The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/20/11 at 08:13 AM ET
Updated w/ Khan at 8:27 AM: You know it’s the middle of June when even Expresssen’s Gunnar Nordstrom has to suggest that Nicklas Lidstrom will in fact return to play for the Wings this season based on gut feelings after meeting Lidstrom on Sunday.
Unless your team’s either won the Stanley Cup or just lost in the Final, you’ve been waiting for answers as to which players will return to your team, who’s leaving via free agency, who they’re targeting in the draft and, generally speaking, what direction your team’s going to take since, well…either the end of the regular season or whenever your team was eliminated from the playoffs. Early June and the month of August are probably the most difficult ones for hockey fans in terms of news or the complete and total lack thereof, and even for the Red Wings, we’re still working in hypothetical territory.
All of that changes this week. We’re now amidst periods of time in which teams can file for salary arbitration (as the Devils and Predators did with Zach Parise and Shea Weber, respectively) and buy out players (as the Rangers did with Wojtek Wolski), the NHL Awards are on Wednesday, the Entry Draft and inevitable trades take place on Friday and Saturday in St. Paul, and a week from this Friday, the unrestricted free agency period and its feeding frenzy hit amidst the fireworks of Canada Day.
Between now and then, many unrestricted free agents-to-be will either re-sign with their current teams, will have their rights traded (see: Ilya Brzygalov) or will be courted unofficially by agents asking other teams’ GM’s non-tampering-inducing, “If you could have player X at Y dollars for Z years, would you be interested?” questions.
For the moment, however, we’re still guessing, and just as Nordstrom’s making a leap of faith, I’m going to lead off with a “guesstimate”: According to Sovetsky Sport’s Pavel Lysenkov, if the Red Wings are indeed interested in Jaromir Jagr (as are the Canadiens and possibly the Rangers and/or Penguins and/or Capitals, depending on whose reports you believe), they’re offering #68 the same amount of money, at least prior to taxes, that he’d receive from Avangard Omsk—$2.5 million.
Jagr made sure to tell Sport.cz that he is both training and is still talking to Omsk, and while WXYT’s Mike Stone told WXYZ’s Tom Leyden that signing Jagr isn’t a bad idea via WXYT’s Sunday Sports Update..
I can’t remember a potential player signing being less popular since…Well, never.
RedWingsCentral’s Sarah Lindenau, writing on her Left Wing Lock blog, isn’t a fan of the concept, either:
The Wings have had a lot of success in the past signing veteran players who have been able to contribute like Igor Larionov and Dallas Drake. On the other hand, you have to look no further than last seasons signing of Mike Modano to realize this type of signing doesn’t always work.
In his prime, Jagr had the ability to dominate the game like no other, but he hasn’t played in the NHL in three seasons and even before that his consistency and lack of a two-way game leave a lot to be desired. Having a name like Jagr in the line-up is tempting and may be a good marketing tool in the short-term, but building a winning team should be the focus. The Czech native may be able to add some level of secondary scoring that the Wings lack, but don’t imagine him playing along side Datsyuk or Zetterberg as his days of being a top line forward have long since past. Furthermore, watching Jiri Hudler struggle as he tried to adjust to the North American game after spending a season in Russia should make the Wings even more wary.
While signing Jagr has some cache, it would do little to solve the Wings weaknesses and may turn out to be a waste of money spent on another grizzled veteran who spends more time in the press box than on the ice. With the retirement of Brian Rafalski, Detroit has money available for free agent acquisitions that could improve the team and they should be focusing on identify players who can fill the holes on defense and in goal.
Probable salary cap in the $63-64 million range included, the Wings have to make a hard push to retain Jonathan Ericsson’s services (he won’t be cheap), they plan on doing their best to bring back Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller, if Lidstrom comes back, I’m with Nordstrom—there’s no way in hell that he takes a pay cut—and it’s going to take a chunk of change to bring in a #2/3 defenseman and another if Ericsson leaves, as well as a probable back-up goaltender (from what Holland told the beat writers last week, we won’t decide whether to bring Kris Draper or Chris Osgood back until they determine whether they can find better alternatives on the UFA market)...
And there are free agent forwards, a buy-out like Wolski included, who have fewer red flags, are younger, bigger and faster than Jagr.
My concerns about Jagr involve the obvious KHL-NHL adjustment—despite the fact that there are five or six teams that are NHL-quality in the KHL, the level of play on that 100"x200” rink isn’t NHL level when those teams don’t meet—and his still Sergei Fedorov-in-his-prime-sized ego. It sounds like Babcock gave Jagr the once-over and then some when he spoke to Jagr last week, but when you come to Detroit, you come to be a worker bee, and I don’t know if Jagr’s willing or able to do so.
On the coaching front, there’s one less candidate to fill the vacancies beside Babcock’s shoulders out there: the Ottawa Citizen’s Ken Warren and the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch report that Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors coach Dave Cameron will join Paul MacLean as an assistant coach. Garrioch says that Cameron did speak to the Wings, who are believed to be interested in Bob Boughner and Pete DeBoer as replacements for MacLean and Brad McCrimmon:
The Senators weren’t Cameron’s only option. He also had talks with Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who has two openings on his staff after assistants MacLean and Brad McCrimmon departed.
“Ten years (to get to the NHL) is a little longer than I would have hoped, but I certainly welcome the chance,” said Cameron, who announced assistant coach James Boyd will be taking over the Majors. “It’s been a great seven years (he also coached three seasons in the AHL with Binghamton) and I’ve really enjoyed my time here.”
It’s believed goalie coach Rick Walmsley and assistant coach Luke Richardson will be retained from Cory Clouston’s staff by MacLean.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk also owns the St. Mike’s Majors, so he pushed pretty hard to have Cameron installed as the team’s head coach, so MacLean and Bryan Murray are giving the boss a nod here.
Later this week when the NHL Entry Draft comes around, the Wings will hope to add one or two NHL players to the fold somewhere between five and seven years down the line (and if you haven’t bookmarked The Sports Forecaster’s draft page or checked out its “sleeper picks” article, I suggest that you do both), but regardless of whether the Wings pick the Detroit Free Press’s George Sipple’s profile of the day—5’6” Little Caesars alum Rocco Girmaldi—or someone else with their 24th overall pick, there’s no way that their draft could hold a candle to their haul from 1989.
As part of the Wild press’s lead-up to the 2011 Draft on Friday and Saturday in St. Paul, the Pioneer Press’s Brian Murphy spoke to Ken Holland about the masterpiece that was the Wings’ 1989 Entry Draft, which yielded Mike Sillinger, Bob Boughner, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Dallas Drake and Vladimir Konstantinov:
“Our success at the draft, there is a certain amount of luck involved,” said Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, who
has worked in the team’s front office since 1985. “But I also think the philosophy of the organization, our stability and the patience we’ve been allowed to have developing young players, because the team has been competitive every year, have given us a chance to be successful.”
The combination of the Soviet Union’s imminent demise and the fact that the Wings had an ace in Sweden in scout Christer Rockstrom yielded a fantastic stash of picks, and in Lidstrom’s case, the fact of the matter was that nobody else had seen him play…
“At our midwinter meetings that year, Christer told our chief scout, Neil Smith, that we found our third-round pick,” Holland recalled. “He was pretty confident that no one knew Nick was out there.”
While Fedorov would inevitably have to defect to join the Wings, slinking out of an elevator at the Goodwill Games in Seattle in 1990, where—as Murphy notes—he was shuffled off to the airport and flown to Detroit on Mike Ilitch’s private plane (there was a running joke as to whose basement Fedorov was hiding in that May); to get Konstantinov out of Russia, the Wings had to bribe a doctor into telling the Soviet team that Vladdie had cancer, and part of their bribery reportedly included a brand-new Chevrolet Caprice:
“Jimmy [Devellano] always said to the scouts, ‘Don’t be afraid to draft a player that we could tuck away for a few years,’ which was the philosophy we had when we drafted Fedorov,” Holland said. “None of us had any inkling he would try to defect.”
The Wings continued scouting the backwoods of Sweden and Russia, and between snagging then-charter fishing guide Hakan Andersson to pluck Jonathan Ericsson and Johan Franzen from the Swedish third division and accidentally stumbling upon Pavel Datsyuk while watching a team that wasn’t the Tartarstan Republic’s powerhouse, Ak Bars Kazan, while hoping to scout Dmitri Kalinin, the Wings continued to snag marquee talent from either the middle of nowhere or because the Wings are willing to sign smaller players or players who other teams overlook due to injuries (the most recent examples of the former and latter are Calle Jarnkrok and Teemu Pulkkinen; the former include Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom), the team still swings for the fences and occasionally hits it—especially in the later rounds of the draft.
In terms of percentages, no, the Wings don’t find as many players or stars on a per-pick basis as other teams, but the Wings would rather snag one superstar out of a draft class than seven grinders, or two contributing NHL players over the long haul than five guys who play at the NHL level at one period of time or another, and the fact that under Holland, the team refuses to “rush” players to the NHL plays a huge part in the equation:
“What they’ve been able to do with Zetterberg and Datsyuk, I don’t think there’s ever been that concentration of talent ever taken so low in the draft,” [NHL historian Dan] Diamond said.
When the salary cap was enacted after the 2004-05 lockout, Detroit’s front office tightened the purse strings and became more selective in shopping for free agents and even shrewder at the draft. They have stockpiled picks and patiently developed prospects and coaxed them into leadership roles. Replacing veterans is a core of younger players that includes goaltender Jimmy Howard (64th overall, 2003), forwards Jiri Hudler (58th, 2002), Darren Helm (132nd, 2005) and Valtteri Filppula (95th, 2002).
“We have lots of challenges on the back end with (Brian) Rafalski retiring, (Jonathan) Ericsson a free agent and waiting for Lidstrom,” Holland said. “As long as we have Nick, Zetterberg and Datsyuk, we have the makings of a competitive team.”
As Murphy suggests, the Wings won’t have their last pick from the 89 draft in their lineup forever, but Jimmy D suggests this much:
“It won’t be much longer,” acknowledged senior vice president Jim Devellano, who was Detroit’s general manager in 1989. “We’re pretty certain Nick’s coming back, but at 41, that might be it. It’s a draft we’ve lived off for a long, long time.”
While we’re talking about the weekend, don’t forget that, as 93.9 the River wants to remind us, there’s a memorial motorcycle ride for Bob Probert on Sunday, June 26th in Windsor, and that day is officially “Bob Probert Day” in the city.
After the July 1st fireworks—and my “best guesses” as to who the Wings will snag to replace Rafalski are either James Wisniewski or Joni Pitkanen (Brian Burke might out-bid the Wings for Wisniewski, Ehrhoff, Laich, et. al.)—the Wings are holding their first summer prospect camp in Traverse City, MI (the past four have been held in Detroit, at Joe Louis Arena) from July 7-14, and it’s open to the public for the first time since the lockout.
I’m going to keep posting the “donate” button because I’m a moron more than anything else: I’m still looking for a hotel room or rooms and will be making calls today or tomorrow to do some begging and pleading. I just didn’t have the money beforehand so I’m booking at the last minute.
Also of Red Wings-related note: I don’t know the reason why Dick Axelsson didn’t play for the Swedish Inline Hockey World Championships team in Pardubice on Sunday, so Sweden suffered a 10-4 loss to Finland.
• The Detroit Free Press’s Kelley L. Carter reports that the “Coney Dog” restaurant partially owned by Kris Draper—which is located in Los Angeles, California—was packed on Sunday. If you live out there, yes, they have Vernors ginger ale, Faygo pop, Stroh’s ice cream (and beer, I’d imagine) and the usual Detroit fare out there;
• Patrick Eaves doesn’t post high “numbers,” but DetroitRedWings.com’s Dave Burke notes that the Wings plan on retaining his services because the significant figures he delivers are important ones:
2: Goals scored in the playoff series-clinching Game 4 win over Phoenix in the Western Conference semifinals.
106: Total number of hits this season, 10th best on the Red Wings’ roster, behind Justin Abdelkader (188), Johan Franzen (143), Brad Stuart (131), Darren Helm (128), Ruslan Salei (117), Niklas Kronwall (113), Danny Cleary (112), Todd Bertuzzi (110) and Jonathan Ericsson (107).
.120: Season-long shooting percentage (13 goals on 108 shots on goal), which is second-best in his six NHL seasons. He had a .200 shooting percentage as a rookie with the Ottawa Senators in the 2005-06 season.
• The NHL Awards will air on Wednesday, live at 7 PM EDT on Versus and on tape delay at 8 PM EDT on the CBC, and the Red Wings are offering autographed swag from Lidstrom or Datsyuk to those who pick awards winners;
• And you might see news of Lidstrom’s return on the main KK page instead of TMR. I have to take the mom to a doctor’s appointment today at 4:30, so I’m going to be gone from about 3:30-6:30. Sorry!
As I was writing this entry, the Oakland Press’s Pat Caputo penned an article suggesting that the Wings weren’t able to make a bigger dent in the playoffs for two reasons, and I agree with the first one wholeheartedly....
The Red Wings kind of floundered down the stretch of the regular season. There was a span of 10 games in late March and early April, the Red Wings lost seven of 10 times. A blowout 10-3 loss to St. Louis at home was among them. As a result, the Red Wings finished a point behind San Jose in the Western Conference standings. Can you imagine how much different that series would have been had it opened at Joe Louis Arena rather than on the road? Or if Game 7 had been at home? The Red Wings’ chances would have improved dramatically.
I believe that teams that win the Cup tend to establish “long runs” of success at three times during the season—in October or November, sometime around the new year, and down the stretch—to build the kind of confidence that yields a post-season’s worth of confidence, and while the Wings had the October-November run down pat, they were beset by injuries in December and January, and for whatever reason, when the final third of the season came around, they got healthy but didn’t play smart. The Wings could have won at least five more games than they did, and they could have had home-ice advantage if they hadn’t played so doofily down the stretch.
The other was the opening game of the series in San Jose. The Red Wings put themselves behind the 8-ball right away with a surprisingly flat effort. They did take on the uphill fight after falling behind in the series, but, in retrospect, they should have avoided the situation in the first place.
I’d go with Game 3. That was the must-win, and the Wings couldn’t get it done.
In the bigger picture, it’s difficult to have too many complaints about the Red Wings. Their most recent Stanley Cup championship wasn’t that long ago — 2008. As recently as 2009, they played in the finals, although the Game 7 loss to the Penguins at home was a massive letdown.
The Red Wings didn’t get knocked out in the playoffs in the opening round the last two years. But this isn’t Nashville where they are tempted to have a parade for merely winning a postseason series. The expectation is the Red Wings will win the Stanley Cup, and if they don’t, that they go a long way toward getting there.Not sure if losing to San Jose two years in a row in the Western Conference semifinals qualifies, although it was masked pretty well by the Red Wings’ near epic comeback in the series.
It makes this an important off-season for the Red Wings. First things first: Nicklas Lidstrom needs to get back into the fold. General manager Ken Holland needs to spend the money freed by Brian Rafalski’s retirement wisely.
As important, there needs to be a commitment to what made the Red Wings, well, the Red Wings. That’s winning four Stanley Cups since 1997, the most of any team in the NHL. Not knocking on the door and leaving their fan base wondering in the end, “What if.”
That’s why the next two-and-a-half weeks are so damn important, as is what Ken Holland and the Wings’ front office does in terms of finding a bargain or two in late July and early August. Building a solid scaffold of call-ups and veterans to mentor the Grand Rapids Griffins back to a playoff appearance after two years of struggling wouldn’t hurt, either.
Hopefully, starting today, we’ll be talking about answers to all the questions we’ve had since the second weekend in May.
Update: Amongst Ansar Khan’s Monday morning musings...
—The Red Wings pick 24th in the first round of the NHL entry draft Friday in St. Paul, Minn. They again will look to take the best available player but might prefer a defenseman, since they’re not as deep at that position as they are at forward in their system. The remaining six rounds are Saturday.
—Trade talk always heats up at the draft, where all 30 general managers gather. Hudler and center Valtteri Filppula probably are the only roster players the Red Wings would even consider moving.
—Coach Mike Babcock will continue talking to assistant coaching candidates at the draft. The Red Wings have two vacancies. Some of the candidates they are considering are hoping to land one of the two remaining head coaching positions (New Jersey or Winnipeg). Former NHL head coaches Pete DeBoer, Todd Richards, Gerard Gallant and Ken Hitchcock could be in the mix.
Mostly, however, Khan talks about Jaromir Jagr, suggesting that it’s all about money for the Wings:
If the Red Wings sign Jagr, it will be a one-year deal with a relatively low base salary, surely loaded with incentives, which can be applied towards the 2012-13 salary cap. How low would his base salary be? Likely between $2 million and $2.5 million. The Red Wings have $6 million in additional cap space following Brian Rafalski’s unexpected retirement, most of which is earmarked for a defensive replacement. But they wouldn’t be opposed to making a change among their top-six forwards following consecutive second-round playoff losses to the San Jose Sharks.
The free-agent market for second-/third-line forwards isn’t particularly strong. It includes Brooks Laich and Jason Arnott of Washington, Erik Cole and Jussi Jokinen of Carolina, Tim Connolly of Buffalo, Simon Gagne and Sean Bergenheim of Tampa Bay, Nikolai Zherdev and Ville Leino of Philadelphia, Joel Ward of Nashville, Alex Tanguay of Calgary and Michael Ryder of Boston. All of those players are younger than Jagr, but how many would provide more offense? Also, most of those players will be seeking multiyear deals and would cost more than Jagr.
If bringing in Jagr forced the Red Wings to lose a valuable player or prospect they wouldn’t do it. And it’s not like Jagr would be stunting the development of a younger forward in their system by taking his spot or his ice time. If the Red Wings sign Jagr, it increases the likelihood that Jiri Hudler will be traded because they will have an abundance of top-six forwards.
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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.