The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/25/12 at 07:18 AM ET
Updated 2x with some “thoughts” from Elliotte Friedman at 9:40 AM: After more or less collapsing due to lingering exhaustion on Monday evening, I woke up with a start, with my bizarre dreams and pseudo-nightmares having given way to that inevitable, “You need to get up, you have to update the blog” nag that has become an internal alarm clock, but I rose for my middle-of-the-night sojourn through this morning’s crop of articles related to Monday’s Red Wings locker room clean-out and its aftermath wondering if we’ve learned anything about the team you and I follow so passionately in the process.
I can tell you that we’re in for the inevitable poker game with its best player, Nicklas Lidstrom, regarding his future plans; I can tell you that Brad Stuart’s not going to play another game in Detroit, barring some sort of miracle, and I can tell you that Tomas Holmstrom faces the same problem Kris Draper did last year—he may want to continue playing for the Wings, but younger players may have already won his spot from him.
I can also tell you for a fact that the Tennessean’s John Manasso’s suggestion that the Wings need to get Predators tough, which stirred up quite a collective growl when Paul posted his article on the main page, is something that you’re not going to like the answer to:
As Ken Holland or Mike Babcock might say, you can’t get both bigger and meaner and more skilled at the same time, and there are no players on the trade or free agent markets, Rick Nash included, who crash, bang and score the 30-plus goals the Wings need up front, nor the 40-50 points the Wings need from the blueline. With Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves sidelined, the Red Wings missed forechecking and forward speed through the neutral zone against Nashville, but they were not unable to dent Pekka Rinne for a lack of effort or a lack of size—the horses the Wings had couldn’t or wouldn’t, for some reason, out-battle the Predators’ forwards and defensemen to the front of the net, and absent the scoring depth this team’s been missing since Rafalski retired and, really, since Hossa left on the blueline and forward lines, the Wings didn’t have the personnel necessary to out-score their mistakes (and those defensive mistakes can be addressed and resolved).
I can also tell you that, as a very partisan and subjective Red Wings fan, this morning…I feel kinda sick, very sad, and kind of hollow. I’ve been a Red Wings fan since I was 13, and at 34, twenty full seasons into following this team and six-and-a-half of doing this for a job, and twenty years after my dad passed away, whenever the Wings finish short of a Stanley Cup, those of us who have been fortunate enough to witness the Wings accomplishing their yearly goal go through a genuine grieving process. And the next couple of…Months…are going to suck.
The hockey season never ends, and in addition to the next week-to-ten-days’ worth of wrap-up stories from a website and press corps which knows much better than, say, the rest of the TV, radio and print media that Red Wings news still generates clicks, traffic and revenue long after the team’s been eliminated, I’m obviously going to be following the team at the Worlds, updating you with injury news regarding players like Cleary, Helm, Eaves and Datsyuk, whose troublesome left knee’s still bothering him badly enough that he may not head to the Worlds to play for Russia because of it, and by the time June rolls around, the team’s coaches and management will be doing much more than waiting on Nicklas Lidstrom—they’ll begin to talk about their plans for the entry draft and free agency—so Lidstrom watch won’t occur in a vacuum. Then come the awards on June 20th (Datsyuk was nominated for the Selke), the draft on the 22nd, free agency soon after, and of course my annual trek up to Traverse City for the Wings’ summer prospect camp, so it’s not as if there won’t be anything going on around here.
We just won’t be talking about Red Wings players playing hockey for the team we care about so very much until September, and typing those words will sting no less come May, June, July or August.
Otherwise, before Jimmy Howard, Justin Abdelkader, Valtteri Filppula, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen leave town to join Jakub Kindl and Tomas Tatar at the World Championships (the players will apparently skate at the Joe before leaving later this week, after their physicals and exit interviews are completed), the Red Wings’ players, coach and GM gathered for their team picture and end-of-the-season media availabilities on Tuesday afternoon, and by the time the players were able to leave the Joe around 3 PM, they gave so many comments to the press that you can watch over 90 minutes of video in the main post, but only managed to scratch at the surface of the issues which led to the Wings’ downfall and offered few solutions as to what the team must do going forward to reclaim its status as a perennial contender.
We’ll start our survey of this morning’s stories at the top, with the captain’s comments about his future, as noted by the Detroit News...
“I’ll do the same as I did last year — just take my time,” Lidstrom said Tuesday. “I’m gonna have a meeting with Kenny (Holland), an exit meeting like all the players have, and go from there. So I won’t make a decision soon. I wouldn’t really have a timetable on it. I’m sure Kenny would like know before July 1 to see what’s going on. That’s what we did last year.”
The NHL free-agent signing period begins July 1. Lidstrom missed 11 games of the regular season in February and March after he was hit in the ankle with a puck.
“Physically I feel OK,” Lidstrom said. “My ankle was hurting me late in the year and a little bit in the playoffs. But we have good doctors and it really didn’t bother me once I started playing games.”
Lidstrom, 41, was asked if he could play another year if sufficiently motivated.
“I believe so,” he said. “I feel physically that I can still play. I still believe I can contribute. But you have to be motivated and you have to have the drive, and that’s something I’ll think about.”
And the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness...
“It’s always hard losing in the first round especially since we felt we had a pretty good team going into the playoffs,” Lidstrom said. “We did have a good regular season, but we got hurt and couldn’t get back to playing up to our standards. We did play well at times in the playoffs, but not good enough to beat a good Nashville team. That stinks, but I don’t know if that’ll be part of my decision or not.”
Lidstrom said money won’t be a factor.
“You’re still disappointed losing out so mentally you’re not happy with how things ended,” Lidstrom said. “Physically I feel OK. My ankle was hurting me late in the year and a little bit in the playoffs, but we have good doctors and it really didn’t bother me when we started playing games. I’m happy with how I played the first half of the season, I felt I dropped off a little bit in the second half, then I got hurt with 60 games into the year,” Lidstrom added. “I think that slowed me down I bit. I wasn’t where I wanted to be after I got back from that injury.”
He does feel he can play another season.
“I believe so,” he said. “I feel physically I can still play. I can contribute, but you have to be motivated and you have to have the drive and that’s something I will think about.”
As well as NHL.com’s Brian Hedger...
“I try and push (it aside) during the regular season and even in the playoffs, but I get reminded by [the media] a lot,” Lidstrom said Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena as the Red Wings cleared out their lockers and took the team photo. “You don’t want that to become a distraction to the team or to myself. I push that aside.”
He kept pushing it aside in his own mind, too, after Detroit made a quick exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by losing a Western Conference Quarterfinal series to Nashville in just five games. Lidstrom went through the traditional post-game handshake line like he’s done many times before, both on the winning and losing sides.
“ never thought [in the last few seconds] that this was going to be my last game,” said Lidstrom, who turns 42 on Saturday and has gone through this postseason process about retirement a couple of times before. “I didn’t get into those thoughts at all.”
At least, not until he got to Predators coach Barry Trotz—who shook Lidstrom’s hand and put in a request that Detroit’s players, coaches and front office have probably said just a few times in the past three seasons.
“He said, ‘Please don’t retire’ when we shook hands,” Lidstrom said. “I’m not sure what he’s thinking. I was kind of faltered to hear that from the opposing coach.”
Hedger says that Lidstrom told the press that he’s never thought about whether he’s played in his last game, whether he should embark on a farewell tour, nothing, and while Lidstrom’s teammates have tried to lobby him (and, according to Hedger, in Johan Franzen’s case, bribe him with candy) to return, Lidstrom’s just going to do what he does every spring—debate whether he’s got enough drive left in him to go through the process of training for another year of hockey and then sit down with his family to decide whether this is the year he moves back to the home that’s been built for them in Vasteras:
“Training is part of it,” Lidstrom said. “I know what I have to do to get ready for a long year. I’m not willing to sacrifice that to have a good summer or take it easy. I know what I have to do and it’s a grind to go through, which all of us do in here. Then you hit the grind of the season. It’s a long year. You play three to four games every week for over six months and that takes its toll on you, too.”
Missing out on family life also takes a toll. Lidstrom already has one son, Kevin, who’s gone to Sweden for the last two school years to play hockey. He also has three younger boys growing up quickly.
“I’ll sit down and talk to my family, as well, and see what we want to do and go from there,” said Lidstrom, who is currently 10th all-time in regular-season games played with 1,564. “I feel physically I can still play. I can contribute, but you have to be motivated and you have to have the drive ... and that’s something I will think about. I want to take a few weeks and get over this[.] It’s hard when you’re a few days away from losing.”
MLive’s Ansar Khan notes that there are “legs” to the press and fans’ worries about Lidstrom’s sons’ plans weighing upon him…
Family concerns also will be a factor. He said his second-oldest son, Adam, has been talking about wanting to return to Sweden, where his oldest son, Kevin, has resided the past two years.
“That’s something as a family we’ll sit down and discuss,’’ Lidstrom said.
But the captain does not believe that his team is at the end of its championship window…
“We still have a solid core group of players; I don’t see the team slipping,’’ Lidstrom said. “I think they’re going to do whatever they can to get the best players and put out the best product.’‘
He said management’s decision on whether to bring back close friend Tomas Holmstrom will not have a bearing on what he does. Lidstrom isn’t about to negotiate a potential contract in public, but he was asked if he would be willing to take less than his $6.2 million salary from 2011-12 to return.
“I think a lot of guys have bought into this system to try and find the best available guys to get a good team on the ice,’’ he said.
And so his teammates, and you and me, will hope for the best…
I think he’s coming back,’’ Niklas Kronwall said. “Maybe that’s just what I’m hoping. How can you quit when you’re that good?’’ Kronwall said. “Maybe that’s selfish thinking on my part because I want our team to be as good as it can be next year.’‘
Though the man who’s definitely leaving sounded like…Brian Rafalski did last year:
Defenseman Brad Stuart, who is not likely to return, pegged the odds of Lidstrom coming back at “50-50. He is the best defenseman I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with,’’ Stuart said. “His leadership ability is the ability to be the best player you can be every day. I don’t know if I ever left the rink thinking, ‘Nick just didn’t have it today.’ He was almost the same every day. That is what a great player is. When that’s the kind of guy leading your team, it rubs off on you.’‘
The Detroit News’s John Niyo also took note of Lidstrom’s teammates’ takes, while adding in his own…
“I have a gut feeling, and I’ll keep that to myself,” said Zetterberg, the likely heir to the ‘C’ if Lidstrom does call it quits. “I had a gut feeling, too, last year, and it turned out to be right. So we’ll see in a month or so.”
I had the same gut feeling last year, for what it’s worth. But I don’t have one this year, aside from what Mike Babcock keeps referencing. (“He’s too good to quit,” the coach said.) And I get the feeling Zetterberg’s not all that confident in his own gut this time. Chances are, it’s like what Kronwall shared Tuesday, saying, “I think he’s coming back. But maybe that’s just what I’m hoping.”
Before noting that, perhaps thankfully, Wings GM Ken Holland is scared s***less of the day in June when he finally receives “the call”:
“You mean when I get the call he’s coming over?” said Holland, long after the 2011-12 roster had gathered one last time for the team photo at Joe Louis Arena. “It’s a nervous feeling. It’s Game 7.”
“I’m hoping Nick comes back,” Holland said. “He told me he’s not sure. Which, to me, that’s a good thing.”
Why? Well, that question led to a convoluted answer from Holland that essentially boiled down to this: “The harder the decision is,” he said, “I’m gonna take it as the glass is half full.”
Fair enough. And Holland knows he’ll get a chance to fill that glass with more optimism in the next week when the two sit down for an “exit meeting” to talk about what went wrong this spring and how Holland intends to make it right. As I’ve been saying since last July, you can bet the names of pending free agents Ryan Suter (Nashville) and Zach Parise (New Jersey) will be mentioned prominently in that chat.
“I guess part of my sales pitch was today, but it wasn’t only to Nick,” said Holland, who talked at length with reporters Tuesday about his intentions to “keep after it” as the Red Wings try to retool on the fly. “I know the mood out there is that the sky is falling and that our time has come and gone. I mean, I’m not stupid. Do we need some tweaks? We need some tweaks. Are we gonna explore July 1 free agency and see who’s out there and be as aggressive as we can be based upon who’s out there? That’s been our history.”
Or, as Holland told the Free Press’s Helene St. James...
The way it happens is that Nicklas Lidstrom calls Ken Holland and suggests they meet; Holland spends the intervening time not sleeping; they meet, and in 5 minutes, it’s over.
“It’s Game 7,” Holland said Tuesday when describing what it’s like to wait to find out whether Lidstrom will return or retire. The Wings have gone through it the past few years and are doing so again this spring, as Lidstrom, who will be 42 on Saturday, mulls his future. The Wings very much want him back.
“In the past, he’s come in, he’s said, ‘I want to meet you next Tuesday,’ and it’ll be like Thursday or Friday,” Holland said. “So now you sit and you stew for three, four days, because you’ve got a meeting, but you know he’s made his decision. He comes in, and within 5 minutes, he’s kind of told you he’s thinking of coming back, and then we start to talk about the contract.”
St. James also offers some hints as to Holland’s other personnel moves to come…
Asked if he sees a need to add a scorer, Holland said. “It’s hard, because we were the No. 1 team in the league 5-on-5. If you look at the Western Conference, Vancouver, Chicago, and Detroit, we were the three highest-scoring teams in the league. We’re all out. So I guess my answer is no, the statistics don’t bear that out.”
Holland said he’d trade a core player if it would help, but doesn’t see it happening. “My vision is, how do we just continue to give ourselves a chance?”
We’ll get back to that in a minute, because from Lidstrom, who DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose notes still has the motivation to play…
“It’s there in the back of my mind,” said Lidstrom, about the desire to win another Stanley Cup. “You’ve won before and getting that feeling of winning and finishing on top so it’s always in the back of player’s mind of winning another Cup.”
We need to move on to the player who, arguably, has the highest chance of witnessing his number retired to the rafters—or at least his hockey pants—from the litany of “grinders” and role players who helped the Wings win those 4 Stanley Cups because he’s given his heart, soul, back and knees to the cause, and clearly loves what he’s doing, because he continues to go to the front of the net to enthusiastically get the crap kicked out of him. Tomas Holmstrom wants to continue playing, but he’s slowing down to the point that even he’s lost a step, and while he shined as a fourth-line forward alongside Cory Emmerton, he…Didn’t necessarily like it:
Lidstrom’s teammate and close friend Tomas Holmstrom is also facing uncertainty in the twilight of his career that has spanned 1,026 games. The veteran forward, who has made a name for himself as one of the league’s premier net-front players, has health issues which may decide his hockey fate.
“I love the game, I would love to play three or four more years,” Holmstrom said. “It’s so much fun to come to the rink. It’s just whether the body can take it one or two more years. It’s all about the wear and tear on the body. I just know that mentally, the last couple of years, I’ve had to go through stiffness, soreness, aches and pains. It can be pretty tough during the regular-season.”
A significant decrease in the amount of ice-time he got this season was a disappointment for Holmstrom, but he proved his worthiness by scoring at least 10 power-play goals for the sixth out of the last seven seasons.
“If I’m going to play next year, am I going to play on the fourth line and get 7-9 minutes of ice time a game, that’s tough to do,” said Holmstrom, who has battled through bad knees for years. “Of course, you’ve got the power play, too, but it’s not that easy to get out there and make something happen when you’re getting limited ice-time.”
Holmstrom mostly spoke in English about the points he made in Swedish, saying that now that his “freakshow” has become a hockey family, he’s seriously considering, at least for a while, anyway, settling in the U.S. and telling the neighbor kids to get off his lawn (okay, everything except for the last part). That being said, as the Detroit news’s Ted Kulfan notes, Holmstrom just might not have a spot—like Kris Draper last season—because Gustav Nyquist and maybe someone like Tomas Tatar can provide the kind of speed and offensive pop that the Wings seemed to lose down the stretch:
“I’m going to be a rink rat for sure,” Holmstrom said Tuesday.
But whether Holmstrom will remain a hockey player is the question. Holmstrom said he’ll sit down with Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock to determine if he’ll return for another season.
“I’ll take some time and see where the body is,” said Holmstrom, who has battled numerous injuries in recent seasons.
Said Babcock: “That’s what he is, (a fourth liner), physically. Mentally, he’s an elite competitor. He’s a great teammate and he makes guys around him better.”
It’s entirely possible that Holmstrom might become the Wings’ first power play coach as no one can match his puck retrieval skills (seriously, despite the fact that he’s the best puck-tipper since Dino Ciccarelli, Holmstrom’s ability to chase down rebounds and dig pucks out to shovel back into play for his teammates on the power play is what makes it works), but he’s sticking around one way or another.
Holmstrom admitted to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness that he’s going to miss playing with Lidstrom, and Babcock did compliment one aspect of the resident, “For sure, I’ll be the joke of the butt!” player’s skills:
“I would love to play with (Lidstrom) one more year, but I don’t think it matters if he plays or not,” Holmstrom said.
Babcock can’t imagine a locker room missing both Lidstrom and Holmstrom.
“If they decide to quit, it’s going to be a big hole,” Babcock said.
Brad Stuart almost definitely is not sticking around. Despite Kyle Quincey’s struggles to adapt to the Wings’ system, Stuart’s comments on Tuesday all but vindicated Holland’s decision to go out and spend his first-rounder on Stuart’s would-be successor. MLive’s Brendan Savage noted that Stuart strongly, strongly, strongly suggested that his familial issues (Mrs. Stuart would lose custody of her oldest daughter, from a previous marriage, if she were to move elsewhere, and Stuart has two young sons as well, so the family chose to remain in San Jose) mean that he’s heading back out to the West Coast this summer:
“I’ve been living here; my family lives in California,” Stuart said as the Red Wings met at Joe Louis Arena to clean out their lockers. “I’ve got a stepdaughter that needs to finish high school so that’s how it is. There’s really no way to get around that. It’s been a tough couple years. As much fun and as great as it’s been to play here, it’s been equally as tough on the family side of it. Those are things I’d like to consider, at least try to fix. My family situation can’t change next year so the only way for that to work is for me to have to suck it up for another year. It’s been a draining couple of years for me, having to do that. So that’s a decision I guess we’ll have to make as a family. I guess it’s just, ‘Can I get through another year of that?’ My boys are getting older now, they’re four and five. So it’s getting hard to be away from them. Those are all factors I have to consider.”
Because the season just ended Friday in a first-round playoff loss to Nashville, Stuart hasn’t had much time to ponder the future. He has yet to meet with Red Wings’ general manager Ken Holland and he’s still in Detroit while his family is on the West Coast. Leaving won’t be easy if that’s what he chooses to do. The highlight of Stuart’s 12-year career came shortly after he was traded from Los Angeles to Detroit on Feb. 26, 2008. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup four months later and almost made it two in a row before losing a seven-game championship series to Pittsburgh in 2009.
“I love it here,” said Stuart, 31. “Yeah, If it was a purely hockey decision, I would stay. But I’ve got other things to consider and factors other than just hockey. Those are things I guess I’ll have to figure out in the next month and a half. Obviously, when I was traded here, I didn’t really know anything about the Red Wings other than they were a good team, have always been a good team since I’ve been in the league. When I got here, I figured out what that is. It’s a great organization from the top to the bottom and everybody enjoys playing here and they’ve got a great core of players and some of the best players I’ve ever played with. It’s pretty easy to figure out why it’s such a good team.”
Stuart appreciates that the Red Wings have worked with him in dealing with his family matters. When the Red Wings had a few days off between games, the club allowed Stuart to fly home and see his family. But that also had a downside as his children would get emotional when he had fly back to Detroit.
Wings coach Mike Babcock’s already resigned to reality:
“Is (Stuart) moving on?” Babcock asked. “I know his family’s still living out West, so that’s probably going to happen.”
Niklas Kronwall seems to know that his partner’s out the door, too:
“We see the game pretty much the same,” Kronwall said. “We’re both pretty low-key guys, just get along really well for some reason. What he brings to the table night in and night out, it’s tough to replace. Family comes first. That’s just the way it has to be. Everyone knows his family has been in California for a few years and it’s got to be tough on him. His kids are growing up and as much as I hate to see him leave, he needs to do what’s right for him and his family.”
So things are what they are, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James notes:
The San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings will have the salary-cap room and roster room to add Stuart. The Wings may be able to trade Stuart’s rights for a draft pick, if one team wants to get the upper hand on negotiating a deal.
The Wings will miss a strong performer and a good friend:
Jonathan Ericsson related how, during his rookie season, coach Mike Babcock would urge that “you have to be like Stuie. He’s like a guy on a mission on his every shift.”
The team’s goaltenders loved Stuart, often calling him “a second goalie” for the way he blocks shots. The one player who’ll feel his loss the most is Niklas Kronwall, who has been Stuart’s partner.
“Stuie is just a big tank out there,” Kronwall said. “He goes out every night, and he does it all for us. His physical play and just his commitment to playing, his attitude, can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a really good character guy. Guys like that don’t come around too often.”
Stuart’s leadership was indelible. He was always available to reporters, even after tough losses. While in Sweden to open the ‘09-10 season, I was interviewing a younger player on the team, who in the course of an answer used questionable language. Very quietly, very unobtrusively, Stuart told the player, “Watch your language.”
“Brad is the one of the best guys out there,” Ericsson said. “He’s just so humble and just genuinely nice. I got to know his family a little bit this year, too, and he’s telling me about his kids. He’s really a family guy. So that’s something that he really kind of reflects to everyone else—that some things are really more important than others.”
Kronwall described Stuart as someone who “you know him inside out, and you go to dinners with him every time you’re on the road. You spend a lot of time together. He’s a friend of yours. If he would leave, we all know that’s part of the business, but at the same time, it’s sad. But he’s got to do what’s best for him and his situation.”
Of the players who will remain, Danny Cleary’s going to be the first Wing to find himself on an operating room table after spending the year battling through a nasty knee injury. Cleary spoke to the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff about what could be an incredibly painful summer:
“I think it will be fine,” Cleary said. “I’ve just got to go in, have the surgery on it, then just get on a maintenance program and I’ll be fine.”
Cleary estimated he’ll endure a six-week recovery period following surgery. “There’s significant issues going on,” he said. “They’ll know more when they get in there. There’s a lot of different things. There’s tears in there, there’s cartilage damage, there’s bone on bone, there’s a lot of fluid. The build-up of fluid was a major issue. I’m hoping that we can get it resolved.”
If he had it to do over again, Cleary admitted he would have undergone surgery on the knee back when trouble first flared up in November, talking about how the injury impacted all facets of his life.
“Just the everyday things, even walking – I walked with a limp since November,” Cleary said. “The games were really hard. I tried as hard as I could, gave it everything I can, but what are you going to do? It’s hard playing on one leg. Looking back on it, we were hoping it would calm down, but it never did. I would have had the surgery (in November).
Given the fact that doctors tend to find more damage than anticipated when they open up a damaged joint, surgery may or may not alter the Wings’ summer plans, because the team needs Cleary, first and foremost, to get back to 100%, no matter how long that takes.
There is good news about several other Wings, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan notes:
Forward Patrick Eaves (broken jaw/concussion) expects to be ready for training camp.
“I’ll be ready for next year,” Eaves said. “It’s still a process (he’s still getting headaches) but I’m getting better. … I still have a way to go but I’ll be ready.”
Goaltender Joey MacDonald (partial bulging disc) doesn’t think he’ll need surgery.
“I can see a big improvement,” MacDonald said. “It’s going in the right direction. If we had continued going on (in the playoffs), I would have skated in the next week or two.”
It’s hard to say whether Holland and the Wings’ management will decide to bank on MacDonald’s back holding up because he’s got a $550,000, one-way contract which would allow the Wings to spend more money elsewhere, or whether the Wings might consider finding another more proven back-up given that the assorted cast of characters behind Howard may or may not have led to the kind of over-playing of a #1 goaltender which leads to injuries and inconsistent play down the stretch…
And Howard addressed those issues while speaking to the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa:
“It’s tough when you realize you have a team that’s still good enough to be out there,” Howard said. “It’s tough watching the other games.”
Howard said he entered the playoffs intending “to be better than the other guy at the other end of the rink.” But Pekka Rinne made a lot of saves in the series as the Red Wings outshot the Predators. Howard was less successful. His .888 goals-against average is the lowest of his career in the playoffs, down from .923 last year and .916 the season before. He grappled with a couple of his mistakes and several by teammates, while the Red Wings did too little scoring to compensate.
“I think when we’re on top of our game, like we were until the 60-game mark, you could see we were at the top,” he said. “And the wheels sort of fell off there, with all the injuries.”
Working his way through a broken finger and two groin injuries was further proof [thereof]. The Red Wings goaltender continues to appraise his team as a contender that does not require wholesale changes. He is mindful of his role and what he needs to accomplish this summer.
“I think a lot of people probably think we’re a ways away,” he said. “I think it’s just a little bit. I think it’s just little things here and there, and it could have been a different outcome and we could still be playing. For me it’s going to be going back and getting ready for next season and trying to get better and building off of this year. My job doesn’t change. For me, it’s stopping the puck every night for the guys,” said the 2011-12 All-Star, who was on pace to win 50 games before his injuries.
As such, Howard’s excited about playing in the World Championships for the U.S., which, in theory, anyway, should help him get a leg up on earning a spot with the 2014 Olympic team, as he told the Free Press’s Helene St. James...
“Most definitely, yeah,” Howard said Tuesday as he cleaned out his locker at Joe Louis Arena, four days after the Wings’ first-round playoff exit. “It’s definitely one of the things that I’d be proud to be able to do, and this is one of the stepping-stones to possibly getting my name in the hat.”
Fellow American Justin Abdelkader also is going.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity, and the opportunity to represent my country is pretty neat,” he said. “It’ll be fun to have a teammate with you. That’ll be exciting to share that experience together.”
Who spoke to Johan Franzen about playing for Sweden (with Henrik Zetterberg and Jonathan Ericsson):
“I felt like we’ve had an early exit here, two years in a row,” Franzen said. “I haven’t finished a season on a good note in a while, too, so it feels like a good opportunity to do that. It’s always fun. A lot of friends and family are going to be able to see a game live. It’s a lot of fun.”
Valtteri Filppula will represent Finland and Jakub Kindl the Czech Republic. Pavel Datsyuk said he hoped to join Team Russia, but was still waiting to get clearance from the team’s medical personnel. Coach Mike Babcock tried to see the upside to the overseas exodus.
“I don’t like them going in the fact that we should be playing here,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to travel to another country to play hockey. It’s not something I’d like to be standard for our team. Yet I really think it’s really good—Fil is going to get an opportunity. He’s had a great year, confidence-wise. The same with Ericsson, Kindl, I think the same way, Howie and Abby the same way. I think for Franzen, for Zetterberg, for Datsyuk, who’ve already played in the Olympics and have been what they’ve been, I don’t know if it’s as much a confidence builder. But for the Swedes and the Finns, they’re playing right in their own country, so that makes it real special.”
DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose spoke to the Wings’ Worlds participants as well:
“It is nice. For me personally I want to get a better ending on this season than this,” said Wings center Henrik Zetterberg, who along with Johan Franzen and Jonathan Ericsson will play for Sweden. “Going home and playing in front of friends and family it’s awesome, so we’re happy that we can go.”
Forward Justin Abdelkader and goalie Jimmy Howard are making their debuts on the U.S. Men’s National Team, though each player has represented the United States in the past.
“They invited me, so, yeah, I just found out yesterday,” Abdelkader said. “Anytime you can play for your country, represent your country it’s a big honor and I’m excited about the opportunity.”
For the Wings’ Swedish players, playing back home at the Ericsson Globe, where the Wings began the 2008-09 season with two games against St. Louis, will be an awesome experience.
“Yeah, it is a big deal,” Zetterberg said. “I played one World Championship back home in ’01. It’s a lot of fun, but that was 11 years ago. Then six years ago we went over and won the (Olympic) gold, so when you get the opportunity, and we don’t get them a lot, it is an honor. You’d rather be playing here, for sure, but when everything went the way it went you get the call and it’s hard to say no.”
Niklas Kronwall has gone from a, “There’s no way I can go because I’m building a house here” to, “Maybe” regarding his status…
“I’m not quite sure yet,” Niklas Kronwall said. “I have some personal stuff that needs to be taken care of, but we’ll play it by ear this week and we’ll see.”
Just in case he decides to go, Kronwall will skate this week at Joe Louis Arena with the other Wings’ players heading to the tournament.
“There are a lot of intriguing things about going home, but my brother is still on the team now, we’ll see if he makes it, so it would be fun to possibly have a chance to play with him,” Kronwall said. “At the same time of the other guys here are going, it would be fun.”
For the vast majority of the Wings’ players, however, Tuesday represented the last time they would lace up their skates until August, and for some of them, perhaps the last time they’d lace up their skates as members of the Red Wings. As WXYZ’s Brad Galli suggests, the team knows that change is both necessary and inevitable…
“Everyone wanted to keep playing. It was a quick exit. We played a good team, but there were things I thought we didn’t do,” Henrik Zetterberg said.
Mike Babcock harped on the message he’s driven home since the Game 5 loss to Nashville: there are no excuses for this franchise to be anywhere but at the top.
“It might feel a little selfish, but I don’t mind being selfish. I think we should be there every year, and we think with some minor, well, with some tweaks, we can be better,” the head coach said.
Babcock’s hesitation at the word “minor” might very well be indicative of the team’s direction this offseason. Questions swarm key players’ futures. Will Nicklas Lidstrom retire? Will Brad Stuart leave, as expected, to be closer to his family in San Jose? Will Tomas Holmstrom be resigned? Will Jiri Hudler return? Babcock balked at talking about a major roster overhaul. He pointed instead to the team’s core, and the need for “more depth up front.”
“We feel like we’ve got some room to add. We’re gonna do that the best we can and I think that will make us a better team,” he said.
The Red Wings’ leaders understand that the Wings need to make, as Babcock suggests, “tweaks,” as they told the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell…
“I think so, there needs to be,” said centre Pavel Datsyuk about the possibility of significant change. “It might not be something really, really big, but there has to be some change for sure. It’s a good thing we make the playoffs, but the last few years we don’t go too far. The second round is not good. We need to improve ourselves for sure. We need to take at least two steps (to conference finals).”
“You need to make changes,” Zetterberg said. “You add people and you lose people. Some of them are tougher than others. We haven’t been good enough in here lately and I think everyone in here is prepared to make those sacrifices to do what needs to be done.”
However, Zetterberg said the changes that are needed aren’t necessarily a rip down and rebuild. He feels the Wings’ problems are fixable and can be done fast.
“I think it can be fixed (in one summer),” Zetterberg said. “We have a good team here. We have to do some changes. If we do the right changes, they will be some tough changes, but if we do that we’ll be right back next year.”
No, you can’t fix everything in one summer, but you can take some significant steps toward doing so:
“We still have a solid core group of players that’s been part of this team for a while that are still contributing to this team,” Lidstrom said. “I don’t see the team slipping. There’s a lot of parity in this league and if you don’t play as good as you have to, you’re going to lose and that’s what happened to our team. I haven’t had my meeting with Kenny (Holland) yet, but I doubt he’s thinking about rebuilding. I think they’re going to do whatever they can to get the best players and put out the best product.”
“We need to score more,” Datsyuk said. “We have a few with injuries, but we need more score. When the playoffs start, we have not many goal scorers.”
It’s not as if the Wings will tear down the Big Red Machine and, as Manasso suggests, get “gritty” and “greasy,” and even Babcock knows it:
“Every year, whoever wins, you could say let’s model ourselves after them,” Babcock said. “Teams that do that end up changing models every year. We’re going to stay with the model we got and keep making it better and reload it.”
The Wings are a different kind of big and nasty, as they told MLive’s Ansar Khan:
“I don’t know if we’re small and slow,” Zetterberg said. “Maybe we’re not physical enough. I think we have enough physical guys in here. Maybe we don’t have enough fighters in here, but I don’t know if you need that.”
Said Babcock: “I don’t think enforcers do you any good in the playoffs whatsoever. I think sandpaper that plays does you lots of good.”
Lidstrom said they didn’t lose to Nashville because they weren’t physical enough, but added, “You need it in the playoffs, though. You can see it in the other series, you need to be more physical. That’s something you need to bring as a team.”
Babcock believes his team’s puck-possession style is a form of physicality. “Puck possession is when you have the puck more than the other team because you’re on top of them, you’re grinding and you’re working,” Babcock said. “I don’t think Nashville had the puck more than us. In the end, they won the series.”
And that’s where Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves’ absences hurt the Wings so badly. Puck possession, ironically enough, tends to begin with forwards buying their puck-moving defensemen space to operate 200 feet from their own net, forechecking and grinding upon opponents to disrupt their transition game, and then the defensemen get to work lugging the puck up the ice or firing passes to forwards skating through the neutral zone with speed, thus allowing forwards sans pucks to back off trapping opposing players and defensemen…
Anyway, the Wings are definitely frustrated…
“Most of the guys in here feel like we have a better team than what we were able to show,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “You look around and it feels like we can still compete with those teams and we’re out, so that’s the most frustrating part.”
“I still believe we had a good enough team to do damage this year,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “We have to keep building on that. We need to (make) some changes.”
And they definitely wouldn’t mind adding Zach Parise, Ryan Suter or comparable players to the roster, as they told NHL.com’s Brian Hedger...
“They’re good players,” Red Wings star forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “[They’re] great players and seem like two really good guys, too. They’d be a good fit in here. We’ll just have to wait and see where they decide to go.”
The Red Wings not only have a storied history to woo free agents with, but could also have deep pockets under the salary cap if Detroit’s five potential unrestricted free agents retire or play elsewhere. Detroit also has Babcock willing to burn up cell-phone minutes trying to recruit free agents.
“I’ve always been in those conversations or on the phone doing whatever I’ve got to do,” Babcock said, grinning. “I’ve got air miles, too. I could fly in.”
“I guess my question to you is, ‘What’s major?’” Babcock asked. “We’re in a position financially that we can acquire and get into the [free agent] market. Now, [if it’s] set up that it’s going to work that way and we think we can make it work, then we’ll be all over it. We feel we got some room to add and we’re going to do the very best we can and I think that will make us a better team.”
Babcock continued to hammer the “we didn’t have enough forward depth” line…
“Our best part of our season is when we had lots of depth and we were able to go after the other team with our third and fourth lines, as well,” he said. “If you look at all these other series ... what I see is that [another team’s] third line scores and [their] fourth line scores. They just keep coming and they wear on people, and it gives your other guys some breathing space. We didn’t have that. We just kept jamming [our top lines] out there. Probably in the end, that didn’t help us [against Nashville].”
But, as Hedger notes, Stuart won’t be the team’s only departure:
[Jiri] Hudler, who scored 25 goals and added 25 assists in 81 games, may seek a much larger contract after such a nice bounce-back season from the 10 goals he scored in the 2010-11 campaign. Veteran goalie Ty Conklin is also likely done with Joey MacDonald earning the back-up role while filling in admirably when Howard was injured.
Factor in promising rookies Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist likely pushing for regular roles and this could be the most tumultuous off-season for the Red Wings in quite some time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, either.
It’s entirely possible that Jakub Kindl, Cory Emmerton and/or Jan Mursak might be squeezed out if the Wings make some summertime splashes to add to their forward or defensive depth, and it’s possible that players like Tomas Tatar and Brian Lashoff could make pushes to make the club come September, but in the interim, I think that Babcock’s first remark to reporters sums things up nicely…
“As I’ve watched these teams go on and I hear, ‘Well, this team hasn’t won a playoff series since ‘ and this one just won their first one,’ you know, it might seem a little selfish but I don’t mind being selfish ... I think we should be there every year,” Babcock said near the start of his talk with reporters. “We think with some ... tweaks and some good work in the off-season from our players and us as a management team, we can be way better.”
Though it is worth noting that Ken Holland didn’t want to make any promises, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan found out:
“Let’s see how the summer unfolds,” Holland said. “We’ll explore free agency, we’ll go the draft and explore trades. (But) part of getting better in a cap world has to be internal. In training camp we challenged our 20-somethings to take a step and we had a lot of 20-somethings take a step.”
And yes, for the record, the Mule knows that he’s got some things to work on, too:
“Didn’t get anything going [in the playoffs],” Franzen said. “It’s just the way it was. I don’t really know why.”
Too many Wings players, their coach and their general manager don’t seem to have answers as to why they struggled so mightily against Nashville, nor what exactly the team needs to do, internally or “externally,” to reclaim their contending form, and that’s why we’re talking about the Wings’ 2011-2012 season in the past tense.
Over the next few weeks, here’s hoping that the players’ physicals and exit interviews and the coaching and managerial staffs’ powwows produce the answers necessary to formulate plans of action that will involve more than saying, “Well, we’re gonna hope that our young players and bargain signings do the job,” because that hasn’t worked for three successive springs.
Multimedia: The Detroit Free Press posted a 31-image gallery of the Wings’ locker room clean-out;
• The Detroit News posted 23-image gallery;
• WXYZ posted a video report accompanying Brad Galli’s story:
• The Detroit News posted a 4:06 clip of Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom, Brad Stuart and Mike Babcock speaking to the press:
• MLive posted 48-second clip of Babcock’s presser:
Part II: The reason Jim Nill didn’t leave the Wings is scary: Per the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan:
Nill’s wife Rebecca is battling cancer — “She’s doing better, she has a strong faith,” Nill said — and Nill felt the time wasn’t right to pursue another opportunity.
“I had a great dialogue and I was real impressed with Mr. (Geoff) Molson (Canadiens president) but the timing wasn’t right,” Nill said. “I would have loved the opportunity there but it wouldn’t have been fair to Montreal and my wife — it wouldn’t have been to just pick up and move.”
Nill described the discussions with Montreal as “professional” and said he was impressed with the Canadiens’ organization. Nill was first approached by the Canadiens when general manager Pierre Gauthier was relieved of his duties late in the season.
Nill said he is optimistic his opportunity to be an NHL general manager will come, but there’s work to do with the Red Wings right now, after a first-round playoff loss.
Part III: In the prospect department, Tomas Jurco returned to the Saint John Sea Dogs’ lineup and scored a goal, but his team dropped a 5-4 overtime decision to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. Saint John still leads their QMJHL semifinal 2 games to 1.
Part IV: Also of Red Wings-related note: Nicklas Lidstrom wasn’t willing to give Expressen’s Gunnar Nordstrom a “percentage” as to whether he’ll return or retire, but he did say that he chose to decline an invitation to play at the Worlds for Sweden because he wasn’t motivated enough to go, and…
That he’s not going to make his decision until both he takes some time to regroup and speak to his family, and that he wants to hear what Ken Holland has to say to him about rebounding from the team’s first-round ouster;
• In Russian, Russian Hockey Federation president Vladislav Tretiak told Sport-Express’s Andrei Kuznetsov that the national team expects Pavel Datsyuk to play for them despite his knee issues;
• If you missed it, Lyle “Spector” Richardson penned a look at the Wings’ off-season plans;
• And in the programming department, I’m guessing that, given the number of reporters that were at the Joe on Tuesday, columns and analysis will roll in for another 7-10 days, and it’s entirely possible that we’ll receive “practice” reports every day until the players practicing leave for the Worlds, but I have an appointment at 2…and for the next day or three, I’m going to take things a little easy. I forgot that I’ve been back at this for less than two weeks, and my body’s yelling at me.
Update: MLive’s Brendan Savage provides more context regarding Danny Cleary’s injury-plagued season:
“Well, I had the broken ribs in training camp, so that didn’t help,” he said. “Then once they heal, I hurt my knee. It was an injury-filled season. The broken ribs was another (lousy) thing to have. For me, the way I have to play, it’s not the ideal thing to have.”
Cleary didn’t want to reveal exactly what is wrong with his knee. But he does have some torn cartilage and said the surgeon will know more about the extent of the damage once he opens the knee up. But he said the procedure will be nothing like an osteotomy, where the knee is basically realigned. Steve Yzerman underwent the procedure in 2002 and returned to play three seasons, something no other athlete is believed to have done at the time.
“Well I’d hate to sprout off, but I have some significant issues going on,” Cleary said. “They’ll know more when they get in there, you know? There are a lot of different things in there.There are some tears in there, loose cartilage, some bone on bone, a lot of fluid – the build-up of fluid was a major issue, so hoping that we can get it resolved.I going to get the surgery done and hopefully just rehab it. Just have to go in and have surgery on it then just get on a maintenance program and it will be fine.”
Update #2: Take these for what you will, from the CBC’s Elliotte Freidman‘s “30 Thoughts”:
17. Detroit is interesting. Rivals think the Red Wings will be very proactive. You can’t mention them without hearing, “They’re going to be bidding for [Ryan] Suter and Parise.” Teams are uncertain about spending because of the looming CBA, but even
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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.