The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/17/11 at 05:31 AM ET
During the Red Wings’ locker room clean-out on Saturday, coach Mike Babcock suggested that the Wings will continue to make tweaks to the roster as opposed to wholesale changes, and the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell revisits Babcock’s comments today:
“I think we’re going see some changes, no question,” Babcock said. “I think it’s very important as we ask our players to train all summer and work and get better. One or two per cent better. That as coaches we do the same thing. And as management we do the same. We got to improve our team. The bottom line is the final four is going on and this is our second year in a row we’re not involved.”
Aside from suggesting that Nicklas Lidstrom’s all but certain to return, Babcock suggested that the Wings will largely see improvement from players who progressed during the team’s playoff run, including Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart…
“Kronner has to be a guy at this stage of his career, that’s real important. Obviously Kronner is a guy who continues to take steps and we need him to do so.’’
“Stewie’s just been fantastic,” Babcock said. “I think every year at this time, the way he plays at playoff time he’s even better. He had a great year for us.”
And Babcock believes that Jonathan Ericsson can improve as well (should the Wings retain him):
“He’s just young in his development as a player,” Babcock said. “Just like we expect Abby (Justin Abdelkader) and (Darren) Helm and these guys to get better, we expect Big E to get better as well. I thought his first playoff was exceptional for us, the next year he was hit and miss a little bit, was more consistent this year. Now we need him to . . . with the confidence that he is a good player take another step. That’s what we expect from all our young guys.’’
And Babcock’s told Jakub Kindl to prepare for next season as if he’s going to take a top-six spot:
“I said (to him), ‘You made the team, now you got to make the lineup,’ ” Babcock recounted. “Now you got to play every day and take another step. Just like all players you got to have a great summer, you got to improve, you got to get stronger because that’s a big part of your confidence.”
At the same time, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan notes, the Wings don’t plan on walking away from Chris Osgood or Kris Draper for change’s sake:
“How we perform each and every day matters to those guys,” Babcock said. “(Osgood’s) role with Jimmy Howard and (Draper’s) with (Darren) Helm and (Justin) Abdelkader are things we can’t measure. That’s what made their legacy as players in Detroit bigger. … That’s why you win for long periods of time. Those guys are very valuable resources.”
Kulfan points out that both Osgood and Draper suggested that they’ve got familial as well as hockey concerns to weigh this summer…
“I do want to play, but it goes beyond that,” Osgood said. “I have three kids now. They play 20 soccer games, and I see two or three of them. That definitely factors into it. There are a lot of things going into my decision.”
Osgood said that he’s fully recovered from his sports hernia surgery, and his protege believes that Osgood’s got more to give…
“(My health is) something I am sure about,” Osgood said. “I feel good and 100 percent. If I couldn’t (play), I wouldn’t consider coming back. … That’s not a factor.”
Osgood appeared in 11 games, and was 5-3-2 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .903 save percentage. On Dec. 27, Osgood became the 10th goaltender to win 400 games with his best performance of the year, a 46-save, 4-3 overtime victory over Colorado.
“He can still play,” said Howard, who has credited Osgood with his development. “The guy has won 400 games. I can’t even grasp that.”
Ken Holland, Jim Nill, Ryan Martin and the team’s pro scouts will glean information from players’ exit interviews, and will consult with Babcock and the coaching staff in an attempt to determine what the Wings need to do to get “one or two percent” better, and as such, quite a bit rests upon the conversations that Osgood and Draper have over the next few weeks, behind closed doors at Joe Louis Arena:
“I’ll talk to Kenny and work some things on my own,” Osgood said. “I’ve done zero thinking (about next season). Joking around, but not a serious conversation with myself.”
For Osgood, Draper and Nicklas Lidstrom, those conversations include extensive discussions with their families, too.
Regarding Franzen, who rather obviously has to engage more during the regular season (I’ll post my player grades eventually: MLive’s Ansar Khan, the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan and Chris McCosky and the Free Press’s Helene St. James have theirs up), the Free Press’s Helene St. James couldn’t exactly confirm that Franzen was suffering from a notorious high ankle sprain during the playoffs, but Babcock admitted that the Wings’ trainers couldn’t stabilize Franzen’s ankle after Joe Thornton purposefully took him into the boards feet first in Game 5, just as Shane Doan did during the previous round:
“We tried, and he tried, and every time he went out there, he just got worse and worse, as far as the injury went,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said this past weekend. “In hindsight, should you have managed it different? Hindsight is a wonderful thing. But our medical people did everything we could. We tried a bunch of different things, and the Mule being the Mule, he wanted to play, and that’s what we love about him. You want your best players to play, and we tried to give him the opportunity, and he tried to help us, and in the end, he wasn’t able to.”
The Wings are looking for Franzen, 31, to show some of the same fire during the regular season that he has shown in recent playoff runs. He led the team with 28 goals last season, but five of those came in one game—Feb. 2 at Ottawa—and he scored twice his last 27 games. For a player averaging just under $4 million per year and signed through 2020, there needs to be a steadier output. Babcock said during the regular season that he challenges Franzen to be more physical with the puck down low.
Many players consider it better to break an ankle outright than suffer a sprain because there’s a tendency to push through the pain and play with a sprain. Franzen got his ankle numbed before games, but by the third period of Game 5 of the second round against the Sharks, he was on the bench. He sat out the final two games. Now he’ll get four months to heal.
“Mule is an elite player in the league,” Babcock said. “He’ll come back in great shape and with lots to prove and be a huge part of what we’re doing.”
WXYT’s Jeff Riger posted his locker room clean-out report and opinions as to who stays and who goes on Monday evening:
Nick Lidstrom: The Captain is the biggest question this offseason just like he was last offseason as well. Nothing can really be decided until Lidstrom informs the Wings if he will be back or if he (and it is hard to even think about) should choose to retire. I would assume with the season that Lidstrom had, being a Norris Trophy candidate once again and with how good the team will be next season that Nick will be back for another go at things. Lidstrom claims he was not leaning one way or the other when he talked on Saturday but I think when it comes down to crunch time he will decide that he wants to be a Wing for at least another season.
Kris Draper: Draper is an unrestricted free agent now and might have played his last game in a Red Wings uniform. Draper will wait to talk to Ken Holland about his future with the team but he did essentially say on Saturday that it was Detroit or nothing when asked if he would consider suiting up for another franchise? Expect Draper, like Maltby, Chris Chelios and like Steve Yzerman did, to work with the organization in some capacity in upcoming years.
Mike Modano: It seems like Modano will be calling it quits at some point in the off season. The Livonia native was asked about retirement and he said that he is 75% to 25% probably done with his career. Modano is an unrestricted free agent as well.
Chris Osgood: Ozzy did not know what his future held in store on Saturday and claims that he hasn’t thought about it much up until this point. Osgood says he is now 100% healthy and still has the desire to play in the NHL. He like Draper has to wait to talk to Holland but I would expect to see Osgood in a Wings uniform next season. Osgood’s ability to remain a mentor to Jimmy Howard and his abilty to still play should keep the Wings goalie prospects down in Grand Rapids for at least another season.
The Free Agents: Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller, Johnathon Ericsson, Ruslan Salei and Joey MacDonald are all unrestricted free agents meaning they could leave town if they get better offers then the Wings are willing to tender. I would assume Eaves and Miller would be back next season with slightly better contracts while Salei and MacDonald have more than likely played their last game in Hockey town. Ericsson is comfortable in Detroit but could get a better offer elsewhere considering how big he is and the experience that he already has.
It took forever, but WXYT’s finally posted its videos of Nicklas Lidstrom, Mike Modano and Kris Draper’s end-of-the-season media availabilities, as well as the longest video of Babcock’s comments available anywhere:
Also of Red Wings-related note: The New York Times’ Jeff Z. Klein reports that Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher, who’s a McGill University alumnus like Babcock, has been tried to implement a Red Wings-like level of discipline in terms of his players’ reactions to rough stuff:
“I’ve been looking at the Detroit Red Wings for years now,” Boucher said. “They’re still the standard in our league right now for consistent success. Talking about the Red Wings, you just look at how Steve behaves every day. Nothing will bother him to the level of getting him off his control. It’s a great example for everyone in the organization.”
Boucher added: “It’s our responsibility on the organization to reproduce that. It’s something we’ve put a lot of emphasis on from Day 1 of training camp. We were the most penalized team in the league last year. The first speech we had was it ain’t going to happen this year.”
One of the Bolts’ habitual offenders in Steve Downie now forms what the Tampa Tribune’s Erik Erlendsson says is a sort of “grind line” alongside Dominic Moore and Sean Bergeneheim:
On the three teams Yzerman captained to titles while with Detroit, the postseason contributions of players such as Martin Lapointe, Kirk Maltby, Tomas Holmstrom and Darren McCarty proved a big part of the championship runs. Maltby had five postseason goals in 1996-97, two more than he had in the regular season. Lapointe had nine goals during the 1998 run after scoring 15 in 79 regular-season games. Holmstrom scored eight goals in the 2002 playoffs, equaling his total in 69 regular-season games. McCarty’s four goals in 2002 were one fewer than his regular-season total in 62 games.
“Those were all extremely competitive guys,’’ Yzerman said of his former teammates. “Your third- and fourth-line players all have to chip in and contribute. You need these guys. If you look at the course of a playoffs and the injuries you suffer, guys that usually play 10 minutes a game might be playing 15 minutes a game and guys who play 15 minutes might be playing 20. That’s been the case for our club.”
“It’s important for the Bergenheims and the Moores and the Downies to understand that the hustling, their reliability defensively, their first-on-puck and the way they battle and bulldoze around the net is key to our team,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said, “not just because they score goals, but mostly because they inspire the rest of the team also.’‘
Yzerman said the characteristic Tampa Bay’s “grind line’’ has in common with some of those he played with in Detroit is work ethic. And it’s important that remain the emphasis, not the goals.
• As I’m not too keen on the fact that the Vancouver Province’s Tony Gallagher’s trying to compare the Canucks to the 1998 Wings, it’s somewhat amusing that, as Yahoo Sports’ Nicholas J. Cotsonika notes, the Canucks believe that it’s San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi who’s the Osgood in the equation:
In Monday’s version of the Vancouver Province, columnist Tony Gallagher loosely compared Luongo to Osgood, who is remembered for fanning on center-ice shots in the 1998 playoffs even though the Wings won the Cup that year, saying Luongo “has given away just as many goals in this run.”
The same day, [Canucks goaltender Cory] Schneider compared Niemi to Osgood, saying, “He just wins, and that’s what you want sometimes. A guy like Chris Osgood, you can’t really explain it, but he’s got Cup rings to prove it and 400 wins.”
Yes, for the record, the Wings did try to bring Niemi in two years ago, but when Scotty Bowman bolted for Chicago, he swiped Niemi by promising him a spot on the team’s NHL roster.
• Sticking with still-active teams for the moment, the CBC’s Tim Wharnsby shares an amusing story about Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa and a certain former Red Wings forward’s younger brother, who drove around Winnipeg in a Hummer and a fur coat:
After a game one night, several of the Moose players gathered in their favourite haunt near the rink. Bieksa was there and accidentally bumped the table of Moose forward Fedor Fedorov, spilling the beer of Sergei Fedorov’s younger brother.
Bieksa apologized and offered his teammate a new pint. Fedorov instead challenged the rookie to a fight in the parking lot. One punch later, Fedorov needed 10 stitches to close a gash on his forehead.
• Former Wing Darren McCarty lent his voice, albeit only a sentence’s worth, to a story from the Associated Press’s Nancy Armour about fighting in the NHL;
• And finally, if we ever needed a reminder that the off-season is here: Crain’s Detroit Business’s Bill Shea reports that Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano has made a swap-out of executives on the Detroit/Wayne County Stadium Authority, which is big news as UAW International vice-president James Settles, Jr. may end up playing a role in determining the Red Wings’ future:
Ficano has asked Settles to serve on the six-member Detroit/Wayne County Stadium Authority, which owns Comerica Park and Ford Field. The venues are leased to the county and subleased to the teams.
The Wayne County Board of Commissioners must approve Settles’ appointment.
The stadium board, which typically meets twice a year, is expected to take on renewed importance when the Ilitch family begins the planning, financing and construction of a new downtown hockey arena for their Detroit Red Wings.
“If there is any resolve to construct a new arena for the Red Wings in Detroit, Jimmy Settles will be a tremendous asset in the process,” Ficano said in a statement.
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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.