and WHL championships precede the Memorial Cup; they'll also watch the Griffins play. The pro scouts will continue to watch playoff series to both scout opponents, to scout potential free agent additions and, as Babcock would say, to engage in "Rob and Do" R&D, determining whether successful aspects of other teams' games can be folded into Detroit's games.
- Holland, Ryan Martin, Kris Draper and the rest of the front office will also begin to touch base with player agents and other general managers, and the coaching staff will occasionally "put a good word in" as well. Specific players' names aren't mentioned, but it's not collusion if an agent tells a general manager that Player X may be interested in coming to a team for Y years at Z salary, and those kinds of agent-reaches-out-to-team conversations are already taking place with both active and eliminated teams (the latter segment can already make trades if they wish), so it's not uncommon. I will tell you that you would be astonished at the amount of "phone time" that the management has to put in to land a free agent or two, to retain their own players and to keep their fingers on the pulses of the league's real rumor mills.
- The team then heads to the draft to make its picks on June 27th and 28th in Philadelphia...And as we've witnessed over the past calendar year, they now have to take into account any surprises thrown into the organization's free agency plans by cap-compliance buyouts (if teams have remaining cap compliance buy-outs at their disposal, they have to use them this spring), and the "wining and dining" period preceding the start of free agency on July 1st can help teams' causes (Daniel Alfredsson) and make life a little more difficult (Vincent Lecavalier).
So that's "what's next," and after Mike Babcock and Ken Holland issue their end-of-season addresses today--and make some sports talk radio appearances over the next week--after the beat writers empty their notebooks by spreading out their player interview quips and quotes over the 7 to 10 days, and the Wings' operating room time's booked and we figure out who's going to the Worlds and who's staying home (Datsyuk and Nik Kronwall won't play, but it's entirely possible that Justin Abdelkader, Jimmy Howard and Danny DeKeyser could represent the U.S., and Darren Helm and Brendan Smith could lend Canada a hand)...
Well, for me...
1. I'm going to keep you appraised of the Wings prospects' progress. I expect the Griffins to defend their Calder Cup championship, and if Bertuzzi's Storm win the OHL title or Mantha's Foreurs pull off a near-miracle, the Memorial Cup begins on May 16th in London, ON;
2. I'm also planning on watching the Worlds, which means getting up 9 hours ahead of Detroit time if there are noon games;
3. And I may in fact end up catching up on this thing people call, "Getting more than five or six hours of sleep at a time," perhaps actually socially interacting with my friends In Real Life, going to this place called "outside" and maybe even going out of the house to just go out of the house...
4. I'm obviously going to slowly but surely gear up for the draft, free agency and the summer development camp, keeping a close eye on foreign-language news stories, and I'm going to work all summer...
5. But I'm not going to pretend that I know all of the answers to what the Wings will do this offseason, or what surprises might unfold at the draft (trades?), if surprising players hit the cap compliance buyout market, or, if things go as they appear to be going, the Wings are able to land a Niskanen or Boyle from the unrestricted free agent marketplace.
I would rather be honest and tell you that I don't know nor presume to know "what's best" for this team.
If I had my druthers, the team would follow Duff's model regarding the unrestricted free agents-to-be--just keeping Alfredsson and seeing what Mrazek can do (as the Free Press's Helene St. James pondered this morning) to push Howard--I'd have a long talk with the coaches and management about buying out Franzen (but would probably keep him), and then I'd pursue 1 unrestricted free agent and/or trade candidate (Ehrhoff? Edler?) to help give the Wings three defensive pairs with a veteran puck-mover.
Other than that, I'd make sure there's room on the roster for Mitchell Callahan and Landon Ferraro to "steal jobs," I'd divest myself of two of Andersson, Kindl and Lashoff, I'd allow "long looks" for the Ouellets, Sprouls, Marchenkos, Almquists and Backmans, and I'd let Anthony Mantha determine whether he's NHL ready...
All while hitting the re-set button on Stephen Weiss, hoping that Jonathan Ericsson, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Darren Helm get their health issues squared away, and in the last case, have a full summer's worth of training time (that's essential for Helm).
Sure, I'd at least look at the unrestricted free agent marketplace for a scoring forward, but in my opinion, the Wings need to run lean, give the "kids" every chance to succeed both up front and on defense, and I'd rather put up with the hiccups of a youth movement into October, November and December of the Wings' final season at Joe Louis Arena (barring any construction delays).
I'm not a member of the coaching or managerial staff, however, and the exit interviews and organizational powwows will provide the people who are paid to run the Detroit Red Wings with far more information than you or I have any access to.
If I feel that the Wings have made another Legwand-for-Jarnkrok-like mistake, I'll voice my criticism thereof, but I try not to bag on every personnel decision I disagree with (I wouldn't've exhausted Luke Glendening's wavier-exempt status, and I would've told Howard to change his catch glove as well as his blocker and leg pads given the amount of pop-outs he spits from his trapper--I don't think that going from a single "tee" to a double t-trap has aided his catching ability--but I'm not a goalie coach).
In the interim, I'm sure that the opinions of the outspoken media types, "experts" and the sports talk radio types will keep you and I occupied.
In that vein, the Free Press's Jamie Samuelssen weighed in on the "lessons" which the Wings need to remember going forward:
[N]ow that we have a year to look back on [the Red Wings-Blackhawks] series, two things are clearer now than they were then. 1. Hockey is a funny sport and the results of one series don’t always reflect the true level of a team. 2) The Red Wings got as far as they did last year thanks to stellar play from Zetterberg and goaltender Jimmy Howard and a burst of goals from previously untapped talent. As a result of the series, the Red Wings offseason seemed a lot more like a typical mid-90s offseason than it should have. They saw younger players like Valtteri Filppula (25 goals this season for Tampa Bay) and Damian Brunner (awful in New Jersey — 11 goals/14 assists) walk away. And in came the veterans Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss. Todd Bertuzzi had another year remaining on his deal, as did Mikael Samuelsson. Daniel Cleary was re-signed to the delight of very few in Red Wings Nation.
The result of those moves meant that Gustav Nyquist actually ended up starting the season in Grand Rapids instead of Detroit. Holland is one of the great talent evaluators in the game, but even he has to recognize what a misstep that turned out to be. Nyquist ended up leading the Wings in goals (28) and was one of the most dynamic players in the sport down the stretch of the regular season. Cleary, Samuelsson and Weiss didn’t play in the playoffs. Bertuzzi played one game. Alfredsson played in three and didn’t register a point.
This is not meant to demean veteran players. To be fair, Weiss was injured for most of the regular season. And Alfredsson was a very strong pick-up (tied for the team lead with 49 points) who Holland would love to have return next season. The point is that there are already veterans in the mix like Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall. The roster is young. It needs to stay young and if possible, get younger.
The offseason shopping list is rather obvious. They need one or two defensemen. They need another goal-scoring wing. And the free agent pool isn’t very impressive. So instead of spending money, Holland will be forced to spend players. There has to be a trade or two up his sleeve to try to unearth the next Nyquist or Tomas Tatar (and hopefully one who plays on the blue line).
The run is not over. This is still a strong team with stars both present and future. It sounds like excuses, but let’s be fair. This team was ravaged by injuries to players who they simply couldn’t afford to lose. Those players will be back. And this team will be back. But not necessarily in it’s entirety. You may not view the Red Wings as title contenders, but you don’t share that opinion with Holland and Mike Babcock. They’re as realistic as anyone. But they’re also more driven than anyone. So I fully expect an active and surprising offseason. The Red Wings were the inferior team to the Bruins. No shame in that. The shame is if that trend continues in the coming seasons. And given their track record, Holland and Babcock aren’t likely to let it.
I sure hope so--and I fully expect Holland to be re-signed to a contract extension before his contract expires next summer. Ditto for Mike Babcock, who will coach here for as long as he wants to. It'd be nice if the Wings hired a power play consultant somewhere along the way, but again, I'm not the coach, and neither are you.
We only play coaches and general managers online and in our discussions with our family, friends and fellow fans, and here's hoping that whatever Babcock, Holland et. al. find out over the next couple of weeks--and we don't--provides them with the foundational knowledge necessary to ensure that the Wings are no longer a one-playoff-round-and-done playoff team.
You and I have every right to express our opinions, critiques and constructive criticism, but we aren't in charge, and that's okay. We're not supposed to have all the right answers, and as we've learned over the past season, it's OK if the coach and GM "get it wrong" from time to time as long as they eventually get it right.
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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.