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Red Wings overnight report: Cleary’s time to shine, on Saturday’s softball game and cool cat Commie

Updated 2x with Tatar in Slovak at 11:04 AM: In suggesting that Jiri Hudler, Niklas Kronwall, and, this morning, Danny Cleary‘s performances this upcoming season will be nothing less than pivotal to the Red Wings’ success during both the regular season and playoffs, the Free Press’s Helene St. James isn’t exactly telling Wings fans anything that the team’s management hasn’t spelled out either by suggestion or name over the past two seasons, but she’s spot-on in providing August reminders as to which players face significant pressure to live up to their potential, especially given the team’s off-season departures.

In Cleary’s case, providing substance behind one’s hype isn’t anything new, but especially with Kris Draper out of the picture, St. James very wisely suggests that Cleary can both improve upon his career-best 46-point season while attempting to cement his status as a top-six forward:

Since he joined the Wings on a tryout in 2005, Cleary has gone from grunt to go-to guy, the kind who is on the ice late in close games. He’s a locker-room leader.

He’s a strong skater, responsible defensively and loves to shoot the puck, which makes him a good fit on any line. He played with nearly everyone last season, from lines one through three, from Pavel Datsyuk to Henrik Zetterberg to Valtteri Filppula to Modano. Cleary is suited to playing with Datsyuk, because Cleary is a big body who plays a pesky game, the type who can help “keep the flies” off Datsyuk, as coach Mike Babcock likes to put it.

Cleary will go into the corner to dig out the puck, will go to the front of the net and won’t hesitate to shoot (he was second on the team in 2010-11 in goals and third in shots).

He could have a more secure position this season as a top-six forward, depending on what happens with Tomas Holmstrom. Holmstrom has been a mainstay as one of Datsyuk’s wingers for years, but he is getting up in age (38) and might be more useful as mainly a power-play guy. Cleary should challenge for time there, too, instead of being left off the power play as he was during the playoffs, even as the Wings sputtered against the Sharks, finishing that series 4-for-28.

At $2.8 million, Cleary is an excellent value for the Wings. He has produced at least 40 points in four of the past five seasons and scored 20 or more goals three times during that stretch. He should feel good about himself after last season and build on that this season.

I’m just guessing at this point, but if we were to attempt to discern St. James’ remaining targets in the, “Time to shine” category, they’d include Valtteri Filppula (this should be the year he establishes himself as a 50-point forward), Johan Franzen (the Wings need him to prove he can stay interested, engaged, and post 40 goals while staying healthy), Brad Stuart (his point production should increase without last year’s drop-off in defensive performance when pressing offensively), Jonathan Ericsson (he’s got $3.25 million reasons to prove he’s the top-four defenseman the Wings’ coaches and management insist he can become) and maybe even Todd Bertuzzi (now that the physical shackles are off after his run-in with Ryan Johnson, Bertuzzi can at least reestablish himself as a more physical force) and Jimmy Howard (see: take the 2-year contract extension and lather, rinse, repeat and work on controlling those rebounds), with Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader (see: keep on keepin’ on) as possible targets as well.

Unlike the first time the Sharks defeated the Wings in the second round of the playoffs, Mike Babcock didn’t necessarily name the players he expects to step forward so that the Wings can improve from within, but we all know the identities of said players.

Ty Conklin and Joey MacDonald effectively off-set Osgood’s retirement in terms of delivering up to 20 wins while spelling Howard, Ian White should at least be able to post 35 of the 45-55 points Brian Rafalski mustered and Mike Commodore will, at the very least, push Jakub Kindl and provide some physical punch, literally and figuratively, but if the Wings are to withstand the departures of Osgood, Rafalski and Kris Draper in terms of leadership and poise as well as offensive and defensive aplomb, it’s the players the Wings have deemed as their up-and-coming core who will determine whether the team can prove the, “This is finally the year that the Wings are no longer playoff contenders” doubters wrong.

If you haven’t already and repeatedly been made aware of the fact that Joey Kocur and the Red Wings’ Alumni Association will be holding a charity softball game in Highland, MI on Saturday to benefit a host of local charities, Kocur himself did quite the job of selling the event while reminiscing upon his days as a “Bruise Brother” on WDFN’s Sean, Terp and Killer show on Thursday afternoon:

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I’m pretty sure that the Wings have already signed off on the fact that Mike Commodore is what my parents might have called a “free spirit” or a “different kind of bird,” but if you weren’t already certain that Commodore’s, shall we say, a bit of a renaissance man, the Grand Forks Herald’s Ryan S. Clark more or less confirms as much while reporting that Commodore’s shifted his off-season training locale from California to his alma mater in the University of North Dakota as he attempts to reestablish himself as an NHL regular:

“It is a big year for me,” Commodore said. “And I need to do something if I want to stick around for a while.”
He only played in 20 games last season for the Blue Jackets and scored 6 points. Commodore said Columbus was nice enough to buy him out of his deal before going to Detroit. Going to the Red Wings means Commodore has a legit chance at a Stanley Cup. It means he has a chance to learn from defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, a man generally regarded as the league’s best defenseman over the last decade.

The move also re-started the “Commodore 64” talk, which has always surrounded him. Fans have wanted to see Commodore take the No. 64 because of the old school Commodore 64 8-bit computer. Commodore, who has nearly 27,000 Twitter followers, put out a tweet saying he would consider it. That led to blogs and other campaigns for him to get the No. 64.

“I went back and forth about it for two months and the equipment manager kept texting me, ‘What number, what number?’” Commodore said. “What it came down to is it this is going to be a big year for me and I know it’s a number, but I need to be out here in something I am comfortable with.”

These days, Commodore would know about comfort. He has the comfort of knowing he has a chance to make an impact and knowing he can extend his career. But lately, he’s had the comfort of sleeping in a Chevy Camaro.

“We have training from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and lunch a little bit after that,” Commodore said. “So, I go out to the Camaro, get in the passenger seat and get about 20 to 30 minutes worth of rest.”

Hockey players and naps go together like @commie22 and Twitter.

I mentioned this in passing on Thursday afternoon, but Crain’s Detroit Business’s Bill Shea wisely noted that the Red Wings’ decision to stick with its current beer sponsor happens to dovetail very nicely with the NHL’s official sponsorship with MillerCoors:

The extension solidifies the relationship between the beer maker and the Ilitch family’s sports teams.

In April, the Ilitch-owned Detroit Tigers announced that they had swapped corporate beer sponsors this season, ending a long relationship with Anheuser-Busch — purveyors of Budweiser and Bud Light — in favor of that brewer’s chief rival, MillerCoors. Buffalo-based Sportservice, owned by Delaware North Cos., handles the beer concession for the Tigers at Comerica Park.

In February, MillerCoors signed a seven-year, $400 million corporate sponsorship deal with the National Hockey League, replacing Anheuser-Busch. That was a marketing deal, however, and not a leaguewide concession agreement.

MillerCoors was created in 2007 as a joint venture between South Africa’s SABMiller plc and U.S.-Canadian beer conglomerate Molson Coors Brewing Co. to compete with Belgium’s Anheuser-Busch InBev N.V., whose 25 percent market share makes it the world’s larger brewer.

Under the new deal, Miller Lite is the Wings’ official domestic beer and Molson Canadian its official imported beer.

The brewer sponsors the Miller Lite Party Deck, a large suite at Joe Louis, and has a variety of branding signs at the arena.

Again, with the whole severe alcohol allergy thingy going on, the only thing that registers is the social awkwardness that’s involved in explaining to people that I’ve never missed something I didn’t drink…

And I mentioned this in passing, too, but it’s kinda important in that there are prizes involved: Red Wings social media coordinator Jake Duahime’s working on getting armchair GM’s out of their August malaise by challenging Wings fans to build their “dream teams”:

- Your roster must consist of 20 active NHL players, with 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders. When submitting your roster, please list the line each player will be on. (I.E. Datsyuk/Zetterberg/Holmstrom or Lidstrom/Stuart)

- You can only select ONE player from each NHL club. You may select a maximum of TWO Red Wings. With 30 NHL teams, you are not required to have every team represented.

- You must explain the reasoning of your roster and why it would be successful in 300 words or less.

- Give your roster a team name, for the sheer fun of it.

Submit your roster and reasoning to r.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) by 12:00 noon on Wednesday, August 10th. We’ll have our panel of experts select three to five finalists and let our fans pick a winner on Facebook.

The General Manager with the best hypothetical ‘NHL Dream Team’ will win an autographed Nick Lidstrom ‘No Limits’ poster AND a signed ‘Jimmy Howard ‘No Limits’ poster, so be sure to submit your name and address with your entry.

The Wings’ third round of bobblehead voting continues on Facebook as well.

Also of Red Wings-related note: As mentioned on Thursday morning, the Red Wings’ coaches will spend much of this month hanging out while scouting potential prospects at this month’s various World Junior development camps and international tournaments, and the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson has this to say about their presence at Team Canada’s World Junior selection camp in Edmonton:

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and his new assistants Jeff Blashill (formerly of Western Michigan University) and Bill Peters (from the Rockford IceHogs, the Chicago Blackhawks’ AHL farm team), are taking in the development camp even though the Red Wings don’t have a single player here. They can look at two defencemen — Ryan Murray and Cody Ceci — who are eligible for next June’s draft however. Both are only 17 years old .

Right now, it’s more important that the coaches get comfortable with each other than scout tomorrow’s potential Wings picks, but a little early exposure to the 2012 entry draft’s crop of prospects never hurts…

• For eligible “further reading,” should you feel like doing so: The Free Press attempts to reignite the, “Is Chris Osgood a Hall of Famer?” debate via a reader column, Dominik from Lighthouse Hockey explains why new goalie helmet-cage combos are equal to their one-piece mask competitors in terms of safety, and if you missed it, Puck Daddy discussed the whole, “Should the NHL have left ESPN?” conundrum;

• In alumni news, part 1: NHL.com’s John Kreiser mentioned two former Wings in his list of the best rookie seasons ever…

Steve Yzerman
Birthday: May 9, 1965
Drafted: No. 4 in 1983 by Detroit
1983-84: 39-48-87

It might seem incredible now, but Yzerman wasn’t the player the Detroit Red Wings had hoped to draft with the fourth choice in 1983. They really wanted Pat LaFontaine, who had played in the Detroit area and (they felt) might help sell tickets for a team that was having trouble at the box office. But when the New York Islanders nabbed LaFontaine with the No. 3 pick in the draft, the Wings had to “settle” for Yzerman, a high-scoring center with Peterborough of the OHL.

Though Yzerman had the best scoring numbers of any rookie in 1983-84, he finished second in voting for the Calder Trophy to Buffalo goaltender Tom Barrasso, a fellow 18-year-old. Yzerman’s presence helped the Wings improve by 12 points and make the playoffs. He became the Wings’ captain when he was 21, went on to score as many as 155 points in a season and later became one of hockey’s greatest leaders while sparking the Wings to three Stanley Cups and earning a berth in the Hall of Fame.
Larry Murphy
Birthday: March 8, 1961
Drafted: No. 4 in 1980 by Los Angeles
1980-81: 16-60-76

In the expansion era, no defenseman has had a bigger effect on his team in the first season after he was drafted than Larry Murphy did with Los Angeles in 1980-81.

The Kings, who historically had struggled defensively, took Murphy with the fourth choice in 1980 and wasted no time putting him into the lineup. They were rewarded with a 16-goal, 76-point season—still the most assists and points by a first-year defenseman in NHL history—and a 25-point improvement in the standings.

Los Angeles dealt Murphy to Washington in 1983-84, and he went on to win Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh and Detroit en route to the Hall of Fame.

• In the alumni department, part 2: I’m slightly afraid about the fact that Stan Fischer’s speaking about a Red Wing in a positive light:

Kris Draper’s retirement comes as no surprise because—like Mark Recchi and Chris Osgood—he has paid his NHL dues in full, and then some.

After three cups of coffee with the old Winnipeg Jets, Draper graced the Detroit Red Wings’ roster for 17 seasons and, during that time, he was an integral part of no less than four Stanley Cup-winning squads. His fine blend of skill and tenacity on the ice was equaled by his naturally giving personality away from the arena.

For more than a decade, Draper was Detroit’s Goodwill Ambassador Without Portfolio but with hockey stick. We wish this good man well in whatever role he chooses.

• And finally, in charitable news, from the Grand Rapids Griffins:

On Saturday, Aug. 20, kids can receive a free bike helmet from the Grand Rapids Griffins and race their bikes over the cobblestones and through the streets of downtown Grand Rapids!

Registration is open for the 2011 Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Kids’ Race, part of the 5th annual Herman Miller Grand Cycling Classic. All children 9 years old and younger are welcome to participate, and parents are encouraged to take advantage of advance online registration at GRCyclingClassic.com. Registration is free.

Helmets are required to participate, and the first 100 registrants will receive a free helmet courtesy of the Griffins’ “Put A Lid On It!” program and Safe Kids Greater Grand Rapids. In addition, every kid who participates will receive a special prize from the Griffins: a voucher good for two free tickets to any Sunday home game during the upcoming 2011-12 season!

Update: Pretty cool: Reebok Hockey’s Facebook page posted pictures of Pavel Datsyuk showing off the company’s new stick, the AI 9;

• The Grand Rapids Press’s Steve Vedder spoke to Washington Capitals forward Mike Knuble about his status as a 39-year-old slowly skating toward the end of his pro career…

Knuble is under no illusions that hockey means the same to him as when he played four seasons at Michigan from 1991-95, made his NHL debut with the Detroit Red Wings in 1996 and had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup a year later.

“It’s different because you’re a different person than you were in your 20s,” he said. “But if you’re not happy to be here, you can’t fake it. You’ve got to want to be here.”

As for the winding down of his career, Knuble said there are a couple points he considers. Because he still makes his home in the Grand Rapids area, Knuble said he wouldn’t mind working for the Grand Rapids Griffins in some capacity. But before that, the thought of ending his career with the Red Wings is intriguing.

“I started thinking about (the end) years ago, but you can’t pay too much attention to it. I do want to stay in the game,” he said. “I don’t want to move my family and I want to be here. Playing for the Red Wings would mean coming full circle, and it would be a nice way to end my career. That would be a good story and it would be fun. But I still love hockey and I would play anywhere.”

• And the Trenton Patch’s Byron Trimble reports that new Wings assistant coach Jeff Blashill lent a hand at New Jersey Devils defenseman Andy Greene’s hockey camp recently.

Update #2: Pravda.sk spoke to Tomas Tatar recently, and I’m recruiting a Slovak pal to help translate it.

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MsRedWinger's avatar

I think Dan Cleary has proven his worth.  All he has to do is stay healthy.  The guys I am looking at to step up (and stay healthy) are Franzen and Filppula.  Ericsson, obviously has a lot to prove.  But Franzen especially, it seems to me, had a very iffy season this past year.  He has certainly not been the goal scoring or physical force he should be ever since his serious knee injury a couple of seasons ago. 

Overall, though, I’m optimistic.  I think the new guys will add some new energy and maybe the hockey gods will look elsewhere to place the injury bug this season.

cool smile

Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 08/05/11 at 10:58 AM ET

Tripwire32's avatar

I’ve never missed something I didn’t drink…

Though I frequently enjoy a taste of the spirits, I must say you are correct with your thinking that you aren’t missing anything.

Posted by Tripwire32 from Kay He Mar Heart on 08/05/11 at 11:54 AM ET

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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.