Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Blackhawks set-up, more realignment talk and an overnight report: more than a handful

The Detroit Red Wings head into Chicago to play the Blackhawks tonight (7:30 PM EST, NBC Sports Network/TSN2/WXYT) hoping to catch a pissed-off tiger by its jaws instead of its tail. Just as the Wings’ 4-3 loss to Toronto and their status as the third place team in the Central Division, as well as the fifth place team in the Western Conference heading into their 41st game, should have starter Ty Conklin and the Wings (who may or may not have Tomas Holmstrom and/or Darren Helm back in the lineup) at least a bit ticked off at themselves and particularly ornery heading into what was already a difficult outing to be in Chicago…

The Blackhawks are equally frustrated, which bodes well for those of you who want to witness a chippy, nastily-contested game tonight. They’ve lost three straight games, or in plainer English, every game since the Hawks nicked up the Wings on New Year’s Eve Eve, and the Hawks’ 4-0 loss to Colorado on Friday had the Hawks particularly down on themselves and gearing up to take their frustrations out on Detroit almost immediately after the Avs game, as noted by Comcast Sportsnet Chicago’s Tracey Myers...

“Last night we could’ve/should’ve got a point. Tonight we didn’t deserve anything,” Quenneville said. “We got what we deserved.”

The Blackhawks didn’t have much jump from the outset. Perhaps it was an after effect of their physical game in Philadelphia on Thursday. But they weren’t using that as an excuse.

“It seemed like we were a step behind the whole game. I don’t know why,” Duncan Keith said. “Especially in games like this, back to back, we need to rely on our team game. For whatever reason tonight, it wasn’t very good.”
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“We didn’t generate enough,” Quenneville said. “We had some quality chances. It would’ve been nice to get one and see what would’ve happened.”

Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said “it was not a good game at all. We just got outworked basically. We have to do better and try to get more bodies at the net, get the puck deep and go to work. We’ve been struggling with that the last couple of games and that’s why we’re not winning.”

The Blackhawks were winning in December with that team game Keith talked about on Friday night. As the calendar has turned, so has their game. On Sunday they’ll face the Detroit Red Wings, against whom they had one of those stellar across-the-board performances last time. They’ll need that again, and they need to keep it going like they did in December.

“The last three games we haven’t been consistent at all,” Hjalmarsson said. “A couple guys (have) a good game and in another game a couple other guys are good. We just have to be on top, the whole team, when the game starts.”

That’s more or less what Mike Babcock and Nicklas Lidstrom had to say about their team’s performance in Toronto, and Quenneville sounded downright Babcockian while speaking to the Chicago Daily Herald’s Tim Sassone about their defensive difficulties:

“For sure, too many goals,” is how coach Joel Quenneville summed up the Hawks’ defensive play over the first half. “We had a great stretch there prior to these last three games. We’ve been solid in net, but we’ve given up too many of the type of goals we saw tonight that can be preventable with positioning and awareness.”
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The Hawks had little going for them against an Avs team that has won four in a row and nine of 10. The Hawks had only 5 shots in the first period and fell behind 2-0 early in the second period.
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The killer goal for the Avs was the one David Van Der Gulik scored at 8:40 of the second period that was essentially short-handed, coming five seconds after a penalty expired. After a turnover by Viktor Stalberg in the neutral zone started the Avs the other way, the Hawks botched things completely behind their net.

“They outworked us,” Jamal Mayers said. “We’re not going to make excuses in here. They outplayed us in pretty much every aspect of the game.”

The Hawks have a perfect opportunity to get the bad taste out of their mouths from a bad week on Sunday when the Red Wings come to the United Center.

“We’ve got to come back Sunday and get a little (ticked) off,” Mayers said.

“We’ve got to be excited what’s next for us with a great big game against Detroit here Sunday,” Quenneville said.

The Hawks’ media almost entirely spent Saturday evening penning, “Looking back at the first half” columns, but Sassone gives Wings fans a few tidbits to pick upon and hopefully some weaknesses for the Wings to prey upon…

The 24-13-4 record is solid at the season’s halfway point, putting the Blackhawks on pace for 104 points. Yet this is a team with more than its share of concerns heading into the second half, starting with a commitment to playing better team defense.

Take away the big first halves of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, and the Hawks might be one of the teams fighting for a playoff spot instead of battling for the top spot in the Western Conference. Hossa has 42 points and Toews 41, including 22 goals. Sharp has 19 goals and 39 points. They have largely carried the team, along with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on defense.

“I think we can improve special teams; I think we can improve our four-line rotation,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “On a game-to-game basis, it doesn’t seem like all four lines are flying or firing very night. We’ve been good in stretches, but that’s what we want to nail the second part of our season, where all four lines are consistent and predictable.”

“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” Keith said.

And it needs to start defensively, where the Hawks have allowed a whopping 120 goals, third most in the West.

And the Chicago Tribune’s Brian Hamilton noted that the Hawks’ power play is just as streaky as Detroit’s:

The Hawks rank 15th out of 30 teams with a 17.8 percent success rate on the power play.

The problem is the wild inconsistency in getting there, with a rough start spilling into a hot streak and now devolving into a 1-for-23 drought over the last eight games.

“Our power play hasn’t been great, which doesn’t help,” Keith said. “If that’s better, that’s going to help win some hockey games.”

I suppose the other bit of “good news” involves the fact that on defense, even with Steve Montador returning from an “upper-body injury,” the Hawks are just as top-heavy on defense as they are up front, relying on Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson getting the job done while their bottom three defensemen shuffle in and out of the lineup, as noted by the Chicago Sun-Times’ Adam L. Jahns:

The third defensive pairing has been in flux all season, and second-year defenseman Nick Leddy has had growing pains. Steve Montador is the fifth defenseman, but his partner always changes among Sean O’Donnell (26 games), John Scott (20 games) and Sami Lepisto (11 games). The Hawks even gave rookie Dylan Olsen a shot in two games before sending him down Saturday when Montador was activated from injured reserve. Leddy had a solid start with two goals and 13 assists in the first 21 games. But in the last 20, he has only four assists.

With all of that being well and good, aside from noting that, per ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers, Hawks fans weren’t saying “Boo-urns” on Friday, let’s start moving toward tonight’s match-up instead of a thorough analysis of the team the Wings will face both tonight and next Saturday, via Comcast Sportsnet Chicago’s Tracey Myers, who succinctly summarizes the Blackhawks’ January thaw…

The Blackhawks’ defense was stellar through the back part of December, when they allowed two goals or less in their last seven games of 2011. That is what they’ll need again for the final 41.

They also need to regain their scoring balance, which was also a December staple. When the Blackhawks have had those four lines rolling, as Quenneville likes to say, they’ve been tough to beat. But the offense has quieted in January, too. Patrick Kane continues to struggle. And outside of rookies Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes’ goals, the team’s role players have been too quiet.

The Blackhawks should be getting a little healthier soon – Steve Montador was taken off the injured reserve today. And with plenty of cap space, general manager Stan Bowman will get that missing piece to push this team forward into the playoffs.

As they sit second in the West entering Sunday’s game against Detroit, the Blackhawks are still in good shape. But they don’t want to get in too much of a rut this month, especially when there are still a lot of home games left of which to take advantage.

“We’re still pretty good in the standings,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “The last couple of games here haven’t been good enough. Hopefully we can start the second half with a couple of wins and get it rolling again.”

And we’ll take a gander at a few Hawks-centric game previews via the Chicago Tribune...

Last meeting: Hawks won 3-2 on Dec. 30 at the United Center.

Probable goaltenders

Wings, Ty Conklin 1-4-0, 3.23.

Hawks, Corey Crawford 15-10-2, 2.86
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Storyline: The Hawks have lost their last three and will look to rebound against the team they last defeated. Defenseman Steve Montador, who missed the last two games with an upper-body injury, was activated from injured reserve Saturday. The Hawks assigned defenseman Dylan Olsen to Rockford. Red Wings forwards Tomas Holmstrom and Darren Helm missed the first game against the Hawks due to injuries but could return.

And the Chicago Daily Herald’s Tim Sassone...

What to watch: Defenseman Steve Montador (upper body) returns for the Hawks after missing two games. Rookie Dylan Olsen was returned to Rockford on Saturday to make room for Montador off IR. The Hawks beat Detroit 3-2 on Dec. 30 at the UC on Brent Seabrook’s third-period goal. The Hawks have lost three straight since that win, while Detroit played in Toronto on Saturday. Tomas Holmstrom (groin) and Darren Helm (groin) are likely to return for the Red Wings.

Before shifting to NHL.com’s Brian Compton, who offers the only Wings-related preview we’re going to get given that the Wings’ beat writers had to pen recaps and catch red-eye flights to Chicago (and trust me, while you might think that flying from Toronto to Chicago and getting to your hotel isn’t a big deal, traveling from the waterfront to Lester B. Pearson airport is a haul, Lester B. is a labyrinth, and when you factor in customs, the flight, luggage issues and then the haul from O’Hare to the hotel, I’ll be surprised if more than one beat writer makes it to the “morning” skate):

Red Wings [team scope]: Detroit nearly pulled off a tremendous comeback Saturday night, but just fell short in a 4-3 loss at Toronto. The Red Wings rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game, but Joffrey Lupul beat Jimmy Howard 7:10 into the third period to put the Leafs back in front. Detroit outshot Toronto by a 40-18 margin in the loss.

“It’s so important to get off on a good start on the road. I thought I needed to be a little bit better for the guys,” Howard said. “You just take it one shot at a time out there. You try to make saves for the guys to try to get give them a chance to get back into it. I thought we did a great job at the start of the second making a game of it.”

I’m gonna harp on it again: the Wings took 40 shots on Gustavsson and fired another 45 wide or into Toronto players.

Blackhawks [team scope]: Chicago will be looking to right the ship Sunday after suffering a 4-0 loss at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night at the United Center. The Blackhawks have lost three straight to match a season high for consecutive defeats. They’ve also dropped four of their last five following a 9-1-1 run and are just 1-for-23 on the power play in their last eight contests.

“Tonight we didn’t deserve anything,” Quenneville said after the loss. “We got what we deserved. I know we didn’t give up a lot of chances, but look at what we generated. We didn’t generate enough.”

Who’s Hot: Wings center Pavel Datsyuk had a pair of assists Saturday night to give him 4 in the last three contests, while Johan Franzen has 2 goals and 2 assists over the same stretch. … Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last four games.

Injury Report: Detroit is expected to be without Darren Helm (groin), Tomas Holmstrom (groin), and Patrick Eaves (jaw). … Marcus Kruger (concussion) is out for Chicago, along with Daniel Carcillo (knee, suspension).

Stat Pack: With Saturday’s loss, Howard remains stuck on 99 career victories. … Toews has taken 825 faceoffs this season. He’s won 60.8 percent of those draws, tops in the League.

Oh Joy of Joys: especially given that the Wings got only one power play against Toronto and none against Chicago the last time around, guess who also took a late-night flight to Chicago? referee Mike Hasenfratz, who will join Kevin Pollock and linesmen Mike Cvik and Thor Nelson in Chicago.


Part II: Regarding realignment: Okay, so most of the Wings’ takes on the realignment issue rolled in haphazardly during Saturday’s game-day update post, but while Don Cherry mocked Ken Holland, calling him a “genius” for wanting to eliminate fighting (whoops, that’s Jimmy Devellano, who raged against the NHLPA on Toronto radio) and the talking heads ruminated about the CBA ramifications of the PA’s decision to choose the nuclear option when told to approve the league’s plan without the NHL addressing any concerns regarding travel evening out or the fact that the Western Conference’s teams would find themselves in 8-team “conferences,” while the Eastern Conference’s teams would have a 4-out-of-7 chance of making the playoffs…

Both the Red Wings’ players and Ken Holland made cogent, logical and thoughtful points about the issue, and the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman revealed that Wings NHLPA player rep Niklas Kronwall, after consulting his teammates, was one of two player reps that actually voted to go along with the NHL’s plan on the Satellite Hotstove.

Let’s start with the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa’s report on said issue…

“You know, disappointed because we think, I think, that the new realignment was going to be positive on a lot of fronts,” Holland said after the Red Wings’ morning skate at the Air Canada Centre before Saturday night’s game against the Maple Leafs. “I’m disappointed with the news, but it’s not in our hands. I will say, when I left the board of governor’s meetings, Gary Bettman made it very clear, I think we all understood, that he was going to approach the union, and he wanted the union to sign off.”

The Red Wings captain, Nicklas Lidstrom, and their union representative, Niklas Kronwall, said NHL players raised concerns about the realignment proposed by the owners, which they either share or respect. They also said they view the situation as a matter of a process, for which the league had set a deadline of Jan. 6 to have the realignment in place for the 2012-13 season.

“There was a deadline set and we didn’t get our information in time, so that is why the PA (players’ association) said no,” Lidstrom said. “I think we and another team, Columbus, would have benefitted from it,” he said, of the owners’ proposal. “You know, the PA’s looking at this thing as a whole, not just the realignment but the number of teams making the playoffs with seven in two conferences and eight in the others, I think would not make it fair.”

Kronwall said while he and the Red Wings have their opinions and feelings about what the owners have proposed, it is a 30-team league that encompasses a variety of concerns and interests.

“Any time when something like this gets raised, every team is looking for their point of view, obviously,” he said. “From our standpoint, obviously, we thought it was a fairly good compromise, as far as the travel goes. But, at the same time, saying that, the unfairness of the playoffs, with some divisions being seven teams and compared to some divisions being eight teams, it’s difficult to get away from.”

Holland politely disagreed with his players’ takes on the playoff part of the equation…

“First off, you’ve got a 30-team league, and if you divide it by four, you’ve got to have two sevens and two eights,” he said. “That’s just the math. I would say that it’s not so much an east-west league as a four-conference league,” Holland said of the proposed realignment. “Your focus was on the conference. Certainly, we were aware that we were in an eight-team conference as opposed to some teams being in a seven-team conference, but what’s the difference between the seventh and the eighth? You’ve got to be in the top four. If you’re not in the top four, it doesn’t matter if you’re eighth or sixth, you’re out. I’m sort of missing something, I guess.

But the players reiterated their points to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness...

“For Detroit, we liked it,” Danny Cleary said. “But there are 29 other teams. We’d like to see a travel schedule, how it looks for other teams. (There’s also) the unfairness of the playoffs. Just because we like it or it helps us … we’ve got to make sure everybody else is on board. As players, we’d like to see a mock schedule, look at different travel,” Cleary added.
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“Anytime something like this gets raised every team is looking from their own point of view,” said Niklas Kronwall, who is the Wings’ player rep. “From our standpoint, we felt it was a fairly good compromise as far as the traveling goes, but at the same time, the unfairness of the playoffs – some teams being eight divisions, some being seven teams – it’s tough to get away from. I truly believe (the other teams) all had valid things to say and I respect what they had to say,” Kronwall added. “There’s a lot of things that players like about it but again, there’s a few things like the playoff race, obviously is a big concern and also future traveling, not sure how that would look.”
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“Us and Columbus would have benefited from (realignment), but I think the PA’s looking at this thing as a whole, not just realignment but number of playoff teams, having seven in some conferences and eight in others wouldn’t make it fair,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Things can still be done. They can still talk about it. It’s just a matter of meeting each other and going over the information and looking at the schedule. It would have helped our team, but the PA is looking at the whole 30 teams,” Lidstrom added.
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“I’m not sure if disappointment would be the word because we’re not sure what the travel would be with the new alignment,” Ian White said. “I’m not sure how much better or worse it would be. Ideally, we’d like to be in the east but that’s probably never going to happen.”

And again, while Holland and Wings coach Mike Babcock respectfully disagreed…

“From a Red Wing perspective we liked the idea that our fans and our players got to play against every team in the NHL (home and away),” Holland added. “We like the idea that more of our road games were on in prime time versus 9:30, 10 and 10:30. And we liked the idea that playoffs in first two rounds were within the region, so there’s less travel.”
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“I’m a big fan of hockey, our game has really grown, seems to be in a great spot,” Babcock said. “The other thing I think (that’s not) great for the fans is if you’re a team that doesn’t see (Edmonton’s Kevin) Nugent-Hopkins, for example, your fans want to see that guy, he’s a star. I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t play everybody home and home. It just seemed to make sense to me.”

The Wings’ players were equally adamant about the concept that NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly’s insistence that this is a “dead issue” for the next year is, at best, equally unreasonable. They want to work the issue out, as they told MLive’s Ansar Khan:

“From our standpoint, we felt it was a fairy good compromise as far as the traveling goes, but at the same time, the unfairness of the playoffs—some teams being in eight-team divisions, some being seven-team divisions, it’s tough to get away from,” Kronwall said. “I’m hoping they can keep working on it and come up with something.”

If they don’t, then so be it, he said.

“We’ll just keep going like we always have, so it’s not a major concern for us whatsoever,” Kronwall said. “There’s no doubt we would like our schedule to be a little bit different, with the traveling and all that. In saying that, this is how it’s been for the last however many years and it’s been just fine.”

So for the Wings’ players, this is an issue which could and should be realistically addressed and resolved in a rational manner:

“For Detroit, we like it, but there’s 29 other teams,” Red Wings forward Danny Cleary said. “We’d like to see a travel schedule, how it looks for other teams. Just because we like it or it helps us ... we got to make sure everybody else is on board.”

Kronwall, who participated in the Jan. 1 conference call of union representatives, said players were overwhelmingly in favor of rejecting the plan. He also denied this move was motivated by the NHLPA’s desire to gain leverage in talks this summer on a new collective bargaining agreement.

“I don’t feel that way at all,” Kronwall said.

Said Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg: “I think we got to find a better solution or get more information on how it’s going to affect everyone.”

Both Kronwall and Maple Leafs PA rep David Steckel told the Free Press’s Helene St. James that, from the players’ perspective, anyway, this issue has nothing to do with infantile posturing regarding the collective bargaining agreement:

“The thing that the teams don’t like is the seven-conference versus the eight, which is obviously less chance of making the playoffs,” Danny Cleary said.

When the news of realignment—spurred by Atlanta relocating to Winnipeg—emerged, Detroit players were thrilled. They didn’t raise objections to being in an eight-team conference, even one with such competitive teams as Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis. Most of all, there was joy at the prospect of a playoff scenario that meant the Wings wouldn’t be more than one time zone away at most through the opening two rounds.

“I think our club was one of the few teams that was positive about it, and I think that mostly was for traveling,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “But I guess you just moved around the bad traveling to other teams.”
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Kronwall and Steckel denied that the NHLPA’s decision not to endorse realignment ties into negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement in advance of the current one expiring next September. The last time the CBA expired, it cost the entire 2004-05 season.

Although some reports have realignment as out of the question for next season, players weren’t so sure.

“I think they can still talk about it, they can come to a solution,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said.

 

Part III: Red Wings notebooks: The Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa penned a lengthy notebook discussing the Wings-Leafs tradition, or the last trappings thereof, anyway, as well as Don Cherry’s doofy remarks and Tomas Holmstrom and Darren Helm’s…

Actually, let’s get back to Krupa’s “new stuff” in a minute, because MLive’s Ansar Khan also noted that Holmstrom and Helm hope to return today:

Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom said he will return to the lineup for Sunday’s game in Chicago, while teammate Darren Helm said he is hopeful of playing against the Blackhawks.

Both players will sit out tonight’s game in Toronto (7 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit) due to a groin strain. It will be the fifth game in a row Holmstrom has missed, the fourth for Helm.

“If I don’t have a setback, I’ll play tomorrow,’’ Holmstrom said after an extensive skate Saturday morning at the Air Canada Centre. “I want to play so bad tomorrow.’‘

Helm said he’s ready to play Sunday if he’s cleared.

“I think I can play. I feel really good. Have to see what they want me to do,’’ Helm said. “See how it feels tomorrow, only had two real practices.’‘

Going into the weekend, Wings coach Mike Babcock stated that he didn’t plan on allowing either player to play, so take that for what you will.

Okay, so let’s get back to Krupa as his new material involves the fact that Jimmy Howard’s won 99 games, and will be the fourth-fastest goalie (behind Chris Osgood, Manny Legace and Terry Sawchuk) in Wings history to do so, maybe as early as Tuesday against the Islanders:

“It caught me,” Howard said. “I didn’t know how close it was until the other night my buddy reminded me of it. It took a lot of hard work and a lot of sticking to it and not giving up on your dream. You know, there was a lot of times, there, where ‘what if’ was in the back of your mind, and I just kept plugging away and eventually got an opportunity.”
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Howard’s game clearly has advanced this season

“Just becoming more confident and being aware that you are capable of doing it out there,” he said. Myself, you know, I felt like I wanted to take on a bigger role for the guys, this year. And I feel like I’ve been doing that.”

Howard said he continues to be surprised about how quickly time passes, and that Steve Yzerman offered him some sage advise about that, early on.

“It’s amazing how time flies,” he said. “My first year, I remember Stevie telling me to enjoy it, because it goes by in the blink of an eye. It really, truly does.”

That may be true, but as Wings coach Mike Babcock noted, the Wings invested tremendous amounts of time, energy, effort and patience into helping Howard become the organization’s first goaltender drafted and developed in-house since Chris Osgood:

“Well, I think the big thing here is that Kenny Holland has done a real good job of being patient with him,” Babcock said. “We kept him in the minors a long time, and then we had a real good starter and a guy that helped him along, in Ozzie (Chris Osgood, now the Wings’ assistant goalie coach), and he has good support and a good veteran goalie right now in (Ty) Conklin, and he’s just growing his game and has become mature and confident. He’s a big part of our team, now, and up in the upper echelon of our players, for sure.”


Part IV: In the AHL and ECHL...The Grand Rapids Griffins defeated the Abbotsford Heat 2-1 in overtime, sweeping their weekend series in British Columbia. The Griffins’ website provides the details of the Griffins’ win...

Tom McCollum turned aside 31 of 32 shots and set a new career-high with his first five-game winning streak for the Griffins (15-13-4-2). Two goals once again soured first star Danny Taylor’s night, as the Heat netminder was pulled on Friday after two early goals and took the loss tonight after making 40 saves.

Despite an active first period that saw Grand Rapids outshoot Abbotsford (22-11-2-0) 16-14, the teams entered the first intermission separated by only Akim Aliu’s short-range effort. Just a minute and 25 seconds into the contest, Aliu popped home the rebound from Gaelan Patterson’s drive for his second goal of the season.

There were far fewer shots taken by both teams in the second, but the goaltenders were up to the task when the rubber did get through. McCollum in particular stood tall, making three point-blank saves on former Griffin Krys Kolanos, who put up 10 points (5-5—10) in the three previous contests between the clubs.

Late in the period, the Griffins pulled even on Garnet Exelby’s third goal of the year. Jamie Johnson entered the offensive zone at speed, hit the brakes and dumped off a pass to the Griffins captain, who unleashed a forty-foot missile that found the upper-right corner of the cage at 18:44. Francis Pare also picked up an assist on the play, setting a new team high with assists in six straight games and tying Johnson’s season-best six-game point streak (Oct. 29-Nov. 11).

A chippy third period did not offer many quality chances to either side. The physical play did spill over into the overtime period however, as Doug Janik and Kolanos were assessed penalties that left each team with only three skaters for the final minute and 47 seconds of the contest.

With room to roam, the open ice benefitted the Griffins’ quick skaters, and it was Johnson again who collapsed the Heat defense with a quick rush. He left the puck for Tomas Tatar who dangled through the crease before finding [Brian] Lashoff at the backdoor with only 61 seconds remaining to give the Griffins the 2-1 decision.

The Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema and the Heat’s website provide recaps as well.

• In the ECHL, the Toledo Walleye had a rough night, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Greenville Road Warriors. None of the Wings’ prospects playing in Toledo (Gleason Fournier, Andrej Nestrasil, Bryan Rufenach and Nick Oslund) registered a point, and Andrej Nestrasil finished at -3. The Walleye’s website and the Toledo Blade provide recaps.

 

Part V: Also of Red Wings-related note: The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch penned his first trade-centered column of the new year, but offered no Wings rumors. The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson’s Hockey World, however, mentions two tidbits after noting that one William Scott “Scotty” Bowman plans on remaining a consultant and does not plan on coaching again:

The Red Wings’ biggest concern outside of trying to arm-twist Nick Lidstrom into coming back one more year to tutor young Brendan Smith is trying to convince unrestricted free agent defenceman Brad Stuart, their second-pairing blue-liner, to hang around. His family still lives in California and sources say he will sign with either the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks. Stuart is 32. I wonder if San Jose would want him back; they drafted him originally. Tomas Holmstrom is likely quitting, too and Todd Bertuzzi might not be back, along with Jiri Hudler, who isn’t one of coach Mike Babcock’s favourites, although he praised Hudler the other day after a two-goal game.

It sounds like Holmstrom actually wants to keep going if he can health-wise; Bertuzzi might retire if the Wings go far in the playoffs, but he seems to be happy in Detroit, and if he takes a little haircut on his current salary, the Wings don’t exactly have big players on the brink of NHL readiness in Grand Rapids; Hudler is obviously playing for his future with the Wings, but he’s been pretty darn good lately…

But yeah, nobody knows what Lidstrom’s going to do, and Stuart is a huge concern. He’s the perfect #4 defenseman, a shot-blocker and hard-nosed player who can work equally well mentoring a young player along (as a lefty who’s comfortable on the right side of the ice) or playing 22+ minutes per night alongside Lidstrom, not only killing penalties but also working the power play from time to time.

His kids aren’t toddlers anymore, and if he’s not willing to uproot the family and plant some here in Metro Detroit, there’s just no reason for him to be spending seven or eight months out of the year away from his wife and kids. I really don’t know how the Wings can sell him on staying given that his family’s remained in San Jose for the duration of his tenure with the Wings, but I don’t know how they’d be able to replace him, either.

Maybe we’ll see how Stuart is leaning based upon what the Wings do at the trade deadline. If they surprise us and try to find a gritty top-four guy—and pay the high price involved in acquiring such a defenseman—we might know that Stuart’s got a skate out the door.

As much as Shea Weber is a horse in Nashville, the Red Wings really like the Predators Ryan Suter, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and plays a league-leading 27:03 a night. If Nashville can’t sign him by the trade deadline, Preds GM David Poile will be moving him. That’s where Detroit comes in.

That’s because the Wings are very smart. I don’t know if the Predators would be willing to trade with a playoff rival, but the Wings are definitely going to be interested in someone who’s nearly as good as Weber but whose quieter play means that he won’t command Weber’s asking price. I can’t see Ken Holland tossing a 1st round draft pick, a top prospect and maybe even a roster layer to Nashville for Suter, but if he becomes an unrestricted free agent, you can bet that the Wings would go after him.

And given the Wings’ desire to get some forechecking speed into their lineup when Jan Mursak and Patrick Eaves return, and especially given that Holmstrom’s done so very well as a surprisingly effective fourth-line player, I don’t buy this:

If Ryan Smyth was available at the trade deadline, would the Detroit Red Wings be sniffing around? I say yes. Tomas Holmstrom, who turns 39 this month, gives them the same sort of net presence, but he isn’t a top-six guy any longer. He’s on their fourth line with some power-play time.

Smyth’s slow, too, and he’s got as much wear and tear on the odometer as Holmstrom, if not more given who’s the better shot-tipper and rebound-retriever at this point.

I don’t want to belabor the point, but I’ve got to address this, too:

The National Hockey League Players Association blocked the realignment because getting into the playoffs isn’t an equal playing field (four out of seven teams make the post-season in two conferences, four of eight in the other two) and there are travel concerns. It’s just Don Fehr’s way of saying, “OK, we’ll agree to it with a giveback from the owners on something else at collective bargaining agreement time.” He’s flexing his muscles, and he should as the players’ strong-arm.

“This doesn’t surprise me one bit from dealing with him in baseball … he always wants something back,” said one longtime baseball scribe.

Mind you, how would the players like it if the owners suddenly said, “OK, we’re dissolving two money-losing teams and we’ll only have 28 teams left, so it’s four out of seven into the playoffs in all four conferences”? Oops, the players would be losing close to 50 NHL jobs. It’s not like the NHL is saying there will be fewer teams in the playoffs with this realignment. There’s still 16 in, 14 out. And the travel concerns? Ask the Winnipeg Jets how they like being in a division with the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes and two teams in Florida, other than the weather. Or the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets flying out west so much? Players go from city to city on 737 charters with first-class seating. There’s no wear and tear. Wear and tear is being a scribe and getting a 5:30 a.m. wake-up at your hotel after working until midnight the night before so you can go through long lines at bag check and security to catch a 7:30 a.m. flight on a tiny plane that looks like an iron lung.

I get it that it’s supposed to be a partnership between the owners and the players, who are the entertainers. But it was the league doing most of the growing of revenue streams, not the players. You can bet the owners will want to cut that pie down considerably from the 57 per cent currently going to the players.

Look, I get the fact that writers have a hard, hard job to do—I’ve been at this for six hours, just as I am almost every night that there are back-to-back games, and I’m not even a content producer, I’m a reflector—but the players also happen to be athletes who get hacked, whacked and checked while being asked to perform at a near superhuman level of intensity and effort for four hours, then they pack their gear up, get into their nice, cushy plane and fly somewhere else and have to get up in six hours for their morning skate and then have to go out and earn their money with mental and physical exhaustion, nagging injuries, and the same colds, sniffles and familial worries that any person who travels for a living has to deal with. I understand that their lives are more privileged, but their concerns are valid, because the wear and tear of games played takes its toll on their bodies and minds, too.

I’ll leave you to read Steve Simmons’ insistence that realignment in which some teams had a 4-out-of-7 chance of making the playoffs and some had a 4-out-of-8 chance of making the playoffs as “perfect sense” on your own, but I guess I ought to counter with Larry Brooks’ take on the situation:

The NHL has gone out of its way to manufacture the perception of a crisis with its unilateral decision to abandon realignment for next year while simultaneously launching an attack on the NHLPA for the union’s refusal to approve the plan without receiving the information it is entitled to.

What is clear though, after the league pulled the plug, is the reflex of so many within the media as well as the NHL’s fan base to throw the first stones at labor regardless of the facts.

What employee, given the contractual right to approve changes in working conditions, would simply waive it under pressure from his or her employer to meet an artificially imposed deadline?

Would you? Really?

That’s the part of it that makes the least sense—the NHL reacted to the PA’s requests as if their schedule-maker is still plugging available and unavailable arena dates into an Excel spreadsheet for games 1 to 1,200 by hand, and that the league simply had no reason to even attempt to address the concerns that both players and more than a few owners had about a plan which Bettman, by all honest accounts, more or less shoveled down the Board of Governors’ throats despite the fact that less than a 2/3rds majority of them were inclined to change anything. The, “Well, let’s just see what happens and reevaluate it later” concept is harder to take if you’re Tampa Bay or Florida, for example, and I think if we were to talk about actual miles traveled?

The Wings would be traveling to the West Coast less, but overall, I’d imagine that they might lose 2,000 miles at most from their travel schedule given the increased flights to Winnipeg and Dallas and their visits to every rink on the NHL map.

• Shifting gears in a big way, the Free Press’s Steve Schrader offered a “Sports Year in Review” a week late as the Free Press didn’t publish last weekend, mentioning Darren McCarty and Claude Lemieux as “happy couples,” suggesting that McCarty might be better suited to a radio talk show than working at “Hardcore Pawn” (agreed) and mentioning this gem:

How do you compliment a guy who has been called everything, including the Perfect Human?

Maybe comedian Jay Mohr couldn’t pronounce his name correctly when he hosted the NHL Awards Show, but here’s how he saluted Nicklas Lidstrom:

“Nicklas Lindstrom may be the most gorgeous man I’ve ever seen. Now I’m not saying I want to go to jail, but if you had to go to jail, you could get a worse cell mate than Nicklas Lindstrom.”

Said Lidstrom: “I missed it because I was backstage, but someone told me about it. I was flattered, in a weird kind of way.”

• The Boston Globe’s Kevin Dupont penned his weekend notebook prior to the realignment fandangle, so here’s what he had to say that was related to the Wings:

The NHL hasn’t named a site for the next Winter Classic - Jan. 1, 2013 - but betting around the league has the Leafs and Red Wings facing off at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Michigan and Michigan State dropped a rink there Dec. 11, 2010 and drew a world-record hockey crowd of 113,411.

• In the “strong women I admire” department, part 1: The Free Press’s Jo-Ann Barnas wrote a lovely article about Angela Ruggiero, who retired from “manning”  Team USA’s blueline at all of 32 years of age, which is more or less (sadly) the end of the line for female professional hockey players—even legendary ones like Ruggiero, who’s one of my biggest hockey heroes;

• And if we’re going to talk about strong women I admire and people who cover sports for a living, the Free Press’s Mark Snyder reports that Helene St. James finished as the runner up for the Michigan Sportswriter of the Year for 2011 as voted upon by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association and Hall of Fame.

My vote would have been for St. James…

• In the, “I’m ignoring this bit of multimedia” department, NHL Tonight’s analysis of the Wings-Leafs game? Here’s mine: GM Cam, a.k.a. Hockey Night in Canada’s insistence on showing the reactions of Brian Burke and/or teams’ front office personnel after goals, is the stupidest, most passion-sapping way that a TV network can display a moderately passionate celebration of a goal for or a lament and/or curse word after a goal against as opposed to, say, more fan or player reaction. I feel sorry for the poor camera guy who has to spend all night watching Brian Burke…

• And finally, in the, “Like hell I’m gonna ignore this one,” from YouTube user We All Bleed Red, who is a Wings fan:

See you in five or six hours.

Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink
 

Comments

Avatar

George,

What is your gut feeling about Stuart staying with the Wings? I mean, I know you said that you don’t know how the Wings will sell him to stay, but do you believe he will leave for sure?

Posted by TheBen on 01/08/12 at 03:57 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

In the slightly butchered English of Russian players speaking to the Russian press, trying to capture a colloquialism:

“Fifty on fifty.” Stuart could not find a team where he is more appreciated for what he is—a glue guy who’s the first Bob Rouse since Bob Rouse, the multi-tool defenseman who can do just about anything he’s asked to do when he isn’t pressured to play outside of his skill set just because he’s got that whole, “#3 overall draft pick should be able to do more than be a steady #3/4 guy” history behind him—and the Wings absolutely love his play, professionalism and quiet leadership, to the point that I think he could equal Kronwall’s extension in terms of at least $4 million of Kronwall’s $4.75 million and maybe five out of Kronwall’s seven years’ worth of contract extension.

The Wings really, really like Stuart as a player and a person, and they really, really want to keep him in Detroit, to the point that the Wings would do the obvious—assure that Stuart’s three kids get into the best preschools and kindergartens possible, and that Mrs. Stuart would receive tons of support in picking out a house and a very healthy support system via the Wings’ wives and girlfriends…

But it’s up to Stuart, and I think hes on the fence.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 01/08/12 at 04:19 PM ET

NickLidstrom's avatar

Who the hell is Andrew Shaw??

Posted by NickLidstrom from a Higher Ground on 01/08/12 at 05:30 PM ET

SYF's avatar

YouTube user We All Bleed Red, who is a Wings fan:

Subbed.  Thanks, George.

Posted by SYF from The Revenge of Johnny E on 01/08/12 at 05:36 PM ET

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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.