The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/26/12 at 07:37 AM ET
Updated substantially at 7:16 AM: Neither player suggested as much during the Red Wings’ locker room clean-out, but from Mike Babcock to Chris Chelios and you and me, those who are wondering what might tip the scales toward Nicklas Lidstrom returning for one more season of NHL hockey are also wondering aloud as to whether the Wings might entice Lidstrom to stick around by inviting Lidstrom’s closest friend and carpool buddy, Tomas Holmstrom, to engage in a sort of farewell goalie-mooning tour.
The Free Press’s Helene St. James engages in this endeavor this morning for a simple reason: Holmstrom readily admitted that he wasn’t thrilled playing on the fourth line because he wasn’t able to really do his job while skating up and down the ice (albeit surprisingly well) alongside Cory Emmerton on a generally defensively-minded shift, and in light of the emergence of Gustav Nyquist down the stretch, it certainly seems like Holmstrom, like Kris Draper before him, has been squeezed out of a job:
“I love the game, I would love to play three, four more years,” Holmstrom said. “It’s so much fun to come to the rink and everything. It’s just if the body can take it one more year or two more years. There’s lots of wear and tear on the body. Mentally, the last couple of years, you’ve got to go through the soreness, aches and pain, and it can be pretty tough during the regular season.”
Holmstrom, who scored 10 of his 11 goals this season on the power play, also wondered what his playing time would be. Babcock noted minutes later that Holmstrom would be what he was this season: A fourth liner and power-play specialist.
“Mentally, he’s an elite, elite competitor, he’s a great teammate, and he makes guys around him better,” Babcock said.
Physically, Holmstrom was never an elite skater. He made his career on standing in front of the net, and he’s better at it than anyone else. But it’s difficult for an older player to sit for long stretches and then be expected to go out and make things happen on cold legs.
Counting Gustav Nyquist, the Wings already have 10 forwards under contract for next year, and they will re-sign Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader.
Probably the only way Holmstrom comes back is if Lidstrom, who the Wings very much want to re-sign, says he’d like his longtime teammate and close friend to come back, too.
As I said yesterday, Holmstrom’s remarkable ability to tip pucks and screen goaltenders while getting the snot beaten out of him may very well be exceeded by his ability to track down and shovel rebounds and wide shots back onto teammates’ sticks and into play, so I fully believe that he could find gainful employment as a power play coach, if not the world’s best color commentator not named Mickey Redmond, and I still don’t understand why the Wings never took a prospect aside and said, “See that guy? Watch everything he does and soak it in” as they have with Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk…
But as much as I would like to think that Tomas Holmstrom would be the Tomas Kopecky of the Marian Hossa equation for Lidstrom (bad example, but correct?), I’m not sure that the Wings plan on bringing Holmstrom back, endless energy, enthusiasm, love for the game and willingness to be the “joke of the butt” included. I’d love to see him return, but I can understand the Wings coaches’ and management’s concerns about over-loyalty to Holmstrom biting them in the, well, rear, in terms of injecting some speed and maybe a little more reliable scoring into their lineup in the form of Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar, never mind possibly opening up a roster spot for the top-six forward the Wings so desperately need to sign.
I do not, however, believe that, in the long run, Lidstrom will decide to pack up and head back to Vasteras simply because “Homer” probably won’t be in the Wings’ lineup next season. Kris Draper kept playing when Darren McCarty and Kirk Maltby retired because Draper had more to give, and I think—I hope—that Lidstrom will think similarly this spring.
Biggy edit/update: MLive’s Brendan Savage weighs in on Holmstrom via an article not posted until 7 AM:
Would Holmstrom accept the same type of limited role he had at the end of the season? Can his body take all the pounding that goes with Holmstrom’s style of play? Do the Red Wings want him back and if so at what price? Those are all questions that have to be answered in the next several weeks before the NHL draft and the free-agent frenzy begins.
“Well, I don’t know. Are they a pair?” asked coach Mike Babcock. “I don’t know the answer.”
Lidstrom, who also has yet to decide what the future holds for him, said he hasn’t discussed the possibility of him and Holmstrom retiring at the same time.
“I don’t think that will have any bearing on my decision,” Lidstrom said. “I’m not sure Homer knows what he’s going to do.”
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall, another Swede, has no idea which way Holmstrom is leaning.
“I think he’s been skating better this year than he has the last few years,” Kronwall said. “He’s been looking really good. Hopefully, there’s a chance he might come back, too, because he’s still probably the best in the league on the power play, being in front of the net.”
Holmstrom, who like Lidstrom has played on all four of Detroit’s Stanley Cup championship teams since 1997, said he would love to play alongside his longtime friend for at least one more season. But at the same time, he doesn’t anticipate Lidstrom’s decision having any impact on his own.
Speaking of prospects who will attempt to make a push for a roster spot on the Wings, or at least the Griffins, this fall…
One of the two Red Wings prospects still playing hockey is highly likely to conclude his season in short order. Petr Mrazek returned from an influenza-like illness to help his Ottawa 67’s attempt to rally from a 2-1 deficit to the Niagara IceDogs, but the OHL’s Eastern Conference Finals are now all but guaranteed to go Niagara’s way.
Mrazek stopped 39 of 43 shots in a >5-2 defeat on Wednesday. Mrazek’s now faced a total of 142 shots over the three games he’s played in (that’s an average of 47.3 shots per game), and he’s stopped 132 of them, but he simply hasn’t received any assistance from his teammates. As Yahoo Sports’ Neate Sager notes, the IceDogs’ offensive firepower has outpaced Ottawa’s ability to give Mrazek “run support”:
Is the fact 3-of-4 games have been tied entering the third period give Ottawa a beacon of hope? It might not be. It could be a greater indicator that the IceDogs simply have faith their talent and depth will override and overwhelm whatever system and hot goalie their opponent can muster.
Detroit Red Wings prospect Petr Mrazek (39 saves on 43 shots) was superb on Wednesday, never more so when he made a split save on a Dougie Hamilton howitzer in the second period. Once the IceDogs levelled at 2-2 on captain Andrew Agozzino’s second of the night early in the final frame, there was a sense they had taken over the game.
“Good teams win third periods,” Agozzino said. “We haven’t had good first periods in these past two games in Ottawa, but the thirds have been bailing us out. We keeping finding ways to win.”
The amount of time Ottawa’s top players are spending killing penalties might sapping their stamina. The vaunted IceDogs power play is 2-for-18 with three short-handed goals against, all by Ottawa’s Dalton Smith.
“I wasn’t even sure (Wednesday) morning if I could play,” said Mrazek, who missed Game 3 with the flu and bounced back with 39 saves in a first-star performance.
Put that alongside first-star nods in Games 1 and 2, when he made a combined 93 stops, and he’s still the player of the series.
“But I had my energy (in the Game 4) and we had some great efforts by our guys.” Mrazek said.
The player who might have stolen Holmstrom’s spot in the Wings’ lineup is the first prospect to make Hockey’s Future’s top 50 NHL prospects list:
28. Gustav Nyquist, LW, Detroit Red Wings
Height: 5-11, Weight: 185, [last season] Not ranked
Detroit’s top forward talent on the horizon is Swedish prospect Gustav Nyquist. The 22-year-old winger was named to the AHL All-Rookie team for his 58 points in 56 games for Grand Rapids and still saw action in 18 regular season games with the Red Wings. Nyquist is a skilled playmaker and plays confidently with the puck on his stick. He is a swift skater and not shy about sticking his nose in the dirty areas. A dependable defensive player, Nyquist’s determined style made him well-suited for checking duty during his stints with Detroit. Despite playing a limited role in many of his games, the rookie was not riding any coattails in Detroit and stood out in his opportunities to skate with the scoring lines. A potential top-six point producer, Nyquist’s energy and defensive acumen could also fit in a checking role in Detroit as soon as next season.
In foreign language news, Ilta Sanomat reports that Valtteri Filppula was en route to Finland to join his country’s World Championship team, with Filppula suggesting that just because the Finns are hosting the Worlds, fans shouldn’t assume that they’ll pull of an upset of 1986-versus-USSR proportions;
• And Jakub Kindl gave almost identical interviews to Hokej.cz’s Vaclav Jachim and iSport.cz, stating that he’s got to get a Czech ID card while he’s in Brno with the Czech team to simply play at the Worlds (as proof of citizenship—his Czech passport apparently won’t do it, nor will his Michigan driver’s license, obviously)...
Kindl was skating with the team on Wednesday, and he offered some predictable wows about playing alongside and learning how to train with Nicklas Lidstrom, an understandable excuse for Jiri Hudler’s decision to decline playing for the Czechs as Hudler’s agent advised the unrestricted free agent-to-be to not participate, an explanation that the lakes in Michigan…Well, he says they aren’t “lakes” that you can see to the other side of, and as a bottom line, Kindl understands that his spot on the Czech team’s Roster isn’t assured because any potential NHL first-round exits which could yield reinforcements might shove Kindl right into the press box.
Just as his spot with the Wings isn’t assured going forward, he’s got to battle for a spot with the Czechs, which is the reason why he scooted out of Detroit on Monday to attend the Czechs’ training camp in the first place.
• Slovakian forward and Wings prospect Tomas Tatar also spoke to SITA’s Michal Carnoky—I’m sorry for not doing direct translations, but Czech and Slovak are incredibly difficult to translate, so unless anyone’s willing to lend me a hand in that department, I can only offer summations most of the time—simply saying that he felt that he could have improved upon his 58 points over the course of 76 games played for the Grand Rapids Griffins, and that the Slovaks’ youthful roster hopes to at least advance to the Quarterfinals under coach Vladimir Vujtek (you might remember him as a member of the Edmonton Oilers in the early 90’s).
In the interactive news category, part 1: The Detroit Free Press and MLive both want to remind us that Pavel Datsyuk has made the final 16 players in the running to be voted the cover athlete for EA Spots’ NHL 13, and that Datsyuk and T.J. Oshie will face off in a fan voting bracket between May 3rd and 10th;
All I can say about this quip from MLive’s Brendan Savage is that Barry Melrose, who now insists that the Predators’ ability to defeat the Wings in 5 games means that they’re a Cup contender, also insisted that nobody picked the Predators to win but him;
Speaking of Hollywood types, the Free Press’s Julie Hinds spoke to John Cusack (he’s got a movie to promote, y’know) an odd question…
Question: One of your past films, 1997’s “Grosse Pointe Blank,” briefly shot footage here. Do you remember anything about Michigan?
John Cusack: Sure, I’ve been to Michigan many times. I go there all the time. I rode motorcycles through there. I go up there with my sister. I’ve been to Detroit many times. I have a great friend, Chris Chelios, who played for the Red Wings for many years. I go up and visit him. I’m in and out of Detroit a lot.
As a programming note, in full disclosure, I’m going to post a slate of Wings player assessments over the next couple of days, but I’m going to split things up into forwards and defense/goaltenders not to drag things out or generate more traffic, but because I’ve tended to give myself anxiety attacks over plain old having to write up 23 players’ worth of “grades” before, and it’ll be easier in terms of workload and dealing with the stuff I deal with to chop things up.
I hate talking about myself and there’s been a lot of “I, I, I” stuff in this blog (by the way, Kindl was asked if someone who talked about himself quite a bit, one Dominik Hasek, who’s 48 and hasn’t yet ruled out a comeback, might be tending the net as Jimmy Howard’s back-up this fall, and his “stranger things have happened”-in-Czech answer is, given Hasek’s career moves, pretty damn accurate), but as you know, I tend to find stuff and make sure that I’m busy in August, never mind two days after the Wings cleaned out their lockers, so parsing things out makes more sense workload-wise as well. Blah blah blah blah blah…
In the interactive news department, part 2: The Globe and Mail’s Bruce Dowbiggin got me thinking while talking about the following (stay with me here, there is a point to this):
’Tis the season for NHL general managers to meet the media for year-end inquisitions. Twenty-nine teams end the year on an unhappy note, so managing the message in the face of fan disappointment is a challenging proposition. The fourth estate attends such séances with pointed questions. As former Toronto president Ken Dryden told Sportsnet Radio host Bob McCown, “To succeed in Toronto, you have to manage the media and the public in order to manage the team. If you can manage the media and manage the public you can get enough time to manage the team.”
Tuesday it was Vancouver Canucks president/general manager Mike Gillis meeting the Vancouver media to discuss the implosion of the 2011-12 Presidents Cup winners in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The desire for a dramatic change is palpable in a Vancouver market that hasn’t won a Cup in its history. Gillis’s moves this season had not delivered another trip to the Cup Final. Canuck fans may not have rioted this year, but they were no less upset at an early exit.
Those advocating a carpet bombing of the roster were left disappointed, however.
“The thing Gillis did really well (Tuesday) was move the news cycle,” CBC’s Elliotte Friedman told Usual Suspects Tuesday. “Fans there are angry because of the loss, but he’s given them different things to chew on…His own future, his passionate defence of (coach Alain) Vigneault, the (Cody) Hodgson stuff, the way teams like L.A. built their roster, then (goalie Roberto) Luongo’s decision to reveal he’ll move. Fans weren’t expecting any of that.”
Noted Greg Brady, co-host of the morning show on Sportsnet Radio Fan 590. “@bradyfan590 I am dropdead shocked how patient Mike Gillis is being w/ some of these questions. At least seven ?s far lamer than anything Burke got.”
That would be a reference to Leafs GM Brian Burke blowing a gasket at his season-ending presser over a question about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ model. “They won a goddamn lottery and they got the best player in the game (Sidney Crosby). Is that available to me? Should we do that?... Pittsburgh model, my ass.”
So is there a best approach to media in a frantic Canadian hockey market, where yesterday is a long time ago?
The same could be said for Metro Detroit, where the print and especially TV and radio media outlets are told that, “Hockey doesn’t sell” by their marketing directors in Washington, DC and New York, and along those lines…
Last year and the season before, when the Wings were eliminated by the Sharks, the Wings held their locker room clean-out day immediately after their ouster, thrusting the players, coach and GM into the spotlight while the sting of the Game 7 and Game 5 losses to the Sharks in 2011 and 2010, respectively, were still fresh in the minds of the media and fans.
This time around, the Wings flew home from Nashville on Friday night, but aside from a pair of short interviews Ken Holland and Mike Babcock gave to the press, the Wings waited until the following Tuesday to engage in the customary powwow with the media. Now Joe Louis Arena’s ice’s availability played a part in this as it was covered up on Saturday and was employed for WWE Smackdown on Monday, but…
After waiting on Saturday and waiting on Sunday to find that nothing was going on down at the Joe, I watched the Sunday evening sports shows, which did their 5-10 minute “Wings season/playoffs in review” discussions and moved on, listened to sports talk radio essentially go from talking about the Wings on Monday, despite a Tigers game that started at 1 PM on Monday afternoon, to gabbing about said Tigers and whatever the hell the Detroit Lions’ pre-pre-pre-pre draft desires (I swear, the NFL does a fantastic job of keeping the show going all year long, but my God, does the local media ever give them a hand) on the day the Wings actually spoke publicly about their worst playoff defeat since 2006.
I can’t help but think that, wrestling at the Joe and Tigers game on Monday included, the Wings’ management very consciously decided to delay the date of their locker room clean-out to ensure that fans had gotten their yelling and screaming out of their systems (judging by the number of comments in my inbox—sorry, I didn’t read too many of ‘em because I was pissed off, too, and I just didn’t want to get into arguments or anything like that because I’m a partisan fan just like you are—there was quite a bit of yelling and screaming on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, but by Tuesday, things dropped off in a big way) and that Metro Detroit’s media outlets had moved on, and I can’t help but think that such a game plan was a remarkably well-calculated move.
By the time the Wings met with the press, four days had passed, attention paid to the Wings in terms of headlines, on-TV and on-radio chatter and of course bandwidth dropped off significantly, and fans were watching Tigers games, talking about the Lions as always, and in the short attention span theatre-land that is sports fandom, probably wanting to put some space between themselves and a team that had disappointed them greatly.
For me and fellow die-hards, waiting for answers was almost as painful as watching the Wings’ seasons end, but for many fans, the four-day span between loss and autopsy put the Wings’ comments in the rearview mirror or the, “I’m done with that already, I don’t need to hear anymore” category, and I can’t help but think that the Wings made an incredibly, incredibly smart move by delaying the inevitable.
And in the interactive news department, part 3: I don’t know if Jonathan Ericsson knows what he’s doing, per one Gustav Nyquist‘s Twitter account:
wanna welcome Mr. Universe @Eric52on, to twitter!
Update: It took a long, long, long time for this to get posted, but here’s Fox sports Detroit’s Art Regner’s locker room clean-out day video report:
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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.