The Malik Report
by George Malik on 08/16/11 at 08:08 AM ET
Between the time that Aftonbladet’s Tomas Ros stated that the Red Wings had signed Fabian Brunnstrom to a try-out on Monday morning and Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill confirmed as much during the afternoon, enough, “Oh, how the mighty have fallen” lines were written either on blogs, hockey websites or Twitter to pave Brunnstrom’s way from Sweden to Detroit.
I’d prefer not to view Brunnstrom’s situation in that light—for me, it’s more like, “Boy, the situation’s really different now,” mostly because my cursory glances at over two dozen Swedish newspapers over the summer have involved so much eyelash-batting regarding Brunnstrom potentially signing with an Eliteserien team and polite rebuttals from Brunnstrom’s camp that I simply can’t say that I’m surprised that Brunnstrom latched on with an NHL team. Maybe if there’s any irony, it’s that he signed with his chief pursuer three years ago, but other than, that…
How do I want to put this? Since April, really, Brunnstrom was going to be the consolation prize for, well…The team that didn’t snag Dick Axelsson on the Eliteserien’s free agent “transfer” market. Axelsson’s new team, Modo Ornskoldsvik, his old team, Farjestads BK, Daniel Larsson’s team, HV71 Jonkoping and several other teams’ general managers made very strong suggestions to the press that they would manage to convince Brunnstrom to come home, and in just about every instance, Brunnstrom or his agents would either say that they were flattered by the offer but were looking for an NHL spot for Brunnstrom or that he might get back to them if nothing panned out in the NHL.
Initially, Brunnstrom wanted to re-sign with the Maple Leafs, who acquired him from Dallas last January and left him in the AHL, and then when free agency hit on July 1st, and when the fireworks wound down toward the middle of the month, an understated but persistent “Brunnstrom watch” kept yielding the same result in the, “He’s looking for an NHL job” response.
If anything, Brunnstrom got exactly what he wanted and exactly what the Wings were wary of giving him three years ago in a guaranteed spot in the Dallas Stars’ top-six forward lineup and the expectations which come with said position despite having no North American experience, and Brunnstrom did what prospects who are thrust into action before earning their spots while dealing with adjustments to a very different style and pace of play as well as cultural and linguistic issues do…He didn’t live up to his expectations of being the “best player outside the NHL” simply because he was posting the best numbers outside of the NHL as an undrafted free agent who was a in his first year of pro hockey with Farjestads BK.
That lack of pro hockey experience and probably conditioning came back to bite him, so while Brunnstrom is indeed 6’2,” weighs 212 pounds according to the Sports Forecaster and is a speedy player, he’s also 26 and boasts 40 points in both 99 NHL games and 81 AHL games, and as such, TSF assesses his pluses and minuses rather astutely:
ASSETS: Has good NHL size and blazing speed. Can put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses with his skill and can also score highlight-reel goals.
FLAWS: Lacks consistency, especially in terms of his commitment to playing defense. Needs to shoot the puck more and keep his game simple.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Inconsistent scoring winger.
Brunnstrom was too inconsistent and too noncommittal too often, too early in an over-hyped and perhaps over-sold NHL career which resulted in benchings, temporary and then permanent demotions to the AHL.
At this point, and especially as the Swedish Eliteserien’s training camps have opened, there’s more of a sense of resignation to the fact that he was going to doggedly pursue NHL employment from the Swedish press, so his decision to try out with the Wings hasn’t resulted in many ripples both here and there (at least as of the time I’m writing this, around 5 AM). All I could find this morning was an interview he conducted with Hockeyligan.se:
Brunnstrom: “Great to have a chance”
Fabian Brunnstrom has been, to say the least, coveted by Eliteserien clubs before the 2011/20121 season. But the forward himself has always said that it’s the NHL that he [wants to play in], and now it’s also true that the 26-year-old will get the chance to break into the NHL again.
“I’ve signed a try-out contract with an NHL team and it feels fantastic,” said Brunnstrom to Hockeyligan.se.
Brunnstrom, the former Farjestad player, spent all of this past season in the AHL, where the Jonstorp native registered 35 points in 72 games with the Texas Stars and the Toronto Marlies. The Toronto Maple Leafs organization then chose, as wek now, to let the Swede go, but it’s now apparent that he’ll receive another opportunity to earn a spot in the NHL.
“I have signed a try-out contract with an NHL team, but I can’t say which team it is before they themselves have announced it,” said Brunnstrom, and he continues:
“It’s not optimal to have a try-out contract, but it still feels fantastic and I’m glad that I now have the chance to play for a spot in the NHL. I’ve trained hard all summer and I’m charged up for this. The NHL’s what I was hoping for the whole time.”
During his debut season in the NHL (2008-2009 with the Dallas Stars), Brunnstrom registered 29 points in 55 games, and he has 40 points in 99 NHL games overall for Dallas.
And as we already know, the Red Wings already have at least 13 forwards’ spots on their roster spoken for. Both Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton would have to clear waivers to be sent down to the NHL, and while coach Mike Babcock’s stated that Mursak’s made the team, Emmerton’s status is a little more murky as neither Babcock nor the management are willing to guarantee that he’ll make the team.
All of that being said, the Wings are fine and dandy with the concept of bringing in another forward to happily complicate their plans, and it’s worth repeating Jim Nill’s comments to the Wings’ press corps about Brunnstrom because he simply doesn’t view the player who won’t be wearing his favorite number, 96, as washed-up in any way, shape or form.
Nill told the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema that Brunnstrom’s situation is not unique...
“Things just haven’t gone the way he wanted to. He actually approached us and said he’d like another opportunity,” Nill said. “He knows now what it takes to be a pro after it probably caught him a little off guard being a younger guy from Sweden. I think he just said, ‘You know what, if I’m going to have a chance to be a pro maybe I can do it in Detroit.’ We said, ‘You’re welcome to come and try out,’ and he accepted.”
The 26-year-old became just the third player in NHL history to notch a hat trick in his debut on Oct. 15, 2008 against Nashville, and tallied 17 goals, 12 assists and a minus-8 rating in 55 games as a rookie in 2008-09. But he had just two goals and nine assists in 44 games the following season and had trouble adjusting to NHL hockey. The 6-foot-1, 206-pound left wing was traded to Toronto last season for forward Mikhail Stefanovich, but never played for the Maple Leafs. Instead, he appeared in 35 games for the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, where he had four goals and 10 assists.
The Red Wings’ 23-man roster is set. There is no room for any additions without moving a player. Brunnstrom would have to beat out somebody in training camp or the preseason—Jiri Hudler would be the most likely candidate, but even that is unlikely to happen—to earn a contract, unless the team suffers a long-term injury before the season.
“It’s up to the player coming in. It’s much like Mikael Samuelsson or Dan Cleary, who came to camps on tryouts five, six, seven years ago,” Nill said. “The opportunity is there, it’s just how you play. If he comes in and plays well and is better than somebody else, then we’ll make things happen. It’s performance-based. If he’s somebody that can help us win games, then he’s going to be in the mix. But we’ll let that play itself out.”
It’s entirely possible—if not probable—that Brunnstrom will have to reestablish himself as a reliable scorer at the AHL level if he doesn’t beat a Wing out for a spot on the team’s roster—and as The Production Line’s Michael Petrella noted on Twitter, the Wings have 49 spots on their 50-man roster spoken for, so Brunnstrom might find himself sent to the AHL on a try-out basis with the Grand Rapids Griffins, should he not make the team, so the Wings could keep that 50th spot open and/or sign a prospect that they’ve invited to their prospect tournament—but Nill told Zuidema that the Wings have yet to cross that bridge with Brunnstrom:
“I really haven’t talked to him about that,” Nill said. “His focus is to come here and make the Red Wings and we’ll go from there.”
As Nill told the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan, there’s simply no risk for the Red Wings or Brunnstrom here:
“It’s about competition, and if he comes in and plays better than someone else, we’ll find a place (for him),” Jim Nill, the Wings’ assistant general manager, said. “Things probably haven’t gone as he would have liked, but this is an opportunity.”
Brunnstrom, 26, signed with the Stars after a hyped free-agent tour and scored three goals in his first NHL game. He wound up with 17 goals and 12 assists in his rookie season in 55 games. But Brunnstrom, who’s 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds, only had two goals and nine assists in 44 games with Dallas the following season, and last season was traded to Toronto.
Brunnstrom, though, never played for the Maple Leafs, spending the season with Toronto’s minor league team (four goals, 10 assists).
“The big thing is consistency, we want to see consistency out of him,” Nill said. “He understands now what it takes to be a pro at this level. He maybe didn’t understand that coming out of Sweden. He’s in the same boat that Mikael Samuelsson or Danny Cleary were, guys coming in on pro tryouts. It worked out for those guys.”
It didn’t work out for Blake Sloan or Rem Murray the year that Cleary beat the pair out for a spot on the roster, and it didn’t work out for Brent Sopel in Detroit, but he at least turned enough heads to land a spot with the Chicago Blackhawks…
And that’s entirely possible for Brunnstrom as well. If he can’t beat the Wings’ roster crunch, if he still plays well enough to intrigue another team with a little less depth and/or a team that runs into injuries, well, the Wings will thank him for his time and wish him well.
It’s sort of ideal that he comes in and messes up the Wings’ current plans, and would then theoretically re-establish himself as a top-flight prospect at a relatively young (by Red Wings standards) age, and while both he and the Wings’ consolation prize in the Brunnstrom sweepstakes (the Canadiens and Stars were also “finalists” for Brunnstrom’s services, but the Leafs and something like a dozen other teams were interested in him), one Ville Leino, moved on, Brunnstrom’s finally coming to Detroit to receive the two things he would have gotten three years ago in a supportive atmosphere and a willingness to accept bumps in the road performance-wise.
If he forces the Wings to make a move, great. If not, hopefully he finds another NHL team that’s willing to take a chance on him, and if not, the Grand Rapids Griffins could always use another veteran to help Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist in the scoring department, and perhaps a mentor for Nyquist as well.
Any way you slice it, he gets to start again with a team that’s known for doing some of its best work in the reclamation project department, and maybe that’s the best thing Brunnstrom could hope for.
The Wings are much more “vested” and “invested” in the reclamation project that is Mike Commodore, who the Wings have given a $1 million contract to attempt to do a little more than just push Jakub Kindl, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James suggests:
Commodore, 31, had six points in 20 games for Columbus last season. Three years ago, the Blue Jackets hyped their signing of the 6-foot-4 D-man, giving him $18.75 million for five years. Commodore had a good first year, delivering 24 points in 81 games and edging the Jackets into the playoffs for the first time in their eight-year history. (They were swept by the Wings.) Various injuries limited Commodore to 57 games in 2009-10, and in the summer of ‘10, the Blue Jackets introduced a new coach, Scott Arniel. Commodore became the extra defenseman, was eventually put on waivers and sent to the minors, then bought out.
As St. James states, Commodore’s resume prior to his career with the Blue Jackets spoke volumes for #22 as a steady stay-at-home defenseman with a nasty edge and a “glue guy’s” locker room temperament, but on Mike Babcock’s team, it’s all about letting bygones be bygones career-wise as well as personally as Commodore attempts to reestablish himself as an NHL regular:
He joins a blue-line corps headlined by Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart, and also featuring newcomer Ian White, as well as Jonathan Ericsson, who just got $9.75 million for three years. Jakub Kindl comes in having impressed with a strong second half last season, and prospect Brendan Smith is expected to use training camp to make a case for staying in Detroit.
For Commodore to stick, he must make himself valuable by limiting penalties, showing he can be a reliable penalty killer and not complaining when he’s out of the rotation. Depth on defense is one of the key reasons teams succeed, especially in the playoffs, and if Commodore shows some of the form he had just a few seasons ago, he could be a valuable asset.
In other words, the Wings wouldn’t mind if Commodore displayed the aplomb of Drew Miller, who performs very well when he’s dressed and shrugs his shoulders when he finds out that he’ll be watching his teammates play. And again, if he doesn’t work out here, by the time the Wings would be interested in making any moves, Commodore would be a relatively affordable and still established-enough defenseman to garner a look-see from somebody else.
In many cases, including the try-outs the Wings have invited to the prospect tournament (starting with the massive Ramis Sadikov), the Wings already have a pretty good handle on how their roster should shape up, but it’s a good thing if players perform so well that they force the coaching staff and management to reassess their plans on the fly.
Along those lines, RedWingsCentral’s Sarah Lindenau and the Production Line’s Michael Petrella stated the same thing on Monday: as of today, former draft picks Nick Oslund and Bryan Rufenach are attending training camp as free agent try-outs because the Wings declined to sign them before their NCAA rights have now expired. Lindenau explains why this happened:
The 6-foot-3, 210 pound Oslund never developed into the hard hitting gritty forward the Red Wings coveted when they drafted him with a seventh round pick in 2006. In his four years with St. Cloud State University, the Minnesota native produced just 10 goals and 25 points in 146 NCAA games. Oslund is a good skater with size, but he lacks the ability to contribute offensively and he doesn’t play physical for a player of his stature.
The 6-foot, 187 pound Rufenach is an offensive defenseman who hasn’t developed a strong enough defensive game to earn a contract with Detroit. The Cameron, Ontario product was a seventh round selection in the 2007 NHL draft who intrigued the Wings with his skating ability and offensive potential. In his four seasons with Clarkson University, Rufenach notched 21 goals and 55 points in 136 NCAA games. Rufenach’s skating and good overall offensive instincts allowed him to be Clarkson’s top threat on the blue line, but his defensive game and decision making skills were maddening for fans to watch. Both he and Oslund will have one final chance to impress the Wings brass this September in Traverse City, MI.
This is where another “equation” comes in—the developmental equation. When a player’s drafted, a team is more or less betting that the player’s body, brain, hockey skill set and level of playing experience and/or opportunities earned will all converge by the end of the team’s ownership of the prospect’s rights, and that the older, wiser, stronger and better player will fit into the team’s plans to the point that they merit a contract and further time to develop.
Getting the brain, body, hockey skills and experience of an 18-year-old to progress to the point that they’re AHL or ECHL-ready in two years (in the cases of players who’re playing Major Junior hockey or in a European league) or even four (in the case of NCAA-playing prospects) is a tall task and then some, so the equation produces more players who aren’t ready than those who are…
And in the cases of Oslund and Rufenach, they simply haven’t developed far enough along as amateurs to merit pro consideration. I’ve been able to watch the pair over the course of the three summer development camps I’ve attended, and I can tell you that Oslund’s always shown flashes of talent as a third-line grinder with size to spare and an offensive knack, but he’s one of those players who’s always had the tools but couldn’t seem to build the toolbox to keep ‘em in. He’ll get a job somewhere because of his size and potential—and because in terms of his brain, he’s certainly grown from a little-too-gregarious youngster into a level-headed and hard-working young man—but it won’t be with the Wings.
The same’s true of Rufenach, who occasionally displays the classic, “Undersized Red Wings offensive defenseman’s” levels of scoring, playmaking and skating, but he fades into the woodwork far too regularly, and his gambles tend to involve making complicated plays instead of the safe, simple ones. He’s also always going to battle “small man’s syndrome,” which is unfortunate as he’s physical enough and sneaky enough—when he wants to be—to quash any such concerns.
I hope they both prove me and anyone else who doubts them wrong and complicate the hell out of their situations with the Wings during the prospect tournament and main camp, but it’s going to take some tremendously dominant performances from both of them for that to happen.
While we’re talking about prospects, according to the Telegraph Journal’s Scott Briggs, Red Wings prospect Tomas Jurco and the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs are starting their training camp on Wednesday…
I’ve been talking about charity hockey games, softball games or golf tournaments for the past few weeks, so here’s a spiffy fiscal figure as a follow-up: According to Allehanda.se’s Mikael Nordstrand, Peter Forsberg’s Icebreakers team, which played in three charity games in Umea, Norrkoping and Nykoping, and whose roster included Henrik Zetterberg and, depending on the game, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, raised 1.1 million Swedish Kronor, or about $170,000 US;
I’m not sure what to do with this one. Sovetsky Sport’s Pavel Lyasenkov spoke to KHL commentator Sergey Gimaev (according to Alex Ovetjkin, he’s the most popular KHL TV personality) about the possibility of Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Bryzgalov (seriously), Sergei Gonchar or Pavel Datsyuk possibly becoming the captains of their respective NHL teams, and Gimaev suggested that it’s Datsyuk, not Henrik Zetterberg, who should succeed Nicklas Lidstrom as Zetterberg isn’t a “unique” player and Datsyuk is one.
I could see Datsyuk being the captain, but I don’t think he’d be very comfortable with the job, even if his English was more like Lidstrom’s than Tomas Holmstrom’s.
I continue to hate to do so, but here’s the Paypal button. The prospect tournament and training camp are two weeks long, and while I know I’ve probably exhausted your charity to fund heading to the summer development camp, I can’t afford to spend 15 days in Traverse City on my own, so any penny you can spare helps, big time:
Again, you’ll have to use my email address, rtxg at yahoo dot com, to donate…please and thank you and this makes me feel really uncomfortable, still.
And I wrote this yesterday morning but thought it was too stupid and cheesy to put in the blog. Now I think I might as well say it:
I can only offer a truthful sales pitch: Alanah and I had a chat a few weeks ago and she mentioned that there are the kinds of bloggers who’d wear, “I’m kind of a big deal on my blog” t-shirts, and I said that I’ve always wanted a t-shirt that says, “Nobody cares what you think!” (as in me). I’m very confident in my writing skills and take quite a bit of pride in doing a good job, but I don’t see how channeling a little OCD into trying to make it a little easier to follow the Wings and/or trying to offer some thoughtful but partisan observations is a big deal.
This is much more about sharing the stories I’d be looking for on my own anyway and trying to pursue a dream in covering the Wings for a living than it is about ego or listening to myself speak. I just put this stuff out here as regularly as possible and in in large part being able to do so and get paid for it is a reward in itself. Other than trying to be thoughtful and trying to write well, I could give a rat’s ass about my image or what people say about me or any of that other crap. Get the news out, toss out some opinions, let the smart people (readers) talk about it and move on to the next thing. Those are my priorities…
And I’ve blabbed way too damn long about myself so I’ll try to shut up and get back to work because it’s incredibly uncomfortable for me to write about this kind of stuff.
Tremendously uncomfortable, but I don’t know how else to say it other than to admit that I’m doing the work I’d do anyway, I hope it’s helpful and aside from trying to make a living of it, the ego crap just doesn’t matter.
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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.