The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/15/11 at 09:39 PM ET
The Detroit Red Wings’ locker room clean-out day involved the usual end-of-the-season address from Wings coach Mike Babcock, but none of the initial reports quoted him at length regarding anything but Nicklas Lidstrom’s future.
Thankfully, the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness’s “day-after” notebook sheds light on what the coach had to say about three blueliners, including Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart, who the Wings hope will fill the void when Lidstrom retires…
“Obviously Kronner is a guy who continues to take steps and we need him to do so,” Babcock said. “Stewie’s just been fantastic. I think every year at this time, the way he plays at playoff time he’s even better. He had a great year for us.”
As well as Jakub Kindl’s status heading into next season…
“I said you made the team, now you’ve got to make the lineup, now you got to play every day and take another step,” Babcock said. “Just like all players you got to have a great summer, you got to improve, you got to get stronger because that’s a big part of your confidence.”
And Jonathan Ericsson’s status—and here’s where you might cringe, fellow fans, because the Wings want to re-sign Big E(rror) unless the unrestricted free agent-to-be wants a Brett Lebda-sized raise:
“He’s two seasons into his career,” Babcock said. “He’s just young in his development as a player. Just like we expect (Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm) these guys to get better we expect Big E to get better as well. I thought his first playoff was exceptional for us, the next year he was hit and miss a little bit,” Babcock added. “He was more consistent this year. Now we need him to … with the confidence that he is a good player and take another step. That’s what we expect from all our young guys.”
Overall, Babcock was relatively satisfied with his team’s playoff performance…
“I thought we were competitive in the playoffs,” Babcock said. “I thought San Jose beat a good team. Last year when they best us I didn’t think they beat a good team. We were right there with them.”
“It comes back to little things, they got five power-play goals in the series, we got four,” Babcock said. “That’s how tight things were. We thought the team that won that series was going to have a legitimate opportunity (at the Cup). The bitter disappointment also is a driving force. We’ve had it before and followed it up with a good year the following year and that’s our goal and our focus.”
But Babcock told NHL.com’s Brian Hedger that the Wings simply didn’t accomplish what they’re expected to on a yearly basis:
“The bottom line is the Final Four’s going on and this is our second year in a row we’re not involved,” Babcock said. “Last year, we weren’t even close to being involved. This year, you had to like where our team was. Those things are going to happen some years or not, but the reality is we have to get better.”
Hedger took note of Ericsson’s comments while outlining the Wings’ off-season concerns in the player personnel department:
Veteran goalie Chris Osgood, 38, and forward Kris Draper, 39, both of whom have spent the bulk of their long careers in Detroit, are also UFAs. There’s a chance neither will be back, based on what Holland decides. Prospects such as forwards Jan Mursak, Cory Emmerton and Tomas Tatar are waiting in the wings, as is top defense prospect Brendan Smith.
Joey MacDonald, 31, also played well as Howard’s backup in goal while young Red Wings like defenseman Jakub Kindl and forwards Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm will be expected to play bigger roles. Unrestricted free agents Drew Miller, Patrick Eaves and Jonathan Ericsson are also young and could be factored into the mix—but it remains to be seen whether any or all will be around next season.
Ericsson said there’s no other team he wants to play for, and it’s just a matter of finding a contract that suits both sides.
“First priority,” he said of negotiating a new deal. “I really like it here. I like everything about this team, this organization. I would love to stay here. I’m not worried at all what’s going to happen. I really like it here.’‘
Miller and Eaves echoed those comments, but the reality is they might not get the opportunity. That was one of the biggest motivating factors into why the Red Wings made that three-game deficit disappear—they knew they’d have a different look next season.
Mike Modano’s definitely not coming back, though Babcock lauded his professionalism in dealing with his status as a healthy scratch with poise and dignity, suggesting that Modano set a fine example for the team’s younger players. Modano told the press, including the Sporting News’s Craig Custance, that he’s leaning toward retiring, hoping to latch on with the Dallas Stars’ new ownership group:
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do,” Modano said. “Your knee-jerk reaction is to walk away considering the way things ended and not give it a chance. You need to give it a fair assessment and a long through process.”
“You just kind of keep grasping on to something that maybe isn’t there,” Modano said. “You talk yourself into that there’s a little left in the tank and possibly one magical season left in you.”
That’s the challenge he keeps facing each summer.
“You keep thinking that there’s that chance of it still happening,” he said.
At some point he’ll go back to Texas, have a conversation with Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk and see if there’s a fit with the team. Maybe work for the team in some capacity if his playing days are truly finished.
Lidstrom offered limited information as to whether he’d return, offering nothing more than guesses from Wings VP Jimmy Devellano…
“I hope I’m not naïve, he’s too good. He’s had too good a year,” Red Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano said of the Red Wings captain. “I think he loves leading the Red Wings, (but) it’s only a gut. I could be wrong. I believe he’ll be back.”
And a surprisingly grim assessment from Brian Rafalski—who sounds like somebody that might be playing his final season next year—as noted by the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff:
While most Red Wings players are busy lobbying captain Nicklas Lidstrom to play another season, defenceman Brian Rafalski, whose locker sits to the right of Lidstrom’s in the Detroit dressing room at Joe Louis Arena, is opting to give his teammate some space. “Everyone makes their own choices, their own decisions,” Rafalski said. “I respect whatever choice he makes. It’s something that I think is an internal family decision. That’s the way it should be.”
Rafalski indicated he wouldn’t be the least bit shocked if Lidstrom, a Norris and Lady Byng Trophy finalist, opted to walk away from the game. “People might be shocked, but obviously he wouldn’t be shocked,” Rafalski said. “If he chooses to step out, then that’s obviously what is best for him. Life moves on. It’s what you take from every situation and not let the situation dictate to you how you react to that situation.”
But Lidstrom sounded ever-so-slightly more optimistic, as noted by NHL.com’s Hedger:
The answer will come in the next few weeks—“before July 1,” he said—after Lidstrom mulls over whether to retire or sign another one-year contract with the only NHL team he’s ever played for.
“I’m sure it’s going to be the same process as last year, I don’t think it’ll be that big of a difference,” said Lidstrom, who finished the regular season as a finalist to win his seventh Norris Trophy with 16 goals and 62 points before scoring 4 goals and 8 points in two playoff series. “You take everything into account. How you feel. Motivation. Family situation. Take everything into account before you make a decision.”
He doesn’t look or play like he’s 41, but that’s not all that will factor into his decision. Lidstrom must also weigh how tough it would be to not see his family as much as he’d like for another season. His oldest son, who’s 16, attended a hockey academy in Lidstrom’s native Sweden for the first time this past season, and Lidstrom made sure there was a support network of family and friends in place there before deciding to come back for 2010-11.
That’s the kind of off-ice situation that makes deciding whether to play one another season so tough—not necessarily the pain of the Game 7 loss in the Western Conference Semifinals to the San Jose Sharks or how Detroit is positioned for success next season.
“I don’t think it’ll have a whole lot to do with my decision,” he said of the stinging loss to the Sharks in Game 7 on Thursday. “It’s more how I feel—if I feel I can do it again and if I’m motivated to do it. It’ll be the same process I went through last year. I’m going to have my sit-down with (GM) Kenny (Holland), as all players do at the end of the year. I’ll have a discussion with him and go from there. I’m sure he wants to know before July 1 what my thinking is.”
Lidstrom did state that he was relatively satisfied with his own performance:
“I felt I played better than I did last season, and that’s something I wanted to do,” Lidstrom said. “I wanted to have a stronger year than I did last year. I thought I did that. Me aside, looking at this team, there is great potential here. We have star players; we have the support group that I think are one of the best in the league. I believe this team is going to be strong for years to come. I like the team even without me in the lineup.”
I can’t help but admire Lidstrom for making that last remark. Having at least met the guy a couple of times, I can tell you that he’s one of those rare masters of his craft who understands and is understandably proud of his status as one of the world’s best defensemen while also understanding that, away from the rink, he’s just as regular a human being as the rest of us (not perfect!).
In the injury department, Danny Cleary said that he wouldn’t have been able to play had the Wings advanced to the Western Conference Finals as his concussion won’t be reevaluated until Tuesday, and the Detroit News’s Ted Kuflan reported that Todd Bertuzzi suffered both a concussion and a “jaw injury” (???), but it appears that the Wings have no lingering injury issues to worry about going into next season as neither Cleary nor Bertuzzi are expected to have any difficulties long-term, and as the Windsor Star’s Duff noted, Pavel Datsyuk’s right wrist was just sore, and nothing more:
Datsyuk admitted his wrist that he broke earlier in the season was bothering him during the playoffs, but not to the extent where he figured surgery would be in his future this summer. “No, no,” Datsyuk said.” I hope not. I’m OK. Thanks for asking.”
Otherwise, both Saturday’s and this morning’s crop of columns regarding the Wings’ future have, by and large, suggested that the Wings should either a) make a trade and/or free agent signing to bring in a big, top-nine forward or b) make a trade and/or free agent signing in an attempt to bring in a young top-four defenseman.
The Wings and Ken Holland tend to move quite conservatively, so suggestions that the Wings would, for example, trade Henrik Zetterberg and Darren Helm, as suggested by the Midland Daily News’s Chris Stevens, can literally be laughed off, but even the more moderate suggestions have to be looked at with a critical eye.
As I suggested this morning, it’s entirely possible that, should the Wings re-sign Ericsson and choose to not give up on Jiri Hudler, the only “new faces” we might see could be Jan Mursak coming in as a regular forward and Doug Janik backing up Jakub Kindl as Detroit’s #7 defenseman (Brendan Smith would obviously be #1 on the runway in terms of call-ups from the Grand Rapids Griffins), with Osgood reprising his role as Jimmy Howard’s back-up and Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller, Kris Draper and Cory Emmerton battling it out for the final two forwards’ spots on the Wings’ roster during training camp and the exhibition season.
That’s not a blanket endorsement of the Wings doing nothing, nor is it grounded in guesswork. Last year’s roster additions came in the form of Modano, Ruslan Salei (who wants to return but probably won’t) and Kindl, and two summers ago, when Hudler left the Wings for Dynamo Moscow and the Wings bade farewell to Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky, Mikael Samuelsson, Aaron Downey, Darren McCarty, Chris Chelios and Ty Conklin, the Wings brought in Eaves, Bertuzzi, Jason Williams, they brought up Jimmy Howard on a full-time basis and eventually snagged Drew Miller off the waiver wire.
The Wings tend to shop from the free agent bargain bin, they tend to do so in late July or early August, and that sort of modus operandi from Ken Holland, Jim Nill, Ryan Martin and the Wings’ pro scouts doesn’t bode well for those who hope that the Wings will make a major shake-up, but that isn’t stopping columnists from trying to predict a big shake-up—on Friday morning, the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa suggested that the Wings should bring in Brooks Laich as a free-agent signing, and the flavor of the day seems to be Atlanta Thrashers defenseman Zach Bogosian, despite suggestions to the contrary regarding the Thrashers’ desire to move the underachieving restricted free agent-to-be.
And, and perhaps moreover, there’s little doubt that Jiri Hudler’s trade value might be Leino-ish—as in a mid-round draft pick and an Ole-Kristian Tollefsen-style depth player at best—so the concept of the Wings making a major move seems a bit…presumptuous.
Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner, however, is dreaming big:
Nashville power forward Joel Ward is an unrestricted free agent, and it’s doubtful the Predators will be able to afford him, especially if star defenseman Shea Weber signs what’s expected to be long-term, multimillion-dollar deal. Ward, at 6-1, 218 pounds, would be that big body Detroit needs up front. He can play on either wing and is tenacious on the forecheck. On the Wings, he should become more consistent offensively. Granted, Ward may be a dream. There will be plenty of teams bidding for his skill set. It might come down to money, and the Wings could be cash strapped.
Ward could get Jiri Hudler money or more (think $3.5 million), so I’m not sure how the Wings could fit him in cap-wise, especially given Jimmy Howard’s salary bump-up to $2.25 million, which negates any cap space the Wings gain in waving goodbye to Modao and Salei, never mind accommodating a raise for Jonathan Ericsson…
And as for Bogosian, who earned $2.5 million and had a cap hit of $3.375 million last season, per Capgeek.com? Well, Regner believes that the answer’s simple there:
Bogosian was Atlanta’s first pick, third overall, in the 2008 NHL draft. He’s big — 6-3, 205 pounds. He’s young — turns 21 in July. He’s unhappy since he’s fallen behind fellow blue-liners Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien on the Thrashers’ depth chart.
Acquiring Bogosian could also persuade Lidstrom to come back next season. Bogosian couldn’t have a better mentor than Lidstrom, who wants to leave the Wings in the best possible situation when he calls it a day. Having Bogosian would give the Wings a highly skilled, aggressive, two-way mobile defenseman with a booming shot from the point. He isn’t timid, will mix it up with anybody and he’s a right-handed shot — something Detroit desperately needs.
Atlanta general manager Rick Dudley will not give Bogosian away. Dudley will want a first-round pick, a top flight young forward and maybe a defenseman for Bogosian. Whatever he wants, the Wings should pull the trigger on this deal. Trading away a first-round pick is nothing new for the Red Wings. Except this time, they’ll be getting a young player with unlimited potential instead of a high-priced veteran who is on the downside of his career.
Where this deal will really sting is that the Wings will have to part with Valtteri Filppula. He’s the only top-flight forward that Atlanta would want and the only forward Detroit is willing to deal, though reluctantly. Even a first-round pick and Filppula may not be enough, but any time a player of Bogosian’s caliber becomes available, the Wings owe it to their fans and players to try to make a deal.
I’m not buying that. Just as the Wings believe in Ericsson much more than fans like you and me do, I think that Filppula’s playoff performance probably bought him another year with the team, especially given his speed and versatility as a center or winger. I don’t think that the Wings are willing to toss Filppula when, if Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk play together, trading Filppula away means that Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader could end up playing as the team’s second-line center. The Wings can’t simply fill one hole at the expense of creating another, so I don’t see how the Wings could toss Filppula to the wayside.
The Windsor Star’s Bob Duff’s suggestions as to what moves the Wings might make has me wondering whether the Wings’ press corps passed the same short list around in the locker room yesterday:
With forwards Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton out of minor-league options, space must be found for them. Also, expect room to be made along the blue-line for 2007 first-round pick Brendan Smith.
In the case of other unrestricted free agents, things aren’t as cut and dried. Patrick Eaves will be most coveted to return, a checker who can score. Grinder Drew Miller might be if his price is right. Joey MacDonald could prove a bargain-basement option over Osgood as backup to Jimmy Howard. Defenceman Jonathan Ericsson wants to stay, but likely will be offered more money to play elsewhere.
At the trade deadline, Detroit kicked the tires on Atlanta defenceman Zach Bogosian, and will take another look in that direction. Forwards Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula might be bargaining chips in a possible deal
The Wings need to add size up front, so UFA Joel Ward of Nashville could intrigue them. Regardless, it will be a summer of change in Detroit.
“You’d rather not think about it, but some guys will leave,” Detroit centre Henrik Zetterberg said. “It will be tough, especially after you’ve spent so many years with them.”
Mursak’s been guaranteed a spot on the team by Babcock, but while Emmerton has to be waived and Doug Janik’s contract becomes a one-way deal (meaning that he’d have to clear re-entry waivers to be brought back up) next season, the team hasn’t guaranteed either player a spot on the roster, and I’m not sure whether, as Duff suggests, the Wings are going to turn their back on players Mike Babcock suggested were “vested in the company” in Kris Draper and Chris Osgood.
I think we’re looking at bargain bin free agents brought in to over-build the team. But that’s just my best guess.
Also of Wings-related note this evening: As Pro Hockey Talk’s Joe Yerdon suggests, there’s no doubt in my mind that, should the Atlanta Thrashers move West, the Nashville Predators, not the Detroit Red Wings, would become part of the Eastern Conference to both keep the Wings-Hawks rivalry intact (as Yerdon suggests) and to simply ensure that there’s another American-based team that’s going to sell out opposing teams’ rinks wherever it goes.
You can’t say that about the Stars or even the Sharks, and north of Windsor but south of most of Canada, anyway, the Canucks, Flames and Oilers don’t fill the rink, either. The Wings, Hawks and, in Canada, the Canucks are the biggest draws, so despite Jimmy Devellano’s suggestions to the contrary, the Columbus Dispatch’s Michael Arace’s revelation that the NHL insists that there is no gentlemen’s agreement between the NHL and Wings regarding moving to the East suggests that whatever promises the NHL made to Devellano to secure his “yes” vote to prompt a lockout which was designed to implement a hard salary cap which hurts the Wings’ competitive advantage…
Were as empty as the “hard cap = no random increases in ticket prices” BS that the league sold every team’s fan base.
• Quoth Sharks coach Todd McLellan to Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Ray Ratto:
“Detroit has had a large impact on a lot of teams,” he said, remaining loyal to his own roots on Team Babcock. “Our style, the building of the team, I believe its affected our team. And I think it’s affected what Vancouver has done as well. I think they’re built a little differently, they’re a little stronger (than the Red Wings), they’ll run through you a little more . . . Detroit protects the puck very well, but basically our power play and penalty kills are similar, and we approach the game the same way.”
In my opinion, that’s what the Wings need—Mursak, who’s speedy as all hell get out and can complement Eaves, Abdelkader and Helm in terms of getting in on the forecheck and banging bodies, maybe a physical #7 defenseman who can help in case Brian Rafalski’s knee and back continue to hamper him, and then a big forward who can both help Todd Bertuzzi, Danny Cleary and Johan Franzen in terms of bringing grit and bulk on the wing and maybe add a little goal-scoring pop in the process.
I don’t know who that is yet because I haven’t looked at any informal free agent lists, but I’m talking about the kind of player that could off-set a Ryane Clowe at the kind of price that the Coyotes signed a reclamation project in Taylor Pyatt (per Capgeek.com, a flat $1 million). I don’t see the Wings doing anything else at this point, in all honesty.
Let me know what you think, and if you’ve got a nice, comprehensive list of free agents-to-be, send ‘em my way, please.
Update: Independent journalist Greg Eno states the obvious: the Wings proved that they’re still a hungry team during their comeback against San Jose.
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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.