The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/21/11 at 06:37 AM ET
By the time the Red Wings were eliminated by the San Jose Sharks two months ago, the team already knew that Brian Rafalski might retire, that Chris Osgood might have to do the same due to his lingering groin issues and that, given the free agent marketplace, there was no way the team could “replace” either player outright.
So the Wings chose to refrain from spending like there were no CBA negotiations tomorrow, and instead, opted to “replace” Rafalski’s offensive production by promoting Niklas Kronwall to the team’s #2 defenseman’s spot, retaining the services of Jonathan Ericsson (albeit at a near-free agency marketplace price) and adding a suitable #3/4 defenseman who can produce 30-40 points in Ian White and a little depth and/or snarl via Mike Commodore, who will ensure that Jakub Kindl has to do more than simply play decently to earn regular ice time.
In Osgood’s case, the team found that Joey MacDonald could at least capably back up Jimmy Howard when necessary, so a combination of eventually re-signing MacDonald, bringing Ty Conklin back for a second tour of duty, and in general, spending to the 2010-2011 salary cap so that the team can plug any holes in the lineup and/or accentuate it via trades as the upcoming season progresses.
Put simply, the team made enough lateral moves to off-set the departures of Rafalski and Osgood while counting on their own players to step up, their new coaches to infuse the team with a bit more energy and attention to detail on the power play and in terms of keeping the puck out of the net when other teams cycle the puck down low, especially when the opposition’s up a man, and should White, Commodore, Conklin and MacDonald not get the job done, the team has more than enough cap space—around $6.2 million, according to Capgeek.com—to address any lingering concerns and/or provide an upgrade or three down the line (cap space essentially allows you to bring in up to X amount of remaining salaries during the season, so if the Wings are able to avoid injuries and choose to wait until the trade deadline to add to the roster, for example, they could bring on up to $6 million in remaining salaries, which is quite a bit of money when about 30% of the season’s remaining).
At the same time, the Wings have established something of a new trend: the Wings have earned the title of the “Belle Tire of Hockey” over the past 15-or-so seasons, getting more mileage out of veteran players and re-treads than anyone could have imagined, especially in the cases of Igor Larionov, Larry Murphy, Chris Chelios, and perhaps even Osgood and Nicklas Lidstrom, but in the post-lockout CBA, the Wings have focused more and more on bringing “re-treads” back to town, choosing to give players who left Detroit second opportunities to prove themselves at lesser-than-market-value prices.
From Osgood to Darren McCarty, Todd Bertuzzi, Jason Williams, Jiri Hudler (depending on your definition of “re-tread” given that he remained an estranged member of the organization) and now Conklin, the Wings’ front office seems more than content to stick with safe bets and/or known quantities, usually with successful results.
For Ty Conklin, the chance to return to a team and city he knows after two sub-par seasons with the St. Louis Blues gave him more than enough impetus to sign a one-year, $750,000 contract to back up the man whose promotion pushed him out of town in 2009, as he told the Windsor Star’s Jim Parker...
“I had conversations with Ken (Holland, the Red Wings general manager) about it,” Conklin said. “I told him I wanted to stay, but understood the situation “Jimmy [Howard] was ready to play. He proved that and Ozzie was still there. I understood where they were with goalies. I wasn’t surprised (but) I would have jumped at the opportunity to come back.”
Conklin was solid in St. Louis in 2009-10 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .921 save percentage, but slipped to a 3.22 average and .881 save percentage this past year.
“I had a much better season my first year (in St. Louis) than last year,” Conklin said. “At the end of the day, you’re remembered for how you played. It was an up and down season (in 2010-11). A couple of games affected my numbers at the end of the day (but) physically I feel really good.”
“I knew I wasn’t going to be back in St. Louis,” Conklin said. “The way it worked out was perfect. There’s a lot of guys that were there before. The core of the team is the same.”
“Whatever they tell me I’m playing, I’ll play,” he said. “I know what role I’m expected to fill. Whether it’s one game or 10 games or 20 games, it’s not something I have to be told.”
His second stop in Detroit will mark the sixth time he’s changed NHL teams. His career began in Edmonton in 2001-02 and he’s also had stops in Columbus, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Detroit, St. Louis and now back to Detroit.
“We’re on the run all the time,” said Conklin, a native of Anchorage, Alaska. “It certainly would be nice to be somewhere five, six or seven years. In the same breath, it’s nice to see different organizations. I’ve playing in a lot of different organizations and made a lot of good friends.”
With Joey MacDonald signed to a one-way contract for the 2012-2013 season and Thomas McCollum likely to exhaust his waiver exemption this year (depending on the number of games he plays), that’s not likely to happen, but Conklin can at least hope for a solid rebound season, and as he told the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan, familiarity breeds contentment:
“Just finding the rink, you worry about that coming to a new city,” said Conklin, who agreed to a one-year contract worth $750,000 Wednesday to back up Jimmy Howard. “I won’t have that problem here. A lot of familiar faces, great team; it’s exciting to be back.”
Conklin has played with Edmonton, Columbus, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and now Detroit twice since the lockout ended in 2005. But Conklin, 35, enjoyed his best pro season when he backed up Chris Osgood during the 2008-09 season. Conklin won a career-high 25 games with a 2.51 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.
“It was a great learning experience, too, playing with experienced, talented guys, a team with a lot of talent,” Conklin said. “I considered it as a great opportunity.”
But with Jimmy Howard ready for the NHL, and Chris Osgood entrenched as the No. 1 goalie, the Wings didn’t aggressively work to re-sign Conklin, who was an unrestricted free agent Conklin wasn’t necessarily looking to leave the Wings but he landed quickly in St. Louis. With the Blues, Conklin had a good first season but struggled last season (8-8-4, 3.22 GAA, .881 save percentage) as St. Louis traded for goalie Jaroslav Halak and kept Conklin on the bench for long stretches.
“It wasn’t my best year,” he said. “I didn’t play a ton, but in all honesty, when you’re out there you’re still playing hockey.”
“Being comfortable in the surroundings, so many familiar faces on the team, just being part of this team, I’m excited,” he said.
Conklin continued that narrative while speaking to the Free Press’s Helene St. James, who notes that the feeling’s mutual...
“It’s always nice to come back to familiar faces,” Conklin said Wednesday, the day his one-year, $750,000 deal with the Red Wings was announced. “I know there are a few new faces, but a big chunk of the team is the same as when I was there, so that’s going to be nice.”
Conklin played for the Wings in 2008-09, going 25-11-2 with a .909 save percentage and 2.51 goals-against average.
“We had him two years ago. He won 25 games for us. We know him as a person,” general manager Ken Holland said. “We like him. He’s a good fit.”
The Wings signed Conklin, 35, to back up Jimmy Howard after attempts to acquire Tomas Vokoun at the start of free agency failed. Holland contacted Conklin’s agent last week and had an agreement on the backburner pending Chris Osgood’s decision about his future. Osgood’s retirement opened the door for Conklin’s return. For Conklin, ‘08-09 stands out because he and his wife welcomed their third child while in Detroit, and he was on the bench as the Wings battled all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
“It’s nice going to a team that is talented and expected to win every night,” Conklin said. “My whole family is excited to be going back.”
Conklin is comfortable knowing he’ll be the backup.
“That’s the role I’ve played most of my career,” he said. “To me, it doesn’t really matter what my workload is going to be, because I know I’m going to play. I understand it. It’s something I’m comfortable with.”
Technically speaking, Vokoun approached the Wings and chose Washington instead after realizing that the Wings weren’t going to offer him the chance to seize the #1 goaltender’s spot, but the Czech article the media’s cited and cited again offered a very clunky translation…
And as MLive’s Ansar Khan notes, the other goalies who were willing to play back-up’s roles pursued more attractive options as well—and Marty Turco and Ray Emery are holding out for starter’s spots, too—so Conklin was both the only viable option for Detroit and the most attractive one for the 35-year-old journeyman:
“I had a much better season my first year (in St. Louis) than last year, but at the end of the day you’re remembered for how you played,” Conklin said. “It was an up-and-down season. A couple of games affected my numbers. Physically, I feel really good.”
The Red Wings made a pitch for other goalies when free agency opened on July 1, talking to, among others, Tomas Vokoun, Jose Theodore and Mike Smith. All were seeking starting jobs, not interested in going anywhere to play 20-25 games as a backup. So the Red Wings turned to Conklin, who went 25-11-2, with a 2.48 GAA and .909 save percentage during his lone season in Detroit.
“Whatever they tell me I’m playing, I’ll play, whether it’s one game or 10 games or 20 games,” Conklin said. “It’ll be nice to see a lot of familiar faces, it won’t feel so foreign. I knew I wasn’t going to be back in St. Louis. The way it worked out was perfect.”
“I had conversations with Ken (general manager Holland) about [staying in 2009]. I told him I wanted to stay, but I understood their situation,” Conklin said. “Jimmy was ready to play. He proved that and Ozzie was still there. I wasn’t surprised, but I would have jumped at the opportunity to come back.”
So he’s back, and as Khan suggests, the Wings might very well be done making roster moves for the summer, barring a very difficult decision on Kris Draper’s part:
Holland must still make a final decision on whether to offer veteran forward Kris Draper a contract. That likely won’t happen until next week, at the earliest. Otherwise, the Red Wings roster appears set. They have 23 players signed (the limit) for slightly more than $58 million. The salary cap is $64.3 million. The Red Wings have the flexibility to acquire a high-priced player through a trade, if one were made available, but would need to clear a roster spot.
Technically speaking, the Wings wouldn’t have to clear the 23-man roster limit until the last day of training camp, nor would they have to be cap-compliant till then should they spend and spend some more, but the Wings seem to want to see how their acquisitions play out and allow that cap space to multiply as the season goes on (again, if the team saves its cap space for the deadline in late February of 2012, you’re looking at being able to add players who have up to about $6 million in salary owed to them for the remainder of the season) instead.
Add in the fact that the Wings want to see what both Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton, who would have to clear waivers to be sent down to the AHL, can do as the team’s 13th and 14th forwards, that Doug Janik (who handily didn’t play in enough games for his one-way contract to force him to clear re-entry waivers to be recalled) and Brendan Smith will be given the opportunity to push Kindl and Commodore during training camp and that Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and probably MacDonald, McCollum and Jordan Pearce—who both Khan and Capgeek.com finally confirm has signed a 2-year contract extension (the Anchorage Daily News’s Doyle Woody confirms that his deal’s worth $525,000 at the NHL level and $85,000 and then $95,000 at the AHL level)—will join the team for cups of coffee, and the fact that the recently-signed Chris Conner and Garnet Exelby are also on the upper half of the depth chart, and you have a team that’s more or less set in the depth department.
Aside from probably saying goodbye to Sergei Kolosov, who can earn more money in Europe than he can in the AHL, re-signing restricted free agent forward Francis Pare and eventually asking Draper whether he’s willing to take a Maltby-esque try-out (does Mike Modano’s lingering career-extending decision-making process count as he’s no longer with the Wings?)...
That’s probably that for the Wings, barring a trade for Mike Babcock’s mythical top-six forward (who we’ll probably meet at the trade deadline).
Two new assistant coaches, a top-four and depth defenseman to help ease the pain of Rafalski’s departure, a platoon of #2 and #3 goaltenders in Conklin and MacDonald, the by-default additions of Emmerton and Mursak and the team’s belief that Ericsson, Kindl, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen and apparently Jiri Hudler have more to give add up to, again, save a surprise or two, the team we’re going to see in Traverse City in early September.
The pundits will obviously say that a Wings team minus Rafalski and Osgood isn’t as good on paper, but between the new additions, expected internal growth and cap space (and tagging space) to add players down the line, the Wings are well-positioned to at least defend their Central Division title and make a more concerted push to break the Sharks’ hex and play later into May, if not June, with a helluva nucleus in place in Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Howard, Kronwall, Stuart, Franzen, Danny Cleary, Filppula etc.
The team’s not perfect, but especially given the ridiculous salaries that were doled out to both free agents and free agents-to-be whose rights were acquired ahead of July 1st, the Wings have brought in a solid mix of youth (White), enthusiasm (Commodore, Mursak, Emmerton) and a re-tread who they hope to get some extra miles from (Conklin) without breaking the bank and without moving backward.
And rather selfishly speaking, I hope the Wings are done as I’m going on my first vacation in two years on Sunday, and I’m hoping that the twelve-to-fourteen-hour days that have been the norm since the NHL Awards start to slow down to a more tolerable level. That, and I don’t know about you, but after Osgood’s retirement, I could use a little recharge before we have to deal with the possible retirement of another Wings player who’s become nothing less than a part of the team’s fabric and identity.
The Wings’ Facebook page, the Free Press and MLive posted photo galleries from Abdelkader’s flight over Willow Run Airport and Ann Arbor, and the Free Press posted a video from Abdelkader’s adventure…
As did WXYZ:
Abdelkader did have to make the obligatory, let’s say incendiary remark about flying over Michigan Stadium…
“We were joking around (when) we went over the Big House,” the Red Wings forward and former Michigan State star said of Michigan Stadium. “If we’d had a couple of bombs on it (the jet), maybe we would have dropped a couple on there.”
Pilot Lt. David Tickle, an Alabama native, said: “One of the maneuvers that I can show him is a bombing hop. … We just happened to be over Ann Arbor at the time, and I know he’s a Michigan State guy. So it worked out great we could pretend we were bombing Ann Arbor for him.
“Obviously I would never bomb Ann Arbor. I have nothing against Michigan.”
But Abdelkader was mostly floored by the experience:
“It was awesome, indescribable,” said Abdelkader, who hopes to one day earn a license to fly. “I grew up fascinated by airplanes and going to (Blue Angels) shows, and to be able to go up in one is an honor.”
Abdelkader, however, admitted it took some adjusting to the G-force — the force to which a body is subjected when it is accelerated. And that was at no time more evident than at takeoff, when the F/A-18 Hornet went up at a 90-degree angle.
“Right when you start it’s nothing like you’ve ever experienced before,” Abdelkader said. “You’re used to flying (regular airlines) and it’s a slow, gradual takeoff. But you can actually feel the power of the plane when you take off and feel the afterburner.”
Abdelakder told WXYZ’s Brad Galli that he really did fulfill a childhood dream…
“It’s unbelievable to have an opportunity like this to fly with the Blue Angels,” Abdelkader said. “To go up, it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.” I always grew up fascinated, going to the air show and watching the Blue Angels fly a few times. To actually go up in one is an honor.”
Lt. David Tickle was Justin’s co-pilot, and was impressed by the Muskegon-born NHLer’s toughness.
“He’s an athlete, so his body’s used to the pressure that I put him through,” Lt. Tickle said.
“A lot of times I didn’t know which way we were going,” Abdelkader laughed. “Sometimes I would ask him, are going right or left? Up or down? “
Of the experience, Abdelkader said “Just like you dream of playing hockey in the NHL, you dream of going up in a fighter jet in a Blue Angel.”
Abdelakder received a passing grade from Lieutenant Tickle (his real name) for mastering what’s called the, “Hick maneuver,” which helps reduce the effects of sharp turns and acceleration on the body, as Tickle told the Free Press’s Helene St. James…
“It’s a combination of contracting your leg muscles and also controlling your breathing,” Tickle said. “When we contract our leg muscles, we force all that blood up into our core, and then with controlled breathing we maintain a good, positive pressure on our lungs, and that helps us to fight the G’s.
“Justin being the athlete that he is, he was able to handle that without any problems. I took him all the way to 7.4 G’s. As we stand here talking, we’re under 1 G—one times the force of gravity. A lot of people ask, hey, is it like riding a roller coaster? Well, no roller coaster can get you to 7.4 G’s. If you take a 200-pound person and you put him under 7 G’s, now their body weighs 1,400 pounds. So, you can imagine the force on your body. That’s why it’s so critical to do that controlled breathing.”
But while Abdelkader didn’t lose his breakfast, he did admit to suffering a few “gray-outs”...
Abdelkader, 24, arrived at the airport around 8 a.m. He ate a light breakfast—very light—to help offset any chance of getting sick. He said he never screamed during the flight, but conceded there were times he blacked out, and times he didn’t know what had just happened.
“A lot of times I didn’t even know which way we were going because I was so focused on squeezing my legs and doing the right breaths,” he said. “I sometimes asked him, did we just go left or right or up or down? We did a few spins, were upside down a little bit. It was amazing, the power of the plane and how fast you can cut a corner. Right when you start, it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced. I’m used to flying on the Red Bird or on airlines where it’s a slow, gradual takeoff. But you can actually feel the power of the plane when you take off and you get airborne.”
Overall, Abdelkader truly appreciated the rarefied air he now inhabits as a member of an incredibly exclusive club:
“(Tickle) did a great job of coaching me up,” Abdelkader said. “These pilots obviously are in phenomenal shape, they’re trained phenomenally. Just an honor to go up there.”
The Red Wings made this ride possible. Former players Kirk Maltby and Dallas Drake, as well as Paul MacDonald, the team’s vice president of finance, have taken a ride on a Blue Angels jet in recent years.
“To have an opportunity like this, it’s something I’ll remember the rest of my life,” Abdelkader said. “I grew up fascinated with airplanes and going to air shows and I’ve seen the Blue Angels fly a few times.”
He never worried for his safety.
“They take care of you really well, take all the precautions necessary,” Abdelkader said.
Still, some of his teammates were surprised to learn he was doing it.
”A lot of them would be pretty nervous to get up here,” Abdelkader said. “It is tough, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Otherwise, if you missed it, DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose noted that the Detroit Historical Society asked Gordie Howe to…donate…his hand prints to a sort of “walk of fame”;
• Hockey’s Future’s Brad Garnder offered a review of the Red Wings’ 2011 draft picks;
According to TSN’s Scott Cullen, Sharks captain Joe Thornton registered more takeaways than Pavel Datsyuk (who played in only 56 games due to a broken wrist) and didn’t register as many takeaways a game as Thornton (see: broken hand, 56 games played);
And if you find yourself in Umea, Norrkoping or Nykoping, Sweden on August 9th, 10th or 11th, Expressen’s Alf Karlsson and Henrik Sjoberg report that Henrik Zetterberg will probably take part in two of the three games scheduled for Peter Forsberg’s charity hockey team, the “Icebreakers,” and Forsberg himself might take a twirl as well.
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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.