The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/17/11 at 06:18 AM ET
I hate to lead off with this crap, but in my world, bad news comes first.
Both Fox Sports Detroit’s Mike O’Hara and the Detroit Free Press’s Ron Dzwonkowski brought Detroit’s well-earned inferiority complex (see: “For God’s sake, we’re from Detroit, which is the collective butt of so many jokes about violence/poverty/etc.”) out to play regarding the riots in Vancouver, and the Free Press pointed out that actor Rainn Wilson declared Vancouver to be the “Detroit of Canada.”
All because of the violence which erupted after the Detroit Tigers won the world series back in 1984, which is before many of you were even born. I’m old enough that I remember it pretty well despite the fact that I was six at the time, and as my dad was a probation officer for the City of Detroit, I can tell you that worse things happened on an individual basis just about every day in Detroit in the 80’s, but it’s what we’re remembered for, and while ever single celebration of the Red Wings’ four Stanley Cups was peaceful, whenever our Wings go far in the playoffs, we hear, “Well I hope nobody burns Detroit down.”
Look, I know that it’s pretty easy to finger-point right now, but we’re not talking about the fact that Dan O’Halloran loves to call off Tomas Holmstrom goals here. It’s not tinfoil hat time. We’re from Detroit, and if you’re a Red Wings fan who isn’t from Detroit, well…
This is a reputation the “Murder City’s” denizens—even though, like me, most of us who were “born in Detroit” never actually lived there because the vast majority of the nearly 5 million people who live in Southeastern Michigan live in the suburbs—have to live with. It’s stupid and it’s unfounded because the Tigers riot happened almost seventeen years ago, but while it pisses me off as much as anybody else that we’re still associated with sports violence…
Now is not the time to go pointing the finger at Vancouverites and the 99% of Canucks fans who are as pissed off as we are that serious-ass a-holes trashed their downtown. Right now isn’t the time to point fingers at people like Alanah and ask ‘em how it feels to walk in our shoes. Now’s the time to hope for the best for the people who were hurt, be proud of the people who stood up and lent a hand in cleaning things up and, even if we can’t stand ‘em, tell Canucks fans that we know how they feel, and that it’s gonna be OK eventually.
If you’re looking to vent a little frustration about our stupid reputation, there’s always a better scapegoat—you can explain to Fox 2’s Ryan Ermanni why it was completely appropriate that Gary Bettman was roundily booed in Vancouver, or snicker at 97.1 the Ticket’s top ten list of things people like more than Gary Bettman, as posited by Doug Karsh and Scott “the Gator” Anderson, with #1 offering the best giggle…
1. They like the glow puck better than Bettman – Ken Clinton twp
Or maybe we can feel a little pride for Davidson, MI native Tim Thomas, who’s sure to bring the Cup back to Flint this summer. WXYZ reports that the affable goaltender’s hometown is ready to party:
And then there’s the curious case of Jaromir Jagr. On Thursday, the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan, the Free Press’s Helene St. James and Fox Sports Detroit’s Art Regner confirmed MLive’s Ansar Khan’s report that Jaromir Jagr’s North American agent has contacted the Red Wings, Penguins, Canadiens and, depending on the report, the Rangers, and Detroit is apparently Jagr’s preferred destination.
Signing a 39-year-old forward who hasn’t played in the NHL for three seasons, despite his sterling resume, isn’t a no-brainer for the Wings, however, and three main issues come to the fore: finances, motivation and whether Jagr is a “fit.”
In terms of finances, the Red wings simply cannot offer Jagr the kind of money he was making in Russia, and Regner suggests that Jagr’s camp is asking for more money than the Wings would prefer to pay him:
It’s being reported that Jagr’s agent, Petr Svoboda, has contacted four clubs — Detroit, Pittsburgh, Montreal and the Rangers — about the services of his client. Jagr has played for three teams during his NHL career: the Penguins, Capitals, and Rangers.
Detroit appears to have the inside track because Jagr is salivating at the opportunity to play with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. But reports also suggest that Jagr also is seeking a major payday.
If that’s the case, don’t expect Detroit to sign him. The Wings are smarting from the Mike Modano experiment. They’re apprehensive about signing aging veterans who are susceptible to injury and a diminishing skill set.
Also, Wings general manager Ken Holland has repeatedly said that he is fine with his forward corps, that his main focus is retooling his defense. (Holland has always sunk money into his blue-liners.)
We’ll get to that later, but Pro Hockey Talk’s Joe Yerdon also brought up the money issue, noting that one KHL team, Avangard Omsk, is still interested in Jagr’s services:
Before we get ahead of ourselves drawing up the possibility of seeing a legend like Jagr giving it one more go in the NHL, you have to wonder if perhaps this is one last effort by Svoboda to get a KHL team to bite and offer him a juicier deal. Yahoo’s Dmitry Chesnokov finds out that his old team Avangard Omsk is the only one Jagr is negotiating with in Russia. If Jagr is worried about how he might hold up over the 82 game haul in the NHL season and if he’s got the thought of the hit he took in the 2010 Olympics from Alexander Ovechkin stuck in his head for what it’s like to play at that level every night, being more open about discussing things with the NHL would be a good way to scare Avangard into giving him a juicier deal. After all, if there’s no local competition for him there, why not hold the NHL up and out there as a means to scare his team into action.
The KHL hates losing any amount of talent to the NHL, especially guys who once starred in the NHL, so Svoboda’s open hunt to land Jagr an apparent job in the NHL might just be transparent enough for all of us to see what’s going on. Of course, if we put our cynicism away for a little while and embrace this for what it looks to be, waxing nostaligic and hopeful for Jagr’s return makes for a lot of fun. He was one of the most brilliant scorers of his time and the best player in the NHL for a long stretch of time. The thought of trotting him out on the same ice with Datsyuk and Zetterberg is tantalizing, let’s just hope we’re not being toyed with one last time.
According to Allhockey.ru (I looked for an author but can’t find a byline), these concerns are real.
Avangard Omsk finished 16th in the KHL despite Jagr’s presence and $5 million-per-season salary, and according to Allhockey.ru, SKA St. Petersburg GM Alexei Kasatonov suggested that Jagr’s motivation was lacking, and even Omsk GM Anatoly Bardin is only feeling lukewarm about retaining Jagr. Even stranger, Jagr’s agent in Europe, Jaroslav Zidek, has lost his license to operate in the KHL, so any team that works with Zidek to sign Jagr could face fines and/or some sort of penalty for hammering out an agent with Zidek.
And while Dominik Hasek suggested to Denik Sport’s Miroslav Horak that “Jarda” would fit very well with the Wings, I mentioned the bigger issue—motivation—while declining to fully translate Jakub Hlavac’s article stating that Jagr’s purchased a 70% stake in the ownership of his hometown Czech Extraliga club, HC Kladno, and at the present moment, Jagr’s acting as its general manager.
I’ve been fiddling around with online translators and doing my best to make sense out of garble since Sergei Fedorov left for Anaheim in 2003, so I’m pretty comfortable with Russian, and when it comes to Swedish, between seven combined years of high school and university studies in a similar language in German and use of the Swedish government’s official dictionary to smooth over the rough spots, Swedish isn’t difficult at all for me, but Finnish and Czech have so many extra cases and either extraneous vowels (in Finnish) or diacritical remarks (in Czech) which can change the meaning of words, relative clauses and sentences that I think it’s just not particularly intelligent to offer you anything more than rough cuts and summaries of what’s said.
Thankfully, the Edmonton Journal employed Czech-speaker Peter Adler to translate the iDnes article about Jagr’s ownership stake in HC Kladno as it applies to his motivation, and this is where the serious-ass red flags come out:
“While my participation in running the club during the season will largely depend on where I am going to play, that question still bothers me less than what’s going to happen here (at Kladno),” Jagr said.
One of the issues: the team has only a dozen players under contract, and Jagr is loath to talk signing up others because he’s not completely sure of what is going to happen. And so, some veterans get up and leave for greener pastures. “I can’t blame them,” Jagr told the newspaper, “I can’t ask them to sit and wait and what if. They’ve got their careers to take care of.
“For example, Martin Prochazka just had his medicals at Regensburg, and he’s got an offer from them,” Jagr said. “He’s done a lot for hockey at Kladno, but I can’t try to tell him to wait. If he decides to come back here, the door will be open and he will get his chance. If not, I have to wish him good luck, and thank him, on behalf of Kladno fans, for what he’s done for the club through the years.”
It takes time to go through all of the legal purchase hoops even though the city of Kladno is sympathetic. One of the main issues is that Kladno’s main industrial foundation, a steelworks plant and iron foundry, has been having economic difficulties and that, of course, takes precedence over professional sports any time of day.
“I don’t make promises I’m not sure I can’t meet,” Jagr said. “This club has always met its obligations, and this is something I’m going to continue.”
Jagr wouldn’t say whether he prefers to return to Avangard Omsk of the Russian KHL, his only Russian suitor at the moment, after SKA St. Petersburg backed out of the bidding, or whether the NHL is closer to his heart. Again, concern for Kladno is paramount here: “With the NHL, I would have to be at training camp early in September, and that would give me more time between now and then to concentrate on Kladno,” Jagr said, “while with the Russians, I can always try to negotiate a bit of an exemption and coming into their training camps a bit later.”
But, he added, it’s all irrelevant for the time being. His main concern is Kladno, and not only its Extraleague team, even though he said he would reserve the right to have some influence over player and other personnel questions. When he started, kids’ hockey at Kladno used to form a strong base for a successful top-league team.
“There have been mistakes made,” said Jagr who also met with groups of concerned parents and listened to their concerns. “Those parents raised some very valid points,” he added, “and since they are those without whom there would be no new hockey generations at Kladno, we have to take their concerns seriously.”
In other words, Jagr’s North American agent’s selling a player who doesn’t give a rat’s butt about his hockey future right now, according to the man himself, and this player says that he’s going to decide where to play depending on how easily he’s able to keep tabs on HC Kladno while he works on his other job in playing hockey. That’s not good.
The other issue, and perhaps the main issue, is fit, and this is where I worry the most about the concept of the Wings signing Jagr.
If Jagr comes here, just as the Red Wings made sure that Mike Modano understood that he’d be employed as a worker bee who had to earn his ice time under a coach who has few, if any favorites, Jagr would have to work just as hard, if not harder, to impress Mike Babcock and earn anything more than top-nine minutes.
Obviously, in terms of money, the Wings can’t accommodate more than a $1-2 million deal, with performance bonuses included (the CBA expires in 2012, so the Wings can’t exceed the cap by 7.5% to pay out performance bonuses this time around), so there’s no way that they can compete with the KHL in terms of paying him—as Regner suggests, the Wings have money to spend, but it’s going into replacing Brian Rafalski and keeping the team’s puck-moving blueline elite, first and foremost—and in terms of his ego…
Mike Modano was a little out of shape and struggled to find motivation at times while playing for the Wings because he suffered a catastrophic injury, and he also struggled to adapt to the concept that he wasn’t a “brand name” anymore. When I did speak to Mike during training camp, I was taken aback by the fact that he seemed almost a little confused that he was no longer “Mike Modano,” but instead, just “Mo”...But he tried very hard to fit in, and if we are to believe a harsh critic of me-first players in Babcock, Modano ended up showing nothing but class, professionalism and poise galore while dealing with his lack of playing time and status as a healthy scratch down the stretch. “Mo” worked very hard to fit in, and while he was here, he became a Red Wing.
The best way I can describe Jagr is to suggest that, in terms of his personality, he remains like Sergei Fedorov was back in the early 00’s. Jagr’s still a rock star, still an event, a phenomenon unto himself, and his massive ego includes a “hockey artiste’s” personality in terms of his willingness to commit to playing his hardest and focusing on being a good worker bee on a shift-by-shift basis.
Certainly, the Red Wings would be foolish not to consider signing Jagr, but Ken Holland and Mike Babcock must be 100% sure that he’d be willing to come at a price that wouldn’t cripple the Wings’ Brian Rafalski-replacing budget, they’d have to be sure that Jagr was committed in terms of his fitness and his willingness to play hockey instead of simply biding his time for a playoff run while playing GM-from-afar, and they’d have to be absolutely certain that Jagr would understand that, in Detroit, he wouldn’t be “Jardo,” but just “Jags,” another veteran hockey player who’s coming here to sacrifice money and ice time-based-on-past-achievements for the opportunity to win the Cup.
If he’s not going to bring that kind of game to Detroit, the Wings could much more easily spend $2 or $3 million going after Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann, Wojtek Wolski or whoever else they might be interested in bringing to Detroit to bolster their forward lineup without having to build Red Bird III to accommodate Jagr’s baggage and ego.
Regarding the “blueprint” which the Red Wings plan on sticking to in terms of building their roster and replacing Brian Rafalski, TSN’s Scott Cullen posited a superb “Off-Season Game Plan,” but…
We all know what the Wings need, and Cullen’s intro is as good a place as any to state the obvious: the Wings need Nicklas Lidstrom to return, first and foremost, and after that, they need to bring in an elite unrestricted free agent defenseman who can move the puck up ice in a hurry, if they choose to part ways with Chris Osgood, a reliable back-up goaltender, and if Mike Babcock has his way, a top-six forward—and retaining Jonathan Ericsson, Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller are priorities as well, with Ericsson’s chances of remaining in Detroit increasing since Rafalski retired.
It wouldn’t hurt if Babcock can find some fantastic assistant coaches, either, and again, the team has hard decisions to make about both Osgood and Kris Draper, who would take a roster spot away from the non-waiver-exempt Jan Mursak or Cory Emmerton unless the Wings lose Eaves or Miller to free agency and/or make a move (Hudler? Filppula?) to add a forward via a trade:
Should Lidstrom decide that he’s had enough, despite clearly playing at a level more than sufficient to continue as a top pair defenceman, then Detroit will have a massive rebuilding plan on its hands. Even the Red Wings would feel the loss of a pair of defencemen that combined for 110 points last season. More optimistically, however, if Lidstrom returns, the Wings have plenty of salary cap room at their disposal to find another top four or even top pair defenceman via trade or free agency.
Presuming that the Wings land one significant defender to fill the hole created by Rafalski’s retirement, they’ll still need to address depth at the position, both on the third pair and organizationally, as few of the Wings’ top prospects are defencemen.
Given the Wings’ track record, it’s safe to assume they will be active in their efforts to shore up the position and, once they do, it’s fair to expect the Red Wings to have a team capable of extending their current streak of 11 straight 100-point seasons.
The question at that point becomes whether the Wings still have enough to go all the way. They’re undeniably an aging team, with Valtteri Filppula the only one of Detroit’s top ten scorers last season that won’t be at least 30-years-old next season, and when injuries mount during the grueling NHL playoffs, it can be difficult for the Wings to still have enough to get the job done.
That may be an overreaction, considering that Detroit lost in seven games against San Jose, but it could at least be an indication that the younger players in the organization are going to have to take on more responsibility, to make up the difference between being not-quite-good-enough and the championship-calibre that Detroit fans know all too well.
Knowing the success that the Red Wings have experienced as a franchise, winning four Cups in the last 14 seasons, they shouldn’t have a lot of difficulty finding quality players that are eager to keep the tradition rolling in the right direction.
As for the team’s likely “game plan” at the Entry Draft next weekend, I can’t deny that Hockey’s Future’s Brad Garnder‘s suggestion that defensemen and goaltenders will be the team’s likely targets:
Picking in the second half of the each round for so long has certainly diminished some of the top end talent that Detroit might have drafted, which is especially noticeable on the blue line. Beyond [Brendan] Smith, the group does not have a ton of upside, though there are still several solid prospects who could man the Detroit blue line down the road. Shrewd pick-ups like free agent signing Brian Lashoff add some depth, while late round selections like Benjamin Marshall and Adam Almqvist have emerged as two of the team’s more intriguing offensive defensemen.
Goaltending has rarely been a strength for the organization, but the pipeline still does not inspire a ton of confidence. Thomas McCollum seemed to take a step back last season, struggling to maintain his confidence while spending part of his year in the ECHL. Jordan Pearce has been a solid prospect, taking over the reigns in Grand Rapids last season, but has a limited ceiling. Perhaps the most intriguing goalie prospect in the system is Petr Mrazek, a Czech-born goalie currently playing in the OHL. He had a stellar regular season for the Ottawa 67’s in his first year as starter and should return to the same role again next season.
That being said, I wouldn’t bet on the Wings picking any particular player, to the point that I’m going to tell you about a weakness of mine—I tend not to really read up about the draft and top prospects until the Monday before the draft as the Wings never cease to surprise me.
I certainly like Rickard Rackell and Alexander Khokhlachev, but if you want to know what I really think the Wings will do, well…
I think that, given the lack of consensus as to who’s a first-round pick and who’s not, the Wings will probably trade their 24th overall pick for two high picks in the 2nd round, hoping to pull a Landon Ferraro-Tomas Tatar or Cory Emmerton-Shawn Matthias double play in the second round.
There are about 40-45 players who could be picked in the first round, depending on whose rankings you believe, and there’s no harm in taking two outliers in the second round unless you believe a Brendan Smith or Riley Sheahan have no business being available when that 24th pick rolls around.
The other possibility is that the Wings might move a pick for a player, and as Kukla’s Korner’s David Lee pointed out, the Carolina Hurricanes plan on moving the rights of unrestricted free agents-to-be Joni Pitkanen, Chad LaRose and Erik Cole, and one of those players might intrigue the Wings enough to swap a mid-round pick for early negotiating rights…
Although, as I’ve said previously, agents are already talking in, “Are you interested in player X at salary Y over Z years?” equations to receive yes-no answers and essentially negotiate contracts with GM’s for RFA’s and UFA’s without committing tampering in the classic sense of the term. If agents weren’t floating trade rumors or potential teams interested in signing or acquiring players, the guy who charges money to throw agent-based rumors on a wall and see what sticks would be out of a job.
Also of Red Wings-related note: In case you missed it, Paul posted the Bodog odds of the various 2011 Stanley Cup winners, and the Wings rank seventh (I think Bodog does what the rumor guy does in pulling nothing out of a hat);
• The Detroit Free Press wants to know which nickname fans think is the best in Detroit sports history, with the Production Line as one of their candidates;
• I’m getting a little tired of talking about him every day, but NWT.se confirms that Dick Axelsson will take part in the IIHF’s Inline Hockey World Championships, which begin on Sunday in the Czech Republic;
• I dig two of Yahoo Sports’ best goals of the playoffs, including a Nicklas Lidstrom bunt (sorry for the automatic advertisement…NHL.com stuck that in there)...
And a Todd Bertuzzi spin-o-rama that actually worked…
• And in non-charitable news, I’m still about $160 short of my goal for helping defer the costs of heading to Traverse City for this summer’s prospect camp, which takes place from July 7-14:
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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.