The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/27/11 at 08:36 AM ET
Updated: Per Capgeek, the Wings have signed Adam Almqvist to a 3-year entry-level deal: Aside from mentioning the news of the day—overnight, the Free Press’s Helene St. James revealed that the Red Wings want to keep assistant coach Paul MacLean in the fold, but they do plan on allowing MacLean to apply for head coaching positions…
We continue our conversation regarding the options which the Red Wings can avail themselves of in terms of attempting to “replace” Brian Rafalski’s offensive production. The Hockey News’s Adam Proteau argued that adding grit to the blueline and simply expecting the Wings’ incumbents to fill the void while using Rafalski’s $6 million worth of cap space on a back-up goaltender and a bottom-six forward, and Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji suggested that the Wings may and probably do hope that Brendan Smith can prove his NHL readiness in training camp and join the team, adding a little more offensive pop while working into the lineup as Jakub Kindl did this season.
GM Ken Holland does believe, however, that the Red Wings will use most of Rafalski’s cap hit to pursue an offensive defenseman as the team believes that the best way to play defense remains cycling the puck in the offensive zone, and as such, puck-moving defensemen are foundational players for Detroit. Holland told the Detroit News’s Bob Wojnowski that he plans on spending wisely while acknowledging that the crop of defensemen who will reach the market will probably be a thin one:
“The market isn’t as strong, but we’re only looking for one guy,” Holland said. “If a player’s not out there or doesn’t want to buy into the program, we’ll look at an alternative plan. Do you go a touch higher than you want? Yeah. But we’re not going to go dramatically higher than what we think makes sense.”
Choosing wisely is key
Few teams live in the present, while holding off the future, as expertly as the Wings do. This will be Mr. Holland’s Focus, and he and coach Mike Babcock are thinking the same way. Both would prefer one big signing, a top-four defenseman that can slide in with a group including Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart. That plan could shift, though, especially if Lidstrom retires or Jonathan Ericsson leaves as a free-agent.
There are some tempting targets, such as Nashville’s Shea Weber, but Holland knows what most know. Teams almost always match offers for their restricted free-agents, so it’s usually a courtship of futility. That leaves some intriguing — but not necessarily dominating — unrestricted free-agent defensemen, including Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa and Christian Erhoff. Bieksa, 29, is very interesting, a plus-32 for the Canucks.
There are others with varying abilities, including Carolina’s smooth Joni Pitkanen and Phoenix’s big Ed Jovanovski, 34, who’s from Windsor. Montreal’s James Wisniewski and Roman Hamrlik are slated to be available, as are San Jose’s Ian White and Boston’s Tomas Kaberle. Would one of them help? Absolutely. Is any worth $6 million? Not so sure about that.
“You’re not replacing Rafalski like it’s nothing,” Babcock said. “The other thing is, you have to spend your money wisely. So Raffy’s money needs to go to a high-end player, not spread around. And if that guy’s not available this year, then we gotta wait. No sense being involved in a long-term relationship that doesn’t work. It’s no different than getting married.”
Both Babcock and Holland use that term—“married”—to describe long-term contracts, and Holland doesn’t believe in having more than 4-6 big-money, big-term deals on the roster, and while, as Wojnowski suggests, we now know that Jakub Kindl’s the team’s #6 defenseman, and that Brendan Smith will probably compete with Doug Janik for the #7 spot on defense, Holland’s ready to spend come July 1st—but only if the team’s got a solid target to go after, and if that target is willing to come to Detroit for the right price.
If not, he’ll make a trade, but one way or another, he’s going to go out and bring in an offensively-minded defenseman:
“This day was coming, and now the process starts a little sooner than maybe we’d hoped,” Holland said. “Obviously, we’ve been built on defense for a long time. I’m crossing my fingers and toes every night, hoping we get good news on Nick. Ideally, if there’s one high-end defenseman out there we thought was a perfect fit, yeah, that’s the way we’d love to go. But there’s more than one way to build a team.”
It’s here where I feel that it’s necessary to admit that there will be some collusion going on, and it won’t be on Holland’s part. Agents tend to call general managers and pose leading questions which have yes-no answers, such as, “If I have a client who’s willing to come to your team on July 1st for x amount of years at y dollars, are you interested?” and they’ll set the table for negotiations in that way. It isn’t as if free agent players tell their agents to sit on their hands until 12 PM EDT on July 1st and then survey the market—the agents tend to do some proactive calling, text messaging, etc. and find out the lay of the land far before their clients hit the market.
It’s just the way things go, and I’m sure that Holland’s already been presented an, “If player x comes to your team at y dollars for z years, are you interested?” equations and has been asked to give yes/no answers.
Holland also spoke to The Fan 590’s Bob McCown James Deacon on Thursday night, and here’s a rough transcript of the interview:
Bob McCown: Kenny, have you ever had, in all of your years around the game, seen a player walk away from a contract, retire, if you will, with years of service left to go?
Ken Holland: Uh, well, we had one other one. Domink Hasek, I think, had an $8 million option when we won the Cup in 02, and we did everything we could to try to convince him to come back, and he decided to retire in the 02-03 season, but rarely does a player, obviously, walk away from, when they’ve got it, significant dollars on a contract. Obviously, when I got the news from Raffy, you know, shortly after picture day, early last week, obviously, a big surprise given that he had 48 points in 63 games, still a productive player, and 37 years old, so I mean…Getting up there in age, but uh, I think he’s still got some hockey left in him, and even with the contract, it was a surprise.
McCown: Did you try to talk him out of it, or did you know right away that there was no point?
Holland: No, I knew. He talked for five or ten minutes, gave me all his reasons, it became pretty obvious to me, when he was done, that I would be wasting my breath, so…He had some things to do, I said take a week, and get back to me this week, I’d kind of hoped that, maybe, maybe time would, maybe some people that he would talk to would want to change his mind, but I stayed in contact with his agent all last week, and his agent, every time I talked to his agent, it sounded like he got to the point where he was sort of…Raffy was picking a day when he wanted to announce his retirement because his kids wanted to tell his classmates, so it became pretty apparent that he was more, more…More convinced he was going to go through with it than even when I met with him.
James Deacon: Ken, you know, here’s a guy who was a terrific player for a long time, and obviously, a big hole to fill, but, in the way that the finances go with national hockey league teams now, does this now also present you with something of an opportunity?
Holland: Oh, without a doubt. I think that you have to look at the, you know, I think that’s what you have to manage. I think it’s an opportunity, if you look at our team, first off, we’re hoping to get good news on Nick Lidstrom. It’d be tough to lose Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski in the same summer; I don’t know if I would call that an opportunity.
But we need, obviously, good news on Nick, but I think Nik Kronwall has been very patient in kind of, playing on the second power play, and playing secondary type of minutes. He got more and more important minutes this year; I think Kronner’s certainly ready for a bigger role, and he’s going to eat up some of that responsibility and those minutes.
We’ve got an unrestricted free agent in Jonathan Ericsson, we want to talk to him in the next week or two, and we’d love to keep him in a Red Wing uniform, obviously, with the economics from both sides going to be a factor.
Jakub Kindl’s a young, 23-year-old defenseman, that, uh, a first-round pick, that came along. I thought he had a nice year, he improved this year; Brendan Smith’s a first-round pick of ours who was on the AHL All-Rookie team after leading college hockey in scoring from defensemen a year ago, so…
We’re obviously going to have to sign a defenseman or two, obviously the biggest news that we need to find out is what Nick Lidstrom’s status is. If we can get Nick back, to have $6 million, we’re going to have to probably, have in the neighborhood of $10-12 million when July 1st comes around, we certainly have an opportunity to see what’s out there.
McCown: A couple of questions on the Lidstrom front: first off, do you have any sense as to what Nick might be about to decide?
Holland: No, I don’t, really. Nick’s a tremendous poker player, you know, he’s told me he’s going to go on a vacation pretty quick, and he’s going to let us know. He’s going to, obviously, Las Vegas in mid-June for the NHL Awards, and then shortly after, the draft, he’s going to let us know in the next three weeks. I’m hopeful, I’m optimistic, I could give you a long list of reasons why I think he should come back. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if he came back and said he decided to retire. I think he’s going to come back and play, but I don’t have a sense.
McCown: You have some experience in dealing with aging defensemen. There was a guy named Chelios who played, well, who played until…He could be still playing for all I know…
Holland: And Larry Murphy…
McCown: Larry Murphy, there’s another guy…
Holland: And Slava Fetisov…
McCown: So there’s a long list.
McCown: So categorize Lidstrom, if you can, is this the kind of guy who could play, he’s 41 now? Is that right?
McCown: Is this the kind of guy who could play to 45, 46 at some real level of proficiency, because Cheli was among those guys who did that?
Holland: Yeah…I think that Nick, um, will consider playing as long as, I think that’s a process he’s going through right now, as long as he’s playing at a level of hockey, um, where he’s one of our best defensemen, and I think he’s, and he can do, obviously he can’t do everything that he did when he was 25 or 28 years of age, but he’s still pretty good.
But certainly, I think he’s a guy who could play for another 2-3 years, close to the level that he’s at now, because he plays so much of the game in his head. You know, he’s so smart, he’s so patient with the puck, it’s all about angles, um, he’s got what, when teams try to dump the puck, he’s got great hand-eye coordination, he bats pucks down, so I think…
One of the things, too, we’ve been able to do with the older players, because we have good teams, when you look at our team, we spend, it’s getting harder and harder, obviously, with the parity in the league, but we’ve been able to spend a little more time on offense to defense: if you’re a defenseman it’s spending more time standing at the offensive blueline than going back…I think if we were a team in a rebuild, and you’re an older defenseman and you’ve got to constantly be going back, and taking punishing checks, and you’re spending lots of time in your own zone, I think it’s harder to play, but I think that, you know…
When you look at our team, you know, our goaltender’s 27 years of age, coming into his prime, he has had two real good years. Up front, most of our key forwards are really in their prime. We’ve obviously got to do a bit of a rebuild on the back end with the loss of Rafalski, but if Nick can come back, I think we have the makings to be a…A competitive team in the Western Conference next year. If some things really go our way, we have a chance to be better than competitive, have a chance to maybe compete for our division and with the elite teams in the West, so…
He’s a big key and I think that he can play for two or three more years, as long as…The biggest thing with the older players, obviously, is their motivation, it’s…We all watch them, and you as a fan watch him play in a game in October, but there’s been 3 or 4 months of preparation in order for them to be able to be able to play at that level, against kids that are half their age in some cases.
McCown: No, we’re sympathetic to the fact that, you know, it becomes a physical chore, and a motivational chore to go through that 7, 8, 9-month grind, and when you get to 41, and you don’t heal quite as fast, it’s understandable that at least you want to take time to think about it. So for the next few weeks, you sit, you wait, you tap your foot like Sonic the Hedgehog, and Nick will give you a call, and meanwhile, I’m sure that the process of trying to figure out how you replace Rafalski has already begun. We wish you good luck with it, and if we don’t happen to talk to you for a while, have a nice summer, Kenny, thank you as always.
Holland: Yeah, you too, always nice to hear from you, take care.
Also of Red Wings-related note: In her report about Paul MacLean, the Free Press’s Helene St. James updates Todd Bertuzzi’s status:
Forward Todd Bertuzzi, who suffered a concussion in the last game of the playoffs, said he’s doing better and has been able to both skate and work out. He still has to pass a baseline test before being cleared; he’ll try to do that within a week or so.
• Interesting, per the Windsor Star:
The Windsor Junior Canadiens atom minor hockey team beat a team coached by Detroit Red Wings centre Kris Draper to win the Last Dance hockey tournament on the weekend in Farmington Hills.
Matt McGee scored both goals in regulation for the Canadiens, who won by a 3-2 score in a shootout after two overtime periods. Shootout goals by Matt Maggio, Braiden Caetano and John Vlicny led to the win over Little Caesars, which scored a goal in the final minutes of regulation to force extra play.
Little Caesars handed the Canadiens a 7-2 loss in an earlier game at the tournament.
Draper, showing no hard feelings, offered each of the Canadiens an individual picture and autograph.
• Interesting, per Pro Hockey Talk’s James O’Brien: in addition to adding goalie fights and crashing the net, EA Sports’ NHL 2012 game will include players trying to jostle for position in front of the net while getting whacked and hacked by defensemen, which makes Tomas Holmstrom all that more valuable for video game players;
• Doug Weight retired on Thursday, and the Wings never quite managed to acquire or sign the Warren native despite multiple attempts to do so. They did the same with two-time alum Dallas Drake (which worked out pretty well), too;
• If it matters, Ryan Kesler tells the Globe and Mail’s Matthew Sekeres that before he was a Colorado Avalanche fan, he cheered for Mike Modano’s Stars;
• Not gonna embed it: EJ Hradek suggested that Joni Pitkanen, Kevin Bieksa, Ed Jovanovski and Andrei Markov might be the most likely replacements for Rafalski, but the clip from the Wings’ website mostly involves watching Hradek speak, so…there you go;
• And I hate to say it, but I agree with TSN’s Bob McKenzie regarding the predictions that the Canucks will surely trample roughshod all over whoever emerges from the Eastern Conference Final:
I’m not saying it’s going to be a blow-out and I’m not saying it’s going to be easy or the East doesn’t stand a chance because the West is too strong. I always go back to 1995 when the New Jersey Devils faced the Detroit Red Wings. Everyone said Detroit was going to blow New Jersey out because they were just too strong but the upstart Devils swept the Red Wings.
That can happen but I’ve got to see more improvement from both Boston and Tampa in terms of the way they handle the puck.
Update: I haven’t seen any confirmation from Jonkoping, Sweden’s newspapers or HV71, but Adam Almqvist has apparently signed his 3-year entry-level deal with the Wings. Capgeek.com lists Almqvist as being paid a $55,000 signing bonus this year, $60,000 next year and $65,000 in signing bonuses for the 2013-2014 season, and he would earn $585,000 if he turned pro with the Griffins this upcoming season and would earn $595K in 2012-2013 or 2013-2014.
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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.