The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/20/12 at 05:42 PM ET
Updated 3x with a spiffy graphic of the Joe’s cameras at 4:30 PM: The Detroit Red Wings took a three-hour flight back to Detroit this afternoon, choosing to rest in Phoenix instead of taking an overnight flight home after their 3-2 shootout win over the Phoenix Coyotes for sleep’s sake. The Wings will wrap up their ugly slate of 11 games in 19 days with games against Columbus on Saturday (7 PM EST, FSD+/WXYT), St. Louis on Monday and against Montreal in Montreal on Wednesday, yielding no Friday practice to correct their downright yucky 3-for-41 power play prior to grinding out a 3-games-in-5-days stretch (the Blue Jackets held an optional practice today and then flew to Detroit).
The Wings technically sit atop the NHL standings, but NHL.com’s Jerry Brown noted that the Wings feel no particular glee about sitting a point ahead of the Blues and Blackhawks and five ahead of the Predators in the Central Division, and as the Wings prepare to conclude their pre-All-Star break slough, they told Brown that their 5-game winning streak, which has leaned heavily upon overtime and shootout sessions, is a result of simply winning by any means necessary—especially on the road:
“We know that no matter what we do, (the other Central Division teams are) going to keep winning,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We just have to find a way to get two points each night. It’s just as simple as that.”
Detroit has no problem with that at home. The Wings have won a franchise record 15 straight at Joe Louis Arena, with their last loss coming four days after Halloween. The road has been more challenging, especially with their power play producing just three goals in the past 41 chances stretched across the past 16 games. For a team that puts Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Nicklas Lidstrom , Jiri Hudler and Bertuzzi, among others, on the ice with a man advantage, those results are head scratching. Still the Wings have won 11 of their past 16 games—woozy power play, 13-13-0 road record and all—and keep stacking points.
“Nothing’s going on,” Babcock said, when asked to critique the power play. “We’re not getting quality chances, we’re not wearing anybody out … we break in nice, we get a chance, they shoot it down the ice and the same thing happens again. We’ll take a look at it, we’ll get it fixed. All year long, we haven’t been able to get it done enough on the road in our mind. We’re back to .500 now. When you look at the National (Hockey) League, there’s only about five good road teams and the rest of us are all the same. But we think we can be better. We think we’re an upper-echelon team that should be better.”
They are getting better. Detroit has won three of the past four on the road, completing a home-and-home sweep of the Blackhawks before registering shootout wins in Dallas and Phoenix during the past three days.
“You look at the standings, not just in the division but in the conference and points are at a premium here,” said Howard, who is now 28-10-1 with a 1.99 goals-against average after making 31 saves Thursday. “We have to find a way to scratch and claw every single night. Come April 10, you want that home ice (in the playoffs).”
Howard, who will be going to Ottawa as an All-Star goalie, is no longer seen as a possible weak link in the Red Wings but is now an area of strength on the team.
“Right now I’m just riding the wave … being patient, being calm, not trying to overdo anything,” Howard said. “Each year, I think I’ve grown and matured out there on the ice. I’ve seen a lot of things too, so a lot of things already don’t faze me in my short career. You worry about the next shot and play the game.”
The Coyotes received a commensurate amount of plugs from Grantland’s Katie Baker (yes, Mike Smith has proved that one can foil a Datsyukian deke and ESPN’s Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun, who suggested that the Coyotes, “Ghttp://espn.go.com/blog/nhl/post/_/id/13971/daily-debate-whats-up-with-the-islanders” while proving that they’re playoff-bound (which could mean a third consecutive meeting with Detroit), and The Score’s Justin Bourne noted that Ty Conklin spends the games he doesn’t play in charting faceoffs…
But most of today’s Wings mentions are tangential ones, including a name-drop in NHL.com’s John Kreiser’s column about Original Six dominance, a similar note from SI’s Darren Eliot in a column about realignment as utilized by the NHL as a brownie point-generating topic heading into CBA negotiations, and I can only shake my head regarding this quip from SI’s Michael Farber, who believes that the NHL’s quest for parity has robbed it of superstars and super teams (with the exception of Nicklas Lidstrom)...
[W]ith the All-Star festivities in Ottawa from Jan. 26-29 and the loose definition of what passes for a star in the NHL now, this crisis is right in front of us. Forget the relatively thin gruel of the All-Star rosters for a moment. You can see it basically any night, played before 17,113 fans in Nashville and 21,273 patrons in Montreal and all the people who flip to NBC Sports Network in the United States or TSN in Canada or any regional carrier anywhere.
In six words, the potential crisis is this: No fabulous players. No fabulous teams.
(Cough heading toward 21 straight playoff-worthy seasons, Pavel Datsyuk on ice and continued dominance, cough)
And on top of that, SI’s Stu Hackel suggests that Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Quick are “outliers in a Vezina Trophy conversation which should only seriously include Brain Elliott, Tomas Vokoun and Tim Thomas, so I can only offer you a few wallpaper-sized images of Ty Conklin and Todd Bertuzzi...
Before offering a gift from The Chief and the Edmonton Journal’s David Staples. Staples suggests that the Edmonton Oilers need to follow the Wings’ model of drafting in developing, pointing out that the Red Wings actually have a relatively low shooting percentage in terms of scoring NHL-worthy prospects, as one might expect from a low-drafting team that aims for the top shelf every time it shoots so much as a fluttering wrist shot:
Detroit’s model may not be one that the Oilers are looking to follow line-by-line, but the result is certainly what anyone could hope for: a team that consistently contends for the Stanley Cup.
The really interesting thing is that Detroit really hasn’t found a lot of NHL’ers in the draft. Since 1997 (the year Ken Holland was named general manager) the Red Wings have turned just 14 of their draft picks into full-time NHL’ers in Detroit (this number excludes a few, like Tomas Fleischmann or Kyle Quincey, who left the organization before becoming NHL’ers). For the sake of contrast, the Oilers have grabbed 23 players during that same span who would turn into full-time NHL’ers while with the team. If it isn’t volume, is it quality that separates the Red Wings from teams like Edmonton? That’s a frequently made argument, given that the Red wings have snagged players like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk during Holland’s tenure. But while it is impossible to deny the impact that those players have had, the rest of the group is surprisingly typical – there are some good players in there, but it’s hardly a lineup of world-beaters. Leaving aside quality for a moment, there are two items that really separate Detroit’s group from Edmonton’s.
The first item is that Detroit hangs on to their players. Of the 14 players I mentioned, 12 are still with the team. A 13th (Jiri Fischer) was forced to retire due to health concerns, but he remains with the team in a front office role. Tomas Kopecky, who was allowed to leave as an unrestricted free agent, is the lone exception to the rule. Additionally, a pair of draft picks made before Holland took the reins (Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom) are still with the team, while another draft pick who hasn’t yet established himself as a full-time NHL’er (Jan Mursak) is also with the club at this time.
How does that compare to Edmonton’s group? Of the 23 players I mentioned earlier, just 11 remain with the team, and eight of those were picked at some point in the last five years, with six of them still playing on their entry-level contracts. There simply isn’t a comparison to be made: while Detroit tends to retain its talent, the Oilers have shuttled off a long line of players.
The second item, which is probably related to the first, is that Red Wings prospects break into the NHL at a much older age. Of the group of 14, just one player (Jiri Fischer) made the jump to the NHL without playing at least one season in a professional league – either the AHL or Europe. The Oilers have gone the opposite route, over that whole span of time, starting with Mike Comrie and Shawn Horcoff, both of whom made the jump to full-time NHL employment in their first professional season. They were followed by Ales Hemsky, Matt Greene, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle. The average length of such a minor-league apprenticeship for a Detroit prospect? 3.3 seasons. For the Oilers, even after omitting the lottery picks, that number is 1.3 seasons.
The average age of these players in their first year reflects the length of their apprenticeships – the average Red Wings’ prospect with an NHL future under Holland could expect to hit the NHL at the age of 23. For the Oilers – once again, omitting lottery picks – the average age is somewhere between 21 and 22.
In other words, the Wings very consciously keep their players in the AHL until they’re overripe, in no small part due to the fact that Holland himself believes that his brief NHL career was shortened because the teams he played for (Hartford and Detroit; he was actually a Maple Leafs draft pick) rushed him into action as a back-up goaltender:
It’s possible that the Oilers’ struggles the last few years are unrelated to their philosophy of tossing their best prospects in the deep end. On the other hand, Ken Holland comes from a scouting background, and his philosophy has worked well for the Red Wings. Not only has the team fared better, but when his players make the team they tend to play in Detroit for the following decade, as opposed to being shipped out of town after a rough season or two.
Those players might end up including Teemu Pulkkinen, who Hockey’s Future’s Tony Piscotta noted as acquitting himself well on the Finnish World Junior Championship team’s top line…
Mikael Granlund entered the WJC as the most high profile player for Finland, both because of his play in the domestic SM-Liiga this year with Jokerit and for the anticipation that he will join the Minnesota Wild next season. While on paper his stat line looks decent, two goals with nine assists and plus-four in seven games, Granlund did not have the tournament he would have liked.
Playing on Finland’s top line with his brother (and Calgary prospect) Markus and Red Wings’ prospect Teemu Pulkkinen, it was thought that that line would dominate the tournament. For the most part, the line was held in check against Finland’s four toughest opponents (twice against Canada, USA, Czech Republic, and Sweden). In those five games Granlaund scored once (against the USA) and had two assists (versus the Czech Republic).
Similarly, Pulkkinen had a big tournament statistically (six goals, four assists, plus-four) but struggled against the stronger nations. Four of Pulkkinen’s goals, including three in the final period, were scored in the 10-1 win over Denmark. Pulkkinen was held off the board in the two games with Canada and in the semifinal game versus Sweden. While his scoring ability and quick release are impressive (he led Finland with 42 shots on goal), he did little to dispel the notion that his game is more suited to the open spaces of European hockey than it will be in the tighter checking North American game.
Meh. We’ll see about that as the Wings tend to take those kinds of players and jam 200’-by-85’ hockey down their throats, and for every Dick Axelsson, Johan Ryno, Mikael Johansson and Igor Griorenko, there’s usually a Valtteri Filppula to give the Wings a decent one-to-two-out-of-ten percentage in terms of generating quality NHL players.
Speaking of which, the Grand Rapids Griffins’ players and coaches will skate with fans for a full 24 hours after Saturday night’s game against the Rochester Americans, taking turns at Grand Rapids’ Rosa Parks Circle to raise money for the Griffins’ Youth Foundation.
If you’re interested in attending an event which will include at least a few future Red Wings, you can find out about the charitable event’s roster here, and both the Grand Rapids Press and WZZM note that the event is only a part of a “Winterfest” which takes place on both Saturday and Sunday.
Make sure to say, “Hi” to Mitchell Callahan for me, and let me know if he puts his front teeth in to pretty up for the ladies
Update: In no particular order:
• The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s webpage states that Shawn Burr will hold a charity hockey game in which the former Wings Alumni Association president ans his fellow Alums will tangle on March 17th to raise funds for his cancer foundation, and the event will involve both a charity hockey game and dinner with players in Fraser, MI. You can find out more about the game at the Shawn Burr Foundation website;
• Also in the alumni department, the Toronto Star’s Rick Westhead reports that Igor Larionov, who’s now a player agent for Russian prospects, is helping revive the Torspo Hockey brand;
• Chris Chelios’s Cheli’s Chili also received a somewhat ham-fisted mention from “Esteban” of Total Pro Sports as the 11th-best sports bar in the U.S.:
Cheli’s has a lot going for it. For starters, it’s named after owner Chris Chelios, one of the greatest and most bad-ass hockey players of all time (the dude played in the NHL from 1983 to 2010, when he was 47 years old). Also, it’s called a chili bar, which is amazing. Then, of course, there are the 36 HDTVs, the huge outdoor patio, and the proximity to Detroit’s biggest sports venues.
The only reason Cheli’s isn’t higher on the list is the fact that, yes, it is in downtown Detroit. So if it’s not gameday, you probably don’t want to be there.
(I don’t mean to be a Detroit-hater. I feel bad for Detroit. But you can’t ignore reality, you know?)
The area between the Fox Theatre, Comerica Park and the south side of Grand Circus Park might be the safest place in Detroit that isn’t on the riverfront, and Cheli’s hosts overflow crowds for Tigers games, Lions games, during concerts and other sports events, and you are highly, highly likely to see Chelios visiting the place once a day, if not see a Wings player or one of Chelios’s many celebrity friends show up from time to time. That, and the bar food fare is relatively inexpensive and tastes pretty damn good;
• This one kind-of-sort-of counts as alumni news: I forgot that the Blue Jackets signed Brett Lebda to replace Radek Martinek very specifically because Martinek suffered a concussion on a hit by Brad Stuart way back in October, but the Sports Exchange reminds us of that fact;
• At the other end of the Notre Dame alumnus spectrum, the NBC Sports Network will air a game between Michigan and Notre Dame at 7:30 PM tonight, and AnnArbor.com’s Pete Cunningham notes that the Wolverines are wary of Wings prospect Riley Sheahan’s new-found offensive touch [edit/update: Whoops! I guess he’ll return tomorrow night, not tonight, sorry!]
• In the business department, the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek reports that the NHL will finally send its players its escrow cheques next week, and this is press release from Ilitch Holdings is worth noting:
The appointment of Carly Strachan as communications manager for Ilitch Holdings, Inc. was announced today by Karen Cullen, vice president of Corporate Relations.
“Carly brings more than 10 years of communications experience to Ilitch Holdings,” said Cullen. “She has a wide variety of media relations and marketing communications experience for large-scale events and entertainment, non-profit organizations and development projects that will contribute greatly to our team and help us meet our goals both internally and externally as we continue to grow our organization.”
Previously, Strachan served as account manager at lovio george | communications + design, a Midtown Detroit-based agency, where she provided media relations, marketing and advertising services for clients such as the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, The Parade Company (Target Fireworks and America’s Thanksgiving Parade®), Hudson-Webber Foundation, Cranbrook and Midtown, Inc. At lovio george, she also provided marketing communications support for some of Detroit’s major sporting events including Super Bowl XL through Detroit’s Host Committee and the 35th Ryder Cup Matches and 90th PGA Championship with the PGA of America.
Her additional experience includes providing public relations and marketing support at Munro & Foster Communications in London, England and Great Lakes Crossing Outlets in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
Strachan is a resident of Detroit and earned a bachelor’s degree in integrated public relations from Central Michigan University. She is a member of the marketing and 313 committees for the Detroit Historical Society’s Past>Forward Campaign, as well as a volunteer committee member for the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy and a longtime member of Detroit Synergy.
About Ilitch Holdings, Inc.
Ilitch Holdings, Inc. provides professional services to the companies owned by Michael and/or Marian Ilitch. The Ilitch companies in the food, sports and entertainment industries include: Little Caesars Pizza, Blue Line Foodservice Distribution, the Detroit Red Wings, Olympia Entertainment, Olympia Development, Little Caesars Pizza Kits Fundraising Program, Champion Foods and Uptown Entertainment. Michael Ilitch owns the Detroit Tigers. Marian Ilitch owns the MotorCity Casino Hotel.
• And I’m sorry that this off-day update hit late: I didn’t end up getting to sleep until 9 AM, and I popped up at 1:30. I’m going to head back to bed for a bit.
Update #2: the Columbus Dispatch’s Shawn Mitchell provides some news from the Blue Jackets’ camp:
The NHL will take a five-day break for All-Star festivities beginning Thursday. After trips to Detroit (Saturday) and Nashville (Monday), the Blue Jackets will play their final game before the break on Tuesday in Tampa. They will not play again until the following Tuesday, Jan. 31 in San Jose. The break will be eagerly and perhaps understandably anticipated. The Blue Jackets are 13-28-5. They are mired in 30th place. Only rookie Ryan Johansen will participate in the All-Star festivities in Ottawa. Wanna get away? Yes. Yes they do. But pride and professionalism can prevent embarrassing road losses in the meantime, Blue Jackets interim coach Todd Richards said.
“We still want to finish this thing out by doing good things and continuing to grow and taking steps forward in the right direction,” Richards said. “We’ve got a great test in Detroit, with them playing at home. They’ve got the winning streak going there and it’s obviously a very confident group. It’s not about getting ahead of ourselves and looking past these three teams.”
The Red Wings (31-15-1) lead the Western Conference and have won a franchise-record 15 consecutive games in Joe Louis Arena. They are 18-2-1 at home this season. The Blue Jackets are 5-15-2 on the road.
—The Blue Jackets held an optional practice today in Nationwide Arena before departing for the Motor City. Ten players and both goaltenders participated. Those who skated included forwards Jared Boll, Tomas Kubalik, Colton Gillies, Ryan Russell and Johansen and defensemen Grant Clitsome, John Moore, David Savard, Aaron Johnson and newest Blue Jacket Brett Lebda. Lebda, by the way, will wear No. 23 for the Blue Jackets. It was previously worn by Kevin Dahl (2000-01), Alex Selivanov (2000-01), Derrick Walser (2001-04, 2006-07), Dick Tarnstrom (2007-08), Milan Jurcina (2009-10) and Tom Sestito (2009-11). Legends, all of them.
Update #3: Via Yahoo Sports’ Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski, Puck the Media’s Steve Lepore posted a photo of where cameras are located at various athletic venues, including the Joe, and the fantastic graphic comes from Sports TV Jobs:
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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.