The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/05/12 at 04:59 AM ET
While Don Cherry’s spent the past three Coach’s Corners completely ignoring Nicklas Lidstrom, and Sports Illustrated of all places countered by positing an absolutely glorious photo gallery commemorating the career of someone SI’s Stu Hackel describes as the “MVP of his era” (it’s pretty hard for me to stop tossing off superlatives here…I’m going to miss it)...
Days have passed, the news cycle has shifted, and on Monday night, Red Wings GM Ken Holland dropped the first couple of hints as to what the team’s plans regarding their own unrestricted and restricted free agents-to-be, as well as the whole having to attempt to fill Lidstrom’s skates, maybe add another top-four defenseman, definitely snag a top-six forward who can score goals, and maybe add a back-up goalie and fourth-line forward with grit so as to “reload” instead of engaging in a “rebuilding year” thing…
But I get the feeling that nothing that Holland, Jim Nill, Jimmy Devellano, Ryan Martin, Chris Chelios, Kris Draper, Mike Babcock or any other of the Wings’ executives who will emerge from a four-day powwow at Joe Louis Arena this afternoon and evening will tell the press, whether it be over today, this week or the rest of June, will do anything less than leave you as jittery, itchy, worried and downright uncomfortable about the team’s future as I’m feeling this morning.
With another team that’s not Detroit lifting the Stanley Cup soon, yesterday marking the 4-year anniversary of the Wings’ 2008 Stanley Cup win, the Wings’ remaining inhabitants of Metro Detroit about to scatter to the four winds as their kids wrap up their school years, and eighteen days until the NHL Entry Draft—I mean NHL Draft (I never thought the “entry” part was redundant)—kicks off in Pittsburgh, well, my friends…
We have entered what is perhaps the most torturous part of the hockey season, especially given the comments so many Wings fans made on Twitter and on the blog regarding the Pittsburgh Penguins’ decision to do what the Wings don’t in acquiring a player’s services prior to said draft and/or start of Free Agency on July 1st, despite the fact that the Penguins signing Tomas Vokoun to a 2-year, $4 million deal represented a team overspending in “terms” of term and salary for a back-up when the only deep part of the free agent class is in fact its netminders’ contingent…
And let me put my feelings about Tomas Vokoun politely: he makes a lovely hockey card. Vokoun, in freeze frame, appears to have his hands and legs positioned perfectly, appears to be simply impeccably poised to stop pucks over and over again. Having watched him play with the Nashville Predators, however, I can tell you that freeze-frame images don’t depict the clunkiness with which he moves about the crease, the fact that he’s out of position so very damn often, or the tendency he’s had to give up Ty Conklin-like “squeakers” more and more regularly over the past three or four seasons.
But another team acted to address a need on Monday, and we know our Wings are going to sit and wait until at least the draft, if not the twenty-six days between now and July 1st, and having to wait so very long to hear anything more than hints and suggestions as to what the team might do depending on which players actually reach the free agent marketplace (Gordie Howe forbid a Parise or Suter re-sign with their respective rights-holders…Half of Southeastern Michigan might assemble with pitchforks and torches to go after Ken Holland’s head for something neither he nor you or I can control), well, that’s interminable, intolerable and, in the minds of Wings fans like you and me, unacceptable.
Put again, bluntly, tough s***. We have to sit and wait and look at a team whose roster no longer has Nicklas Lidstrom on it, probably won’t have Brad Stuart, Jiri Hudler or Tomas Holmstrom come July 1st, already needed a top-pair defenseman to finally adequately replace Brian Rafalski, already needed a top-six forward who can score 25-30 goals and probably needs a back-up goalie and a gritty fourth-line forward.
We can only stare at those holes on the roster, anticipate more departures, gird ourselves for the inevitable re-signings of at least some of the free agent targets we want our Wings to sign, if not the trading of their signing rights to teams that aren’t Detroit, and we have to listen to the assurances from Holland and his compatriots, as he told Waddell, that the standard of excellence for this town’s hockey team will not drop by a hair despite the most devastating departure since those of Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan, and during what is clearly the most tumultuous off-season since that summer of 2006:
“I feel pressure every day,” Holland said. “We all know what the expectations are in Detroit. Our ownership, management, players and fan base expect to contend for the Stanley Cup. That’s the challenge. That’s what we signed up for. That’s the goal here this summer, to put a team together that Wings’ fans are going to be proud of.”
Just how the Wings go about doing that is the subject of three days of organizational meetings that’ll wrap up today in Detroit. As currently constructed, even if they get good internal growth and prospects Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist have impressive rookie seasons, the Wings aren’t good enough to fulfill Holland’s mission statement.
Detroit has four obvious needs. A top pairing defenceman, a top-six forward, a veteran goaltender to provide insurance in case backup Joey MacDonald’s back issues resurface and a big, grinding forward to add some sandpaper to the bottom six forwards. The Wings could also use a big body to replace Stuart, if he leaves, in the second pairing. Should they reach the open market, forward Zach Parise and defenceman Ryan Suter will be Detroit’s primary targets. It’s also believed Florida defenceman Jason Garrison intrigues the Wings, especially being a right-handed shot. Montreal’s Travis Moen, who Detroit tried to acquire the 28-year-old at the trade deadline, would fill their needs for a gritty bottom six forward.
With US$26.25-million to spend, Holland may well be the busiest GM in the league come July 1.
“We have a lot of good pieces in place,” said Holland, who also confirmed MacDonald won’t need back surgery and is on track to be healthy. “The next four or five weeks we’ve got to figure out a way to make the team better, deeper and a little different. It takes more than one or two players to make a good team. We’ll explore free agency and trades.”
Again, Holland said that, this time around, he will consider trading for players’ signing rights…
“I’ve never done it, but I have no problem with it,” said Holland of whether being more aggressive means acquiring the right to negotiate with a targeted free agent before July 1. Are we prepared to acquire a player’s rights at the draft? Absolutely if the price is right and it’s a player we’re interested in.”
But he insisted to Waddell that fans need not fear about Detroit’s attractiveness as place for players to sign, never mind a team whose fortunes are on something other than shaky footing…
“We’ve still got Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg down the middle as our 1-2 centermen,” Holland said. “I’m not going to tell you that’s the best, but I’d like to think that pair is in the top five in the league. We’ve got a 27-year old goaltender, who until the 60-game pole (when he got injured), was having a tremendous year. There are other pieces here. This is a special city, with a special fan base and I think there’s incredible passion from our ownership and everybody involved with the team.”
And he promised that these organizational meetings have resulted in multiple plans of action having been made to account for every eventuality:
“It’s all about planning,” said Holland, who admitted he initiated some potential trade talk at last week’s general manager meetings in New York. It’s all about being ready. We’re going to be making decisions in 10 or 15 minutes on July 1st. Obviously, the team is in transition. We’re hoping the transition takes only five, six or seven weeks.”
This morning, the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan reveals the details of his conversation with Holland, and his words are encouraging, especially in the injury department, but not exactly earth-shattering:
“A lot can happen before June 30 (the day before free agency begins on July 1),” Holland said. “We’ve had discussions on a lot of players who could be available.”
Finding a backup goaltender is a concern. Joey MacDonald is slated to be No. 2 behind Jimmy Howard. But MacDonald didn’t play after March 14 because of a partially herniated disc, and the issue remains a concern. MacDonald, who’s had back issues before, is scheduled to visit with trainer Piet Van Zant within a few weeks. No surgery has been recommended, and MacDonald says he’s doing fine, but how he feels later this month will determine how the Red Wings address the backup goaltending concern.
“That’s one of the issues we’ve been talking about,” Holland said. “Health is a concern.”
MacDonald, 32, was 8-5-1 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. He was outstanding during a seven-game winning streak in which he beat out Ty Conklin as the backup. But back problems are a major issue with any goaltender.
Regarding the most nagging injuries? Well, there’s good news about Patrick Eaves…
Holland also believes forward Patrick Eaves (concussion) will be ready for training camp. Eaves didn’t play after breaking his jaw and suffering a concussion Nov. 26 while blocking a shot by Nashville’s Roman Josi.
And, from the Free Press’s Helene St. James, excellent news about Danny Cleary’s surgically-repaired knee (from last week’s Lidstrom presser, and you can read the transcript of St. James’ chat with Freep readers on Monday here):
“My knee is great, actually,” he said. “It’s only been three weeks, and I feel fantastic.”
On May 8, Cleary underwent an operation that rid his knee of floating debris and repaired torn cartilage. The knee had gotten progressively worse since November, despite regularly being drained. Cleary received an anti-inflammatory injection in April to carry him through the playoffs, by which time he knew he’d need surgery in the postseason. Cleary said he’s “incredibly encouraged” by how quickly he has rebounded.
“I’m very, very happy to be able to walk normal again, to have my strength back, being able to do squats,” he said. “It’s great.”
Cleary, 33, is an important piece for the Wings. He was slated to play last season on a line with Pavel Datsyuk, but a rib injury during exhibition season derailed that plan, and then the knee injury further limited Cleary, leaving him with 12 goals and 21 assists in 75 games. He was scoreless in five playoff games. He’s a three-time 20-plus goal scorer since joining the Wings in 2005 and had nine goals in the ‘09 playoffs. If Cleary is able to regain his top form, he’ll get a shot at being in the top-six group again next season.
That’s the theory, barring, as MLive’s Ansar Khan told us a few weeks ago, continued monitoring of Cleary’s knee during the summer, training camp and the pre-season as doctors are indeed concerned about the permanent damage done by bone-on-bone grinding.
In terms of the free agents-to-be, however, we’re going to go back to Waddell for a moment…
Holland also appears to be keeping his options open as much as possible regarding his own players. He admitted he hasn’t talked much to his team’s own free agents.
And then Kulfan for news about what will probably be the next retirement presser:
Holland expects to meet with Tomas Holmstrom, 39, next week regarding Holmstrom’s future.
Otherwise, Holland told Kulfan that he won’t speak with Stuart’s agent until the draft, and I’m guessing that the same could be said for Jiri Hudler’s agent (he’s gone as he’s simply going to earn more money on the open market than the Wings can afford to give him) and the representatives for restricted free agents Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Kyle Quincey (all staying, you’d better f’ing believe as much about Helm and Abby, and the Wings certainly seem to believe that a fresh start for Quincey in the fall = their best chances of finding a replacement for Brad Stuart without paying him $4.5 or $5 million to come as a Mike Komisarek-style “free agent destined to disappoint because stay-at-home dudes are way overpriced in July” acquisition).
Again, we’ll hear more from Holland, Nill, and probably Devellano today and this week, if not Babcock, but they’ll probably try to enjoy the break between now and the incredibly intense period of time that will start at the draft and won’t end until mid-July, too, so I’m anticipating that things will drop off news-wise, and will drop off for a while.
When that happens, you and I will simply have to wait, hope, maybe pray to the hockey gods, and if this blog has any purpose at all, talk ourselves and each other through the next three weeks before the draft and four before free agency.
In theory, the period of time between now and July 1st spans only a couple of weeks, and at least for somebody like me, who’s looking for Wings news for at least eight to twelve hours a day and is desperately trying to raise funds for a trip to Traverse City to attend the Wings’ prospect camp on July 7th, the next month should pass incredibly quickly.
For you, however, I’m guessing that it’s going to seem like it’s taking forever, and every time a team that isn’t the Wings makes a move to improve itself, or a free agent re-signs with his current employer, I can at least promise that I’ll feel like I got punched in the gut, too. But you’re allowed to get worked up about it…
Me, I’ve gotta work and write either way, so conserving emotion and energy are really important, because I’m gonna be crying as much as Homer does when/if he retires, the draft is always insane (trying to get to know six Wings prospects over the course of about 14 hours is more than a little labor-intensive) and I’ll be pulling double duty on July 1st, helping Paul deal with the torrent of signings and working to cover the Wings’ angles as well.
Speaking of raising funds, the University of Windsor’s Jonathan Liedtke reports that the second annual Bob Probert Memorial Ride has high charitable hopes for Windsor’s Hotel-Dieu Grace hospital:
On Sunday, June 24, the 2nd Annual Bob Probert Memorial Ride will roll out in support of the Cardiac Angioplasty Program at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital. Following the huge success of last year’s event – which drew over 800 riders and raised $100,000 for Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital – the organizers are “looking to leave those numbers behind in the dust”!
Attendees can join Honourary Road Captain and former NHL’er Sheldon Kennedy on a scenic tour of Windsor-Essex County and finish it off at the WFCU Centre with a magnificent dinner and two memorable performances by Sheez With Us and Destroyer. Registration is $30 for one rider and $20 for an additional passenger. For every $100 received in pledges, one rider can attend for free.
For those who want to be part of the day’s events but don’t ride, tickets can be purchased for $15 and this includes access to the concert, both live and silent auctions, as well as a chance to mingle with some of the NHL’s best known alumni players.
Barb Sebben, development officer of annual giving for the Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital Foundation explained that the event is a “motorcycle poker run that leaves HDGH and goes to four stops, ending at the WFCU, where entertainment is provided”.
Sebben said that last year’s event was “absolutely essential” for the Cardiac Angioplasty Program at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital, “We are the only hospital that provides angioplasty running out of one suite.” The majority of hospitals have two suites. “Because we have one suite, if there is an emergency, we have to cancel people who are lined up to have angiograms or angioplasty, in order to save a life.”
Simply put, “If we had two, we’d be able to meet the needs of the entire city.”
The Probert Ride has a charitable website as well.
At the other end of the spectrum, as noted in the mid-day news post, Pavel Datsyuk and his Russian World Championship teammates will receive one helluva decadent championship ring later this summer:
According to Sovetsky Sport’s Pavel Lysenkov, the 26 rubies represent the 26 World Championships Russia’s captured over its tenure as a hockey superpower (it couldn’t possibly be a tribute to the old Soviet flag, could it?), all the lettering will be done in sapphire, and as the IIHF posted (via Puck Daddy), the Russian Federation’s coat of arms will obviously have an inlaid diamond:
Russian Hockey Federation president Vladislav Tretiak told Lysenkov that the rings won’t actually be presented to the players until August, when the national team’s coaches and players will meet in Moscow and then engage in a little preseason skate in Switzerland, and the same is true for the official awarding of “Master of Sport” titles to about half the team, including Datsyuk.
I’m not going to translate it, but one of Tretiak’s compatriots in former Red Wing and player agent Igor Larionov spoke with Sportbox.ru’s Andrew Osadchenko, basically stating that he chooses his clients carefully, that he places them in North America because he believes that the CHL’s three major junior leagues (the OHL, WHL and QMJHL) are better than the Russian junior hockey leagues, and that he does his best to both mentor the players and engage their coaches in discussions to ensure that the players are well-taken care of, are placed in the best possible environment in which to nurture their hockey talents and succeed, and mostly to guarantee to himself as much as his clients that when his players turn pro, they know that they’ve got to work for everything they hope to gain.
As noted at the beginning of this entry, Sports Illustrated’s Lidstrom photo gallery is just gorgeous, and the captions aren’t slouches, either:
Along with his defensive prowess, Lidstrom was consistently productive on offense, routinely scoring between 10 and 20 goals with 40 to 64 assists per season. He led all NHL defensemen with 73 points in 1999-2000, and in 2005-06, his 64 assists and 80 points set team records while topping all blueliners. On December 15, 2010—at the age of 40—he notched his first career hat trick, secured by an empty-net goal vs. the Blues in Detroit. “He’s done everything else,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after the game. “He might as well do that.” Lidstrom retired with 264 career goals, 878 assists (21st all time) and 1,142 points (50th).
Even Strength’s Ian Dunham asked me to take a gander at his blog entry about Lidstrom, and while I know we talk about Lidstrom’s positioning, stick as a defensive weapon, passing and simple presence, Ian’s and I remember Lidstrom’s shot most readily, though I’ve got to snicker about one of the comments he made given that he wrote his tribute to “Crimson Five” before Monday night’s Coach’s Corner snub:
The rockets launched by the Swedish Commander are what will make the highlight reels, and rightly so. Lidstrom’s authority during Detroit power plays is what I will miss most. But defensemen who have mastered the blue line bomb are fairly commonplace in the National Hockey League. It is Lidstrom’s psionic control of the game, his opiate like effect on the nerves of fans and teammates, and his off ice grace that will define his legacy.
Having never seen the revered Bobby Orr play, the man widely regarded as hockey’s finest defenseman, I cannot attest to his greatness as a player. I am happy to take the word of previous generations in this matter. What I can and MUST say, as I hope you all do too, is that Lidstrom is the greatest defenseman of the modern era, and perhaps ever.
An argument can be made, that being a defenseman is more challenging than being a forward. The fact that around half of your time on the ice will be spent skating backwards, innately tougher than skating forward, supports this argument. How a blue liner, totally devoid of aggression, controlled the premier hockey league on the planet, almost defies logic. But, as we know, it happened. To shove Lidstrom’s resume in the face of the immutable Don Cherry, a man who endlessly claims that players from Europe are lacking in the heart department, would be a fitting rebuke to those who question the determination of the most euro-influenced organization in North America. Yes, will does beat skill. But skill combined with will is invincible, and Lidstrom is will plus skill personified.
Ian posted a brilliant video, too, eschewing schmaltz for frequent Wings video uploader Awood40’s ensemble of every playoff goal scored by the captain during each and every one of the four Stanley Cup runs he made:
And finally, at “other end of the spectrum” for the third or fourth time in this entry, I’m not thrilled about doing this, but given that I’m looking at something like a ridiculous $1,400 hotel bill at the frickin’ Super 8 in Traverse City to cover the prospect tournament from July 7th-14th, thanks in no small part due to the fact that the pedestrian hotels I like to frequent (give me a clean bed, wifi, a TV, fridge and air conditioning and I’m good) get to charge arms, legs and internal organs because the prospect camp coincides with the Cherry Festival…
I’ve gotta put the button out there, and ask that if you are able to lend a financial hand, I would be grateful. Here’s the inevitable Paypal button:
You’ll have to use my personal email address, rtxg at yahoo dot com, to donate, and if you want to aid the cause by some other manner or means, I can always start a Kickstarter account (which would allow you to track my progress and pay via Amazon.com accounts), and I don’t mind sharing the mailing address of my secret blogging lair via my other email address, georgemalik at kuklaskorner dot com.
Like I said yesterday, I’m more than willing to humiliate myself as necessary to raise funds.
I’ll try to end this differently: I’m curling up “early” by my standards, at 4 AM, and yes, I did the read the Swedish-Russian-Czech-Slovak-Finnish press fandango. No Wings news as of yet (we’ll get much more once the Swedes head home for the summer), but I smirked when reading Sport-Express’s Igor Larin suggest that if CSKA Moscow and its new GM, one Sergei Fedorov, does not manage to spend the $7.2 million US dollars that Salavat Yualev in Ufa is asking for compensation for Alexander Radulov’s rights, never mind whether CSKA actually manages to sign Radulov ahead of say, the Rangers (Larin’s most direct counterpart in terms of bombast, borderline paranoia and making stuff up some of the time but being disturbingly reliable at other times [like CBA negotiations] is, of course, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks), well…
Shucks, folks, yes, the oil and natural gas giant Rosneft, at Vladimir Putin’s urging, signed a big sponsorship deal with CSKA to help restore it to the kind of glory Gazprom’s petro-dollars (Gazprom is the biggest oil/natural gas company in Russia, Rosneft is #2, and guess who owns a controlling interest in both companies? The Russian government, surprise!), Russian hockey fans can lament the decline in the price of oil.
Sometimes Google Translate does a wonderful job of capturing the raw clunkiness of Russian when read by English eyes:
As it became known to the correspondent “SE”, the Russian national team forward Alexander Radulov, actively negotiating the acquisition of which leads CSKA in which the services are still interested in the SKA, and took a short break. 25-year-old hockey player on Sunday left the territory of Russia and a couple of days going to rest.
According to our information, some influence on the negotiations have, strange as it sounds, recent developments in the global economy. Due to the fall in oil prices has changed the ruble against the dollar, and now the NHL is easier to compete with the NHL in terms of wages. In this regard, accidental occurrence in the transfer market, “the New York Rangers” - the club, whose financial resources are limited unless the salary cap.
Nevertheless, the main contender for Radulov is CSKA. Most likely, Moscow club has reached an agreement with “Salavat” to acquire rights to a hockey player and now a decision on the contract should be accepted as a new club Radulov, and the player himself. It seems that the situation can be resolved in the near future - for example, in the middle of this week.
Given that Larin and Sergei Fedorov’s dad, Igor, were as much to blame for Sergei’s departure from the Red Wings by trying to negotiate his contract and make accusations about playing time, the Wings’ commitment to Sergei and his role in an Yzerman-led team through a Russian press neither man seemed to understand was accessible online (I first learned how to “read” Russian translations during those nasty negotiations between Fedorov and the Wings in 2003), and given that Andrei Nazarov can almost entirely thank his position as Severstal Cherepovets’ coach and the former coach of Vityaz Chekhov to the fact that Larin is so widely-regarded that his portrayal of Nazarov as “the boxer,” a misunderstood Russian star player who was instead forced to play the goon’s role to survive in an exclusively American NHL where coaches simply don’t understand how special Russian players truly are, and how they simply deserve favor, ice time, leadership roles and of course big, fat U.S. dollar paychecks because they are who they are…
My friends, Igor Larin is one of the main authors of the narrative that has contributed to the “Russian problem,” and with only one member of our beloved Russian Five still playing in Slava Kozlov, who’s still trying to find a KHL employer, at 40 years of age, in June (that’s a bad sign), Larin reminds us that Larionov might truly be the smartest for seeing the KHL as what it is—the nexus of oligarchs’ big boys toys, the last bastions of government-subsidized sports programs which operate at the whims and demands of their sponsors, and of course, the intertwination of “pure sport” and near-dictatorial, Soviet-era politicians’ interests.
Fetisov quit CSKA Moscow’s board in disgust earlier this year (he remains a force in the Russian Hockey Federation, though he’s far removed from his days as Russia’s Minister of Sport), Fedorov was brought in to reestablish CSKA’s prominence and Kozlov’s still trying to make a living, while Igor’s chosen to take the best and brightest youngsters he can and give them the most freedom to determine their own sporting and financial fates in a system of hockey where a sense of entitlement simply isn’t allowed.
We’ll talk about Vladdie a little more over the next couple of weeks, because Sports.ru’s Vadim Kuznetsov asked me to share some stories about him as June 13th will mark the 15th anniversary of the accident that nearly killed Vladdie and Sergei Mnatsakanov. Both remain in the community, and both are doing pretty well, all things considered, but especially given that Nick and Vladdie broke into the league during the same season, and that I can safely say that the Wings never truly replaced the hole on their blueline left by that of the player Konstantinov was becoming…
I still wonder what could have been today, I’m grateful as hell that Nick played for us for so long, and I hope that Vladdie’s there when Nick’s number is raised to the rafters sometime this fall.
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About The Malik Report
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.