The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/11/13 at 06:19 PM ET
Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist hasn't been playing in the AHL for almost a month now, but he was still named to the AHL's First All-Star Team. From the Griffins' PR department, here comes the tip of an iceberg worth of Red Wings pre-game stories:
NYQUIST NAMED TO AHL FIRST ALL-STAR TEAM
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Grand Rapids Griffins right wing Gustav Nyquist on Thursday was named to the 2012-13 American Hockey League First All-Star Team.
Nyquist, 23, leads the Griffins with 60 points (23-37—60) in 58 games and ranks among the team’s leaders with 37 assists (1st), nine power play goals (1st), 25 power play points (1st), a plus-10 rating (7th), two game-winning goals (T5th), three shootout goals (2nd) and 169 shots (2nd). Despite missing 12 of Grand Rapids’ last 13 games while with the parent Detroit Red Wings, Nyquist still sits eighth in the AHL in scoring, as he was leading the league in scoring at the time of his recall. He also has 18 multipoint games, the most of any Griffins player, and had four three-point games over his last nine contests with the club (Feb. 23-March 19).
A native of Halmstad, Sweden, Nyquist tied for the team lead in scoring as a rookie in 2011-12, capturing a spot on the AHL All-Rookie team with 58 points (22-36—58) in 56 games. This season, he became the first Griffin since Niklas Kronwall (2004 and 2005) to be chosen to represent the Griffins at the AHL All-Star Classic in back-to-back seasons.
Nyquist becomes the sixth Griffin to be named to the AHL First All-Star Team and the first since Donald MacLean in 2005-06. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound forward joins a club that also includes Kronwall (2004-05), Marc Lamothe (2002-03), John Gruden (2001-02) and Martin Prusek (2001-02).
Detroit’s third choice (121st overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Nyquist has appeared in 13 games with the Red Wings this season, recording five points (2-3—5). In 31 career NHL contests, he has tallied 12 points (3-9—12), in addition to appearing in four postseason games with the club last season.
The other members of the AHL First All-Star Team, as voted by AHL coaches, players and media in each of the league’s 30 member cities, are left wing Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (Springfield) and center Tyler Johnson (Syracuse); defensemen Justin Schultz (Oklahoma City) and Sami Vatanen (Norfolk); and goaltender Niklas Svedberg (Providence). The AHL Second All-Star Team consists of left wing Matt Fraser (Texas), center Jeff Taffe (Hershey) and right wing Brett Connolly (Syracuse); defensemen Mark Barberio (Syracuse) and Adam Clendening (Rockford); and goaltender Curtis McElhinney (Springfield).
The Red Wings have been a stable franchise for more than two decades now, but they’re entering an unstable period when GM Ken Holland will have some tough decisions to make and another opportunity to prove why he’s been regarded as one of the best in his business.
Defense will be an issue for the Red Wings until they get enough depth or acquire that stud No. 1 they missed out on last summer when Ryan Suter landed in Minnesota. Scoring will increasingly become an issue as Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen age, while Pavel Datsyuk’s contract ends next season, amid speculation he might retire. Valtteri Filppula hasn’t become the scorer he was hoped to be, Damien Brunner’s promising run early this season as so far proven to be nothing more than a streak and no one else, at the moment, looks like a surefire superstar.
So the surest, most battle-tested and, relatively young asset to move forward with is Howard.
The goalie market will be saturated with options this summer. Roberto Luongo, Jonathan Bernier and perhaps Miller could be had via trade, while Backstrom, Mike Smith and Evgeni Nabokov may be free agents. Plus, there’s the Tim Thomas wild card.
But nothing about those options (the price or even the availability) is known. There’s no guarantee any could be had, let alone the one who tops your wish list. In Howard, the Wings have a proven and known commodity that has established himself as a steady hand in a position where a steady hand is of paramount importance.
Howard will make less against the cap than Luongo, Backstrom, Kiprusoff, Miller, Cam Ward, Ilya Bryzgalov, Price, Jonathan Quick, Kari Lehtonen and a couple others, so it’s hard to argue he’s overpaid, unless his play takes a sudden and shocking turn for the worst. But at the time the deal was signed, it reflects the market well.
A cap hit of $5 million-plus was the going rate for a UFA-to-be like Howard when looking at rough comparisons. If the Wings thought the price were too high, they could have let Howard walk and tested many other options. But that would have been an unnecessary risk when a perfectly legitimate option was already in the organization. The right choice for the Wings was to keep control of their destiny.
Holland did as Holland does and took the smart, measured approach to this contract. The Wings can move forward the next six years and deal with whatever roster transition issues come up knowing what to expect from their last line of defense.
As did SI's Allan Muir...
It feels like the right move for both sides.
The 29-year-old Howard, who went from playing one game in Detroit in 2008-09 to 63 a year later, got the bump in pay he richly deserved. His new $5.3 million cap hit puts him in the same neighborhood as Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathan Quick, Kari Lehtonen, Roberto Luongo and Ilya Bryzgalov. That’s a fair reflection of both past performance and the anticipation of future results.
But maybe more important, he finally was given the full faith of Detroit’s organization. Despite being the first goalie in franchise history to win at least 35 games in each of his first three seasons, there was always a sense that Howard was Mr. Right Now rather than Mr. Right. He was good enough, but if something else came along, well, it wouldn’t be too hard to dispense with his two-year, $4.5 million deal.
With this new contract, the Wings have proved that they are fully committed….
While they could (and did) skimp on goaltending during the Nick Lidstrom-era, this deal shows a firm grasp of their changing reality in the wake of his retirement. Stability on the back end will be critical moving forward, and that’s exactly what Howard provides. His numbers this year — a 2.41 GAA and .917 save percentage – -mirror his career averages, and that’s clearly a level of play the Wings can succeed with.
It also shows an acceptance of the standard model that Holland had long ignored. Winning teams typically are built from the goaltender out, and Detroit has the right man locked in place to help a young but promising group of defenders mature into a formidable blueline.
And Yahoo Sports' Greg "Puck Daddy" Wyshynski...
It’s an interesting investment for GM Ken Holland and the Red Wings.
Clearly they don’t believe the old goaltending model works without elite backliners like Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski back there every night – eventually, Yzerman will get this message down in Tampa Bay, too – so they’ve decided to invest between the pipes instead and hope that Howard continues to blossom as a netminder.
The money might make some bristle, but consider the alternatives under this philosophical shift for the Red Wings: Ryan Miller or Mike Smith would cost as much or more. Someone like Jonas Hiller ($4.5 million cap hit) would cost less, but is a lesser goalie to Howard.
It's not like there's another Ryan Suter out there either if the Wings were looking to add a stud to the blueline rather than pay the goalie. The money they just paid Howard gets you a Keith Yandle.
So that’s the justification for a massive investment in a position that hasn’t gotten it in the past for Detroit. To that end, I like the deal. It’s not a bad investment, considering the alternatives. And above all, it offers stability in a time of transition for the Wings.
And the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness spoke to Howard himself:
“First thought for me was providing for my family and to have that security blanked for them means the most,” Howard said Thursday morning at Joe Louis Arena when asked if he had considered testing free agency. “I wanted to be here. I get along great with everyone here. I believe in this organization and I think we’re going to get the job done.”
Both sides have agreed on the length of the deal, which will be worth around $5.3 million a season, according to Howard, who hopes the deal can be signed by this weekend.
“Pretty much all the little stuff (is left),” Howard said. “It feels good, I mean I’ve worked really, really hard, paid my dues in the minors and really became a professional. To see it payoff here shortly is a good thrill for my family and I.”
Howard, 29, was drafted by the Wings in 2003 (second round, 64th overall) and the team spent time grooming him in the minors before bringing him up when he was out of options.
“Howie has worked hard and the organization has confidence in him,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s important for us. We need good goaltending. Just how much parity there is, we need him each and every night and he’s been excellent for us.”
Howard has helped keep the Wings in the playoff race this lockout-shortened year after they lost so much this offseason, going 16-12-4 with a 2.41 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. He has two shutouts this season.
“He’s more consistent,” Babcock said. “In anybody’s game there’s things he can work on. He can always work on his puck-handling and he’s been working on that. To me, what he’s done is become a guy you can count on. That’s what you need in this league. The bottom line for us is we hope this gets done so we can get on with winning games.”
Shifting focus back to tonight's game, the Wings' website posted a game-day preview...
And ESPN's Craig Custance spoke about the Wings' struggles...
As did Yahoo Sports' Nick Cotsonika, headlining his "Three Periods" column discussing the Wings' playoff bubble status...
If the Wings extend their streak to 22 seasons, it will be extra-special for two reasons:
— One, the competition has caught up because of the salary cap and points for overtime and shootout losses. The Wings can’t outspend everyone like they used to when they stockpiled future Hall of Famers. They haven’t had a high draft pick in ages. Three-point games help keep the standings tight.
“There’s more teams that can do it now,” said Zetterberg, who broke into the NHL with the Wings in 2002-03. “That’s the biggest difference from when I came into the league. The first couple years, there weren’t as many teams that were the contenders. Now you can take nine, 10 teams in the West that can probably go all the way if everything clicks, they’re healthy, they get on a run in the playoffs. The goalie gets hot and you do the right things, you can go all the way.”
— Two, injuries and a crazy schedule have piled on top of personnel losses. The Wings have done a masterful job of rebuilding on the fly for two decades. Only five players were a part of all four of their Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008. But none of them are left. They lost three of their top four defensemen over the past two years to retirement or free agency, including one of the greatest players of all-time and their biggest constant, Nicklas Lidstrom.
Then came this compressed, lockout-shortened season. They entered Thursday night having lost 216 man-games to injury in 39 games. That’s 5-1/2 guys out per game. Darren Helm hasn’t played this season. Mikael Samuelsson has played only four games. Todd Bertuzzi has played only seven games. That’s essentially an entire line missing every night.
“There’s a lot of new guys that’s been coming in and been doing a good job,” Zetterberg said. “But if you add that on to more teams getting better, it’s more difficult to be that dominant.”
The Wings had nine games left entering Thursday night. They knew if they won enough, they would make it. They didn’t need help. But look at the last week: It includes a home game against the Coyotes and a road finale against the Stars. Zetterberg might be watching games and checking scores to the end.
“The last couple years have been more and more difficult,” Zetterberg said. “The streak we’re on, it is a pretty cool streak. We want to keep doing it. But I think if we wouldn’t have made the playoffs last year, we would have the same hunger to be in the playoffs now. I think it’s not so much about the streak. It’s more about we want to be in the playoffs.”
And, bookending this entry with prospect talk, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose spoke to Calle Jarnkrok about his experiences in North America thus far (Jarnkrok will return to Sweden on April 14th to play in the World Championships, but he's probably going to come to North America full-time next season):
“It was a little bit harder than I thought it would be,” said Järnkrok, of making the adjustment to the AHL. “I expected smaller ice and bigger players, so I expected it to be pretty tough for me. It was, but I think I figured it out and it’s getting better and better for each game.”
Järnkrok has three assists with a plus-2 rating in seven games with the Griffins. He’ll finish up his stay in Grand Rapids this weekend with games at Van Andel Arena against Milwaukee on Friday and Peoria on Saturday.
Järnkrok and 2011 first-round pick Tomas Jurco were at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday to meet with assistant general manager Jim Nill, as well as Red Wings’ trainers to map out off-season strength and conditioning programs that the prospects can work on at home.
“I have to work on everything, but I think I need to work on my strength to be bigger and put some muscle on,” Järnkrok said. “I think that’s the biggest thing for me right now and this summer.”
Järnkrok is a skilled playmaking center with exceptional quickness, but he lacks size (6-foot, 176-pounds) and strength. Still, he has excelled at the professional level in Sweden where he has shown the ability to play through heavy traffic over the last four seasons. He produced 44 goals and 74 assists in 185 career games for Brynäs in the Swedish Elite League.
Not sure of what his future holds, Järnkrok hopes to be back in North America next season either in the NHL with the Red Wings or in the AHL with the Griffins. Asked where he thinks he’ll be next fall, said Järnkrok, who signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Wings last May. “I really don’t know right now, but we’ll see.”
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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.