The Malik Report
Red Wings evening report: Hoping for Nick, HF’s organizational ranking and more Dick (Axelsson) news
by George Malik on 05/16/11 at 09:03 PM ET
Our mid-day’s worth of Red Wings updates provided the only real radio interviews that team members engaged in (that I can find, anyway), which may speak for the attention span of sports talk radio hosts, who, aside from talking about the Wings-moving-to-the-East scuttlebutt, have moved onto this year’s usual topics in the Tigers and Lions.
The Free Press’s and WCSX’s Jamie Samuelssen, however, chose to weigh in on Nicklas Lidstrom’s possible retirement in his blog, suggesting that the Wings captain has neither slowed much, nor does he seem to exhibit a Mike Modano-like level of weariness regarding off-season training and the regular season grind:
So why does anyone think Nicklas Lidstrom is going to retire? If there’s one thing about hockey players I’ve observed over the years, it’s that they really, really like to play hockey. Whether it’s the camaraderie, the money, the quest for the Cup or simply the love of the game, it’s hard to get these guys to stop playing. You saw how long Chelios hung on. You know how long Yzerman would have hung on. You saw how Kirk Maltby was strongly considering playing in the minors last fall, just for the chance to play a few more games in a Red Wings uniform. And those guys were shadows of their former selves. Lidstrom is not. Sure, he’s not what he once was, but he’s still one of the best defensemen in the league (if not the best), as evidenced by his Norris Trophy candidacy this year. He remains the Red Wings’ best defenseman. He remains their most valuable player. And even though Pavel Datsyuk may have superseded him as the Wings’ best player, Lidstrom still is in the top two or three.
Lidstrom made $6.2 million this year and would be in line for a similar amount next year (he actually might be due a raise, given that he had a better season than he did in 2009-10). And while Ken Holland busies himself trying to improve an already very good team, I’m certain he’s more than willing to keep open a pretty large chunk of salary for Lidstrom. With him, the Wings enter next season as one of the clear favorites in the Western Conference, just as they were this year. Without him, they don’t. It’s as simple as that. It’s not doomsday. Holland would be shrewd enough to use Lidstrom’s money to improve the team in other ways, but you don’t replace Lidstrom. It’s impossible. Niklas Kronwall had a great postseason. Brad Stuart played well, too. But there’s not a player alive who can fill Lidstrom’s role.
That’s a big part of the reason I think he’ll be back. He knows how good he is. And he knows how good he has it. He can return as the captain of a legit Cup contender. He can still make a large pile of money. And he can still play the sport he has played his whole life. The only possible variable is his family. Lidstrom has talked for more than a decade about returning to Sweden. His oldest son already attends school there. If he and his wife decide it’s time, he’ll leave. But if they’ve stayed in Detroit this long, I’m not sure why this year would be any different than last year.
When you’re a player of Lidstrom’s stature and ability, you should play as long as you can. He’s the best defenseman of his generation, and he’s still pretty darn good. It’s like the shooter at a hot craps table. Let it ride. We’ve seen plenty of great hockey players play past the point of greatness. Lidstrom isn’t there yet, which is why he should keep going … and why I think he will.
I sure hope so.
While we’re talking about season wrap-ups, Red Wings social media coordinator Jake Duhaime revealed that the team’s front office had its own playoff routines…
Somewhere between Game 5 and Game 6, lost amid the buzz, ticket requests and ‘Why Not Us?’ fever, was an office as superstitious as they come. Nobody could do anything that they didn’t do during the previous victory. There were specific rules for home games and road games, weekdays and weekends. Shark piñata’s hung above an office wall, where one was one was ceremonially sacrificed before each game for the sake of the office 3 P.M. sugar rush.
It had the same feel as a college campus around graduation. There was excitement, anticipation, anxiety, fear of the unknown, big dreams and ultimately, pride wrapped around a disappointing Game 7 loss. There was a sadness, not because of defeat, but because the magic carpet ride had come to an abrupt end, at least until the puck drops on the 2011-12 season. The Red Wings and Sharks gave us two weeks of wonderful, heart-pounding, breathtaking hockey. Six games decided by one goal, with an empty netter by Darren Helm in Game 6 that kept it from being a perfect seven for seven.
“We had a good season and it was a great series,” Danny Cleary said. “Obviously you don’t want to put yourself in that type of hole (0-3), but I was proud of the way we responded.
What happens between now and October is anybody’s guess. We’ve got the NHL Awards, the NHL Draft, free agency, and decisions regarding the future of Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Osgood, Kris Draper and Mike Modano. While we understand that nobody can play forever, all four of these decisions will be emotional for everybody involved, especially the fans.
“If Nick decides he wants to stay, he’ll be playing on a good team with an opportunity,” Mike Babcock said at his season ending press conference, summing up the expectations of fans perfectly.
And I’m supposing that this is a compliment. Yahoo Sports’ Dmitry Chesnokov spoke to Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne today, and Rinne weighed in regarding the trickiest shooters he faces as follows:
Question: Who is the toughest player you played against in the NHL?
Pekka Rinne: When Sidney Crosby was healthy, he was so dynamic, so dominant on the ice. When we played them here in Nashville, I think we lost in overtime, he scored a couple of goals against me. I think he was the best player in the NHL before he got hurt. You can say that he is a model of a playmaker, a model of a passer, but he can shoot the puck. He has a good shot. He is a really smart player, he is so hard to read. But we play those guys so rarely.
Of the guys we play a lot, I have to say that Pavel Datsyuk is the best one. I have always been a huge fan of his, I think he is just an amazing player. I am telling you, I have to cross my fingers when I am playing against him. He does so much on the ice. He was great in the series against the Sharks even though he was hurt. The level he is constantly playing at is unbelievable. His moves, his tricks are so unbelievable and he made them in the playoffs. He is a fun player to watch.
In the not-so-complimentary vein, the Vancouver Province’s Tony Gallagher’s keeping the “Vancouver versus Detroit” comparison train going by making a disparaging remark regarding two Detroit defenders’ abilities to deal with the San Jose Sharks’ forecheckers:
The Canucks’ blue-line is considerably different from the one the Sharks just faced for seven games in the Detroit series. Whereas Red Wings defencemen Brad Stuart and Brian Rafalski in particular seemed to struggle hideously against the San Jose attack — whether it was giving away the puck, going to the wrong guy or falling down — the Canucks haven’t yet made similar mistakes.
Stuart was fine, but Rafalski was noticeably slowed by his sore knee—to the point that I thought I was watching Slava Fetisov at the end of his career, when “taking a hit to make a play” was an every-play occurrence. That being said, every defenseman and forward, Lidstrom included, was guilty of chasing the puck carrier when the Sharks set up their cycle. That was a very major reason why the Wings lost, and when Babcock suggested to the media that the coaches have to make alterations, boy howdy, do the Wings ever have to revamp their defensive zone coverage to reinforce the concept of playing “zone” coverage with players rotating into formation to cover passing and shooting lanes instead of getting “lake stare” regarding the puck carrier and letting Dan Boyle, Devin Setoguchi, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, etc. sneaking behind them to push one-time passes into open nets with ease. That’s not a Brad McCrimmon failing, it’s a whole coaching staff issue.
While we’re in the land of stupid comments, we’ll ignore SI’s Darren Eliot, who insisted that Jimmy Howard was an incompetent netminder during the Wings-Sharks series, as he suggests that Joe Thornton is making a Steve Yzerman-like transformation into a two-way force and superb leader (ha!), and the Score’s Sean Tomlinson suggests that Henrik Zetterberg’s playoff beard is going the way of the dodo which seems to ignore the fact that, well…
Henrik Zetterberg is rarely without his “playoff beard.” Sure, he trims it a little more closely, but between Zetterberg’s beard, Tomas Holmstrom’s goatee and Todd Bertuzzi’s ever-present scruff, the Wings are a very facial hair-friendly team during the regular season. Niklas Kronwall’s started to let his goatee grow out, too, which is good to see if you’re someone who feels a little weird when your hockey team has fewer moustaches than you do.
In the player and facial hair development department, Hockey’s Future posted its second crop of “Organizational Rankings,” and given the Wings’ status as a perpetually late-drafting team, I’d say that a 12th-place ranking is pretty decent. When Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Kronwall and Filppula (and Hudler, Lebda Kopecky) were in the system, the Wings were ranked in the 20’s, so take that for what you will:
12. Detroit Red Wings
Strengths: The Red Wings have 15 centers in their system, including eight prospects with first or second line potential. Top among the centers is Tomas Tatar, who is expected to become a full time NHLer in 2011-12. Detroit also has two top defensive prospects within the organization, including Brendan Smith, who should be competing for a roster spot next season and 2010 draftee Ben Marshall, who may be another great late round find for the Red Wings. On the wing, another 2010 draft selection, Teemu Pulkkinen, has first line potential, and if he can be convinced to come and play in North America, Pulkkinen has the potential to be a star.
Weaknesses: Detroit has very few prospects that naturally play on the wing within their organization. Goaltending depth could also be improved.
The Wings have always been heavy on centers and defensemen because the team believes that it’s better to ask a center to play on the wing than it is to draft wingers and find yourself without anybody who can play up the middle. If Joakim Andersson, Louis-Marc Aubry, Riley Sheahan or Landon Ferraro pan out, for example, it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re converted to wingers.
Top 5 Prospects: 1. Brendan Smith; 2. Tomas Tatar; 3. Jan Mursak; 4. Gustav Nyquist; 5. Teemu Pulkkinen. Lost to graduation: Justin Abdelkader.
Finally, regarding one player who didn’t pan out and one who still may:
The Ontario Hockey League’s alumni blog reports that former prospect Evan McGrath is playing in the Swedish Allsvenskan, where he ironically played for Vasteras IK (Nicklas Lidstrom’s hometown team) during the 2010-2011 season, and he’s moving to IK Oskarshamn;
And this morning, I mentioned that Dick Axelsson may be on Skelleftea’s radar screen if he chooses to remain in the Swedish Eliteserien, and this evening, Aftonbladet’s Emil Karlsson and Malin Wahlberg report that HV71, Daniel Larsson’s team, may be interested in acquiring Axelsson. Jnytt.se’s Daniel Hultqvist reports that HV’s general manager, Fredrik Stillman, says that the team’s talking to Axelsson after HV lost out on the derby for Los Angeles Kings prospect Oscar Moller’s services.
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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.