The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/23/11 at 05:51 AM ET
Sentence edited for clarity’s sake:While we’ve spent the past few days discussing Chris Osgood’s retirement and legacy and the increasingly likely probability that Kris Draper will join Osgood in the Wings’ front office sooner than later—and it bears mentioning that GM Ken Holland’s suggestion that the team’s youth movement affords no sentimentality toward players with “diminishing roles” might be a bit of a tit-for-tat response to Kris Draper’s lobbying-through-the-media that he deserves a spot on the team based upon his workouts with the Lions a month ago…
The fact that the team’s essentially chosen to sit on its cap space for the time being, and let its current players and prospects determine who earns playing time and/or top priority in the team’s call-up pecking order, well…These facts emphasize the concept that the Wings’ front office never really kicks up its heels and says, “Okay, we’re done planning for contingencies and we’re done thinking about tomorrow until September rolls around.”
Instead, I’d suggest that you give this interview Mike Babcock gave to the Fan 590’s Jim Lang a second listen, because Babcock not only discusses Osgood’s new role as a goalie mentor, but he also repeatedly reiterates the fact that the team’s expecting its in-their-prime players to take steps forward, from Jimmy Howard on out, that the team expects Cory Emmerton, Jan Mursak, Jakub Kindl and even Brendan Smith to push veterans for playing time during training camp and the exhibition season, and that Babcock and his new assistant coaches, Jeff Blashill and Bill Peters, will be taking a little road trip to hash out their roles and responsibilities…
While Babcock’s spent a few weeks with his family and won’t return to Metro Detroit until the last week of August, it certainly sounds like he, Blashill and Peters will accompany the Wings’ scouts to the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament, which Under-18 teams representing the U.S., Canada, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and Russia will take part in from Aug. 8-13 in (per USA Hockey’s website) Breclav, Czech Republic, and Piestany, Slovakia.
After that, there’s a fast turnaround for the scouts as the Free Press’s George Sipple notes that the NHL’s newly-revealed roster of top prospects for the 2011 draft taking part in the NHL’s Research, Development and Orientation camp next month will be closely followed by the Wings’ scouts...
The NHL looks at potential rule changes and innovations during the camp, which will be held Aug. 16-17 in Etobicoke, Ontario. The camp also gives NHL scouts a chance to see some of the top prospects for the 2012 NHL draft. Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett will oversee the camp.
The Red Wings will have three representatives there—assistant general manager Jim Nill, director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell and senior vice president and alternate governor Jim Devellano.
“It’s interesting to see different rules considered,” Nill said. “You see some and right away you say, ‘No chance.’ Others that you aren’t crazy about, you see, and see there’s some merit.”
And even as the Portland Press-Herald’s Rachel Lenzi reveals that Jimmy Howard, who spends his off-seasons near his alma mater, the University of Maine, apparently made a “substantial donation” to the institution…
Howard works out five days a week at the University of Maine with Terry O’Neill, the Black Bears’ strength and conditioning coach. He not only has used the facilities at the Shawn Walsh Hockey Center, he’s also contributed to them. Maine Coach Tim Whitehead said Howard recently made a significant donation to assist with renovations of Alfond Arena, a move that Whitehead said spurred other former Black Bears, including St. Louis goalie Ben Bishop and Minnesota defenseman Mike Lundin, to contribute.
“For someone to make that kind of donation, it’s an indication of how much he appreciates the opportunity he got at Maine,” said Whitehead, who did not disclose the amount of Howard’s donation. For a young man to step up like that and donate back to the school, maybe on behalf of the next Jimmy Howard, it’s really neat to see that.”
Howard suggested to Lenzi that his decision to remain with the Wings via a 2-year, $4.5 million contract extension involved his development going forward…
“It was just a great fit, and I didn’t want to go anywhere else,” said Howard, who would have become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 had he not re-signed. “My agent and I, we talked about that and we both said it’d be best to stay in Detroit, and that’s what I wanted.”
“He’s the No. 1 goalie for us,” Nill said, without hesitation. “We want to make the playoffs and we want to make a strong run to win the Stanley Cup. We’ll have the pieces in place to be one of the top teams in the league, and to do that, Jimmy Howard has to be strong in net.”
Howard takes the pragmatic approach in discussing his development.
“Each year has been a step in the right direction,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep refining my game and keep working on the fundamentals. Keep focusing on an even keel and not get too focused on those high peaks, or those low valleys.”
And while Howard’s finally “arrived,” Nill points out that his journey was neither fast nor easy—and it’s a journey fellow University of Maine alum Gustav Nyquist is just about to embark upon with fellow Griffins-to-be Landon Ferraro and Mitchell Callahan:
“It comes down to the fact that you’re challenging yourself,” Nill said. “You go to the minors, and this after you leave college, when you’re one of the top college players in the nation. You find out it’s a long, slow grind to get to one of the best leagues in the world.”
As we already know, once that long, slow grind reaches its end, the players who rise to the top continue to challenge themselves to improve in terms of both fitness and skill development.
That’s something I heard from the Wings’ prospects who served as “Black Aces” during the playoffs when they were in Traverse City earlier this month, when Brendan Smith and Brian Lashoff marveled at how hard Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom worked in the gym and on the ice, working incredibly hard to get, as the Wings like to say, “better and better.”
We’re only about about seven weeks away from the opening of the Red Wings’ prospect tournament and main training camp, and while the players, coaches and management have most certainly taken a week or three off here and there to spend time with their families and relax, their jobs are never really finished.
What we’ll experience over the next month, after Draper’s decision-making process is complete, isn’t as much of a closing of the book on the 2010-2011 season—if we haven’t done that already—as it is pausing to place a divider in a notebook mostly full of empty pages, because the Big Red Machine’s even more like Chuck Norris than Kris Draper could hope to be. It doesn’t sleep, it merely waits, and while we might take a deep breath for a few days here and there, the team’s evolution is never complete nor does it ever stop.
That’s certainly true in the case of one of Babcock’s new lieutenants, who told the Three Hills (Alberta) Gazette’s Amy Nakaska that he had only one regret about choosing to leave the Rockford IceHogs to join the Red Wings in the middle of the summer:
[Bill] Peters said he is “excited about joining the Original Six franchise.” According to Bill, he and wife Denise, and their two children, Aleze (12), and Ayden (6), are in the process of finding a house and a suitable school in Detroit.
“That’s the toughest part - relocating the family,” explained Bill. That being said, Bill’s daughter Aleze told the family, “it’s a chance to make new memories.”
Bill acknowledges that he’s ready to move “on to the next challenge, and the next chapter.”
About reuniting with Mike Babcock, Bill said they’ve had great success in their player-coach relationship, and their coach-assistant coach relationship. “I anticipate a strong season,” Bill expressed. As far as being an NHL rookie, Peters said he is excited to have a “realistic opportunity to compete for the cup,” and this time, he means the Stanley Cup.
That’s the goal, and when the Wings find themselves in their current predicament, two years removed from a Stanley Cup Final appearance and three years removed from their last Stanley Cup championship, there is only room for improvement.
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