The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/04/11 at 06:18 PM ET
Updated with video, Frozen Four and Griffins stuff at 6:38 PM: I believe that conference calls are nothing less than fascinating, though not necessarily because players and hockey executives tend to speak their minds. While Red Wings GM Ken Holland and captain Nicklas Lidstrom were thoughtful, thorough and forthcoming during today’s conference call, it’s almost as interesting, if not more so, to witness the media’s myriad interpretations of the comments made, and the ways in which writers and bloggers can twist and turn comments to support points they’re trying to make.
For the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan, Ken Holland’s comments about the fact that the Red Wings have yet to define themselves despite the fact that they’re only three games removed from the playoffs proved most interesting:
“We’re still trying to find ourselves,” said Holland Monday during a teleconference with national writers.
Holland pointed to the goals-against, where the Wings rank 21st (227 goals-against, 2.87 average), and the difficulties at Joe Louis Arena (21-13-6 record). As good a season it has been, Holland wants to see more consistency heading into the playoffs.
“Right around Christmas time we started to get hit with injuries,” said Holland, noting the losses of Pavel Datsyuk (broken hand), Mike Modano (lacerated right wrist), Danny Cleary (broken left ankle), Brad Stuart (fractured jaw) and Chris Osgood (sports hernia) in that time frame. We did a good job of finding ways to win games and filling holes for people we had lost. We sort of held where we were at (in the standings). We came out of the All-Star break, I don’t think we’ve played nearly as consistent as we did earlier in the year as we’ve got our bodies (players) back. I’m not sure that’s the case.”
Holland likes the way young players such as Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Jakub Kindl have strengthened the team.
“Our team is deeper today than when the season started,” Holland said.
Holland wasn’t asked to clarify the injury statuses of Osgood or Niklas Kronwall, but he was asked to weigh in on the league’s decision to take—and this is important, Larry Brooks—Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson’s suggestion to remove shootout wins from the playoff tie-breaking equation (Holland suggested that while he proposed the idea, it was Howson who championed its cause), for a story in which the Canadian Press’s Chris Johnston discusses the tightness of playoff races in both conferences over the season’s final week:
A win isn’t necessarily worth what it used to be in the NHL. As the push for the playoffs hits high gear in the final week of the regular season, the league’s new tiebreaker rule will help determine what the first round matchups look like.
General managers decided a year ago to alter the tiebreaking format and have the first criteria become the greatest number of wins in regulation and overtime (excluding the shootout) — rather than simply the total number of wins. It’s reflected in the standings on the NHL’s website by the “ROW” category.
“My feeling is that if you win in 60 minutes or you win in the five minutes of overtime it has a little more impact and means a little more than if you win a shootout,” said Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, a driving force behind the change. “It certainly appears, as you look at the standings, they’re so close in the West and the East ... it certainly could (come in to play). If my team wins more in regulation and overtime than your team does, I think that we should get the tiebreaker.”
The second tiebreaking criteria is the greater number of points earned in games between the tied teams while the third is goal differential. With a total of just 49 games to be played in the NHL regular season, there were still 20 teams with a mathematical chance of earning a trip to the post-season.
I’m pretty sure that the Wings earned a well-deserved day off from practice on Monday due to the lack of updates from the Wings’ beat writers, but I listened to the press conference while taking my mother to her accountant’s to file her taxes, and Bleacher Report’s Matt Hutter and independent journalist Greg Eno asked the majority of the questions, along with Johnston and the Sporting News’s Craig Custance (as I recall it)—St. James, Khan, Kulfan, Pleiness, Waddell, Duff, Sipple, none of the usual suspects asked a question—so while Hutter does write for the infamous Bleacher Report, I’m going to offer his take on the answers Holland and Lidstrom gave him, especially regarding Jimmy Howard’s maturation:
Speaking of younger Red Wings’ players, regarding his second-year goalie, Jimmy Howard, being ready to back-stop his team during the playoffs, Lidstrom expressed confidence in his ability to do so.
“I think he gained a lot of experience being part of the playoffs last year,” said Lidstrom, “knowing what it takes and that it is different than the regular season and the pressure is there and you have to show up every night. It’s a lot tougher than the regular season.”
As green as Howard might still be when it comes to playoff experience, Lidstrom said that Howard has benefited, not just from his experience last year, but, from being around the team in previous years.
“I think he learned [what it takes to succeed in the playoffs] from last season,” said Lidstrom, “but he’s [also] been around the team when he wasn’t playing. When we won the Cup in ‘08, he was on the outside looking in.”
Though Howard never suited up for the Red Wings during their 2008 Cup-run, Lidstrom feels he gained a great deal of knowledge nonetheless.
“He was part of the team travelling with us. He knows what it takes to win, and he’s seen it, and we still try to encourage him, whether it’s a goal he didn’t like he let in or a game you didn’t like, you always try to encourage the goalies.”
Also of Red Wings-related note this afternoon, conference call transcript reading excluded:
• Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner issued a freak-out post regarding an interview Franzen gave to another journalist that Regner listened to, and that interview was given to the AP’s Larry Lage. Lage discusses Franzen’s goal-scoring slump at length today:
“I’ve got as little of confidence as usual,” Franzen joked with a nervous laugh during a terse interview.
The burly Swede known as “Mule” in the Motor City had five goals on Feb. 2 at Ottawa, becoming the first NHL player to pull off the feat since Marian Gaborik did it for Minnesota in 2007. Then, he went into a slump that has created a concern for Detroit heading into the playoffs next week.
“Hopefully he gets on one of his streaks because we really need him,” general manager Ken Holland said.
While Franzen made no promises regarding another run of serious post-season scoring…
“It’s been a while since I’ve done any playoff magic,” he said. “We’ll see.”
His teammates believe that his goal on Sunday should help Franzen break out of his crisis of confidence:
“No doubt, he puts a lot of pressure on himself when he’s not scoring,” [Henrik] Zetterberg said. “So, it was nice to see him get that one to hopefully get him going for the playoffs.”
“I think it was very big, hopefully it’ll give him some confidence that he needs,” [Nicklas] Lidstrom said. “The way he scored it — going hard at the net and whacking at the puck — was important. He’s been great in the playoffs the past few years, so hopefully this is a sign of things to come next week.”
• This was already posted, but it’s worth repeating: TSN is actually asking fans whether Todd Bertuzzi out-qualifies Roberto Luongo, Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks fans, Tim Thomas and Alex Ovechkin as the player and/or team and/or fan base that “deserves” to win the Cup the most this season;
• Looking back—really, really far back into the past—today’s Red Wings playoff moment on its Twenty Straight website involves Detroit’s 1998 Stanley Cup win;
• Looking forward, ESPN’s Scott Burnside states the obvious regarding two of this week’s “Games to Watch”:
Wednesday: Red Wings at Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET
The Red Wings pulled off two big wins this past weekend to lock up the Central Division. Getting Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard back was key to hitting the playoffs on a high note. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, will pretty much need to run the table this week if they hope to catch one of the three teams at the bottom of the bracket (Montreal, Buffalo and the New York Rangers).
Prediction: The Wings will turn out the lights of the Canes’ playoff hopes.
I swear, Mr. Karmanos, it’s not personal. Mike Ilitch doesn’t dislike you anymore. The Wings just need to take care of business, and it has nothing to do with your once-bitter rivalry with the Ilitch empire.
Friday: Blackhawks at Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
The Hawks are not doing anything the easy way; they lost to Tampa on Sunday to keep Dallas’ and Calgary’s playoff dreams alive. Plus, the defending Cup champs close the regular season with a home-and-home versus Detroit. This is Act I.
Prediction: The Blackhawks take the drama out early with a win at Joe Louis Arena, but will it be enough?
• Looking further ahead, ESPN’s Sean Allen suggests that Pavel Datsyuk will rebound from an injury-plagued season to dominate on the ice in terms of points and fantasy hockey impact during the 2011-2012 season:
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings: This was not a banner season for Datsyuk, but injuries to himself and his Red Wings teammates can take most of the blame. Datsyuk still managed to offer up more than a point per game. In fact, his pace would have been a 90-point season and a return to his elite level after a 70-point season in 2009-10
• And looking further down the line, the Grand Rapids Griffins signed a player who may evolve into a starting goaltender 5-7 years down the line to an amateur try-out contract today (as RedWingsCentral’s Sarah Lindenau reported on Sunday), and the Griffins called up two players whose futures with the team and Wings organization are a bit tenuous at present, too:
The Grand Rapids Griffins on Monday signed goaltender Petr Mrazek (M’RAZ-ihk) to an amateur tryout. In addition, the Detroit Red Wings today reassigned right wing Willie Coetzee and defenseman Sebastien Piche to Grand Rapids from the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye.
Mrazek, a 19-year old native of Ostrava, Czech Republic, recently concluded his second campaign with the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s, where he posted a 33-15-3 record with a 2.84 GAA and four shutouts in 52 games. Detroit’s fifth choice (141st overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, he led the OHL with a 0.920 save percentage this season and ranked among the league’s leaders in GAA (5th), wins (3rd) and shutouts (T2nd).
Coetzee, 20, has played in 36 games for Toledo this season, showing 20 points (9-11—20), four penalty minutes and a minus-2 rating. The Maple Ridge, B.C., native has also logged 25 contests with the Griffins during his rookie campaign, earning five assists, eight PIM and a minus-7 rating.
Piche, 23, has spent the majority of his sophomore pro season with the Walleye, appearing in 48 games. He ranked among the top ECHL blueliners this season with 12 goals (T4th) and 33 points (T10th), while finishing second among Walleye defensemen in points and ranking among the team’s overall leaders in goals (T6th), assists (21, 8th), points (9th) and power play tallies (8, 2nd). A native of La Sarre, Quebec, Piche also shows two assists and 13 PIM in 11 contests with the Griffins.
All three players will be available for action when the Griffins visit the Milwaukee Admirals on Wednesday at 8 p.m. EDT.
The Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema confirms, and the Griffins’ “Afternoon Shift” talks about the reasons why the Griffins are signing prospects to amateur or pro try-outs and are giving youngsters ice time now that the Griffins’ playoff hopes have been extinguished:
The final weeks of a hockey team’s regular season have little in common with the holiday season, except in one respect: this is the time of year when teams like the Griffins get to peek under the paper and get a glimpse of the treasures they’ll be unwrapping for a future roster.
Players whose junior or college seasons end prematurely often sign amateur tryouts with AHL clubs to get their toes wet in the pro game. Not unlike Griffins who join the Detroit Red Wings as “black aces” during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, these young players are brought in to soak up everything about the game at this level, to help make their future transitions easier. And often times, they have their training wheels removed, get inserted into the lineup and are expected to contribute.
Several current Griffins got their first taste of pro hockey in this fashion, including Joakim Andersson, Willie Coetzee, Cory Emmerton, Brian Lashoff, Jan Mursak, Jordan Pearce and Brent Raedeke. More recently, two-time Hobey Baker finalist Gustav Nyquist left Maine to sign with the Griffins on March 25, and he promptly registered points in each of his first three games with Grand Rapids.
Today, the Griffins welcomed another such player in Petr Mrazek, a highly touted OHL goaltender who was Detroit’s fifth pick in the 2010 draft and has been praised as perhaps the best netminder in the history of the Ottawa 67′s franchise. With the Griffins’ playoff aspirations down to their final strike in the bottom of the ninth, it’s anyone’s guess whether the young phenom will get a chance to strut his stuff this week.
If he does, he’ll break Thomas McCollum’s record and become the youngest goalie to ever play for Grand Rapids (19 years, two months to McCollum’s 19 years, nine months in Oct. 2009). If he doesn’t, he’ll do his best impression of a sponge while whetting the appetites of coaches and fans for what the future has in store.
I’ll say this about Piche and Coetzee: with the Griffins likely to lose Doug Janik (his contract becomes a one-way deal next season) and Derek Meech (who becomes an unrestricted free agent), Piche’s got a very good chance of becoming a full-time member of the Griffins’ blueline, alongside Brendan Smith, Travis Ehrhardt, Greg Amadio, Brian Lashoff, Sergei Kolosov, Logan Pyett and the graduating Gleason Fournier (that makes 8 defensemen, which is pretty much what you need to go through an AHL season)....
I suppose you could say the same of Coetzee given that Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton are out of minor league options, and at this point, it seems unlikely that the Wings can afford to keep Ilari Filppula around (he’ll either go back to Finland, sign with another NHL team or be plucked off the waiver wire), but the Griffins will also welcome Nyquist, Landon Ferraro, Mitchell Callahan and possibly Trevor Parkes to their forward lines, so the Griffins’ roster in general will remain crowded next season (though Mrazek will head back to the OHL).
• As a reminder, per the University of Notre Dame’s athletic site, Wings prospect Riley Sheahan and the Fighting Irish will face off against the University of Minnesota Duluth on Thursday, April 7th at 5 PM EDT, and their semifinal will air on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com;
• And we’ll just pretend that Yahoo Sports’ Ryan Lambert read Darren McCarty’s statements suggesting that he still has no respect whatsoever for Claude Lemieux the hockey player before rambling on about the McCarty-Lemieux autograph signing at the Gibraltar Trade Center in Mt. Clemens this past weekend.
Update: Here’s Custance’s first quip from the conference call:
It’s the final week of the NHL’s regular season and, as expected, there’s still much to be determined. Entering Monday’s games, only eight of 16 teams have clinched playoff spots. And those who have, like the Flyers and Red Wings, are hoping to build momentum.
“That can carry you into the playoffs,” Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “It’s hard to sit and wait for the playoffs and then turn it on and play your best.”
• And, per DetroitRedWings.com’s Jake Duhaime, the “Don’t Miss a Minute” viral video campaign may already have a winner:
Update the second: Hockey’s Future’s DJ Powers posted a little preview of the Frozen Four match-ups, describing the University of Notre Dame as follows:
Notre Dame, winner of the Northeast Regional, comes into the Frozen Four after posting a pair of one-goal wins over Merrimack and host New Hampshire respectively. The win over Merrimack came in overtime.
The Fighting Irish are led by the dynamic freshman duo of T.J. Tynan and Anders Lee (NYI), who rank first (53 points) and fourth (44 points) in the nation respectively in rookie scoring. Lee continues to be one of Notre Dame’s most reliable point-producers, having posted two goals and an assist in the regional. His overtime game-winning tally versus Merrimack in the regional semi-final was his seventh of the season, which co-leads the nation among all NHL prospects. Lee plays left wing on Notre Dame’s newly-formed top line alongside sophomore Riley Sheahan (DET) and junior Billy Maday. The trio accounted for eight points (four goals, four assists) in the regional.
Notre Dame’s methodical and patient style of play proved challenging for Merrimack and New Hampshire to overcome in the regional and could give their opponents in the Frozen Four the same difficulty. Although the Fighting Irish come into the Frozen Four ranked 32nd in the nation overall on the penalty kill, they also have registered 12 shorthanded goals as well. That ranks first among the Frozen Four teams and second overall nationally. Only Boston College posted more shorthanded goals this season. Notre Dame has nine players on their roster that have posted shorthanded goals, including two each by Tynan, sophomore defenseman Sam Calabrese and senior defenseman Joe Lavin (CHI).
• The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo gave the Red Wings’ organization praise for its consistency...
The Red Wings are readying to take part in their 20th consecutive postseason. Think about that for one sec: The Florida Panthers will miss their 10th consecutive postseason cut. Since 1997, the Red Wings have won four Stanley Cups. In that span, the Panthers haven’t won a single playoff game. Nicklas Lidstrom has never even missed the playoffs.
How do the Red Wings do it? Through draft and development. Yes, they’ll add a free agent now and again, like Marian Hossa a few years back. But for the nost part, the Red Wings’ core is homegrown.
Despite the fact that in the past 17 years the Red Wings haven’t picked higher than 19th in the draft, despite the fact that in the past 14 years they’ve had six first-round picks, the Wings keep unearthing talent later in the draft: (Darren Helm, 132nd, 2005); Johan Franzen, 97th, 2004; Jiri Hudler, 58th, 2002; Valtteri Filppula, 95th, 2002; Henrik Zetterberg, 210th, 1999; Pavel Datsyuk, 171st, 1998; Tomas Holmstrom, 257th, 1994).
In this salary-cap era, Holland, assistant GM Jim Nill and his incredible staff has managed to preserve this impressive core. Why? Most players with a desire to win first never want to leave Detroit.
It’s no wonder the Red Wings are the envy of 29 teams. It’s why former Wild GM Doug Risebrough told Red Wings coach Mike Babcock on a plane a few years ago, “If anybody wants to pursue your model, it’s a ridiculous thing. Guys want to stay there. You have a culture there of winning. Nobody can follow your model.”
• Regarding those 20 straight playoff seasons, the Red Wings’ PR department offered an…unusual…press release…
Special delivery due to Wings’ STH
Monday, 04.04.2011 / 4:18 PM / Press Release
By Rick Bowness - Public Relations Coordinator
DETROIT—Red Wings’ season ticket holders will be receiving a very special delivery this week, as for the 20th consecutive year the team will be distributing playoff packages throughout the dominion of Hockeytown. To commemorate the Red Wings’ incredible two-decade-long playoff-appearance streak, this year’s collectible post-season ticket packages are brandished with matrix-based Quick Response (QR) codes that will allow fans to view highlights from throughout Detroit’s last 19 Stanley Cup drives.
Earlier this year, Red Wings fans had the opportunity to vote for their favorite playoff moments from 1991-2010 by visiting the team’s official website. Through extensive online balloting, a carefully-selected assemblage of 32 classic playoff moments was whittled down to the 16 that will be featured on this year’s high-tech post-season tickets. Season Ticket Holders will be able to access video footage of Hockeytown’s favorite playoff moments from the last two decades on their smartphones by downloading a special mobile app at http://gettag.mobi and then scanning the QR codes emblazoned upon each playoff ticket included in their forthcoming packages.
• The Red Wings’ players were engaged in some high-tech stuff recently, per the Wings’ website:
• And the Grand Rapids Griffins posted their weekly press release today, and let’s just say that it’s a little overly optimistic:
Still Fighting: Grand Rapids’ last hope for qualifying for the Calder Cup Playoffs is claiming fourth place in the North Division and fending off all potential crossover candidates from the West Division. Entering the final week of the regular season, the Griffins currently sit in sixth in the North with 80 points, one point behind fifth-place Toronto (81) and two in back of fourth-place Abbotsford (82). However, any one of three teams from the West – Oklahoma City (87), Chicago (86) and San Antonio (85) – is poised to claim that berth instead.
Breaking it Down: To maintain any chance of making the playoffs, the Griffins must win each of their final four games and hope Oklahoma City loses each of its last three. The earliest Grand Rapids can clinch is Sunday’s season finale in Milwaukee, while the earliest it could be eliminated is Tuesday, with a San Antonio win over Rockford (since San Antonio and Oklahoma City play each other on Friday). Here’s a breakdown of the playoff race (teams in bold have clinched over Grand Rapids):
Also of note as the Griffins play road games against Milwaukee on Wednesday and Sunday, a road tilt against Rockford on Saturday and hold their home finale on Friday vs. Abbotsford at 7 PM:
Packing the House: The Griffins, whose average attendance of 7,149 ranks fifth out of 30 AHL teams, are guaranteed to finish with an attendance increase for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Heading into this Friday’s home finale at Van Andel Arena, their attendance of 278,812 is just 1,815 shy of last season’s total. An anticipated sellout for the final home game would give the Griffins a 3.2% attendance increase over last season, and the season-long figure of 289,646 would mark their second-largest in 10 seasons of AHL membership (297,905 in 2008-09).
Ironman Between the Pipes: Rookie goalie Jordan Pearce’s run of 20 consecutive starts for Grand Rapids (12-5-1-2 from Feb. 16-March 26) ended on Friday in Abbotsford, just four starts shy of the franchise record set by Joey MacDonald from Feb. 25-April 9, 2005. Pearce, who nonetheless entered the game in relief in the third period, allowed just one goal in four periods of action against the Heat over the weekend, stopping 41 of 42 shots for a 0.76 GAA and a 0.976 save percentage. He has now played in 22 straight contests and in 29 of the Griffins’ last 30 games, and he sits in 10th place on the franchise’s all-time list with 20 career wins.
Smith Named to AHL All-Rookie Team: Defenseman Brendan Smith last Wednesday was named to the 2010-11 AHL All-Rookie Team. Smith, 22, ranks among the AHL’s top defensemen with 12 goals (1st among rookies, T7th overall) and 32 points (5th rookies, T29th overall) through 59 games. Despite having missed 17 games due to injuries, he stands among the Griffins’ leaders in goals (1st defensemen, 7th overall), assists (20 – 2nd defensemen, 9th overall), points (2nd defensemen, 10th overall), plus/minus (plus-8 – 3rd defensemen, 5th overall), penalty minutes (117 – 2nd defensemen, 3rd overall), power play goals (five – 1st defensemen, T4th overall) and game-winning goals (four – 1st defensemen, T1st overall). In Grand Rapids history, only two rookie defensemen have registered more points than Smith’s 32, and both are currently playing in the NHL: Florida’s Clay Wilson (37 in 2005-06) and Colorado’s Kyle Quincey (33 in 2005-06). Overall, Smith’s point total ties for the 12th-highest ever by a Griffins rookie. The Mimico, Ontario, native becomes the third Griffin to be named to an AHL All-Rookie Team, joining current Detroit Red Wings Justin Abdelkader (2008-09) and Jimmy Howard (2005-06). This marks the second significant AHL honor for Smith this season, who became the first rookie defenseman in Griffins history to be chosen for an all-star game. However, he was forced to miss the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic due to injury. Smith is now a top candidate for the AHL’s Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award (outstanding rookie), the winner of which will be announced on Thursday.
Among the Best: Francis Pare is the only Griffin to have appeared in all 76 games thus far, giving him a chance to join 18 previous Griffins who played in every game of a regular season. In addition, his seven first goals already tie for eighth on the team’s single-season list…With 10 power play goals, Jamie Tardif needs one more to break into the Griffins’ single-season top-10. His three shorthanded goals also tie for fifth all time.
Instant Impact: Forward Gustav Nyquist, the Red Wings’ third choice (121st overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, registered a point in each of his first three games with the Griffins (1-2—3) prior to Grand Rapids’ 1-0 loss in Abbotsford on Saturday.
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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.