The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/23/11 at 07:57 AM ET
Updated 2x at 8:17 AM: Sometimes it’s better to start with the bluntly obvious and go from there:
Good news from Wednesday = Nicklas Lidstrom wins seventh Norris Trophy despite the fact that Jay Mohr cannot pronounce his name correctly; for some reason the NHL’s chosen to reveal its schedule later today instead of mid-July, and the Chairman apparently has a sense of humor, because, as the Macomb Daily’s
Chuck Pleiness notes, the Wings will play their home opener against Paul MacLean, his moustache, and the Ottawa Senators on October 7th.
Weird and/or bad news from yesterday and this morning, depending on your point of view, from the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby:
As of Tuesday night, serious talks between the Penguins and the agent for Jaromir Jagr had not taken place, but Pittsburgh is believed to be his favoured NHL destination, with Detroit second.
The Blackhawks, Devils and Senators are now denying being Jagr’s “Mystery Team,” but the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek, who rarely delves into the rumor mill, has a pretty good guess as to the other team that’s bidding for Jagr’s services:
The rumour mill has churned out any number of interesting possibilities. Jaromir Jagr, almost certainly coming back to the NHL, possibly with the Detroit Red Wings, maybe with his old team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. But why couldn’t it be the Montreal Canadiens, where Jagr could play with close friend Tomas Plekanec or former linemate Scott Gomez and wear the uniform of an Original Six team for the second time in his career?
Speaking as a Red Wings fan instead of a pseudo-professional here, it seems obvious from a perception point of view that, had Jaromir Jagr really, really wanted to join the Red Wings, he’d have signed with the team already.
The usual free agent dance, regardless of whether it’s with Jagr or Todd Bertuzzi, usually goes as follows:
Red Wings: We’re interested in signing you. Are you interested?
Agent: Yes, but I want to see what other offers we can get.
A few days pass.
Agent: Well, so and so is offering X amount of money?
Red Wings: We can go up a bit, but we can’t match that. We sell winning.
Agent: Okay, we’ll sign.
At this point, it’s hard to tell whether Jagr’s agent, Petr Svoboda, is just doing his due diligence and soliciting other offers, or whether, because we’re talking about the Pittsburgh Penguins here, a player who can earn much more from his KHL team in Avangard Omsk is in fact waiting on the Penguins (that certainly seems to be the case per Wednesday’s reports) because Pittsburgh really is where he wants to be.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Josh Yohe believes that whatever happens will go down during the NHL Entry Draft in Minnesota, and Svoboda intonated as much…
“Nothing is going to happen in the next couple of days,” Svoboda said. “On Friday, I’m coming to the States.”
Svoboda said Jagr was set to have a conversation with Shero and Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux on Tuesday. Jagr has long admired Lemieux, his former teammate.
Svoboda confirmed that the Penguins and Red Wings remain the front-runners for Jagr’s services. A third team — either another NHL team or a squad from Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, where Jagr played the past three seasons — reportedly also is showing interest.
Free agents such as Tyler Kennedy, Mike Rupp, Pascal Dupuis and Max Talbot would be less likely to return should Shero sign Jagr. The NHL’s free agency period opens July 1, but Svoboda seemed interested in finding his client a team sooner rather than later.
“I would say there is a good chance,” he said, “something gets done before July 1.”
Shero told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Shelly Anderson that he hasn’t engaged in anything serious in terms of contract talk with Svoboda—yet:
“I’ve spoken to [agent Petr Svoboda] a couple times about Jagr. I’ve talked to Jagr once,” Shero said after attending the NHL Awards show, where the Penguins’ Dan Bylsma received the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. “That’s really about it. We have not made an offer. I’m going to talk to our staff to see whether there would be interest. We have to decide internally whether or not we want to [pursue signing Jagr].”
Jagr, a sure Hall of Famer, was part of two Stanley Cup teams and won six league scoring titles and one Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 11 seasons with the Penguins before playing for Washington and the New York Rangers.
Bylsma called adding Jagr to the Penguins lineup “intriguing.”
Shero said Jagr and Svoboda indicated that Jagr, 39, is serious about exploring the option of returning to the NHL for the 2011-12 season. Jagr has spent the past three seasons playing in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.
Svoboda will be traveling from the Czech Republic to Minnesota for the NHL draft, which starts Friday in St. Paul. He said nothing is likely to happen with Jagr “in the next couple of days.”
An unusual source, Crain’s Detroit Business’s Bill Shea, believes that the Wings might be offering significant dollars to Jagr...
After three seasons with Avangard Omsk of Russia’s Kontinental League, the 39-year-old Jagr wants to come back to the NHL, where he carved out a hall of fame career.
He reportedly was paid $6 million to play in the depressing, frozen gray wastes of Russia last year, and Detroit is willing to give the Czech about half that to don its sweater on a one-year contract. Holland apparently was in talks with Jagr and his agent, Petr Svoboda (who I remember as a helluva defenseman in the Sega Genesis “NHLPA ‘93”), over the weekend.
A $3 million cap hit on Jagr, who has said Pittsburgh and an unnamed third team are his other choices, doesn’t seem like much of a risk with $16 million available. Few serious teams have that much cap space.
But Red Wings GM Ken Holland’s main concern is finding a replacement for Brian Rafalski, so the Free Press’s Helene St. James reports that, aside from sending Jagr a few text messages, Holland and the Wings will simply stand pat on their offer and, having made their best pitch, will wait:
“For us, we need to know by July 1,” Holland said shortly before attending the NHL awards at the Pearl Theater at the Palms. “I don’t know if he decides to go to Russia. We know what we’re prepared to do.”
Jagr, 39, would make more money in Russia—as much as $5 million, net—and the Wings aren’t going anywhere near that price. Jagr, a former MVP, also has talked to Ray Shero, the general manager of Jagr’s former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Wings’ focus at the start of free agency will be on acquiring a top-four defenseman. If they land Jagr, it’d be a nice bonus, but he must commit to their terms.
“We’re intrigued,” Holland said, “like we were with Dominik Hasek and Mike Modano. He was an elite player in his prime. He’s 39 years of age. If he decides to come back to the NHL, he’s coming back for all the right reasons. Whether he comes to Detroit or another destination, the great ones, even when Father Time is against them a little bit, they’re still pretty good players.”
So the Wings are okay with the seeming bottom line that Detroit is Jagr’s fall-back plan, and instead, Holland’s taking care of internal business:
Holland remains in talks with three of his own potential unrestricted free agents, especially defenseman Jonathan Ericsson. The Wings are offering Ericsson around $2 million a season. Holland also is in talks with forwards Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller.
I don’t know if the Wings can re-sign Ericsson for that amount of money—he could earn $2.5 million or more on the open market—and I’m not sure whether there’s a better option out there in terms of size and strength for the money, but the Wings have a salary structure to maintain. I would imagine that Eaves will come back, and Miller will probably do the same.
In any case, we’ll find out what Holland’s plans are in short order. We’re one week from the start of unrestricted free agency, and between now and then, I’d imagine that Ericsson, Eaves, Miller and Jagr’s fates will be determined, and we may very well know who will replace Brian Rafalski by Friday evening, and whether Chris Osgood will be replaced by a free agent back-up shortly thereafter.
In-progress edit time: as I was writing this, Hockej.cz’s Vaclav Jachim posted an interview with Svoboda, who says that he first believed that Jagr could return to the NHL during the World Championships, and here’s what Svoboda had to say—albeit roughly translated from a difficult language in Czech—about the interest in Jagr…
“The level of interest was and is really great. More and more teams called, but now it’s basically narrowed down to Detroit, Pittsburgh and another team,” he says.
The definitive decision might wait for a while yet. “It might be a week, but we must before July 1st, when the NHL opens its free agent marketplace. Jarda’s played outside the NHL for two years, so the [usual] rule doesn’t apply—we can negotiate before, but after the July 1st deadline,” said Svoboda.
Jagr himself has indicated that he’s going to decide which team to play for based on several factors. “One is money, but I’d also like to go somewhere where there’s a chance to win something,” he said, among other things, last weekend.
Petr Svoboda says that one of the main issues is the salary cap. “In the NHL, although it’s going up, there’s a limit. Teams like Montreal or Toronto used to be able to give anything for Jarda, but now they can’t.” For Jagr, money isn’t the most important factor, but on the other hand, he won’t play for any price. “Jarda’s especially worthy of respect. When you see how he plays at 39, it’s unbelievable. At the World Championships, everyone saw what he can do. The interest is great, but it is a business,” says Svoboda.
Now the possibility looms that the Kladno pupil will play in the NHL, for all the better. “I would like to see Jarda in the NHL as an ordinary fan. I look forward to it,” says Svoboda. When negotiations with teams heated up it drew great interest. It’s more all the time. This week Svoboda was in Prague, but this weekend, he’ll be at the draft in Minnesota. “We’ll continue to negotiate there. Different things could happen. I don’t want to put a date on when the skies clear up, but a decision is coming.”
While Svoboda negotiates a one-year contract, the amount thereof remains speculative. Talking about money isn’t simple, and nothing’s certain. According to some estimates, Jagr could earn a salary of around $2 million, but other sources put the number higher. The number is partially determined by the player’s role and position in a team’s hierarchy.
“That’s true, but it depends on which team you’re talking about. In Pittsburgh, Crosby and Malkin are earning $8 and $7 million. Then there aren’t many [high earners]. In Detroit, guys like Datsyuk, Lidstrom and Zetterberg [are well-paid], have won several Stanley Cups in a row, and their roles are obvious. Elsewhere, Zetterberg could have gotten more, but he’s an increasingly important part of the Red Wings organization. Everything isn’t just about money, because everyone has to fit,” Svoboda discusses.
Svoboda’s challenge: find the club that will suit Jagr
Svoboda is looking for the position that is most advantageous to Jagr, in all aspects. “Jarda has played so many places that he needs to be at peace, and confidence [with his decision]. He’s going to listen to the viewpoints of different people, but the decision is his,” says Svoboda. Interest is mainly from Detroit and Pittsburgh, whose involvement is relatively new. While Jagr talked about speaking to coach Babcock ten days ago, now he’s about to contact Mario Lemieux. “I don’t know if it’s happened, but Mario wanted to talk to Jarda. He has his number,” Svoboda adds.
About a month ago, it appeared that if Jagr might change teams, he’d do so within the Russian KHL. After the World Championships in Bratislava, it looked like his courtship by St. Petersburg was real. Then that waned, and now everything points to a comeback in the NHL. “I represent Jarda overseas; I don’t have any idea about what’s happening in Russia. Jarda did it himself there, perhaps with the help of someone else [i.e. Pavel Marsoun],” says Svoboda, shrugging his shoulders. His priorities are clear: “Find a club that suits him. Where Jarda will be respected and allowed to play. And to go to a team where his teammates work like he does,” Svoboda says.
About a month ago it seemed that if Jagr might change occurs, but only within the Russian KHL. After šampiopnátu in Bratislava looked very real with his courtship of St. Petersburg. Then it fell asleep, now everything points to a great comeback to the NHL. “I represent the Jarda overseas, about events in Russia have no idea. There Jarda did it himself, perhaps with the help of someone else,” he shrugs Freedom. His priorities were clear: “Find the Jarda club that suits him. Jarda Where will respect and let him play. And - to go to a team where the other teammates to work like him,” he says.
IIf Jagr chooses Pittsburgh, he’d return to where his NHL career began. But the latter track isn’t completely a comfortable one. “To return to where you once played isn’t easy. On the other hand, the Penguins have Crosby and Malkin—they’re great hockey players and humble guys.” It seems that all that remains is to answer the last question: which club are you going to choose, Jagr? His move overseas is more and more likely. “I hope so. The way we’ve talked together, Jarda’s inclined to play in the NHL. He wants to prove that he’s still got it,” Svoboda says.
Sigh. Aesthetics. For the record, iDnes.cz asked Jagr’s former personal trainer, Martin Jelinek, former Wings goalie Dominik Hasek and former defenseman Frantisek Kucera whether Jagr should play for Pittsburgh or Detroit, and only Kucera suggested that the Wings are the better “fit” for Jagr. As Jelinek notes, Jagr does have a house in Pittsburgh, too…
In draft-related news, the Globe and Mail’s David Shoalts reports that a trio of professors at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University analyzed the draft records of every NHL team from 1995-2003, and they came to a less than stunning conclusion about a team that believes in drafting quality players over a huge quantity of players that reach the NHL:
The Detroit Red Wings have long been held up as a team that finds gems in the late rounds, thanks to the drafting of players such as Pavel Datsyuk (171st overall in 1998) and Henrik Zetterberg (210th overall in 1999).
But when they studied the drafting success of individual teams, the authors found the Red Wings were slightly worse than most NHL teams at drafting players who had successful careers, which they defined as playing more than 160 NHL games. From 1995 through 2003, the Red Wings did not pick one such player in five draft years, a failure rate of 55.5 per cent. The Toronto Maple Leafs, a team long held up as inept evaluators or talent or prone to trading away picks, were in a group of teams that only had two years out of nine when they wound up with no successful players.
What that showed, the authors feel, is the Red Wings’ European scouting, under the direction of Hakan Andersson, outperformed the North American staff.
However, the authors also concluded the differences between the teams were so slight that no team could be considered to be superior to any other at drafting players. When they studied the draft results from 1981 through 2003, they found that of the 5,981 players selected by NHL teams, only 20.1 per cent played 160 or more NHL games and 58.3 per cent of them never played even one NHL game.
That’s not surprising at all, both because of the dearth of 1st-round picks the Wings held between 95 and 03, the fact that they’ve drafted in the lower half of every round for an extremely long time, and simply because the Wings are much more willing to come out of a draft with five or six long-shots, hoping that one player will become a meaningful contributor over picking three or four players who are more likely to grind it out at the AHL level and contribute in some way, shape or form. The Wings don’t make safe picks in the later rounds, and as such, their goal is to come out of the draft with 1 or 2 roster players, especially in the post-lockout 7-round draft, with the hopes that one player becomes a Kronwall or a Howard.
If you’re interested in further reading, the Montreal Gazette’s Pat Hickey also talked about the draft…
And then there’s realignment...Paul already posted this one, and because it’s Bruce Garrioch citing “league sources,” one never knows how seriously we should take this, but Garrioch suggests that the NHL might make some serious changes to its divisional and conference formats for the 2012-2013 season:
Two league executives told QMI Agency Wednesday that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman presented a proposal during Tuesday’s board of governors meetings in New York to scrap the current format used by the league. Sources say under Bettman’s proposal, the league will have four divisions: Pacific, Midwest, East and South. It’s believed the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets would both get their wish to move to the East conference.
Changes need to be made with the Atlanta Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg now official. The two conferences and six divisions will be kept this year, but Bettman is pushing for a major change.
The realignment is by no means final. It’s still in the discussion stages.
Teams would play a balanced 82-game schedule with home-and-home against teams outside their division. The top four teams in each division would make the playoffs. The first round would be divisonal play, the teams would then re-seed for conference play. Bettman’s idea would not affect a East-West Stanley Cup final matchup.
With 30 teams, one division in each conference will have eight squads while the other will have seven. Under the current format — two conferences and six divisions — division winners and the top five teams make the playoffs.
“Nobody is happy with the current format so I would expect something like this is going to be adopted,” said a league executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
It’s nice filler, but even if it’s true, we’re talking about an idea in its infancy. Don’t count your chickens, folks. In fact, more substantive talk of realignment comes from the Pioneer Press’s Brian Murphy, who notes that the Minnesota Wild will have a hard road ahead of them in terms of both moving to the Central Division, where they believe they belong, and playing against a Red Wings team that isn’t in the Eastern Conference by next year at this time:
The prestigious Red Wings have been itching to move for years, and their wish is likely to be granted first. Columbus, which joined the league with the Wild in 2000, and Detroit are the only Western Conference teams in the Eastern time zone. The Wings loathe conceding time and energy to play a western schedule and want to be in the Eastern Conference. The most enticing move would put them in the Northeast Division to rejoin fellow Original Six teams Toronto, Montreal and Boston.
What is more, Detroit’s history as a charter member of the NHL and cache as four-time Stanley Cup champion since 1997, coupled with owner Mike Ilitch’s clout in the boardroom, makes it the major player in the realignment debate.
“With various expansions, in order to accommodate the NHL, we somehow wound up in the West,” said senior vice president and alternate governor Jim Devellano. “We’ve tried not to bellyache. We’ve been pretty classy about it. But the truth of the matter is we’re not a western-based team.”
With 11 consecutive 100-point seasons, the Red Wings have feasted on the competition in the Central Division and Western Conference. But like the New York Yankees in baseball, their brand and drawing power are unrivaled, at least in the United States. They have a fiercely loyal fan base that packs arenas.
Nashville is not opposed to moving to the East outright, but the team is not embracing change, according to general manager David Poile. The Predators want to continue playing the Red Wings three times a season, enriching a rivalry spiced by two closely contested playoff series since 2004.
“Our best rivalry since Day 1 has been Detroit,” said Poile, who has been with the Predators since their inception in 1998. “Having them move might not be really great for us. In time, rivalries are established. If you veer from what you’re doing, the question is why and what are you accomplishing?”
Therein lies the rub: it takes a two-thirds majority at the Board of Governors level (i.e. 20 out of 30 teams) to approve a team’s application to switch conferences, and it’s incredibly hard to believe that, between the fact that the Wings pack Western Conference rinks and that the Northeast Division’s teams probably wouldn’t be too keen on Detroit sneaking into their territory (especially the Leafs and Sabres), so I’m still not buying the concept that the Wings are going anywhere.
Also of Red Wings-related note: If you missed it, the Detroit News’s Paul Egan reported that the two supposed former Red Wings candidates that the Michigan Republican Party were going to tab to challenge Debbie Stabenow for a U.S. Senate seat have declined to engage in said political race:
In another development Wednesday, Republican activist Dennis Lennox said two former Detroit Red Wings who had been considering entering the Senate race as Republicans have both decided not to run. He would not identify them.
• In local and non-political news, from the Grand Rapids Press’s Shandra Martinez, two Wings will attend the “Spartan Stores’ seventh annual Grocery, Frozen & Dairy Expo at DeVos Place” today:
Detroit Red Wings players Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby will greet guests as will newly crowned Miss Michigan Elizabeth Wertenberger.
• I haven’t been able to figure out why, but Dick Axelsson isn’t participating in the Inline Hockey World Championships this time around;
• And if you’re keeping score at home, The Sports Forecaster posted its “mock draft,” and has the Wings picking Oscar Klefbom from Farjestads BK.
Update: Jagr spoke to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks late last night. The Rangers haven’t given him a buzz:
“I don’t want to put this the wrong way, but teams that want me and think I can help them have been calling me, and the Rangers never called, so I don’t think they would want me,” Jagr told The Post by phone last night from his home in the Czech Republic. “I don’t want to be a guy who says, ‘Do you need me; do you want me?’ It’s not like I’m looking for a job,” No. 68 said. “Teams know I’m serious about coming back. If Glen thought I could help, he would have told me. But I have no hard feelings. I loved my time in New York. I will never have a bad thing to say about the Rangers.”
Jagr, who came to the Rangers from Washington on Jan. 23, 2004, left for Omsk of the KHL as a free agent following the 2007-08 season. Now, he is on the verge of returning, though the destination is unclear. Detroit and Pittsburgh are among those clubs interested in bringing the winger back to North America. Jagr would not identity his suitors, but did tell The Post that, “I’m not talking to any rebuilding teams. I haven’t made my decision yet,” Jagr said. “I hope I can make it pretty soon.”
Jagr, who will turn 40 next February, said he only began to ponder a return to the NHL when agent Petr Svoboda suggested the possibility just before the World Championships during which the winger recorded nine points (5-4) in nine games for the bronze-medallist Czechs. Jagr always has cast a larger-than-life shadow over the franchise he represents. He put the Rangers on his back in September of 2005 and carried the team to the playoffs after a seven-year absence in establishing franchise single-season records for goals (54) and points (123) during that transcendent year.
In addition to the question of how much, if at all, Jagr’s skills atrophied playing in the lesser KHL where the pace is considerably slower and the schedule is far less demanding, there is the question whether this legend could accept a subordinate role. He laughed loudly when asked if he believes he could adjust to playing maybe nine minutes a night for, say, the Red Wings.
“Nine minutes? Do you think I’m that bad that I would play only nine minutes?” Jagr asked rhetorically.
Update #2: Damien Cox of the Toronto Star has this to say about Jagr:
—Jaromir Jagr with two, maybe three suitors? Really? Did nobody watch the Mike Modano scenario unfold rather badly in Detroit last year? Look, we haven’t seen the 38-year-old Jagr in the NHL since the 2007-08 season when he was rather pedestrian at best for the New York Rangers. Since then, he’s played three years in the KHL and popped up to generally positive reviews in the 2010 Winter Olympics, at least until he was flattened by Alexander Ovechkin.
Could he help somebody at the bargain basement price of $1 million or so? Well, maybe. But if you’re a team serious about winning - which is the reason you’d chase Jagr - is it possible to envision him fighting for ice in the way that would have been necessary in the recent Vancouver-Boston Stanley Cup final? Not a chance.
Every year at this time there’s a fanciful notion that some journeyman-type offensive player with flickering abilities is going to be a super-smart signing by somebody. Well, to that I say, Mike Comrie.
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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.