The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/22/12 at 07:12 AM ET
Updated 2x at 11:41 AM: Joe Louis Arena’s ice surface wasn’t available on Saturday afternoon, and with “WWE Smackdown” coming to town on Monday (Shea Weber hasn’t asked for tickets yet), it’s incredibly likely that the Red Wings, who flew home after their playoff ouster on Friday night, will assemble today to take their team picture on the ice, and then speak to the media while cleaning out their lockers.
From there, the Wings’ players will spend the next week or two coming to and from the Joe to have end-of-the-season physicals (Henrik Zetterberg’s the first Wing to have all but committed to heading over to Helsinki/Stockholm to play in the World Championships, telling Expressen’s Mattias Eriksson that he can leave town after his physical on Tuesday, as long as the Wings are OK with him playing at the Worlds) and exit interviews with the coaches and management.
Said coaches and management will speak a little more regularly with the press over the course of this upcoming week, making the radio and TV rounds, and players will give interviews and let the press know when/if they’re having surgery (see: Danny Cleary’s knee and possilby Joey MacDonald’s back), but other than that, the ones who have children enrolled in school in Metro Detroit will stick around until the end of the school year, those who feel healthy enough and have enough energy to play for their respective countries at the World Championships will do so, and the rest will pack up and head off to their summer homes, and after that…
The Wings haven’t been eliminated from the playoffs this early since 2006, but based upon the way the media in this city—whose mainstream TV, radio, newspaper and even internet outlets’ managerial and marketing staffs in Washington, DC and New York don’t seem to understand that just because we’re on the American side of the Detroit River doesn’t meant that its sports fans want to talk about the Lions and Tigers all damn year long—tends to operate, the weekend sports shows will more or less do their season wrap-ups tonight, the customary appearances on 97.1 FM, WJR, WDFN, WCSX and WRIF will trickle to a stop by the end of the week, and we’ve got about ten to twelve days of regular hockey stories before the beat writers move on to other topics or call it a spring on the first of May (their grades will probably be kinder than my guest columnist’s takes)...
When we’ll all go into Nicklas Lidstrom/Tomas Holmstrom watch mode and wait for foreign-language news sources to keep us going between now and the NHL Awards in mid-June (it certainly sounds like Lidstrom will be named a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy on Monday, so we’ll have one player heading to Vegas on June 20th to look for) and the draft in Pittsburgh (on June 22nd and 23rd).
By then, in theory, anyway, between CBA negotiations and the imminent start of free agency on July 1st, we’ll know what range the salary cap will fall into, and in terms of the Wings’ present and future financial obligations (click for Capgeek.com’s Wings organizational chart), we should have a much better idea as to what the shape of the 2012-2013 Wings should look like as Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom and Brad Stuart will have made their decisions regarding their respective futures in Detroit, the team will either be working to re-sign Jiri Hudler (unrestricted free agent), Kyle Quincey (restricted free agent), Darren Helm (restricted free agent) and/or Justin Abdelkader (restricted free agent) or, in Hudler’s case, anyway, will be moving on, and as Cleary, MacDonald, Helm and Patrick Eaves (all of whom, MLive’s Ansar Khan reports, should be good to go come September) continue to heal, we’ll know whether the Wings will plan on making any interim or long-term replacements based upon any setbacks which might occur.
Then the Wings will get to work, obviously, but in terms of what you’re going to hear today, if not tomorrow and thereafter?
It sounds like Babcock and the coaching staff and Holland and the managerial staff are at least initially leaning toward bridging the gap between TSN’s Bob McKenzie’s suggestion that it’s time to spend and the National Post’s Michael Traikos’s suggestion that rebuilding by Detroit standards means placing full faith in the team’s prospects.
Between now and whatever updates roll in today, I’d highly suggest that you head over to the off-day post to watch some late-breaking videos from the Wings’ website in which Niklas Kronwall, Jimmy Howard and Nicklas Lidstrom speak to the media, and Puck Daddy (I’m sure that Lambert will write something terribly vicious and mean-spirited about the team which represents denizens of the third-world country he believes Metro Detroit to be) offered up Brad Stuart, who was even worse than Johan Franzen in terms of his playoff performance, as a scapegoat.
I don’t plan on overloading your Twitter/Facebook/email alerts/RSS readers with Nicklas Lidstrom panic, panic, panic, so don’t expect me to react to every Lidstrom story that’s out there. The AP’s Larry Lage filed this take on Lidstrom’s future…
“I’m going to take a few weeks,” Lidstrom said. “I’m sure Kenny wants to sit down and go over things as well. I’ll see what he wants to do and what timetable he’ll give me for me to make a decision.”
Lidstrom played in 70 games, missing more time because of injury than he ever has in his career. The Red Wings got knocked in the opening round for the first time since 2006 and haven’t gotten past the second round since 2009 when they were defending champions and lost to Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. Lidstrom, though, insisted his health and the team’s apparent decline are not making him lean toward retirement or returning for perhaps another $6 million, one-year contract.
“Right now, it’s just the disappointment of losing in the playoffs,” he said.
As well an obvious observation regarding the Wings’ most glaring weakness against Nashville…
The Red Wings were seventh in the NHL in scoring and goals against in the regular season, but they weren’t among the league leaders on offence or defence in the playoffs. Detroit’s lack of offence was really a problem against the Predators because it had so many miscues on defence that put Jimmy Howard vulnerable in one-on-one situations or left the net open.
“It hurt us for sure,” Lidstrom said.
And you already know this part:
If Lidstrom decides his career is over, it would be a setback for the Red Wings because they’re already expecting to have a hole on blue line without defenceman Brad Stuart, who wants to play closer to his family in Northern California.
“Regardless of what happens, it has been a great experience,” Stuart said.
If you’re willing to wait all thee way until the 8:09 mark of Saturday’s Satellite Hotstove from the CBC to hear Elliotte Friedman say that Lidstrom’s second-oldest son will join Kevin at an ice hockey school in Sweden next year, and that the combination of family issues and Tomas Holmstrom probably retiring means the end is near for the captain, go ahead, but I don’t expect that we’re going to hear anything definitive from Lidstrom on Sunday…
And I guess that’s my point: I don’t expect anyone, regardless of whether we’re talking about Babcock, Holland, Jim Nill, or any of the players to give a single answer as to what needs to be done to “fix” the Wings, over today or the next two or three months, that will satisfy fans like you and me.
We’re not used to the concept of having to wait four full months between this next week-or-so’s worth of comments and late August to hear much as a peep from the players when they reassemble for informal practices at Joe Louis Arena, and we’re certainly not used to the concept of four months without hockey in this city—nor should we be used to such a strange concept when the Wings expect themselves to at least make the Western Conference Finals each and every season—but as the press seizes upon the final quips and quotes their sound recorders capture over the next few days, I’m not sure that anyone really has satisfactory answers.
Quite frankly, I think that the autopsies of the Wings to come won’t reflect the picture the team gleans through those physicals, exit interviews and organizational meetings, from who was hurt with what to who believes they can do better, who wants out, which prospects seem most ready to make the jump or battle for NHL jobs next fall, or which players the management wants to target through trades or free agency…Those kinds of comprehensive assessments and decisions come together over time, and time is one thing the Wings’ coaches, management, players and fans have in abundance.
I wish I could give you an easy answer as to what the Big Red Machine could do to reload on the fly and guarantee dominance throughout both the regular season and playoffs, but I don’t have it, I don’t think that the pundits will be able to give anything but ideas and potential solutions to you, and the blunt and honest truth is that the Wings don’t have any definitive answers or solutions to their problems, either. Not yet, anyway.
Regarding the Wings who might keep playing hockey for a while, the Detroit Free Press’s George Sipple delivers scoops about potential World Championship participants…
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said Saturday he granted permission to Czech team officials to talk to Jiri Hudler and Jakub Kindl. Holland said he thought Kindl was interested based on a conversation he had with him Saturday morning.
Holland said forward Tomas Tatar, who had 24 goals and 34 assists in 76 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins this season, will play for Slovakia.
“Johan Garpenlov has asked for permission to talk to all our Swedes,” Holland said, adding that prospect Calle Jarnkrok has been invited to Sweden’s training camp.
Jarnkrok, a 5-foot-11, 160-pound forward, helped Brynas IF win Sweden’s top professional hockey league this past week.
“He’s an important guy on that team,” Holland said. “He just has to get stronger. He established himself as a regular in the Swedish Elite League.”
The Wings selected Jarnkrok 51st overall in the 2010 draft.
Holland said he planned to have exit interviews in the coming week. After that, he might go watch a couple of prospects still playing.
Those players would be Tomas Jurco, whose Saint John Sea Dogs lead the Chicoutimi Sagueneens 1-0 in the QMJHL semifinals (Jurco did not fare in the scoring in his team’s 4-1 victory on Friday), and play again today, and Petr Mrazek, whose 49-save performance couldn’t prevent the Ottawa 67’s from dropping a 2-1 OT decision to the Niagara IceDogs on Friday. The teams play again this afternoon, and the 67’s won’t have captain and former Wings prospect Marc Zanetti in the lineup because he was suspended for attempting to kick an opposing player.
Wings GM Ken Holland said that Danny Cleary needs surgery on his left knee and that will probably take place next week.
Joey MacDonald was sidelined after suffering back spasms and continued to receive shots during rehab in order to try and fix the problem.
“We’ll assess where he is in the next couple of weeks,” Holland said. “We’re hoping rehab, injections and time off will be the answer.’ Otherwise it’s back surgery again.”
MacDonald had back surgery in 2006.
Patrick Eaves should be ready come training camp according to Holland.
“He feels pretty good,” Holland said. “He’s doing skating drills and starting to work out in the gym. We think he’ll be ready to roll in September at 100-percent.”
Ditto for one Darren Helm.
In terms of the reasons why the Wings lost to Nashville—and let’s face it, that’s the biggest “injury” the team sustained, a fatal blow to its playoff hopes—the Wings had some answers. Jimmy Howard’s goaltending wasn’t one of them, as MLive’s Brendan Savage suggests…
“I think guys are pretty much in shock our season is over and we’re starting summertime,” Howard said. “But looking back over the year, I think we did a great job. Things just didn’t go right.”
During the regular season, Howard tied for sixth among NHL goalies in victories (35), was sixth in goals-against average (2.13) and 10th in save percentage (.920). But in the playoffs, he was near the bottom of all three categories with a 1-4 record, 2.64 GAA and .888 save percentage. A broken finger and strained groin sidelined Howard during the second half of the regular season but he said they weren’t a factor in the playoffs.
“Those are non-issues,” he said. “I was fine coming in. Things just didn’t go the way I wanted. I could have played a lot better in Games 1, 3 and 4. We had our chances.”
So now, Howard’s season will be remembered more for another early playoff exit rather than making his first All-Star team and the record home winning streak.
“Bitter sweet,” Howard said. “That stuff’s all great but this team, this organization, is measured by the playoffs and how far you go in the playoffs. I fully understand that. I would have liked a better outcome.”
Though Howard told the Free Press’s Helene St. James that he expected more from himself, his teammates’ defensive gaffes included:
“Things didn’t go the way I wanted,” Jimmy Howard said after the Wings were ousted by the Predators on Friday night in Nashville. “I could have played a lot better in Games 1, 3 and 4 and given the guys a better chance.”
Howard finished the playoffs 1-4 with a 2.64 goals-against average and an .888 save percentage. He was burned badly by his skaters on several occasions, notably on the first goal in Game 5’s 2-1, series-ending loss. Kyle Quincey turned over the puck behind his own goal line, leading to a goal by Alexander Radulov, and even on the second goal, it was the skaters who got caught flat-footed off a face-off mishap. Howard said he got “pushed across and then I had two guys go in front of me. I never saw the shot.” One game earlier, three Wings followed one Predator into a corner, leaving another free to score.
“When we broke down, like, we didn’t give Howie a chance to make a save,” coach Mike Babcock said. “He might have been able to get hit by the second one; the first one, he has no chance on. I think if you look back to the two goals the previous game, we didn’t even give Howie a chance to make the save.”
Howard simply feels that he didn’t match the high standard Pekka Rinne set…
“It’s one of those defining moments when you get to go up against a guy like that,” Howard said, “and I didn’t come up on the right end.”
What’s ahead for Howard “is hard work, and get back and ready for next year.” He called his season bittersweet, because while Detroit’s goaltending wasn’t the issue in the series, the only thing that matters is how very quickly the Wings were eliminated.
“This team, this organization is measured by the playoffs and how far we go in the playoffs, and I fully understand,” he said. “I would have liked to do better.”
But we know that, as St. James suggests, Howard’s teammates were equally frustrated by the mistakes they made in front of their goaltender:
“It’s hard to pinpoint why we did some of the mistakes we did, but it hurt us, for sure,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “I don’t think we had too many during the regular season, and we had too many in this series, especially against a team that aren’t giving you many chances.”
Coach Mike Babcock said after Game 5 that it wasn’t like the Predators didn’t make mistakes, too, but “what we did is, we never scored any goals to overcome any mistakes. So when they made a mistake, they were able to score a goal.”
The Wings only allowed 23.2 shots per game, the fewest of any team in the playoffs, though that’s scant consolation as they also were the first to be eliminated. The problem was in the quality of some of those shots allowed: Alexander Radulov converted a dead-on chance in Game 5 after a turnover by Kyle Quincey; Kevin Klein found an open net in Game 4 after Ian White followed two other Wings chasing Martin Erat into the corner.
“I don’t think we did that many more mistakes than we usually do, but they really capitalized,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “And a team like this, when they get one or two goals, they get even tighter, and it’s tougher to get any chances.”
In terms of Nicklas Lidstrom’s future, which is the biggest “injury” the team could sustain going forward, he admitted after Friday’s game that the bone bruise in his right ankle was doing more than preventing him from playing on the power play. He looked “human” instead of “perfect” for a reason, and that involved the bone bruise continuing to hamper his mobility:
“I got injections from the doctors, so I didn’t really feel anything during the game,” he said. “I felt it during practice a little bit when we were skating, I didn’t want to take too many shots for practices, but once the games were played, it didn’t bother me at all.”
Lidstrom simply went through the motions while telling the Free Press’s Michael Rosenberg about his off-season plans...
“I’m going to take a few weeks,” said Lidstrom, who turns 42 next Saturday. “I’m sure Kenny (Holland) wants to sit down and go over a few things as well. I’ll see what he wants to do and what timetable he’ll give me.”
And it’s here where we’ll delve into the land of speculation, with Rosenberg offering reasons why Lidstrom could return…
f the Wings look like they were beaten by a younger, faster team and are no longer contenders, well, Lidstrom didn’t say any of that.
“Just the mistakes that were made, you can easily eliminate,” he said. “Those are not hard things to fix.”
So there is nothing we’re aware of that would push Lidstrom into retirement. If he retires, he will do so simply because he doesn’t want to play anymore.
“It’s gonna be the same approach as last year,” he said. “Nothing is gonna change from that aspect. ... The factors haven’t changed.”
The Wings theoretically could recover by signing a premier free agent like Nashville’s Ryan Suter or Shea Weber. (Suter will be unrestricted, and Weber will be restricted.) But there is no guarantee they would get one, and anyway, that transition could be more difficult than it seems.
Babcock said Friday night the Wings lacked forward depth (partly because of Darren Helm’s injury), but he liked the depth on the blue line. Well, that changes if Lidstrom retires. For many years, the Wings have known they could pair Lidstrom with almost any defenseman and he would make his partner look great. He has almost always been healthy, and he makes everybody better. Plus, the pressure of replacing Lidstrom—in the public’s mind, if not in Holland’s—is significant. Big-money free agents usually face an adjustment period when they switch teams. As great as Suter and Weber are, they would face one, too.
So now what? Certainly, change is afoot. Captain Nick Lidstrom will sit with GM Ken Holland and talk timetable, direction of the team and parameters – i.e. economics – for his decision to return, or not. Undoubtedly, some current mainstays won’t be back, with Brad Stuart and Tomas Holmstrom heading that list. There will be other as well. This process will be about re-tooling as well as refocusing.
Part of the makeover will come via free agency, with both defenseman Ryan Suter of the Predators and forward Zach Parise of the N.J. Devils prime targets. Beyond that, though, the Red Wings need an infusion of players who are fast enough to play in the open ice, while being comfortable playing in the trenches as well. Clearly, the Predators were younger, stronger and deeper up front than the Red Wings. And that the loss of Darren Helm – a third-line center – was so damaging, is evidence of that exact point. If we were talking basketball, we’d be calling on the need for more players who can get up and down the floor, but have no problem playing in a half-court set.
More and more, NHL success comes to those teams that have the ability to exploit in the open ice and that can also hold the puck down low and make explosive plays off the boards and out of the corners. That’s what the Predators did, with seven of their 13 goals originating from plays below the Red Wings’ goal line. Their forwards forced turnovers and made quick, precise plays to a teammate driving the net. Rush chances were few for either team, so, even while the Red Wings had the puck for long stretches in the Predators’ zone throughout the series, they generated very little in the way of center lane net drive away from the puck – whether from a winger or a defenseman.
The good news is that the framework is in place; the culture is long established and the organization has done a marvelous job of adjusting to the cap era constraints. The Red Wings have available money to bolster the roster this summer. The reality is that it is the longest summer for this benchmark organization since 2003. That provides plenty of time to change the look and feel of this roster.
The Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa offers his thoughts as to what the Wings need—very specifically, an honest-to-goodness goal-scorer (Zach Parise), a real top-pair defenseman (Ryan Suter, Matt Carle or Dennis Wideman), and what Krupa believes one of the two players might need to bring (and I do agree with him on all counts, though his column is even more drawn out than anything I’d write):
What magnifies their defeat is how quietly the Red Wings went, and how they seemed completely unprepared to compete in Game 5. We have seen this before, this season, and increasingly in the past few.
On March 28, when they needed a win to restore their position in the standings, one month after the raft of injuries started, the Red Wings were horrible against the Blue Jackets, losing 4-2 in a mistake-prone, listless game.
“I have to tell you I was shocked,” Babcock said afterward. “I really was shocked.”
At Washington, Montreal, on Long Island and yet another time in Columbus earlier this season, the Red Wings barely showed up for games that should have been easy victories.
Lidstrom is a great leader. Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall supply direction, too. But just as there is consideration of whether the players have stopped listening to Babcock after seven years — and bringing in new assistant coaches for this season was, in part, an effort to keep things fresh — that question must now be asked of the leadership in the room.
The Wings desperately missed Brian Rafalski’s calmness, Chris Osgood’s cantankerous nature and sometimes downright arrogant attitude and, most notably, Kris Draper’s ability to stir up the room. Suter barely talks when he wants to, and Parise is no Draper. I don’t know who the pot-stirrer will be, but the Wings need one.
In terms of other opinions, the Free Press’s Steve Schrader offers a roundup of views from around the web, though you won’t find links to the actual stories (try the last line of my recap instead), and the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons states the obvious...
Pavel Datsyuk didn’t disappear in the Detroit-Nashville series. Ryan Suter made him disappear. Wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see the Red Wings go hard after Suter in free agency should he not re-sign with the Predators ... The Red Wings, by the way, don’t like paying big money for goalies. But the big money goalie, Pekka Rinne, facing a playoff-most 160 shots in five games, beat the Wings almost by himself
(does that mean that the Wings will go out and draft a 6’7” Swedish goalie? Maybe, maybe not)
The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson offers the obvious regarding the Wings’ free agency plans…
The Wings lack of offensive pop against Nashville hammered home their need to sign Zach Parise this summer as an unrestricted free agent. He’s their No. 1 target, with Preds’ defenceman Ryan Suter No. 2 on their list, especially if Lidstrom decides to quit. One disquieting thing for the Wings: they just resigned Todd Bertuzzi for two more years but people were only talking about him when he fought Shea Weber in Game 2 to avenge Weber’s rude handling of Henrik Zetterberg and when Bert reportedly told security people some Preds’ players couldn’t play on Detroit’s ping-pong table before one game.
As well as their internal machinations…
This was probably Brad Stuart’s last game as a Red Wing. Bet on him signing as a free-agent in San Jose, where his family has been living for a few years while he played in Detroit. The Wings have lots of kids coming—Brendan Smith on defence and Gustav Nyqvist, Jan Mursak, Calle Jarnkrok, Riley Sheahan and Teemu Pulkkinen up front—but they might move Jiri Hudler, never one of Mike Babcock’s favourites. The Wings missed Darren Helm (skate slash on forearm) the most because they had no third line presence without him. This is GM Ken Holland’s challenge now: rebuild, on the fly, and either trade or sign some role players with more bite. They could use a Cal Clutterbuck on their team and he might be available.
And he suggests that there are “disquieting signs” that Lidstrom might actually retire this year (for the record, Aftonbladet’s Mats Wennerholm has a crazy theory, suggesting that Kevin’s status as playing for Vasteras IK’s under-18 team means that Lidstrom could always play one last year for his hometown league in the Allsvenskan, the Swedish “AHL,” if you will, but I think that’s out-and-out crazy)...
His best buddy, Tomas Holmstrom, the guy he’s driven to Joe Louis Arena with for years and years, is probably retiring because he has little left in his tank. He can also see some definite erosion with the Wings who have now been bounced in the first or second round the last three years. There’s some old legs on this team, and not just Lidstrom’s. If he quits, he’ll leave as one of the two nicest guys in hockey — Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne. No media guy has ever got the cold shoulder from Lidstrom. If he quits, he’s also going down as the best defenceman since Bobby Orr.
“Why would he quit when he’s still good?” said coach Mike Babcock, joking that his wife wouldn’t want him hanging around the house.
We’ve all seen some great ones hang on too long, so we’re watching them struggle. I don’t see that with Lidstrom, who will leave before any of us say “how could that guy go around Nick?”
And I guess this is an equally obvious angle: the fifth of NHL.com’s Brian Hedger’s reasons why the Wings lost involves their age:
They’ve been hearing it for a couple years, but this time it looks like the Red Wings really are showing the effects of age. Pavel Datsyuk is still a magician with the puck, but he’ll be 34 next season and already had to have the in-season knee surgery to fix a wear-and-tear issue. Danny Cleary, who’s 33, saw his production plummet with his own knee issue—painful Baker’s Cysts behind his knee that he needed to have drained a couple of times.
Niklas Kronwall and Henrik Zetterberg are both 31, Johan Franzen is 32 and if Lidstrom returns, he’ll turn 42 next year. Tomas Holmstrom, who might contemplate retirement, is 39 and all those hacks and whacks he’s taken as a netfront pest have taken a toll.
There is some youth already on the roster and in the system, but Detroit’s core group of stars is largely north of 30 and the Wings usually don’t tap into their system until prospects are “over ripe” and approaching their mid-20s. Age wasn’t the main factor that gave the younger Predators the series, but Babcock’s comments after Game 5 on Friday night—about not having enough top-six forward depth and the series not being close—were both striking and telling.
“We made the playoffs 21 years in a row, got 100 points 12 years in a row, we won a ton of playoff games [and] we’ve been in it every year. But when you look at our group now, we’ve had a second round knockout, a second round knockout and a first-round knockout, so to me that doesn’t look like you’re going in the right direction. I think if you do to once or twice … but to me the indication isn’t right. One thing about it is we’re going to have lots of time and we’ll be able to get it figured out what we need to do because I don’t think we’re very interested in scratching and clawing to make the playoffs. That’s never been the approach we’ve had. We like to win.”
And from Babcock’s comments about the Wings’ desire to avoid a rebuild if at all humanly possible, we come back to the general manager’s take. St. James offers a bit more from Babcock’s presser...
Babcock said he thought Henrik Zetterberg “was fantastic” and had positive reviews as well for Zetterberg’s wingers, Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula, though Filppula failed to follow up on his breakthrough regular season. Pavel Datsyuk clearly was hindered by Nashville’s decision to use Suter and Shea Weber against him, and the bigger issue there was the failure of Datsyuk’s wingers to make a difference. That goes especially for Johan Franzen, who followed up a team-leading 29 regular-season goals with one in the playoffs, and that was when the puck went in off his skate. Todd Bertuzzi, Danny Cleary and even Gustav Nyquist took turns on the other wing, but no points materialized.
“We tried lots of combinations,” Babcock said. “In the end, we didn’t have a whole lot of help for Pavel.”
Pekka Rinne was the No. 1 reason the Wings won neither Games 3 or 4, when they otherwise outplayed Nashville, especially during the first 40 minutes of Game 4. The Wings knew, too, entering the series that Datsyuk would have a tough time, as all teams put their best defenders on him. What has carried the Wings in the past has been their depth, especially up front, but the Wings got nothing from their third line while the Predators got three goals from Gabriel Bourque.
“I thought their depth up front was better than our depth up front, especially their third and fourth lines,” Babcock said.
He brought up Darren Helm numerous times, pointing out what a tremendous loss it was when Helm suffered a season-ending arm injury in Game 1, as it affected the entire bottom six. Helm brings speed and energy to the lineup, but it doesn’t say much for the rest of the role players if they are so thrown by one injury.
Zetterberg echoed his teammates when he said he thought the Wings “had a good enough team to do some damage.” But when the Wings faced elimination Friday, they responded with their worst game of the series. Credit the Predators for forcing some of that—Zetterberg sized up Rinne, Suter and David Legwand as having had an outstanding series—but the Wings can’t take much positive away from this spring.
Before receiving a very simple statement from Holland regarding what he, the coaching staff, his fellow members of the managerial staff (see: Jim Nill, Ryan Martin, Kris Draper), pro scouts (Mark Howe, Kirk Maltby, etc.), amateur scouts (Hakan Andersson, Joe McDonnell, etc.) and player development experts (Chris Chelios, Chris Osgood, Jiri Fischer, Aaron Downey) and the Griffins’ coaches (Curt Fraser, Jim Paek) plan on doing over the next month or so:
“The biggest thing is, we’ve got to put together a plan for how we think we can best improve our team heading into next year,” he said Saturday. “There will be changes.”
“The plan is to explore the unrestricted free agent market on July 1,” Holland said. “If there is a player we think will make us better, we’ll be in the game. We’re trying everything we can to stay relevant, stay competitive,” Holland added. “It’s not like we weren’t involved in the market (before). You can’t just make two signings in the summer and go on a long playoff run. This is a team sport.”
How much Detroit can leap into free agency will depend what four of its own unrestricted free agents plan to do. Defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart, along with forwards Jiri Hudler and Tomas Holmstrom will all unrestricted free agents this summer if they’re not re-signed by July 1.
“If they all want to stay, we’ll look at our team,” Holland said. “We’ll explore free agency. If there is a player we think will make us better, we’ll be in the game. We’re trying everything we can to stay relevant, stay competitive.”
“I look at our nucleus,” Holland said. “We’ve got a team that can compete with any team, but it’s hard to be better than everybody.”
“We’ve got to figure out a way to get some of our depth back,” Holland said. “There are no magic wands and Stanley Cup dust you can sprinkle over a team. There is no magic dust, there are no shortcuts. It’s got to be slow, methodical. Even if you get one or two player in unrestricted free agency, you need four lines,” Holland continued. “We’re trying to replenish and rebuild. I believe we can be a playoff team and any playoff team has a chance. I believe we have good pieces.”
And the playoffs?
“We played at a high level until the 60-game mark, then we were hit with injuries and never got going again as a team,” Holland said. “I think our team played hard, but the playoffs are a new season. We led the league in 5-on-5 scoring and our special teams weren’t as good in the regular season. In the series, our special teams won 4-2 and we couldn’t score 5-on-5.”
“Sometimes you’ve got to win 2-1,” Holland said. “We kept giving up three. We felt if we could keep the special teams close we had a chance because of our five-on-five play. If you look back on the series, the turning point was the two games at home. If you can’t win a home game, you’re not going to win a series.”
Thus the necessity to make changes.
Also of Red Wings-related note: If you really care about reading the Predators’ comments about no longer being in awe of the Wings, from MLive’s Brendan Savage, some, “The Predators need to improve upon X in the second round” stuff from the Tennessean’s Josh Cooper, or gabba about happy Predators fans from the Tennessean’s Nicole Young, get down with your bad selves on your own;
• Moving on, in terms of prospects, the Wings will all but assuredly sign Teemu Pulkkinen and Calle Jarnkrok—though both players will remain with their respective European teams (Jokerit Helsinki and Brynas IF Gavle)—but the Wings are highly unlikely to sign one 2010 draft pick in undersized forward Brooks Macek, who didn’t turn out as the Wings had hoped during his major junior career, Dick Axelsson’s status as holding down one of the spots on the Wings’ 50-man roster will be determined by his play during the World Championships, and a press release from Clarkson University reminded me that the Wings have until August 15th to decide to whether to sign 2008 draft pick Julien Cayer, a 6’4” power forward who posted 10 points in 30 games for Clarkson.
The Wings don’t seem likely to bring at least one of the three players they signed to AHL-only contracts in Adam Estcolet back as they loaned him to the Abbotsford Heat, and I’m not sure what they plan on doing regarding Nick Oslund or Bryan Rufenach, who played very well in the ECHL but weren’t able to establish themselves at the AHL level;
• I would highly, highly suggest that you read the rest of Jim Matheson’s “Hockey World” column to read about how Igor Larionov’s doing as one of hockey’s most successful agents in terms of guiding top Russian prospects toward pro hockey success by playing major junior hockey. I can’t quote the whole column;
• Is this a good thing? From TSN’s “NHL on TSN Quiz”:
Question: Which of the traditional western powerhouses is worst positioned for the future - Chicago, Detroit or San Jose?
Aaron Ward:: San Jose. It’s a team on the decline that is aging and the window is closing. At this point, I smell a shakeup in the offseason for them.
Darren Dreger: I agree with Aaron Ward. The core of their team is under contract for next season and a few more years after that for some.
Marc Crawford: San Jose! I’m tired of answering the question of why Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau aren’t performing at the level they need to.
• And finally, I can’t find a story attached to it, but guessing by the Hartland Patch’s Tatum Ryan, all went well at Ted Lindsay’s charity event at the Hartland Meijer to raise funds for his autism research charity.
Update: Barry Melrose offers “movie poster” playoff summations in his Melrose’s Place feature for the NHL Network, and he insists that no one predicted the Predators would defeat the Wings…While utilizing a “Franzen versus Predator” picture. Gack.
Update #2: MLive’s Ansar Khan weighs in with the following take on possible moves to come:
There is a significant dip in the free-agent pool after Parise and Suter. At forward, Alexander Semin of Washington is sure to be available, but he comes with a lot of baggage, his reputation as a floater. Aging former stars Teemu Selanne (Anaheim), Ryan Smyth (Edmonton) and Shane Doan (Phoenix) are possibilities, if they don’t re-sign with their respective teams.
On defense, the list of available players might include Dennis Wideman of Washington, Matt Carle of Philadelphia, Jason Garrison of Florida and Filip Kuba of Ottawa.
Detroit still is a desirable spot for free agents because of the organization’s commitment to winning and history of success, and the club’s skill level. But the Red Wings don’t stand above the crowd like they once did. The salary cap and ensuing parity has changed that. Others teams can throw just as much, or even more money at free agents.
Some big-name players, including Calgary’s Jarome Iginla and Dallas’ Brenden Morrow, could be traded this summer. Those are the kind of gritty, talented forwards who surely would appeal to the Red Wings.
Forget about acquiring Rick Nash. Columbus is not going to trade him to a Central Division rival, let alone one that has tormented them for 11 years.
If the Red Wings are inclined to make a major deal, their most tradeable asset might be Franzen. His $3.95 million cap hit would be attractive to teams, but not so much the remaining length (eight years) and money ($27.75 million). But while Franzen can be frustrating with his inconsistency, he still led the team in goals each of the past two seasons (28 and 29). So if they entertained the possibility of moving him, which seems unlikely, they would need a proven goal-scorer in return.
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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.