The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/01/12 at 04:38 AM ET
After I posted it, I had to think about it. Was what MLive’s Ansar Khan stated, about the Red Wings’ brass sending representatives to Toronto to meet with Zach Parise’s agent and then sending Mr. Ilitch himself to Ryan Suter’s farm, was it all true? Or is it a sales pitch?
At this time of year, and after two-plus weeks of reading promises of similar plans of action, anything other than confirmation of a signing seems like scuttlebutt, and there isn’t a member of a team’s mainstream media corps, or partisan bloggers’ guild, that hasn’t sailed a sales pitch into the winds of the interweb, hoping to gain traction with a potential target. After all, with a dozen teams chasing each player, the odds of the Wings landing one, never mind both, are incredibly statistically slim, right?
Here’s my answer for you this morning, the morning of July 1st: put a Scotch tape “X” on my window and shine a light on it, because I want to believe.
Nor do I discount the fact that Mike Ilitch is committed to winning like few others in sports, or that the Wings have more than enough multiple Cup-winners in the front office to get the job done if Mike Babcock and Ken Holland go one way, and Ilitch and Chris Chelios go the other. Assistant GM Jim Nill and capologist Ryan Martin would be general managers elsewhere, and people like Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and the otherwise Cup-less Mark Howe can work the phones pretty decently, too.
To put the predicament the Wings are in differently—from a fan’s perspective—during the Stanley Cup Finals, when all of the Twitterverse that didn’t deem itself die-hard New Jersey Devil or Los Angeles Kings fan kept on talking about how great the theater was, how exciting the games were, and how fun it was to guess what the score might be. My response was pretty typical: “Sure it’s great…If you’re not a fan. If you’ve got a rooting interest, this is painful.”
Today, Red Wings fans, who haven’t had a free agent signing to whoop and holler about since Marian Hossa in 2009, and haven’t really experienced a free agent windfall since the summer of 2001, we know that our team has lost a one-in-a-million defenseman to retirement in Nicklas Lidstrom, we know that our team thanked an absolutely essential piece of their blueline for his service by sending Brad Stuart to the San Jose Sharks a month early, we know that our team already needed a 20-goal-scorer up front prior to Jiri Hudler’s agent tossing off the, “He loves Detroit’s” that he issued to Pittsburgh before Jaromir Jagr signed with Philadelphia, and before we all knew that Tomas Holmstrom’s probably going to retire this summer, thus leaving a team in need of scoring with a 35-goal deficit.
Oh yeah, and we know Wings could probably use a fourth-line forward and a back-up goalie whose back isn’t as bad as Joey MacDonald’s, too, and it would’a been really neat if the Predators hadn’t screwed the marketplace over by spending over $3 million on a fourth-line center.
The Wings have needs. Whether the stars line up or not is up to the work of the front office, coaches, ownership and probably some current and/or former players doing lobbying, a lot of cold, hard cash and, ultimately, the whims of free agents who have their pick of the litter. It’s not up to you or me, and that sucks.
And today, Wings fans like you and me are the ones that the Twitterverse and message boards and comments sections on websites and blogs are about, Wings fans like you and me are the ones whose hearts will be in our throats as the future of the Red Wings’ franchise and its 21 consecutive years of playoff appearances at least seems like it’s all on the line based upon what transpires over the next week.
How are we supposed to hold it together through the minutes that will seem like hours and the hours that will stretch into weeks, if not the days that will feel like years, especially if the Wings put their eggs in one or two free agents’ baskets and allow them a Sunday, Monday or maybe even a Tuesday to think about the offers a dozen teams have put on the table?
Beats the hell out of me, just as it beats the hell out of me where the Wings’ targets are going to land. I’m just a partisan Red Wings fan who’s worked hard enough to earn the opportunity to pretend to be professional for a living, and I’ve got an anxiety disorder to boot. I’m gonna take it minute by minute and make it up as I go along.
I’ve already spent the past week waking up from less than fitful sleep or the occasional nap with a start, imagining press conferences where Wild or Blackhawks or Penguins jerseys are the only ones present. I’ve talked to the relatives and my case manager and Paul about managing anxiety, and now that July 1st is here, I don’t feel any better or more prepared to deal with what’s about to transpire.
But it’s gonna happen anyway.
And maybe that’s why what Ken Holland’s been telling the press all week—and what he told the Free Press’s Helene St. James—is particularly relevant today:
“We’re going to sign somebody, but the core of our defense is what we’ve got here now,” general manager Ken Holland said. “We’ve got all these bodies, and we think they need opportunity. Do we want to add another defenseman? Yes. But part of the solution has to be what we got here. Everybody has to be a little bit better.”
That means Niklas Kronwall will take on a bigger role. That means Jonathan Ericsson developing into a shutdown defenseman and becoming a larger part of the penalty kill. It means Ian White playing well in his own end while making those terrific outlet passes that spring the forwards. It means Brendan Smith taking advantage of being in the lineup every night, playing with that edge he’s got. Quincey had a tough transition after moving from Colorado to Detroit in February, but the Wings say that at 26, he has a great deal of upside.
Up front, the Wings consider their depth down the middle one of their top assets: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Darren Helm and Abdelkader. Valtteri Filppula is coming off a career-best performance. Johan Franzen can be an enigma—such size and skill but sometimes lacking in fire. Danny Cleary is expected to be back in the top-six mix after off-season knee surgery has him feeling renewed. Jiri Hudler is expected to be lost via free agency.
It’s less pressing, but the Wings will also look to add a veteran goaltender to push Joey MacDonald for the backup job, if possible.
“We want to find some complementary pieces, make some moves,” Holland said. “We’d like to add another goaltender, add another defenseman to our program, and we’d like to sign another forward. We believe we’ve got a lot of good players in spots on our team. We have to finish off the team.”
Assessing the Wings in the aftermath of their playoff loss, coach Mike Babcock pointed out they were headed in the wrong direction after three straight years of being gone either after the first or second round. Two months later, Babcock sees an opportunity.
“I really like a lot of pieces of our team,” he said. “Down the middle, we’re elite. Kronwall on the back, he’s high end, and (Jimmy) Howard in net—we think we’ve got good place to start.”
Because, free agent bluster aside, MLive’s Ansar Khan received nearly the same take from the Red Wings’ GM:
“We need another defenseman,’’ Holland said. “We have 12-13 forwards. Do we have the right 12-13 forwards?’‘
The Red Wings have roughly $18 million in salary-cap space, after setting aside money to sign restricted free agents Kyle Quincey and Justin Abdelkader this summer and inking Swiss forward Damien Brunner, as early as Sunday. But they have the flexibility to create more space by trading a player or sending a player or two to the Grand Rapids Griffins.
If the Red Wings don’t land one of the few high-end defensemen on the market, they will explore the trade route this summer. Phoenix was shopping Keith Yandle, and GM Don Maloney spoke to Holland at the draft. Yandle might be the most viable trade option.
“Life without Nicklas Lidstrom will be difficult, but (others) are waiting for a bigger role,’’ Holland said. “You’re not going to replace Nicklas Lidstrom. He’s going to be replaced by all defensemen picking it up.’‘
And they need more goals up front, thus the search for a top-six forward, and…
The Red Wings would like to add a physical fourth-line player.
Detroit will be seeking a veteran backup goalie as insurance in case Joey MacDonald experiences back issues that ended his season on March 14.
“Do we go out and sign a third goalie to be the Joey MacDonald of the AHL and Joey MacDonald is in the NHL?’’ Holland said. “Or do we sign an upgrade on Joey?’‘
For an outside perspective, ESPN’s Craig Custance offered this assessment of the Wings’ needs as one of the many losers of the Justin Schultz sweepstakes in an insider-only blog entry:
And as late as Thursday afternoon, the Detroit Red Wings thought they had a decent chance at landing Schultz despite his preference to play in Canada. Now more and more it’s looking like the Red Wings have to land Ryan Suter for this offseason to be a success, since Plan B is looking less and less appealing. They’ve lost options in guys like Barrett Jackman and Dennis Wideman in recent weeks, and Schultz would have been a fantastic young piece to plug in with Brendan Smith.
If the Red Wings don’t land Suter, they’ll have to look hard at Matt Carle, Garrison, Sami Salo, Bryce Salvador or one of the other available free-agent defensemen in a free-agent class that is thinning out awfully quickly.
And if Suter does indeed ask to take a day to ponder all those possibilities lined up at his doorstep, it’s highly likely that Carle, Garrison, Salo and Salvador, among others, will be gobbled up and gone, leaving the Wings either having to pay the price for Yandle or stuck with taking on the cap hit of a chronic underachiever like Jay Bouwmeester—if the “not rebuilding” Flames are interested in dealing him (otherwise, yes, I cut out references to free agents like nobody’s business because I’m superstitious, too).
If the players the Wings already have don’t pick up their games, if the whole team doesn’t improve, if players like Jakub Kindl, Cory Emmerton, Jan Mursak and MacDonald aren’t teetering on the brink of the end of their time with the Wings because the push from within—from Valtteri Filppula, Niklas Kronwall, yes, Johan Franzen, Kyle Quincey and Jonathan Ericsson, from Darren Helm, and from Jimmy Howard, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg—is so strong that, even if the Wings end up with their plans C or D instead of signing the top UFA forward and the top UFA defenseman and the top UFA back-up goalie, which is all incredibly unlikely…
The Wings won’t be a team that, like the 2006-2007 Wings, rebounded from both a first-round knockout by the Edmonton Oilers and the staggering departures of Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan as something that was “different,” but in some ways just as good, if not better…
The Wings will be markedly worse off than they were with a Hall-of-Famer in their lineup for the first time in over a decade. And Suter, Parise and whoever else you spent the night dreaming of joining the Wings won’t change that.
But they sure can help.
So here’s hoping that the “program” sells itself, and that some heavy-handed in-person salesmanship at least sets the rudderless S.S. Red Wings back on course.
Other than that, hang on, because we’re about to go on a roller coaster ride, and you may find it to be an entertaining ride, but I wish that we were back in the days when the Wings could simply out-spend everyone else and used that competitive advantage to its fullest. This being on even footing with everybody else business stinks.
Kenny’s got to do his best to stay ahead of the Parity Train today and over the next week or two. Good luck to him and good luck to Wings fans everywhere.
Also of Red Wings-related note this morning:
• The Free Press’s George Sipple spoke to Wings prospect James De Haas, who will play for the BCHL’s Penticton Vees this upcoming season, and then head to Clarkson University, about his draft experience, and De Haas wasn’t exactly sitting in the stands in Pittsburgh last Saturday:
“We were just making some changes to our backyard, ripping out some fences,” De Haas said this week of what he was doing while his name was called. “That was the plan. We were just going to work around, and if I was fortunate enough to get a phone call that would definitely be a plus. We weren’t going to sit around and stare at the TV for however many hours all day.”
De Haas was working on the fence when the Wings called him.
“After that it was craziness,” he said. “All our phones were going off for the next couple of hours with phone calls and texts.”
De Haas played last season for Toronto Lakeshore in the Ontario Junior Hockey League and scored 10 goals and 19 assists in 45 games.
“Offensively, I can help out and join the rush and like to work the power play,” De Haas said. “I think for a guy of my size, I have pretty good skating ability, which is something I’ve worked on the past few years. I played forward when I was younger, so I think I have some offensive instincts.”
Although he wasn’t invited to the NHL Combine in Toronto, De Haas said he interviewed with a half-dozen teams, including the Wings.
“I didn’t really have a clue what team I’d go to or what round,” he said. “It was just wait around and see what happens.”
• The Free Press will host a chat with Wings draft pick Jake Paterson sometime on Tuesday afternoon, too;
• If you missed the Russian-language news about Pavel Datsyuk bringing the World Championship trophy to his hometown of Yekaterinburg from 66.ru’s Sergey Panin, or didn’t check out the photo gallery accompanying the story, well Sportbox.ru posted a video of Datsyuk showing off the trophy, signing autographs, and speaking at the governor of the province of Sverdlovsk’s residence, and it doesn’t look like Datsyuk’s any more comfortable speaking in public in Russian than he is in English;
• And I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do: Your generous donations paid for the hotel so that I can attend the Red Wings’ summer prospect camp in Traverse City from July 7-13, but if you can lend a hand with the couple hundred bucks’ worth of gas and food I’ll be going through (gas for the car, food for me, hopefully with minimal gas), I would greatly appreciate it:
You’ll have to use my personal email address, rtxg at yahoo dot com, to donate, and if you want to aid the cause by some other manner or means, fire me an email at that address or at georgemalik at kuklaskorner dot com.
And yeah, I know I stretched the philosophical premise a little thin this morning. I’m just honestly scared about the ride I’m about to take as a Wings fan, never mind as a blogger who has to keep writing if every free agent signs with every team except Detroit, and I figured that being human wouldn’t be an unpardonable sin.
Update: I agree with this “Stevie Award” issued by the Free Press’s Kirkland Crawford…
The “Hall-N-Oates” (or is that the other way around?) award
To Adam Oates, who got the nod for the Hockey Hall of Fame on the same day he was named the coach of the Washington Capitals. Not bad for an undrafted free agent signed by the Wings in 1985. But c’mon Hall of Fame, no Brendan Shanahan? What, 658 goals and three Stanley Cups not enough for you?
• And the Free Press is a little late to the party here:
CBC announced Wednesday it has green-lighted the Gordie Howe biopic, though this movie is supposed to focus on his comeback in the ‘70s to play with his sons Mark and Marty.
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About The Malik Report
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.