The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/01/11 at 05:46 AM ET
Of Red Wings-related note, and briefly so, before I scurry off to bed and prepare for what will probably be an 18-hour work day on Canada Day:
We learned on Thursday that Jaromir Jagr’s agent, Petr Svoboda, is either a genius, an evil genius, or plain old insane after he informed ESPN’s Scott Burnside and the Free Press’s Helene St. James (who’s still confirming that Jagr’s status is in limbo) that, instead of asking his client to make a decision as to whether he wishes to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins or Detroit Red Wings, Svoboda had instead opened up the bidding and was now speaking to the Montreal Canadiens and a “lot more” other teams, and that Jagr might not make his decision prior to noon today after all.
The reaction from Pittsburgh isn’t exactly stunning—GM Ray Shero told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dave Molinari that he’s busy trying to re-sign one of his own free agents-to-be…
As for Jagr, the Penguins still don’t know whether he will accept the offer they submitted Tuesday to his agent, Petr Svoboda. But they do know they haven’t altered any terms of that proposal and have no intention of doing so. Which is why Shero will simply wait to hear from Svoboda and/or Jagr, while moving aggressively to get something done with Kennedy.
“We’ve made the offer [to Jagr],” Shero said. “My priority is Tyler Kennedy. The [Jagr] offer is there, but right now, I’m spending time on Tyler Kennedy.”
Shero said the Penguins haven’t imposed a deadline for Jagr to accept the one-year deal they have proposed, and that agent Petr Svoboda told him late Thursday afternoon that the Penguins remain “very much in the picture” for Jagr.
Detroit and Montreal also are believed to have put forth contract offers, and Svoboda has suggested that several other clubs have expressed interest. What’s more, Jagr has what seems to be a standing offer to return to Avangard Omsk in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, where he spent the past three seasons.
Shero reiterated that the Jagr situation is “independent of anything else we’re doing,” but the Penguins, like every other team pursuing Jagr, would like to be aware of his intentions before the free-agent signing period starts at midday.
Knowing whether Jagr will be taking up a roster spot, and how much salary-cap space (if any) he will consume, is important for all the general managers who are vying for his services, because it could influence who they go after to fill out their depth charts. And while Svoboda was supposed to speak with Jagr about his options Thursday night, there was no indication he intended to prod his client to make up his mind about where he wants to work.
“I don’t think he wants to push Jagr,” Shero said. “The guy’s trying to make a decision about where he wants to play.”
And what we know from the Wings’ side is simple, per MLive’s Ansar Khan: the Wings have made their offer, they’re sticking by it, and as per club policy, once the clock strikes 12 PM EDT today, the team will avail itself of other options:
Holland talked again Thursday with the agent for Jaromir Jagr and said: “Nothing’s changed. We’re still staying in contact.”
Holland said his initial offer of a one-year deal to Jagr, made several weeks ago, hasn’t changed. He said he doesn’t necessarily need an answer from Jagr by noon today, but then the player runs the risk of the team signing other players and not having space for him.
“If he calls July 2 and we haven’t signed anybody ... it all depends on which way the dominoes fall (in free agency),” Holland said.
If you feel like reading the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Bob Cohn’s take on the mixed bag that is returning to one’s former athletic haunt or Dejean Kovacevic’s pretend letter from Lemieux to Jagr, go ahead, and if you want to believe that the Flyers are involved in the sweepstakes, as the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi suggests, you’re probably not wrong, but the reality of the situation—regarding a 39-year-old who hasn’t played in the NHL for three years—and his and his agent’s conduct involve two bottom lines, first from the Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi...
Closing line, from somebody who knows Jagr: “No, I’m not surprised by any of this today, but I know the guy. This is just him.”
And second, from Yahoo Sports’ Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski, who notes that the Penguins’ website has “Jagr returns” photo galleries up, as well as the Delaware County Times’ Anthony J. Sanfilippo, who claims that all of the dramatics represent a big, fat, ego-inflating act:
Just got off the phone with someone I trust. I was told Jagr has already told Lemieux that he’s going to sign with Pittsburgh and that the Penguins have a huge front page for their Web site ready to go live at Noon tomorrow with a big “welcome home” theme.
Why the delay then?
From what I was told Jagr’s agent Petr Svoboda may have been trying to lure another team into offering Jagr a bit more money so he can put a PR spin like “I turned down more money to come back to Pittsburgh.”
Is it possible the Flyers are that team? Maybe. Maybe not. There is no evidence that the Flyers even made an offer, although they have discussed the possibility. But if it’s true, it wouldn’t surprise… Jagr needs to make a splash after being gone for three years.
However, Jagr is aloof enough that maybe, just maybe, he’s changed his mind.
Yeah, right. My take on the situation and Jagr’s Sergei Fedorov-in-his-prime-sized ego (and I liked Sergei) is pretty simple: I never, ever pre-write. I didn’t do it in high school and college and received tongue-lashings galore for letting ideas simmer in my head instead and writing down a simple “cheat sheat” of points to cover instead of writing copiously-detailed outlines or initial drafts of essays or papers.
I still hate doing it, though I’m sure the, “Wings win!” or “Wings lose!” pre-written entries would save me some time, energy and effort.
In any case, I have exactly one entry ready to roll, and have had it ready to go for a few days now. And it’s titled, “Jagr spurns Red Wings, signs with Pittsburgh Penguins.” That’s how I believe things will turn out, and especially given the antics Jagr and his agent have engaged in—how do you “lose” your client for a day?—I hope the Penguins get him.
As the Wings prepare for the free agency period, we do know that Chris Osgood and Kris Draper won’t be offered contracts until the team explores the market, and we know that the team believes that Patrick Eaves will remain in Detroit, while Drew Miller appears ready to test the market.
Ken Holland explained his strategy simply to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...
“I’d like to think the players we have would like to stay here, and we’d like to keep them,” Holland said. “We have to find a number we can all be happy about.”
Holland has already told Chris Osgood and Kris Draper they will not be re-signed prior to tomorrow.
“I want to explore the market for a little bit in early July to see what is out there,” Holland said. “Certainly there’s a chance we will be re-signing them, but we owe it to the organization to explore the market because we have some money to spend. We’re trying to change our team a little bit if possible.”
As well as the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness...
With progress seemingly being made with [E]aves, the same can’t be said about Drew Miller.
“We’ve just had a philosophical conversation (with his agent),” Holland said. “I made an offer, but I can’t say we’re making a lot of progress.”
Despite being praised quite often during the season by Wings coach Mike Babcock, Miller found himself a healthy scratch 15 games last season. He has scored 10 goals in each of the past two seasons.
“I’m sure they look at our depth and they’re not sure where the opportunities are going to present themselves,” Holland said earlier in the week. “They think they can have a bigger role with other teams.”
The Wings have 17 players (11 forwards, five defensemen, one goaltender) signed for a salary-cap hit of just under $51 million. This year’s cap is $63.4 million. The Wings also have to sign rookie forward Cory Emmerton since he’s out of minor league options. If he doesn’t make the roster Emmerton could be claimed off waivers if they try and send him to the minors.
“What happens with some of our own guys impacts our thinking (today),” Holland said. “We have money. We’re just looking for the right fit. We’ve got quite a bit of cap space, we’ll see if we use it all or not. We’re set in goal,” Holland added. “We’re not going to spend a lot on a backup. Chris Osgood is an option, but we want to explore that’s out there. There are a number of players we have interest in at forward, defense and in goal.”
Holland also revealed that the Red Wings should have their assistant coaches in place sooner than later...
Holland added that Wings coach Mike Babcock is continuing to talk to assistant coaching candidates. He hopes to make a decision early next week.
“We’ve narrowed it down to a few guys,” Holland said.
And then there was…Ericsson. I think Pleiness summarized the Red Wings’ decision to pay Jonathan Ericsson about a million dollars more than he’s worth in each and every one of the next three seasons—signing Ericsson to a 3-year deal at an average of $3.25 million per season—by stating the obvious:
The new three-year deal worth $9.75 million Jonathan Ericsson signed to remain a Red Wing makes him their third highest paid defenseman. The deal, which averages out to $3.25 million a season, puts Ericsson ahead of Niklas Kronwall on the pay scale.
Kronwall is in the final year of a deal that will pay him $3 million this year.
The Wings will likely start talking an extension with Kronwall soon to correct this.
Nicklas Lidstrom ($6.2 million) and Brad Stuart ($3.75 million) are No. 1 and No. 2 on the scale.
I would hope so. If we’re talking about agents and their conduct this morning, and we are, Ericsson should buy his a car. He can afford to.
As Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner suggests, between Christian Ehrhoff being off the market, Kevin Bieksa re-signing with Vancouver, and James Wisniewski probably likely to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Wings seem to have decided upon…
Let’s say overpaying Ericsson by a million dollars a season instead of overpaying a free agent by $2 or $3 million a season simply because the free agent market is so unbelievably thin, and small-market GM’s are so unbelievably willing to spend (see: Tomas Kopecky is a $3 million-a-year player, too, and Christian Ehrhoff’s earning $18 of his 10-year, $40 million haul in years one and two, making $10 million next season alone):
Ericsson, who earned $900,000 last season, had a goal and two assists in 11 playoff games.
Ericsson was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent Friday. He was selected by the Red Wings in the ninth round (291st overall) of the 2002 NHL draft.
With Ericsson making $3.25 million a season, the Wings have signaled that they expect him to continue to develop into a top-tier defenseman. It also looks like they aren’t enamored of the other defensemen available on the free-agency market.
The Wings will still likely pursue a veteran depth defenseman in the free-agent market, as well as a scoring forward.
All of that being said, with Eaves likely to re-sign and the Wings clearly still in the market for another defenseman, albeit probably of the secondary variety if Wisniewski does sign with Columbus (see: the Wings’ press corps’ favorite, Ed Jovanovski, or possibly Ian White, Anton Babchuk, Roman Hamrlik, Tomas Kaberle [assuming he’s forced to shoot once per game as part of his contract], Bryan McCabe, Scott Hannan, Sami Salo, Sheldon Souray, Cam Barker, Sami Lepisto, Mike Commodore [ask why later] or Bryan McCabe)...
I’ve never been quite literally yelled at via my Twitter account or in the comments section as many times as I have over the past six hours, for simply reporting that Ericsson had been re-signed for a disproportionate wage to his services thus far.
At this point, Ken Holland better have a genius move and not simply signing Ed Jovanovski in his back pocket, because signing Jonathan Ericsson to an inflated contract was the equivalent of pulling a dead and decaying rabbit out of his hat.
Red Wings Nation is in near mutiny…
And if I may be blunt, part of it involves the fact that my friends at the The Production Line have deemed Ericsson’s nickname not to be “Big Rig” or “Big E,” or even “Big Error,” but instead, a curse word.
Look, I’m not going to deny that the deal did anything less than stun me, or that I’m absolutely baffled as to how Ericsson’s agent managed to hold Holland’s head down in the executive restroom at the Joe and not allow him to breathe until Ericsson got at least a million dollars more than he’s worth as the team’s #5 defenseman.
Sure, as RedWingsCentral’s Sarah Lindenau and On the Wings’ Matt Saler suggested on Twitter, the honest truth of the matter is that it’s incredibly dangerous at best and stupid at worst for the Wings to let Ericsson go and then try to push Brendan Smith onto the roster as the #5 guy, ahead of Doug Janik and use a platoon of Jakub Kindl and Brad Stuart to serve as the team’s #2/3 defensemen with Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall on the first pair.
That blueline’s too damn thin, and even with Ericsson and [#3/4 Defenseman To Be Named Later] in the lineup, Smith is a bad idea and then some unless he absolutely, positively dominates in training camp and the exhibition season and forces the Wings’ hand to not let him go back to Grand Rapids and play for 25 minutes a game as their #1 defenseman.
But even I don’t know what the hell Holland’s thinking by throwing the Wings’ pay scale off for the sake of softening the blow of Brian Rafalski’s departure. The kind of money he paid Ericsson is exactly the salary someone else would have tossed at him to overpay for his services, especially at the 3-year term we’re talking about here.
I can only say three things to stave off an out-and-out mutiny here:
1) Even at a $3.25 million salary, Ericsson is not unmovable if he struggles because he is huge, mobile, physical and a Red Wing-trained defenseman;
2) While some of you might call him the $***box, the Wings view Ericsson as a work in progress and value him much more highly (no pun intended) than the Wings’ fans do. The Wings believe that the fans’ resident whipping boy could still become a top-four defenseman who can put up 20-30 points and finally grow into his body and into his position as he team’s #3 guy behind Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart after Nicklas Lidstrom does that thing he might do one day;
3) We cannot judge a team’s off-season moves upon what they do prior to July 1st. Hell, knowing how the Wings tend to shop in the bargain bin, and given the fact that they might very well make a trade to acquire the players they need if the free agent market is as unpalatable to Holland, Ryan Martin, Jim Nill, the team’s scouts and Mike Babcock as Ericsson’s new salary is to all of you.
The Wings tend to do some shopping over the first three of four days of July, they tend to take a little break and then mine the bargain bin toward the end of the month, and they do occasionally make trades (again, Jiri Hudler would be more easily moved than Valtteri Filppula as Hudler’s $2.78 cap hit belies $3 million in real-world dollars owed to him in the last year of his contract, whereas Valtteri Filppula’s $3 million cap hit hides a $3.5 million real-world salary and 2 years and a total of $7 million remaining on his contract).
If the free agent market is completely shot, the only thing the Wings won’t do to improve themselves involves tossing off a restricted free agent offer sheet, because that involves both paying so much money that a player’s rights-holder balks at the amount as well as draft picks, so we can’t expect that to happen.
Otherwise, I think we need to see what happens and what the Wings do to improve themselves over the next month-and-a-half, as well a the game plan they implement in terms of improving themselves over the course of the 2011-2012 season, before jumping off the bandwagon once and for all because of one bafflingly high-salaried re-signing.
So what did Holland have to say about his team’s options, anyway? Well, aside from the fact that he’s not going to tender Osgood or Draper offers until after the team’s explored the market, and aside from totally discounting any chance that the Wings will ask Mike Modano, who the Dallas News’s Mike Heika reports will explore the free agent market himself before deciding whether to retire, to return…
Holland told MLive’s Ansar Khan that the players the Wings sign before the drop-dead date of noon today (again, per standard Wings operating procedure, if you haven’t chosen to re-sign with the team before July 1st, your spot might be taken by someone else, and in Drew Miller’s case, Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton would love to take his spot, as would Draper) will obviously affect the team’s thinking, but, otherwise…They’ll get creative:
“What happens with some of our own guys impacts our thinking (Friday),” Holland said. “There’s a number of players we have interest in at forward, defense and in goal. We got quite a bit of cap space. We’ll see if we use it all or not.”
The Red Wings aren’t likely to exhaust the roughly $12 million they have under the $64.3 million cap, saving some money for potential trade deadline deals. They aren’t infatuated with any of the remaining free agents and won’t get into any bidding wars for their services. They had the opportunity to acquire the negotiating rights to several of them but didn’t want to part with a draft pick.
The list of available defensemen includes James Wisniewski (Columbus), Ian White (San Jose), Ed Jovanovski (Phoenix), Tomas Kaberle (Boston), Anton Babchuk (Calgary), Andy Greene (New Jersey), Jan Hejda (Columbus) and Shane O’Brien (Nashville).
“On defense, we’d like to do something,” Holland said. “The market is getting picked over. It’s an expensive market.”
“Up front, we’ll see what goes on with Jagr,” Holland said. “We got 10-11-12 forwards signed, just looking for the right fit.”
As for finding a backup to Jimmy Howard, Holland said, “We’re not going to spend a lot on a backup (goalie). Chris Osgood is an option, but we want to explore what’s out there.”
Holland reiterated his points to the Free Press’s Helene St. James:
“We need another defenseman, so we’ll explore the market,” general manager Ken Holland said. “If there’s a player there, at a number we feel good about, we’re going to try to jump in. If they’re only above-average players, in our mind, then we’ll look at going a different way.”
High-end defensemen often score big contracts during the opening days of free agency, and the market already has been boosted by signings this week. Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa, one of the premier names eligible to become an unrestricted free agent, re-upped with a five-year deal worth $23 million. Carolina’s Joni Pitkanen re-signed for three years, $13.5 million.
As of Thursday evening, James Wisniewski was still available. Wisniewski, 27, and a native of Canton, is very good offensively, but not quite as strong in his own end. Reports surfaced Thursday that the Sabres and Christian Ehrhoff had agreed on a 10-year, $40-million deal. The Wings aren’t particularly interested in Ehrhoff, who had a good regular season but had just one point and went minus-7 during the Stanley Cup finals with Vancouver. The likeliest candidates to come to Detroit are Wisniewski or Windsor native Ed Jovanovski. Jovanovski turned 35 on Sunday, and while he isn’t the swiftest skater, he’s wily and could fit in nicely next to Kronwall. The Wings would rather sign a veteran to a short-term contract than overpay for this summer’s crop of younger defensemen. They also haven’t ruled out bringing back Ruslan Salei.
“I thought Rusty Salei did a nice job for us last year,” Holland said. “I told his agent that we’re not going to sign him prior to July 1. But maybe the way to go is to try to get ourselves a couple of pros, maybe Rusty is one of them. We’re going to explore.”
“We’ve got some young kids that could be as good as some of the players on the market down the road,” Holland said. “So that’s what we have to debate a little bit, is opportunity vs. direction.”
The other big need is for a No. 2 goalie behind Jimmy Howard. Chris Osgood, 38, didn’t play after undergoing sports hernia surgery in January, and it’d be a risk to re-sign him. There are a handful of good backups available, such as Colorado’s Peter Budaj, who brings size and will challenge Howard, and Alex Auld. Other goalies eligible to become unrestricted free agents include Brian Boucher (Philadelphia), former Wing Ty Conklin (St. Louis), Mathieu Garon (Columbus), Curtis McElhinney (Ottawa) and Jose Theodore (Minnesota).
Holland called a top-six forward “a possibility. Because we’ve got cap space, we can be open to lots of different ideas.” Acquiring a higher-end forward could happen via trade, as the Wings already have 12 forwards under contract.
We’ll see how things go starting at noon today—or prior to that, most likely—and between now and then, I’d ask you to politely refrain from burning pictures of Jonathan Ericsson in effigy or something.
In terms of free agency coverage here at KK, I’ve got Friday booked with the fam and friends as, “Don’t bother me” day, and the same is true for Saturday.
I’ll be lending a hand to Paul and Alanah in the coverage department—if last year is any indication regarding a “thin” free agent class, we’ll see about 35 guys get picked up today, 15 tomorrow and then it will tail off on Sunday, pick up again on Monday and by Tuesday we’ll be talking about the players who will have to take less money a month from now because they didn’t get in on the $100 million shopping spree over the first three days of the month—so I’ll be pulling double time and probably a 16-18 hour day today and a good 14-16 hour day tomorrow…
Otherwise, if you’re Canadian, happy Canada Day, if you’re American, and if you’re neither, Happy First Weekend of July, and in any case, stay safe this weekend. And don’t despair—the gig isn’t up yet.
Also of Red Wings-related note: Yes indeedy, as noted above, Mike Modano told the Dallas News’s Mike Heika that he will at least test the marketplace before deciding whether to retire. He sounds like someone who hopes that, somehow, the Stars will bring him back for a swan song;
• In case you missed it, yes, the Avs will retire Peter Forsberg’s #21 when they host the Detroit Red Wings on October 8th, as the Denver Post’s Terry Frei confirms;
• In the alumni department, part 1: The Orange County Register’s Eric Stephens reports that Andreas Lilja’s going to be a free agent today;
• In the alumni department, part 2: the Red Wings’ Twitter account points us to an interview new Hall-of-Famer and Wings pro scout Mark Howe gave to the CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada radio show, and while I won’t embed it as it’s a bit…fluffy…Hall-of-Famer and former Wing Dino Ciccarelli gave a late-night interview to The Fan 590’s Anthony Totera;
• In the extended Wings family’s alumni department, the Grand Rapids Griffins’ website and Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema report that Griffins’ trainer, Brad Shaw (no relation to the former NHL’er), is leaving the Griffins to join the Winnipeg Jets’ organization;
• And because we need it, the Free Press’s Steve Schrader provides some comic relief via a list of Michigan athletes who’ve endorsed local businesses, including one who made, “I trust my eyes to Dr. Rahamani, and you should, too” unforgettable:
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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.