The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/27/11 at 07:08 AM ET
Now that the NHL Entry Draft’s over and it appears that Jonathan Ericsson will be re-signed, Ken Holland and the Red Wings’ front office will prepare for the start of unrestricted free agency on Friday, July 1st. The Wings’ top priority, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James suggests, is replacing Brian Rafalski, but the Wings will be competing for a limited number of players, and aren’t sure whether they’re willing to toss out a high-dollar-amount deal to snag a good defenseman:
The Wings have some players in mind but expect a few to be signed by their own teams by Friday. Andrei Markov was on Detroit’s list, but the Canadiens locked him up. James Wisniewski, also with Montreal, also is on the list, but he could ultimately command a price higher than what the Wings are willing to pay, as could other higher-profile defensemen who are inching closer to free agency.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Holland said. “First all, if you’re going to get involved in unrestricted free agency, the high-end guys, you have to pay premium dollars. That’s why they’re hitting the market. We’re going to sign somebody, but I don’t know if it’s going to be a more expensive guy or a cheaper one—we’re going to debate.”
The Wings would rather sign somebody like Ed Jovanovski for one year at around $3 million than hand out a long-term deal to any of the younger defensemen available this summer.
I’m not so sure about that, but we really don’t know what the Wings are thinking in that regard. All we know is that the prices the Wings found they’d have to pay for a draft-day trade weren’t attractive to them.
I will say that I’m not surprised that Holland’s desire that Mike Babcock round out his coaching staff at the draft didn’t happen…
Coach Mike Babcock continues his search for new assistants. (Paul MacLean left for the head coaching job in Ottawa; Brad McCrimmon wasn’t invited back.) Babcock talked to several candidates during the draft, and said he’ll make his decisions “when I get it right.”
You, me and Holland might not like lingering uncertainty, but Babcock may very well take until the middle of July to decide which coaches he’d prefer to flank his shoulders. Again, working on very limited information, Bob Boughner and Pete DeBoer have been mentioned, though it’s possible that the Wings might promote from within (i.e. from their remaining slate of coaches and support staff not named Chris Chelios or Jiri Fischer).
As the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan suggests, however, we’re also highly likely to have to wait for a week or three to find out whether the Wings will bring Kris Draper or Chris Osgood back.
Their futures both depend on the statuses of Patrick Eaves (who earned $750,000 last season, per Capgeek.com) and Drew Miller ($650,000)—like many grinding forwards, there’s just not much wiggle room in terms of what the team can afford to give players who are, respectively, invaluable penalty-killers and fantastic off-the-bench performers, but remain players who earn third and mostly fourth-line minutes—and by “afford to give,” I mean both salary, term (i.e. contractual length in years) and guarantees about playing time.
While Holland waits on a decision from [Jaromir] Jagr, he has three key unrestricted free agents to deal with before Friday — defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and forwards Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller. Holland said the Red Wings and Ericsson’s agent were inching toward a deal — “We had a good talk” — and the sides were “in the same ballpark.”
Negotiations with Eaves and Miller, however, seem to be a bit more stuck. And, the futures of forward Kris Draper and goaltender Chris Osgood likely are tied to what transpires in free agency.
If Eaves and/or Miller leave, it may open a spot for Draper. And, Osgood’s future likely is tied to whether Holland is able to land a backup in free agency.
We’re in a very thin free agent market up front, so Eaves and Miller might test the market to see whether teams can offer them a few hundred thousand more bucks and/or assurances that they won’t be scratched, and other teams might be able to offer them what the Wings can’t.
The issues for Eaves and Miller actually parallel those of the Penguins’ free agents, at least according to the the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Josh Yohe, and what Jaromir Jagr decides to do will close openings on the roster as the Wings have to make room for at least one of Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton, who are no longer exempt from waivers…
But just as the Wings plan on moving on from Jagr if he wants to waffle on July 1st, Eaves and Miller will find themselves surprised if they expect the Wings to allow them to test the market and then come back on the 5th or 6th. Holland’s drop-dead date is 11:59 AM EDT on Friday, and after that, the team makes free agent decisions based on their actually-signed players. The free agents no longer fare into the equation, with few exceptions (Draper and Osgood, due to their years of service with the team), and that’ll be that for the pair’s days in Detroit.
If you’re interested in free agent primers, NHL.com of all places offers lists of the “bests” of available goaltenders, defensemen and forwards, as well as a take on potential “second-tier” targets, and the CBC’s Chris Iofrida also offers a list of veteran players who will have to accept fewer dollars to continue playing. None of those articles include Red Wings players’ names, unrestricted free agents-to-be included.
The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson tends to have his ear to the ground regarding free agents’ plans, and he offers this in an article discussing a wide-ranging array of topics (including Babcock’s support of former University of Alberta coach Clarke Drake’s Hockey Hall of Fame candidacy, and where the draft will be held next year):
With the Habs re-signing Andrei Markov to $17.25 million over three years, that spells the exit of unrestricted free-agent defenceman James Wisniewski, who’s 60-40 to sign with the Detroit Red Wings to replace Brian Rafalski ...
In terms of getting to know the Wings’ haul of prospects from this past weekend’s draft, who we’ve learned about in great detail, the Detroit Free Press allows us to read ESPN’s Gare Joyce’s grade for the Wings’ overall job at the draft without having to sign up for ESPN’s “Insider” service, and the Free Press’s Mari Dela Garza reports that the Wings did quite well in Joyce’s books:
Gare Joyce and Grant Sonier of ESPN Insider graded this past weekend’s NHL draft.
They gave the Red Wings an A- and wrote:
“Whoever the Red Wings wanted at No. 24 was gone by the time they dealt their pick away. I’d think Tyler Biggs is a reasonable guess on who they were targeting. The trade-down still allowed them to draft a first-round talent (Tomas Jurco, the player I had them pegged to take at 24) and two serviceable junior defensemen, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproule.”
Sonier’s prime picks: “Skill plays in the minds of the Red Wings, and they got a gem in Jurco. Ouellet and Sproule have offensive upside as defensemen, and fifth-round selection Philippe Hudon hits as hard as any player selected in this draft.”
The Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche each got an A, and the Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota each got an A-.
If you’re interested in watching the media availabilities of three of the four Wings prospects who attended the draft—Tomas Jurco, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul—Hockey’s Future posted a combined clip of their media availabilities…
And aside from a little “tire-pumping” regarding incoming Cornell freshman and forward Marc Hudon from the Ithaca Journal’s Brandon Thomas..
Hudon fell to the 145th pick after a season at Connecticut-based prep school Choate-Rosemary that featured mundane stats (10g-10a in 22 games).
Another budding power forward, the Quebec native was ranked 31st among North American skaters in January, then slipped to 74th by the final rankings after failing to break out offensively in a league that is widely viewed as inferior to Junior A circuits.
The good news for Hudon is that the Red Wings are a team that perennially unearths scoring talent in middle to late rounds of the draft.
Detroit’s top five forwards in scoring last season that were drafted by the team (Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula and Tomas Holmstrom) were selected with the 95th pick or later in their respective draft classes.
RedWingsCentral’s Matthew Wuest delivers the sixth prospect profile (he’s already talked to the Wings’ brass about Jurco, Marek Tvrdon, Mattias Backman, Richard Nedomlel and Alexei Marchenko) he’s penned over the past 48 hours in discussing Soo Greyhounds defenseman Ryan Sproul with Wings director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell…
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound defenseman found his offensive game after putting an assist on the board on Nov. 19, piling up 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in his final 45 games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to skyrocket up mainstream scouting rankings. The Red Wings loved what they saw and nabbed him in the second round, 55th overall, in Saturday’s NHL entry draft in St. Paul, Minn.
“He had a tough start to the year, just getting adapted, and as the year went on, he just got better and better and better,” said Red Wings director of scouting Joe McDonnell. “Early in the year he didn’t play on the power play that much and by the end, he was the quarterback of it.”
Sproul actually started the season at the junior A level with the Vaughan (Ont.) Vipers because he still intended to go the NCAA route. Without so much as an OHL intrasquad scrimmage under his belt when he finally decided to report to the Greyhounds in late September, playing major junior presented many challenges. But he was downright impressive in the new year, piling up 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points during a 23-game stretch from Jan. 14 to March 6, including a hat trick among a pair of four-point outings.
Only Ryan Murphy had more goals down the stretch, and Sproul finished fifth among all blueliners in goals and No. 1 among rookies. He was also second among rookie defense scoring.
“The biggest thing with him was his development from the start of the year to the end of the year,” McDonnell said. “He’s got the big booming shot from the point — he’s still weak as a noodle — but we see some good signs.”
And Sproul himself had this to say to Pro Hockey Talk’s Joe Yerdon while at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport...
Just talked with Detroit 2nd round pick Ryan Sproul here on the people mover. Was stunned Detroit picked him, only spoke to them at combine.
It’s the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell who delivers the biggest stunner of the weekend, however, by speaking to Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill about the team’s decision to quite literally “go big” at the draft:
“Where we’ve been picking, to get skilled players, there has to be something missing,” said Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill, who runs Detroit’s draft table. “That something is usually size. We knew we needed to get bigger. We’ve talked a lot about it and it was a point of emphasis on that.”
Of course when you can get size with skill, it’s all the better. That’s exactly what Detroit feels it got with its first selection when the Wings took six-foot-two, 187-pound winger Tomas Jurco (St. John’s Sea Dogs) with the 35th pick overall. Jurco finished last season with 31 goals and 56 points in 60 games and was tied for the lead in goalscoring with four at the Memorial Cup tournament.
“He’s got high-end skill,” Nill said. “He’s going to end up being six-two, six-three and 210 pounds. We just love his skill. I think he got to us because he got a little buried on a great St. John’s team. He didn’t get as much ice time because they were like those good Windsor teams.”
He continues, but I stopped in my tracks when I read, “We knew we needed to get bigger.” The Wings don’t make those kinds of admissions…ever.
Regarding Jurco, Dennik Sport’s (the Slovak version) Tomas Petro spoke to Jurco after he was drafted, and here are a few highlights of his conversation, albeit very very roughly translated from Slovak:
Question: You were speaking with the Red Wings’ representatives very closely over the past few hours. Did you really think they were interested in you?
Jurco: “We had a good meeting, but I really didn’t think about Detroit. I didn’t imagine that they would have picked me, but they did.
Question: Can you talk about the fact that they’re a hockey town, that they’ve won the Stanley Cup and that they belong to the Original Six?
Jurco: “For me, it’s incredible. It’s really a hockey town that has a rich history, and is even one of the best NHL teams today. It’s a great honor for me that I was the first choice of one of the world’s most famous hockey teams this year, because stars like Datsyuk and Lidstrom play for them, not to mention Zetterberg…”
Question: It’s no secret that you admire Pavel Datsyuk’s game. Now you will be able to speak to him and see him on the ice. Does that surprise you?
Jurco: “Exactly, I still can’t believe it. It’s an incredible experience for me to watch him play, and to observe his stickhandling, watch his hands work, and even be able to have the chance to play with him, it’s a great thing for me.”
Tomas Jurco played for the Saint John Sea Dogs, who won the QMJHL title and the Memorial Cup wearing the number 13, the same number worn by his sister, Petra, who played for Slovakia at the Olympics in Vancouver. And Pavel Datsyuk wears number 13 in Detroit…
“Ha. The number is the least important thing. If need be, I’d wear a zero if it gave me the chance to play for Detroit. I won’t care what number I wear,” laughed Tomas Jurco.
Shifting focus to a Red Wings alumnus associated with one number—24—the motorcycle ride honoring Bob Probert on Sunday raised funds for the angioplasty unit at Windsor’s Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital, and in addition to the Windsor Star and Amhertsburg Echo’s articles about the event, WXYZ posted a video in which Dani Probert and Chris Chelios discuss the event…
And the Windsor Star posted a video of the event, too:
Also of Red Wings-related note: DetroitRedWings.com’s Chris Burke posted a “by the numbers” analysis of Chris Osgood’s 2010-2011 season with the Wings, and these numbers might be set in stone...
400: On Dec. 27, 2010, Osgood became just the tenth goalie in NHL history to join the Quadruple Century Club when backstopped the Wings to a dramatic 4-3 road win over the Avalanche; the favorable overtime decision marked the 400th victory of his illustrious career.
18: Osgood’s updated all-time NHL ranking in both regular season games played (744) and saves (16,861).
50,215: The number of minutes (regular-season & playoffs) he has now logged since making his NHL debut (Oct. 15, 1993). He surpassed the cumulative 50,000 MIN mark on Dec. 19, 2010 during a home game against the Dallas Stars.
• For the record, according to the Utica (New York) Observer-Dispatch’s John Pitarresi, one-time Wing Mark Mowers has officially retired;
• And as Paul mentioned, the Globe and Mail’s Bruce Dowbiggin offered
[edit/update: okay, maybe not-so-good news] for European-based Wings fans:
The NHL is expected to announce its new European TV package in the next two weeks. The league has moved away from a single carrier in ESPN Europe to individual carriers in the dozen or so European nations. The idea is to better design and implement wireless, portable and custom services for those countries. This would make possible a package whereby Finnish fans could subscribe to a package that delivers highlights of all the Finnish players in the league on a daily or weekly basis.
Update: The Saint John Telegraph-Journal’s Marty Klinkenberg mentioned Jurco’s drafting as part of a two-parter on the five members of the Saint John Sea Dogs drafted on Friday and Saturday, focusing on Jurco in his second article:
“I still cannot believe it,” Jurco said. “It’s something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little kid and now I’m drafted by Detroit, a team with big history. It’s a really big thing for me and I’m really happy.”
Jurco, an 18-year-old from Slovakia, said he’s excited about lining up alongside Detroit’s skilled Europeans in training camp.
“For me, it’s Pavel Datsyuk,” the Saint John star said when asked about the player he’s most looking forward to meeting. “He’s kind of a similar player to me. He’s got great hands. I can’t even imagine that I’m going to skate with him on the (same) ice and see all the stuff he used to do when I was trying to do the same stuff. It’s unbelievable. I’m just happy that I’m finally drafted and I don’t have to care about those rankings and (projections). ...Detroit has lots of Europeans and that’s why they are so good and I hope I’m going to help them.”
Detroit contacted Sea Dogs head coach Gerard Gallant on Friday for a final conversation about Jurco before the draft.
“Over the season, teams talk to you about your top players,” the bench boss said. “They were really excited about Tomas and his high skill level. I knew there was a chance they were going to look at him.”
Jurco, who wears No. 13 in Saint John, jokingly made reference to getting the same number in Detroit, where that guy named Datsyuk currently owns those digits.
“Who’s going to have No. 13 now?,” Jurco said with a smile.
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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.