The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/07/12 at 02:34 PM ET
Updated 6x with video, realignment talk and other good stuff at 5:28 PM: As the Detroit Rd Wings prepare to face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight (7 PM EST, FSD/CBC/NHL Network U.S. [no Center Ice or GameCenter Live Online]/WXYT), the only personnel news of note thus far comes from the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle, who reports that the Leafs will probably scratch Jake Gardner, but there’s no point on sitting on stories due to a lack of news about who’s in and who’s out, so we’ll kick things off with this quip from Mirtle…
Wings’ NHLPA rep Nik Kronwall says unfairness of playoff format was a big part of what he didn’t like about the proposed realignment.
And we’ll offer a less than surprising Wings personnel update from the Canadian Press’s Chris Johnston....
Mike Babcock: “No Helm, no Holmstrom. Let’s go.”
Before diving into the Wings’ Twitter account’s multitude of updates:
Ken Holland chatting with DetroitRedWings.com about the latest realignment news. ‘I’m disappointed.’ More to come on the website later.
Kindl emerges from the tunnel for the morning skate. http://www.twitpic.com/84e54l
The dads get ready to take a team photo on the bench. http://www.twitpic.com/84ed2r
Jimmy Howard, seen here in today’s morning site, will try and win his 100th NHL regular season game tonight. http://www.twitpic.com/84eign
Lidstrom on the latest NHLPA news: Things can still be done. It’s just a matter of leading each other and going over the information.
Lidstrom: It’s always fun to come to Toronto and play against an Original Six franchise.
Cleary: We’ve been okay on the road, but not as good as we need to be as a team
Hockey Night in Canada means a lot of press around the room this morning. Here is Kronwall. http://www.twitpic.com/84eoj9
Howard on going for his 100th win. ‘I knew it was coming, I didn’t know how close I was until the other night.’
Babcock with praise for Toronto’s defensive play and quickness with reporters this morning.
According to Mike Babcock, Darren Helm and Tomas Holmstrom are out of tonight’s lineup.
No comment, per DetroitRedWings.com’s Jake Duhaime:
Babcock on realignment ... Disappointed, understands there are issues to be worked out. ‘Those will be up to people way smarter than me.’
This morning’s crop of feature stories (I had to wait to post them until we at least had something related to the morning skate available online, or the “game-day update” post betrays the whole poitn of it…Sorry, I started this blog entry about an hour ago) reflects a heavy media presence from both the natives and visitors, and MLive’s Ansar Khan sets up the game very well via a mid-morning-published preview. Let’s just say that the Wings seem pretty aware of the fact that the Maple Leafs have turned things around, and that Detroit’s going to have to work very hard to break a nine-year losing streak in Toronto:
“They’re playing fast,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “They got a pretty good back end. They’re getting better goaltending than they were. They’re playing with good tempo. They’re playing hard. It’s going to be a good challenge.”
Even in lean times, Toronto has presented a challenge for Detroit, winning four of its past six games against the Red Wings. The Leafs have won three in a row at home vs. Detroit, dating to Nov. 16, 2002, the Red Wings’ most recent victory in Toronto (2-1). Because these old rivals meet only once a season, there is much more anticipation preceding the matchup. The Red Wings begin their annual fathers’ trip, and goaltender Jimmy Howard is seeking his 100th victory.
“To get a chance to do it in front of the dads and have my dad in attendance, it would be really special,” Howard said.
He anticipates a challenge. The Maple Leafs, with their one-two punch of Phil Kessel (23 goals, 46 points) and Joffrey Lupul (18 goals, 45 points), rank sixth in goals per game (3.15) and third on the power play (21.1 percent).
“They seem like they’re run and gun,” Howard said. “Their forwards are dangerous with Kessel up there leading the charge. Our top line and whoever is paired against them is going to have their hands full.”
Said Red Wings defenseman Ian White, who played for Toronto from 2005-2010: “Those are two guys that have been clicking pretty well from the start of the season. I’ve watched some tape of what they like to do; Kessel is a shooter with a quick snap shot, and we definitely have to take his time and space away. And Lupul is just as dangerous it seems.”
Khan also reports that, should Tomas Holmstrom or Darren Helm return on Sunday, the Wings will send Gustav Nyquist down, and that the Wings expect to have Jan Mursak back up from his conditioning stint after this three-game road swing ends.
The Wings’ website takes a hard left turn from talking about tonight’s game to discussing the influences of the dads who will be watching their sons play the Leafs and Blackhawks, starting with a story by DetroitRedWings.com’s Zack Crawford about Chris Conner…
For the Conners, the trip has provided an opportunity for Scott Conner to share memories of his son’s hockey development, which involved enrolling in a Chicago high school so he could play with the Freeze in the NAHL.
“It was hard giving him up at sixteen to go live somewhere else,” Scott Conner said. “And that killed me. It’s paying off now, but there are a lot of sacrifices you make.”
Sacrifices such as getting out of work early on Friday afternoons to get to tournaments, missing school activities from dances to graduation and spending hours on Canada’s Highway 401 en route to Toronto were just part of the drill for the Conner family. But being on year’s fathers’ trip brought back memories of the old days for the Conners, who, after Thursday’s excursion to the Hockey Hall of Fame, simply went back to the hotel, relaxed and watched TV, much the same way they used to.
“We had some good times at the hotels. We had a lot of good times with the people when we came up here,” Scott Conner said. “Chris was even saying on the bus, ‘I wonder if those rinks are still here,’ the ones that we used to go to.”
As far as Conner has come, he hasn’t forgotten his roots. After playing his first few NHL games, he called his parents to thank them for everything they had done to support his career. And not long after getting signed by the Wings, he called to thank them again.
“Just the other day, probably his second game with Detroit, he was driving downtown and he did it again,” Scott Conner explained. “I said, ‘It’s good, don’t worry about it, me and your mom would do it again in a minute.’ And he says, ‘Yeah, Dad, but it’s the Red Wings.’ Like a little kid. So it’s great.”
As well as a story from Crawford about Justin Abdelkader...
In Abdelkader’s case, the road to the NHL implies more than just the symbolic trajectory of his career. His path to Detroit, the stops he made with junior teams and then Michigan State University, formed a well-defined easterly line that starts near Lake Michigan and ends next to the Detroit River.
“There’s a highway that goes from Muskegon to Detroit called I-96,” Joseph [Abdelkader] said. “Justin grew-up in Muskegon, he played at Grand Rapids in the American league, which is along I-96, he played at Michigan State University — I-96 and now he’s in Detroit — I-96. He covered the four major cities. I told him if he ever does a hockey school he’s got to call it “The I-96 Hockey School.’ ”
Nowadays, whenever they’re able to, the Abdelkaders take that very route on I-96 to make it to weekend games at Joe Louis Arena.
“We’re very fortunate. I look around at all the other families who have to fly in from Europe — they come here maybe twice, three times a year,”Abdelkader said. “We’re very grateful and very fortunate.”
Of all the spectacular moments that he’s witnessed in his son’s career, Abdelkader remembers one in particular that stands above the rest.
“The first time when he signed and played his first game, seeing him come out of that tunnel out of the locker room onto the ice with all of these Hall of Famers,” he said. “The goals are all special, but coming out of that tunnel was probably the coolest thing.”
And the Wings reminisced about their World Junior Championship performances with Crawford, too:
“At the time it was the biggest experience of my life playing for Canada,” Ian White said. “It’s a big deal and it was quite an experience to be an eighteen year old kid playing in front of all those fans and a lot of people watching, your whole country watching you.”
Seven of the current Wings have won WJC medals: Brad Stuart and White won silver with Canada, Valtteri Filppula won bronze twice with Finland, and Patrick Eaves and Justin Abdelkader won bronze with USA in ’07, and Darren Helm won gold with Canada.
“It’s only a week and a half long tournament so you’re pretty amped up,” Helm said. “It’s a tournament that you talk about a lot as a kid growing up. It’s the one thing you’re really shooting for — obviously the NHL is your main goal, but if you get there it’s pretty exciting.”
In 2007, in Sweden, Helm scored two goals as Canada battled for gold. With 15 gold medals, Canada has won the tournament more than any other country since the tournament’s inception in 1977.
“There’s high expectations,” White said. “We’re one of the biggest hockey countries in the world, if not the biggest. Starting at a young age there’s a lot of pressure.”
Earlier this week, Canada’s loss to Russia – after coming back from a 5-1 deficit – came as a blow to the country that has taken home medals in each of the last 14 years.
“It’s tough when you’re going into the third period down 5-1 and trying to dig back,” Helm said. “It was great to see that they stuck with it though and tried to make that push at the end.”
Regarding the realignment issue, Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner goes so far as to suggest that the Wings are, and I quote, the “Biggest Loser,” but in doing so, he points out that many NHL owners were probably quite happy to find out that the NHLPA’d chosen to nix the realignment plan when the league forced them to press for a nuclear option:
Detroit fans will miss out on the opportunity to see every NHL team and their stars at least once a year. Instead it will be a steady diet of usual suspects—Columbus, Nashville and St. Louis.
It’s truly amazing how East Coast-centric the NHL really is. Many owners out east were extremely upset that realignment would increase their travel costs since they would visit every NHL city once a year. So, while many owners might publicly be unhappy with the rejection of realignment, I can’t help but think that privately they’re overjoyed because their bank accounts will not be taking a hit.
It highlights the NHL’s biggest problem: Nobody is on the same page. While more superstars are being sidelined with concussions, players and the league can’t even come to an agreement about how to handle this growing problem. There are so many agendas in the NHL between so many factions that what’s best for the game gets lost in the mix.
As far as realignment goes, there are two groups working against this plan. The first is the Eastern Conference. They love the fact that a majority of their teams’ travel is in the Eastern Time Zone. It’s not as if their fan base is clamoring for more games with the Canucks and Coyotes. You can’t really miss or demand for more of something that you never had.
The other group is the NHLPA. In its current form, the union has several concerns, such as increased travel for all teams, more back-to-back games and the unfair advantage a conference of seven teams has over a conference of eight teams when competing for a top-four finish and a playoff spot. Some concerns are valid, and it can be argued that realignment should be an issue for the CBA bargaining table. But the owners are so divided on realignment that it could cause a cataclysmic upheaval, which would be a significant negotiation advantage for the players.
That’s it for now, but believe me, when I say there’s “more to come,” we’re talking about updates from the Leafs’ press corps, the Wings’ press, the NHL, CBC, TSN, Sportsnet…It’s going to be a very busy afternoon in terms of updates and pre-game notebooks given that the Wings head to Chicago tomorrow. I plan on getting an hour or two of sleep later in the afternoon, but this is the start of an incredibly long 36-hour period of work, work and more work for me. Here we go, eh?
Update #1: From the Free Press’s Helene St. James:
Holmstrom (groin) says he’ll play Sunday at Chicago, Helm (groin) says he’s ready for Sunday, too. Babcock not confirmed either will be in.
4th line against Leafs will be Conner-Emmerton-Nyquist
Kindl in for Commodore on defense
Update #1.5: Sportsnet confirms that Jonas Gustavsson will start for Toronto, and here’s our first Leaf personnel update: the Toronto Star’s Bob Hunter reports that Dion Phaneuf will play for Toronto despite having taken a puck to the mouth on Thursday:
Phaneuf, 26, started the morning skate with a full facial shield and mask after taking a puck on the left side of his face in the dying minutes of Thursday’s 4-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets. He left the game bleeding from the mouth. But after a few minutes of wearing the full shield and cage, Phaneuf went back to his usual face shield for the rest of the skate.
The Leafs’ top defenceman declined to speak to reporters Saturday morning, but it would be shocking if he didn’t play against the visiting Detroit Red Wings without a full protective shield considering the swelling still visible on the left side of his face.
“He’s been a tremendous leader for our team and a big part of why we’ve had success,” said Komisarek, who returns to the lineup after missing 21 games with a broken arm. “He’s not only the best defenceman on our team but one of the best in the league. Everyone was holding their breath when he got hit in the face. He looked pretty bad after the game. He had a big softball on his cheek. But he was laughing.”
Coach Ron Wilson wasn’t surprised Phaneuf is able to play without missing a game. There had been some initial fears that he might have broken a jaw or suffered an internal mouth injury that could have forced him to the sidelines at a crucial stage of the season when Leafs are fighting to remain in a playoff spot. But X-rays proved negative and he didn’t break any teeth.
“It would have phased him had he broke something but most hockey players I know would be back and Dion is no different,” Wilson said after the skate. “We need Dion in our lineup and it’s not just for leadership. He’s easily our best defenceman and when you’re playing a team like Detroit, you want to make sure you have as many hands on deck as possible.”
Hunter also confirms that Mike Brown and Mike Komisarek will play for the Leafs tonight.
MLive’s Ansar Khan’s firing off Twitter updates as well:
Wings’ Tomas Holmstrom said he’s definitely playing Sunday in Chicago. Darren Helm said he feels good enough to play Sunday, too.
The consensus among Wings players today was they still like realignment plan for their team, but need more info on travel and playoff format
Wings players still think there’s a chance realignment could get pushed through for 2012-13 but realize the clock is ticking.
Update #2: I can’t quote all of Craig Custance’s ESPN Insider-only article on realignment getting nixed, but I can quote part of it:
There was just one tiny oversight. It didn’t have the blessing of the players. Or as one agent wrote in a text this morning: “NHL froze PA out, tried to jam it down their throats.” When things are going well between the league and the NHLPA you hear a lot about the partnership between the NHL and its most important assets. As one player pointed out to me last night, there was no partnership in realignment. This was a league-driven initiative and that’s part of the reason why it didn’t get the green light. So now, the inability of the two sides to reach a suitable conclusion unravels things that were neatly tied up. And it does so on a multitude of fronts, affecting this wide range of groups:
Labor negotiators—Let’s start here. The NHL and NHLPA are expected to get serious with CBA negotiations sometime around the All-Star break. When news of the denied realignment hit, the immediate reaction was that this is a message sent by the players that they won’t be pushed around. It’s hard not to see it that way.
One current player rep credited the organization skills of Donald Fehr, who continues to present the players with loads of information so that they are confident enough to make bold decisions. Like this one. “Don brings so much confidence to the players. We’re so much more informed,” the player rep said late last night. “The players seem like everyone is working together. That’s the biggest thing. Everyone realizes we have to be on the same page. We’ll be unified.”
For anyone who thought we’d see a nice easy CBA agreement in place, it was a clear signal that this won’t be a breeze. It never is. The game is in a much better place right now than it was before the lockout, but there are still issues. There’s going to be a serious battle over how the revenues should be divided, especially after NFL and NBA players took a hit in their latest CBA negotiations. There may also be another push to roll back salaries or limit long-term contracts. There are player safety issues and Olympic involvement to be debated. I still don’t think we’re headed for a prolonged lockout, but this certainly lowers my level of optimism.
The Red Wings, Stars and Blue Jackets—The clear winners in realignment were centrally located teams like Detroit, Dallas and Columbus. Realignment got them more games on television during primetime, cut down considerably on travel and produced better match-ups at home. In the case of Detroit, it wasn’t a move to the East they were promised, but when Ken Holland spoke moments after realignment was announced in Pebble Beach, it was clear that didn’t matter. “I’m thrilled,” he said. It’s safe to assume the Red Wings are less than thrilled with this more recent development.
The disappointment is just as high in Columbus. “We’re disappointed in the union’s position,” said Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson during a Friday evening phone conversation. “We’re still optimistic that the plan adopted by the board will eventually be implemented.”
• Shifting focus back to tonight’s game, here’s a quip from the Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan...
The Maple Leafs’ fourth line should start providing the truculence that general manager Brian Burke has wished for.
With Mike Brown returning from a back injury on Saturday night when the Detroit Red Wings visit the Air Canada Centre, he and Darryl Boyce, on a line with David Steckel, have the potential to make life dismal for the opposition.
Put it this way, the Leafs’ fore-check certainly won’t be lacking any time Brown and Boyce are on the ice.
The Leafs won’t be confused with the most physical teams in the NHL, but Brown and Boyce together can help give the club a different look.
No, there does not seem to be a place in the league any longer for players who can’t do much more than fight. But there’s lots of room for hard-nosed, disciplined hockey. Brown and Boyce can bring that.
• And the Toronto Star’s Bob Hunter asks five pertinent game-related questions:
Five questions ahead of Saturday night’s Leafs-Wings game at the Air Canada Centre:
1. The big question is: Will Dion Phaneuf be effective — if he plays, possibly with a cage to protect his face — after getting struck by a puck late in Thursday’s 4-0 win over Winnipeg Jets?
2. Mike Komisarek and Mike Brown are expected to return to the lineup after missing 21 games each. Will they help?
3. Can goalie Jonas Gustavsson continue to provide solid netminding as he seeks his third consecutive victory?
4. Can the Leafs’ speed match Detroit’s, and if yes, who puts on a better show: the dynamic duo of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul or the crafty individual talents of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg?
5. The Leafs’ penalty killing has been perfect the past two games, but can they keep up the streak against the league’s eighth-best power play?
Update #3: Here’s MLive’s Ansar Khan’s game-day update on….realignment:
“Anytime something like this gets raised every team is looking from their own point of view,’’ Kronwall said. “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 in seven-team divisions, it’s tough to get away from.’‘
Kronwall, who participated in the Jan. 1 conference call of player representatives, said the players were overwhelmingly in favor of rejecting the NHL’s plan. He believes there still is time for the sides to agree on a realignment play for next season. But if not, then so be it.
“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.’‘
The new format would have placed the Red Wings in a conference with Central Division rivals Chicago, Columbus, Nashville and St. Louis, as well as Dallas, Minnesota and Winnipeg. Detroit’s travel would have been reduced, because it would make only one trip to the West Coast and Western Canada. And the Red Wings also would have been traveling less in the playoffs, the first two rounds of which would have been within conferences. The Red Wings also liked the idea of playing every other team home and away. Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock said they are very disappointed that the NHLPA did not sign off on the plan.
“I was out for dinner, I saw it come over and you’re disappointed,’’ Babcock said. “I’m a big fan of hockey. Our game has really grown, seems to be in a great spot. I like what’s going on. I thought it was all set up and ready to go. We were going to be in a situation with less time changes, less travel. The other thing I think is great for the fans is if you’re a team that doesn’t see (Edmonton’s Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins (every season), 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. I understand there’s some things that need to be worked out. They got smarter people than me that figure that out.’‘
As for the Wings’ personnel issues, here’s Khan’s update in that regard:
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.’‘
Lineup-wise, Howard starts, Conner swivels into Andersson’s left wing spot on the no-longer “Kid Line” and Ericsson’s paired with Kindl.
And here’s the Free Press’s Helene St. James’ game-day update:
“It will be fun to play,” Pavel Datsyuk said after skating this morning at Air Canada Centre. “We’re close towns and big hockey towns, both. So fun to play. Atmosphere unbelievable and fans unbelievable.”
The Wings will be without Tomas Holmstrom (groin) and Darren Helm (groin), but not for much longer. Holmstrom said he’s ready to go for Sunday’s game at Chicago, and while coach Mike Babcock hasn’t confirmed Holmstrom will be in, Holmstrom, when asked if he’d been cleared by the higher-ups, grinned and said “we’re on the same wave length.” Plus, Holmstrom joked, he cleared it several days with best friend and team captain Nicklas Lidstrom. Helm wasn’t quite as assertive he’d be back for the Blackhawks game, other than to say he feels he’s ready to play.
“I’ve cleared myself,” Helm said. “I don’t know what they want, but I feel really good, I feel I can play.”
Given that Holmstrom makes the power play better, and Helm brings so much speed and energy and kills penalties, it’s hard to think they won’t be back barring setbacks.
The Wings are trying to get to .500 on the road, where they’ve gone 10-11 so far.
“Last year we were way better at home than we were on the road,” coach Mike Babcock said. “The bottom line is, we think our game is getting better, and continues to grow, and it has to continue to grow and tonight is a big part of that.”
Update #4: From the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle, regarding Phaneuf:
The Leafs captain was testing out various new face shields on Saturday morning, but it would be a surprise if he can play with anything less than a full facemask given the damage.
“It wasn’t pretty,” defenceman Luke Schenn said. “One side of his face looked pretty normal and the other side was ugly. He kind of looks like Two-Face from Batman, that’s how bad it was. It just shows what type of character he has,” Schenn added of Phaneuf’s decision to play. “He wants to help battle and help this team win.”
The good news was that Phaneuf didn’t sustain any permanent damage, coach Ron Wilson said.
“Nothing got broke, he didn’t lose any teeth,” Wilson said. “Most hockey players I know would be back. And Dion’s no different. He’s easily our best defenceman, and when you’re playing a team like Detroit, you want to make sure you have as many hands on deck as possible.”
Phaneuf remaining in the lineup, combined with the return of Mike Komisarek and Mike Brown from injury, mean Wilson will juggle his lineup a little for the game. Expect rookie Jake Gardiner to sit out to make room for Komisarek, while Brown will slide into a spot on the fourth line that was vacated when Matt Frattin was sent to the minors on Friday afternoon.
Leafs projected lineup
Lupul - Connolly - Kessel
Crabb - Grabovski - Kulemin
MacArthur - Lombardi - Kadri
Brown - Steckel - Boyce
Aulie - Phaneuf
Gunnarsson - Schenn
Franson - Komisarek
Also: My friend Mark is taking his brother Steve to a bachelor party tonight, and Mark is as colorful as vanilla, here’s a wallpaper version of the tickets Mark bought for tonight’s Wings-Leafs game.
Update #5: On realignment, from the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa:
“You know, disappointed because we think, I think, that the new realignment was going to be positive on a lot of fronts,” ]Red Wings GM Ken] Holland said, after the Red Wings’ morning skate at the Air Canada Centre. “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,” he said.
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 benefited 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.”
“Any time when something like this gets raised, every team is looking for their point of view, obviously,” [Kronwall] 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.”
The unbalanced conferences were proposed to the owners as a way of persuading franchises in the Eastern Conference to make the deal. The teams in the east, especially in the northeast, would do considerably more traveling under the proposed arrangement, and the cost would be significant both in travel expenses and attrition on personnel. That was the stick. The carrot was a slightly greater possibility of making the playoffs by allowing the teams generally in the east to compete in two conferences of seven teams while the teams generally the west — including the Red Wings and the Blue Jackets, who are both in the eastern time zone — would compete in eight-team conferences.
“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,” [Holland] 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?” he said. “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.
“Things can still be done,” [Lidstrom] said. “They can still talk about it. They can sit down and come to a solution about it. I think it’s just a matter of meeting with each other and going over all of the information. We want to see what the travel schedule is going to be like for all the teams, as we haven’t received that information, yet.”
• On realignment, from DetroitRedWings.com’s Zack Crawford:
“Obviously what we liked about realignment was that we were going to play everybody in the league at home; we were going to play everybody in the league on the road at least once,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “Our fans were going to see everybody; our players were going to see everybody. Then, playoffs were going to be within the conference.”
“We were going to be in a situation with less time changes, less travel,” [Wings coach Mike Babcock] said. “The other thing I think that was great for the fans is if you’re a team that doesn’t see (Ryan) 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.”
“I think anytime when something like this gets raised, every team is looking from their own point of view,”[Niklas] Kronwall said. “And from our standpoint, obviously we felt that it was a fairly good compromise as far as the traveling goes, but at the same time, saying that, the unfairness of the playoff with some divisions being eight teams compared to some divisions being seven teams – it’s tough to get away from.”
“I think we just looked from our standpoint and I think that’s what every team did at first, until you get on the conference call and get to hear the other teams’ point of views,” [Niklas Kronwall] said. “And I truly believe that they all had valid things to say and I respect what they had to say.”
“I think it affects everyone,” Wings center Henrik Zetterberg said. “But I think it’s the right call. I think we need to know more about it and we haven’t really got all the info that we wanted to yet. There will always be teams that it will affect negatively, but that’s the way it’s going to be.”
“The PA’s looking at this thing as a whole, for the whole 30 teams and that’s why we want to get more information about it,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We want to see what the travel schedule’s going to be like for most of the teams.”
“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 that we would like our schedule to be a little bit different with the traveling and all that but with saying that, this is how it’s been for the last however many years and we’ve been just fine.”
• On realignment, from 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.
The players overwhelmingly were in favor of rejecting it and came to that decision during a conference call on New Year’s Day.
“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.”
The Wings were one of the teams that would have been in an eight-team conference, along with current Central Division foes Chicago, Columbus, Nashville and St. Louis, while adding Dallas, Minnesota and Winnipeg to the mix.
“We were aware we were in an eight-team conference, but what’s the difference between a seven or an eight,” Holland asked. “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 seventh or fifth you’re out. 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.”
“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.
“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.”
Multimedia: here’s the Wings’ game-day preview video…
As well as morning skate footage from Jake Duhaime….
Update #6: Here’s some Wings-Leafs chatter from NHL.com’s Neil Acharya:
The Toronto Maple Leafs will have some new faces in the lineup Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings and will also have the services of their captain Dion Phaneuf, whose status was up in the air after being hit in the face with a puck Thursday against Winnipeg.
“Nothing got broke, he didn’t lose any teeth, most hockey players I know would be back and Dion is no different. We need Dion in the lineup, not just for leadership, he is easily our best defenseman.” said Toronto coach Ron Wilson after the morning skate. “When you are playing a team like Detroit, you want to make sure you have as many hands on deck as possible.”
Forward Mike Brown will return to the lineup for the first time since November 15th, while oft-injured Mike Komisarek is back on defense after missing 21 games with a broken arm. He is expected to be partnered with Cody Franson.
“Unfortunately I have been in this position a few times where I have been hurt and had to battle back,” said Komisarek, who has played 127 games as Leaf in three seasons since signing as a free agent in the summer of 2009. “The good thing about this time was I had the opportunity to skate early on when I was recovering from the injury. Your first game back you always play really simple.”
While healthy bodies return for the Leafs, Detroit will remain without two key cogs in Tomas Holmstrom and Darren Helm because of groin injuries. In their place are forwards, Gustav Nyquist, who recorded his first NHL point in the Wings’ last game Tuesday at Dallas and Chris Connor, who has three points in six games this season. He last played on Dec. 13. The Wings boast the second most home wins in the NHL but are below .500 on the road.
“Why is that?” asked Detroit coach Mike Babcock rhetorically. “If I had the answer we’d fix it. The bottom line is we think our game is getting better and continues to grow and so it has to continue to grow and tonight is a big part of that.”
• Here’s the Toronto Sun’s game-day update, penned by Dave Hilson:
[C]oach Ron Wilson said he wasn’t surprised that with the Leafs fighting for a playoff spot Phaneuf will be in the lineup.
“Nothing got broke, he didn’t lose any teeth,” Wilson said. “Most hockey players I know would be back and Dion is no different. We need Dion in the lineup, he’s easily our best defenceman and when you play a team like Detroit you want to make sure you have as many hands on deck as possible.”
While Phaneuf will be playing tonight, one guy you might not see is rookie Jake Gardiner. To make room on the blue line for the returning Mike Komisarek, Wilson suggested Gardiner could be the odd man out.
“He could be, yeah,” Wilson said when asked if Gardiner would be a healthy scratch.
Komisarek has been out of the lineup since suffering a broken arm on Nov. 17 against Nashville and says he can’t wait to get back on the ice.
“You’re always eager and itching to get back with your teammates and start working with them,” Komisarek said. “I finally got the clearance from the coach and doctors and I’m excited to get back out there.”
• Here’s a little bit more on the realignment issue from the Toronto Star’s Bob Mitchell:
Kronwall said players “overwhelmingly” disagreed with several key parts of the plan during a conference call on Jan. 1.
“Most guys overwhelmingly feel that there is a big disadvantage being in a division with eight teams compared to a division with seven teams,” Kronwall said after Saturday’s morning skate. “Obviously, it’s a lot easier to get into the playoff when you have to beat four out of seven than four out of eight. The other concern is that we really don’t know what the travel would be like. Would there be longer road trips or more back-to-back games?”
Detroit, an Eastern team that plays in the West, already has a tougher travel schedule than most teams, although it doesn’t seem to have hurt their performance. Under realignment, the Wings would have been in an eight-team conference with Chicago, Columbus, Nashville, St. Louis, Dallas, Minnesota and Winnipeg. Travel would have been reduced. But while the plan might have been good for the Wings, Kronwall said it wouldn’t have been good for other clubs.
“From (the Wings’) standpoint, we felt it was a very good compromise as far as the travelling goes,” Kronwall said. “But at the same time, the unfairness of the playoffs is tough to get away from. Every single player in the league should be on an even playing field when the season starts.”
Players liked some things, Kronwall said.
“The home-and-home games against every team is something most of the guys like to see,” Kronwall said. “There are a lot of positives.”
Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg thought the league should have included players more in the early stages.
“We just need to find a fair deal for everybody,” Zetterberg said.
• And the Canadian Press’s Chris Johnston quoted heavily from the Wings in his article discussing realignment as it pertains to CBA negotiations:
One issue that struck a particular chord with players is the fact two conferences featured eight teams while the other two had seven. During a conference call with the NHLPA’s executive board on Jan. 1, many players voiced their displeasure with the inequity in that system. There are also some doubts about how much better the travel will be in the new system. Winnipeg, Detroit, Columbus and Dallas, among others, were expecting to see improvements.
“(They should) at least give us a little bit more statistics or more of a plan to see how it affects every team or if it is even going to be better travel,” said Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg. “(It might) just switch the bad travelling around to other teams. It doesn’t really make sense. ...We just need more (information) and I think we’ve got to work on it. Eventually we’ll find a good solution.”
How exactly that will happen remains to be seen. In a perfect world, everything would have been worked out behind closed doors before a plan was presented publicly. But the history of labour relations in the NHL has been anything but perfect.
With Bettman and Fehr not expected to meet until after the all-star game in Ottawa later this month, it appears realignment is on hold until at least 2012-13. It means there will be one more season with Winnipeg travelling east and Detroit travelling west — provided a new CBA can be signed for that season to be played.
“I thought it was all set up and ready to go,” said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. “We were going to be in a situation with less time changes, less travel. ... I understand there’s some things that need to be worked out, but they’ve got smarter people than me to figure that out.”
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