The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/23/12 at 06:43 AM ET
We’re not used to this kind of wait for the closure that the Red Wings’ players give the media and their fans by offering a week’s worth of quips and quotes during their locker room clean-out. The Wings at least “made a series” of their defeats against the Sharks, so the team essentially headed home and packed up their gear the next day.
This year, the Wings have chosen to delay their locker room clean-out until Tuesday, and at this point, the only definitive player news we’ve got in terms of who’s hurt, who’s not, who wants to improve and who’s still plain old pissed off comes in the form of, “Which players might not be there to speak to the press,” or who might at least be in a hurry to pack up and catch trans-Atlantic flights to join their respective countries’ World Championship teams:
• On Sunday, the Expressen’s Lars Wiklund reported that Jonathan Ericsson and Henrik Zetterberg will play for Sweden at the World Championships, though Sportbladet reports that there’s no news as of yet as to whether Johan Franzen or Niklas Kronwall will join them.
The Swedish Ice Hockey Federation’s website reports that Nicklas Lidstrom actually turned down an invite, citing his belief that younger players might be better served developmentally speaking by in Stockholm and Helsinki (Sweden and Finland are co-hosting the Worlds this year, and I believe Dick Axelsson’s vying for a spot with the Swedes via playing in the Euro Hockey Tour).
According to Expressen’s Gunnar Nordstrom, we should know more about Kronwall and Franzen’s intentions today, though I guess it isn’t surprising to hear that Tomas Holmstrom’s too banged-up to play;
• Sport-Express’s Igor Larin says that the Russians are assuming that Pavel Datsyuk will join their ranks, but he won’t be playing alongside Sergei Fedorov: Larin, who does plant rumors on occasion, believes that Fedorov will actually become CSKA Moscow’s general manager, replacing Sergei Nemchinov and adding some teeth to an organization that’s literally teamed up with Vladimir Putin and the biggest oil company in Russia not named Gazprom (which is the KHL’s official sponsor and includes SKA St. Petersburg president Alexander Medvedev on its board of directors), Rosneft, in an attempt to regain its former glory as one of Russia’s premier hockey organizations from stem to stern;
• Tomas Tatar himself let the world know that he’ll play for the Slovaks;
• Iltahleti reports that Valtteri Filppula will play for the host Finns, though Teemu Pulkkinen’s been squeezed out;
• Hockej.cz’s Vaclav Jachim reports that Jakub Kindl will join the Czechs for the Worlds, if not for their warm-up games, which begin on Tuesday, but reports of Jiri Hudler joining the Czechs were inaccurate.
According to CTK, Hudler’s declined an invitation because he’s an unrestricted free agent-to-be, and Hudler’s agent, Petr Svoboda, says that he and Hudler made this decision despite the fact that the Wings gave him permission to play for the Czechs.
• I would also imagine that we’ll find out whether Jimmy Howard’s been contacted by the U.S., and there’s an outside chance that Justin Abdelkader or Drew Miller could receive nods as well.
In terms of “what we’ve learned” about the shape of the Red Wings to come, Sunday evening may have been the most revelatory time period as, between a Mike Babcock interview suggesting that the Wings need to make a couple of big free agent signings, and the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell and Art Regner, who follow the team very regularly, suggesting that Zach Parise has done his research regarding the Wings, and that it’s entirely possible that Parise and Ryan Suter, who are pals, want to play together…
Well, that certainly gives us something to talk about today, but in terms of other viewpoints, the weekend sports shows were…A mixed bag.
WXYZ hasn’t posted the interview on its sports page yet, but Tom Leyden and Mike Stone got into a spirited discussion as to whether the Wings need a top-six forward and top-pair defenseman, or whether, as Leyden suggested, the Wings also needed a fiery voice in the locker room to look after things and remind younger players of how important it is to do things the Red Wings way.
WDIV’s Wings wrap-up was brief, but Fox 2 offered some very sound analysis from the Detroit News’s Bob Wojnowski and WCSX’s Jamie Samuelssen, both of whom follow hockey very closely (as opposed to, say, the Free Press’s Evil Drew Sharp, who keeps on disparaging the Tigers by comparing them to the Wings—and it should be noted that Samuelssen remains completely unfamiliar with the team’s prospect system, and suggests that the team “hasn’t drafted well” since landing Johan Franzen in 2004…I’m not sure if he’s heard of Calle Jarnkrok or Teemu Pulkkinen, or whether he watched Gustav Nyquist play), and Fox 2 posted a clip of Wojnowski and Samuelssen speaking with Dan Miller about the team’s issues…
And Wojo states the obvious in his Detroit News column this morning:
It starts with Lidstrom, who’s mulling retirement, but that’s not where it ends. The Wings have enough salary-cap cash to tempt Devils winger Zach Parise and Predators defenseman Ryan Suter, and they should tempt mightily. By whatever means possible, the Wings must add talent — if they plan to keep contending for the Stanley Cup.
The Wings and GM Ken Holland sit at a crossroads, and it isn’t their first. There’s no reason to tear apart a team that a few months ago was skating around with the best record in the NHL. But years of league-induced parity have sapped the Wings of their depth, and they need a bold burst of energy.
I’d even suggest to Mike Ilitch he could match his Prince Fielder splash with a Parise-Suter dynamic double-down. The difference with a salary cap is, it’s not just about writing the biggest check, and there will be fierce competition for top free agents. But the Wings have room, a talented core, a committed owner, a rich history and a gnawing need, especially for a scoring forward like Parise.
“Our goal this summer is to be as aggressive as we can be in free agency, if players that we like are available,” Holland said Sunday. “We’ll also explore the trade market. I think we have a lot of good pieces, and people that think there’s just Stanley Cup dust to sprinkle are gonna be disappointed.”
“Certainly we want to make some changes to our team,” Holland said. “First off, the league is wide open. Pittsburgh, San Jose and Detroit are out. It’s hard to build to last four or five years, and it’s hard to have depth. We’ve got to do some tweaks and make some moves, but I think we can compete with all the teams in the West.”
Mike Babcock will count more on young players such as Gustav Nyquist and Brendan Smith. Obviously, there will be other changes, although I still don’t think Lidstrom will be one of them. The Wings captain turns 42 next week and remains relentlessly optimistic and consistently non-committal. He missed a month with a deep bone bruise in his right ankle and took injections to get through the playoffs, as brief as they were.
Lidstrom isn’t yet ready to commit to the grind again, and will decide in the next few weeks. But if you think the Wings’ playoff scoring woes and defensive miscues will drive him away, not so fast.
“I think it’s easy to fix,” Lidstrom said. “The mistakes that were made, you can easily eliminate.”
The Free Press’s Helene St. James also spoke to Holland about the team’s plans…
“We have lots of cap space, and there’ll be players available July 1,” general manager Ken Holland said. “We’re going to look at free agency, but the NHL is so tight now. The days of us having way more depth than the opposition or one extra star, those are over for everybody. It’s a league that’s very, very close.”
The Red Wings will have $22 million in salary cap space available from the players whose contracts expire this summer; and while some of that will be allotted toward Nicklas Lidstrom if he opts to return, and the team plans to pursue defenseman Ryan Suter if he hits the open market, the bigger issues are up front.
Johan Franzen did not have a good series, scoring one goal in five games despite playing next to Pavel Datsyuk. Franzen has eight years remaining on his contract, but his salary cap hit is a reasonable $3.9 million and his actual salary over the last three years is a combined $4 million, which would be attractive to teams worried about reaching the NHL’s minimum salary cap space requirement. But the Wings aren’t necessarily going to look to trade him, because which Franzen would they be trading?
“A year ago, we lost him in Game 2 at home against Phoenix, and didn’t have him for end of Phoenix series, and we didn’t have him for the San Jose series,” Holland said. (Franzen played against San Jose, but he could barely skate). The playoffs before, he had something like a point in every playoff game,” Holland said. “We look to him to score. Two years ago, he produced. This year, with (Shea) Weber and Suter, he was a marked man, and he wasn’t able to break free. But I don’t know that we had a lot of people break free.”
Franzen gives the Red Wings something they don’t have a lot of, too, in that he’s 6-feet-3 and tops 200 pounds. It’s likely that the Wings will keep him and opt not to hang on to Jiri Hudler, who is eligible for free agency and whose 25-goal season will make him attractive to other bidders.
While reading all of that Hudler stuff in Czech, I was reminded that Hudler’s still represented by Petr Svoboda, who you may remember from both Hudler’s decision to leave the Wings for KHL petro-dollars, as well as the unsuccessful courtship of some guy named Jaromir Jagr, who Svoboda swore up and down was only considering signing with Pittsburgh or Detroit.
And what St. James doesn’t say about Franzen?
Look, I know that many of you think that trading the Mule is a great idea, but given the amount of money he’s got left on that contract, despite its $3.95 million cap hit—per Capgeek.com, we’re talking $5,250,000 during the 2012-2013 season, and $5 million for the three seasons after that—there is no way in hell that the Wings could do anything more than hope to dump his salary somewhere, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to add a 32-year-old who will probably play long enough to earn the $22.5 million he’s owed over the next four years, or the $25.75 million he can earn over the next five years.
The Mule is still a project, still a player who doesn’t believe that he’s more than a sniper, and while he’s played like an incredibly overpaid Mikael Samuelsson over the past year and change, the Red Wings seem to believe that there’s still a 35-goal-scorer in there. We’re stuck with him, folks.
The Red Wings won’t make drastic changes up front, because the core will be back, headlined by Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula. Danny Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi add size and scoring capability. Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader, both restricted free agents, will be re-signed. Patrick Eaves is expected to recover from a concussion and be ready for next season. Gustav Nyquist showed a headsy skill set down the stretch, and he’ll only be 23 when next season begins. Others who are under contract include Cory Emmerton, Drew Miller and Jan Mursak.
“We’re in the process of trying to become deeper, but it doesn’t happen overnight,” Holland said. “Nashville made a bunch of moves at the trade deadline, but they traded away a lot of picks. That’s what we did in ‘95-03, and now we’re trying to rebuild and also compete.”
That’s a fine line to walk, and St. James reports that we ought not to forget that the team might have an x-factor who may very well return to NHL form next season in one Fabian Brunnstrom:
The Red Wings like enough about Brunnstrom to want him back for next season, giving him another opportunity to challenge for a spot on the roster. He made overtures of doing so this past season during training camp, but he didn’t play with enough of an edge in the few games he got into once the season began, and never played another game with Detroit after November.
Brunnstrom went to the minors and had 12 goals and 35 points in 45 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins, where his season was briefly interrupted by a concussion.
“The last 20 games, he really took a step forward in Grand Rapids,” general manager Ken Holland said. “We’re interested in bringing him back, and we think he’s interested. We’ll see what happens. But he finished strong in Grand Rapids.”
Brunnstrom, who played in the NHL for Dallas, brings good size at a solidly built 6-feet-1, and he’s only 27. The big thing the Red Wings want to see from him is a commitment to grind it out in corners and drive the net. Brunnstrom repeatedly has said he wants to play for the Wings, but he was disappointed that he was never called up when there were injuries down the stretch. He might get offers from teams in his native Sweden that would be more attractive than accepting a two-way deal from the Wings.
Brunnstrom played well enough that he could probably make a very nice living wage in Sweden (somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000-$800,000 per season), but his NHL value remains incredibly low with any organization other than the Wings, if only for the simple fact that he couldn’t crack the Wings’ roster, and I’d imagine that Farjestads BK might be willing to pay him all he wants and more to come home, but we’ll have to see what Brunnstrom wants to do.
I’m more excited about what Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist can bring to the equation, whether Tomas Tatar can beat someone out for an NHL job in September, and I think that a healthy Brian Lashoff might surprise everyone when it comes to size and strength on defense, and I really do wonder about the futures of Cory Emmerton, Jan Musrak and Jakub Kindl as they seem to be the players who are most likely to be squeezed out by any potential signings…
But that’s just my take, and I’m no expert—and I’m “no expert” who isn’t quite ready to dole out end-of-season assessments. The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan offers grades-without-grades, assisted by fantastic photography from David Guralnick, and I highly suggest that you take a look at his “gallery/grades”...
I would prefer to end this circular little ditty, however, by going back to Holland’s take on what his team must do, per an interview he gave ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun on Sunday morning:
“I think we’re in an era now where every year is a new year, it’s hard to sustain things for more than two to three years because of the cap,” Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com on Sunday. “It’s also because we all have a better understanding of the system, there are fewer kids traded, fewer draft picks traded. There’s more parity. The days of a team being at the head of the class for seven to eight years, those years are over.”
In other words, the changing of the guard could happen almost every year. The turnover of playoff and non-playoff teams will happen more quickly. Get used to it. After 20 years of contending (amazingly) and drafting with low picks, the system eventually catches up to you, and the Wings know that. But with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg each still in his prime, it’s certainly not about rebuilding. It’s about retooling on the fly.
“Certainly we’re going to explore all avenues, trade and free agency to try and improve our team,” Holland said. “Our goal is to be a playoff team and position ourselves where we have the potential to be on a playoff run.”
Jiri Hudler, Tomas Holmstrom, Brad Stuart and Ty Conklin are among the UFAs on the team. And, of course, so is captain and legend Nick Lidstrom. Turning 42 next Saturday, this could possibly be it for Lidstrom, although nobody knows at this point. The Wings certainly hope not.
“I’m going to give Nick until the middle of June, I want to give him lots of time,” Holland said. “I’d like to know prior to the NHL entry draft. When you get there, that’s when the trade talks and the real juices start flowing heading into July 1 free agency. Nick’s got a good couple of months [to decide], obviously we want him back, I want him back.”
Long story short, folks, the Wings at the Worlds will give us more than enough to talk about between tomorrow’s locker room clean-out day and the end of May, but we’re not going to find out about the plans of the bedrock upon whom the Big Red Machine is built until at or around the NHL Awards, and that means we’re going to be making lots of educated guesses for an incredibly long period of time by Wings standards, waiting to witness some serious-ass fireworks on Canada Day.
Also of Red Wings-related note this morning:
• In the prospect department, in the QMJHL, Tomas Jurco’s Saint John Sea Dogs took a 2-0 series lead over the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in the QMJHL semifinal via a 5-2 victory on Sunday, but Jurco didn’t play, and despite some digging, I cannot find out why he sat;
• And in the OHL, Petr Mrazek stopped 44 of 48 shots as his Ottawa 67’s tied their Eastern Conference Final with the Niagara IceDogs at 1 game apiece via a wild 7-4 victory. Mrazek also stopped 49 of the 51 shots he faced in Ottawa’s game 1 loss, so he’s been a busy bee;
• I don’t think I need to tell you that if Raffi Torres was a superstar, not a bit player who’s got a history of disciplinary run-ins with the NHL, there’s no way in hell that he would have been suspended for 25 games, but the Globe and Mail’s Alan Maki wants to remind us that Henrik Zetterberg’s lack of an injury may have had less to do with the fact that Shea Weber got off with a fine instead of a suspension (again, no word as to whether Weber’s attending WWE Smackdown at Joe Louis Arena this evening) than the fact that Shea Weber is Shea Weber;
• Both Paul and the Chief covered the now-edited “Red Wings Eulogy,” which no longer includes a reference to Vladimir Konstantinov being wheelchair-bound, but still takes swings at Gordie Howe’s memory issues, the Red Wings, their fans, and the City of Detroit of course, as penned this year by Brad Lee and Sean Gallagher from St. Louis Game Time instead of Ryan “Stalker Fan Creepy” Lambert.
I knew whatever Puck Daddy posted about the Wings would be very purposefully inflammatory, and would more than likely involve the usual, “Nobody even lives in your crime-ridden, impoverished, burned-down town!” crap (I still find it baffling that so few people who live outside Michigan understand that there is a vibrant Metropolitan Detroit area which includes, depending on where you draw its boundary lines, somewhere between 4 and 5.5 of Michigan’s nearly 10 million residents, all surrounding Detroit, or that, despite our city’s woes, the vast majority of those residents insist that they’re from “Detroit”) and jabs at the Wings’ age, etc. It’s become standard for Puck Daddy’s editors to approve this kind of stuff, so…
Screw ‘em. I feel I’ve already given something useless too much time and bandwidth as is;
• And finally, today I’m going on an adventure as the mom and aunt require a new washing machine, and purchasing one is not exactly a 5-minute endeavor, even if you already know the make and model you want, so I will be in and out of the home office today.
Update: The Oakland Press’s Pat Caputo offers four areas which he feels the Wings have to improve upon to return to form, and one involves the team’s goaltender:
3. Jimmy Howard has to move from good to great
It always seemed unfair Chris Osgood could win three Stanley Cup titles, two as the Red Wings’ primary goalie, and have otherwise stellar numbers — and have so many people feel he isn’t a Hall of Fame goalie.
Osgood was good, or so the theory goes, but the Red Wings were great. Put a good goalie on that team, and greatness will be the result.
While, granted, that theory is a bit too simplistic, it did contain an element of truth. That is not longer the case. The Red Wings, while still capable of doing much than their showing this playoff season, hardly qualify as a great team any more. There really aren’t any great teams in the NHL at this stage. The league has become the land of parity.
The leveled playing field has put even more of a premium on goaltending. Howard has not been a bad playoff goalie for the Red Wings, but he was outplayed by Nashville’s Pekka Rinne. He didn’t steal a game for the Red Wings. If he had, it could have made all the difference in the world.
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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.