The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/02/11 at 07:28 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings made a calculated move in choosing to watch in Friday’s free agent frenzy from the sidelines, and they did so for good reason—by 3 PM on Friday, Wings GM Ken Holland’s decision to sign Jonathan Ericsson to a 3-year contract extension at $3.25 million dollars per season (as it turns out, per Capgeek.com, there’s a modified no-trade clause in there) seemed downright sane, if not cautious, given the marketplace values established by GM’s who spent money like it had an expiration date and/or was on fire.
Instead of making big moves, the Wings told Jaromir Jagr to bug off (which he did), re-signed Patrick Eaves to a 3-year deal at an average of $1.2 million per season, re-signed Drew Miller to a deal that turned out to be (per Capgeek.com again) two years at $832,000 per season, made an under-the-radar move in re-signing prospect Logan Pyett...
And merely acquired a depth defenseman in Mike Commodore, who took all of 15 minutes to decide to bury his hatchet with Mike Babcock and sign a one-year, $1 million contract to be the Wings’ sixth defenseman.
In the meantime, the Wings’ list of free agent targets and Brian Rafalski replacements on defense nearly dried up. Christian Ehrhoff signed a ridiculously front-loaded 10-year, $40 million contract with Buffalo on Thursday, James Wisniewski signed a 6-year, $33 million contract with Columbus (which will pay him $18 million over the next two years), Ed Jovanovski got a staggering four-year deal at an average of $4.125 million from Florida, Roman Hamrlik got a 2-year deal at $3.5 million from Washington, Andy Greene re-upped with New Jersey for $3 million, the bought-out Cam Barker earned a surprising $2.25 million from Edmonton and Sami Salo re-upped with Vancouver for, presumably with his signing hand bubble-wrapped.
Hell, Jan Hedja got the same amount of money as Ericsson from Colorado, and he’s their version of Andreas Lilja (who signed with Philly), a stay-at-home defenseman’s defenseman who has neither Commodore’s size (6’5”) nor physical bent.
The Detroit News’s John Niyo might have put it best on Twitter:
Two guys the Wings liked but couldn’t land today: Jovanovski and Upshall. Both got way too much $$ from Floor-ida.
In other words, there was no way in hell that Holland could have signed any of the Wings’ potential targets (and they’re all far from perfect) in Tomas Kaberle, Anton Babchuk, Bryan McCabe and/or Ian White without paying at lest Ericsson money and possibly, in the cases of Kaberle or White, a Wisniewski-like $4.5-5 million. Not on Friday, anyway.
USA Today’s Kevin Allen raised an eyebrow at the Wings’ inactivity, suggesting that the Wings’ one free agent signing was the biggest surprise of the day:
The Detroit Red Wings signing Mike Commodore for $1 million. The team was expected to try to land one of the bigger-name offensive defensemen to help offset the retirement of Brian Rafalski. But when they all started to sign elsewhere, the Red Wings’ plan obviously was to go with an inexpensive veteran who knows his way around the defensive zone. There is plenty of time between now and September and the Red Wings still might acquire an offensive defenseman.
Holland had already told Kris Draper and Chris Osgood that the team would explore the free agent marketplace and/or make trades see whether they could improve their team up front—which isn’t out of the question if you believe the Fan 590’s Greg Brady...
Red Wings are eagerly trying to move Jiri Hudler & offered him to loads of teams (Leafs included) at the Draft. Be shocked if he’s back.
Or in goal, where Ty Conklin, Ray Emery and Marty Turco remain without homes (ditto for Tomas Vokoun, who the Wings aren’t interested in), and, as the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek suggests, there’s a team on Long Island that can now trade Rick DiPietro’s caddy if they should so choose:
The wild card in the mix: ex-San Jose Sharks’ goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, currently property of the New York Islanders. The Islanders claimed Nabokov off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings, after he started the year in the KHL and didn’t find it to his liking, for family reasons. When Nabokov refused to report, the Islanders suspended him and “tolled” the contract, meaning he owes them one additional year of service.
However, all the complicated restrictions tied to trying to trade Nabokov’s rights last year have disappeared, meaning the Islanders are in a position to move him on. Detroit might be an option as well, since they are looking for a back-up goaltender. Of course, the Islanders have goaltending issues of their own and could make a second big push to convince to play there.
I don’t think that the Wings will make a pitch for Nabokov in all honesty, but Conklin, Emery and Turco in particular are intriguing possibilities, and that means that it’s not exactly “highly likely” that the Wings will bring Osgood back—and, obviously, had the Wings not re-signed Eaves or Miller, Kris Draper would have had a better chance of challenging Jan Mursak or Cory Emmerton for a roster spot.
“We would like to have made a bigger move, but there wasn’t a lot of opportunity,’’ general manager Ken Holland said. “We explored, but in a lot of cases the money or the term went way beyond where we were willing to go. In a lot of cases, we couldn’t provide the opportunity for them to have a bigger role when they looked at our roster. (Forwards) look at our lineup and don’t want to come here if they can’t be a top-six forward, and we don’t want to pay them (top-six money) if they’re bottom six.’‘
Holland said he is “still sniffing around on D, not so much at forward.’’
The Red Wings still are in the market for a puck-moving defenseman who can man the point on the power play (essentially, Brian Rafalski’s replacement) and a back-up goaltender. The list of available defensemen, as of Friday evening, includes Tomas Kaberle (Boston), Bryan McCabe (N.Y. Rangers), Ian White (San Jose), Anton Babchuk (Calgary) and Brent Sopel (Montreal).
If the Red Wings opt for a trade – general manager Ken Holland said he had a lot of discussions with teams prior to and during last weekend’s entry draft – options might include Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester, Phoenix’s Keith Yandle or Winnipeg’s Zach Bogosian. It seems doubtful the Jets would part with Bogosian. If they were inclined to, the price would be steep. There has been some speculation on TSN that Bouwmeester and Yandle, a restricted free agent, might be available.
Once again, it’s doubtful that Holland will put in an offer sheet for a restricted free agent like Bogosian, Yandle or Drew Doughty of Los Angeles. Few general managers do that. Holland has never done it. Teams usually match anyway.
There aren’t a lot of backup goaltending options remaining. Former Red Wing Ty Conklin (St. Louis) is still unsigned, along with Marty Turco (Chicago), Ray Emery (Anaheim) and Curtis McElhinney (Ottawa).
One potential trade option is Evgeni Nabokov of the New York Islanders, which claimed him off waivers from Detroit last season, only to have him refuse to report to Long Island. Nabokov has patched things up with the Islanders and will play for them. But they might not need him. Holland also has not ruled out the possibility of re-signing Chris Osgood.
I do not share your enthusiasm regarding Yandle’s rights being in play, but I can’t throw the possibility out of the mix outright.
The Free Press’s Helene St. James also tosses some numbers out there regarding Jovanovski, who the Wings’ press heavily alluded to as a possible interim Rafalski replacement…
The Wings offered two years and $5 million to Windsor’s Ed Jovanovski; he got $16.5 million and four years from Florida. Canton native James Wisniewski signed with Columbus before noon for six years and $33 million, far higher than the Wings would have gone.
Up front, the Wings withdrew their offer to Jaromir Jagr before he signed with Philadelphia for $3.3 million. The Wings were interested in signing Tomas Fleischmann until they saw his medical reports. He went to Florida for four years and $18 million.
And both Holland and coach Mike Babcock were willing to speak to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan about the Jagr fiasco...
“We made an offer (of $2.5 million) and it sat there,” general manager Ken Holland said. “We felt he’d be a good fit. But ultimately, over the last few days, other teams came into the equation.”
“I talked with him and said I thought he’d be a good fit for our team,” Babcock said. “He’s made his decision and we wish him luck and we all move on.”
As well as the state of their roster at present, with Eaves and Miller locked up for three and two years, respectively:
“They’ve both players who feel can be here for a while,” Holland said.
With rookie Jan Mursak likely to secure a roster spot, and Cory Emmerton another rookie who is out of minor league options and will be given an opportunity to win a spot, Draper has likely been squeezed out. The Wings have 13 forwards, not counting Emmerton. Holland said Draper is headed to Europe on a golfing trip and he’ll address the situation with him upon Draper’s return.
As for Osgood, the Wings talked with several goaltending free agents Friday but were turned down. With Jimmy Howard as an established No. 1 with the Wings, there likely wouldn’t be much opportunity to play. Holland said he’ll continue to talk with available free agents.
“We’ll continue to be in the mix,” Holland said. “The question with Chris Osgood is can he be healthy?”
If you want to read more about Miller and Eaves’ reactions to being re-signed, you can do so here...
But the biggest question I think we all have on our minds is, “Okay, are the Wings just going to expect Ericsson to step up and then replace Rafalski at the trade deadline?”—that’s my biggest question about the Wings’ roster going forward, anyway—and Holland kinda-sorta answered that while speaking to MLive’s Ansar Khan about his expectations for “Big E”:
“He’s had three years (in the NHL), we need him to take a bigger role on the team,” coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s been rewarded with a real good contract, which tells him how important he is. We expect him to take the next step in his career.”
Ericsson, 27, agreed to terms Thursday night on a three-year deal worth $9.75 million. It’s a big salary-cap hit ($3.25 million) and a big raise from his $1.25 million salary in 2010-11, when his cap hit was only $900,000. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Ericsson showed tremendous promise when called up from the Grand Rapids Griffins late in the 2008-09 season and had a strong playoff run. But he has struggled with many issues since then. He has been mistake-prone and has lacked consistency.
Still, the Red Wings believe Ericsson has tremendous potential and didn’t want to lose him for nothing to free agency. General manager Ken Holland does not believe he overpaid for him.
“It’s the going rate, if you look at what’s happened (in free agency). If Big E’s on the market he would have gotten more money,” Holland said. “As we’ve seen (with some of Friday’s signings), everybody covets defensemen. His best years are ahead of him.”
Holland still is searching for a top-four defenseman through free agency or a trade. If he doesn’t land one, Ericsson will fill that role.
Babcock said he hadn’t decided who Ericsson will be paired with or whether he would be used on the power play.
Regrettably, it is the going rate, and he could have earned $4 million.
That being said, I am crossing my fingers and hoping that the Wings are being prudent by waiting to avail themselves of a free agent today, maybe sometime this week, or maybe, if they have to, in the middle of the month—if they don’t make a trade to do so—and as I mentioned on Twitter, I think that James Wisniewski’s words and the tone thereof in delivering these comments to the NHL Network, as noted by Khan, summarize exactly why the Wings couldn’t make a deal on Friday:
Speaking of money, Canton’s James Wisniewski signed a six-year deal with Columbus valued at $5.5 million a season. The Red Wings were interested, but not at that price or that term.
“For me, knowing Detroit’s history they don’t really pay the market value for a defenseman or any player,’’ Wisniewski said on NHL Live. “So I didn’t think that was going to be a fit for myself. Being in Columbus, it’s three hours away. It’s close enough for family to come but yet far enough to keep them away.’‘
It wasn’t as much what he said as much as how he said it. There was smarm, the were italics and bolded words, like, “For me, knowing Detroit’s history, they don’t really pay market value for a defenseman or any player.”
That might say it all, because it’s true, and on July 1st, it’s apparently not a virtue to take a little less than your open-market value for an all-but-guaranteed chance of winning every year, being treated like a king by your owners (see: Chris Chelios taking in batting practice at Comerica Park last weekend with his celebrity pals, just because he could) or being told that you haven’t reached your team’s or your fans’ expectations unless you reach the Western Conference Finals every spring.
The Wings are going to have to wait, and so are we, and it’s not going to be fun to do so.
We’re going to see more names disappear. Some will take more money than the Wings could have offered them, and some will leave us saying, “Why couldn’t Kenny have gotten him?” when they do take a reasonable salary, and we’ll have to remind ourselves that, as Holland suggests, other teams can promise players a top-six role up front or 25 minutes a game on defense, and the Wings cannot and will not make any guarantees.
In the interim, we’re going to have to try to be patient as another 20 or 30 guys find NHL homes today and the free agent market slows to a crawl next week, and while I certainly have faith in Ken Holland, I’m not going to be patient because of blind faith.
I’m going on his track record, and Ken Holland’s track record indicates one and only one pattern of team-building: over-building in the summer, lest you find gaping holes on your roster come November. Even if it means shopping from the free agent bargain bin in late July or early August, and picking up the equivalent of Todd Bertuzzi, Jason Williams and Patrick Eaves two years ago, or Salei and Modano “just in case” last summer, this team overbuilds.
The Wings always overbuild before the regular season begins. They’re the equivalent of the guy who goes to the Dodge dealership in July and buys the loaded Ram pickup with 4-wheel drive, skid plates and an engine-block heater. Whether it’s by a free agent signing or two or by a trade, the Wings simply cannot assume that Ericsson stepping up and Commodore will make up for the loss of a 45-point-producing Brian Rafalski, they don’t seem too keen on testing Chris Osgood’s rebuilt groin, and while coach Babcock doesn’t get everything he wants, he’s at least let Holland know that he wants to get bigger and/or faster up front.
It might not happen till training camp or even the exhibition season, but I fully believe that, between now and October, we’re going to see a solid top-four, offensively-minded defenseman, a new back-up goaltender and possibly a new forward in the lineup. It’s just how things have gone every summer since the lockout, and it’s how things will probably go this time around.
The Wings spent Friday evening, however, introducing a depth player who is like no one the Wings have ever had play for them before in @Commie22, a.k.a. the Twitter-savvy, playoff Afro-and-or-bathrobe-wearing Mike Commodore, a 6’5,” 231-lb and right-shooting behemoth of a stay-at-home defenseman who spent the later half of the 2010-2011 season in the AHL before the Columbus Blue Jackets bought him out on Thursday.
Commodore had fifteen minutes to decide whether to sign with the Wings, and he made an easy decision to solidify the Wings’ third pairing while attempting to get his career back on track, as he told MLive’s Ansar Khan:
Commodore’s career took a downturn the past two seasons in Columbus. He spent much of 2010-11 buried in Springfield (AHL) after falling out of favor with coach Scott Arniel. The Blue Jackets bought him out of the final two years of his contract, having to pay two-thirds of his combined salary of $6.85 million, spread out over the next four seasons. He will come to Detroit with a chip on his shoulder.
“I have something to prove,” Commodore said. “It’s been a tough couple of years in Columbus. I’m looking forward to proving myself.”
“We had him earmarked for two weeks,” Babcock said. “We like his size and he’s physical. He’s a perfect fit for our team. He’ll support his teammates, he’ll work hard on people. If he’s paired with (young) Jakub Kindl, he’ll help him.”
Commodore, who played regularly on Carolina’s Stanley-Cup winning team in 2006 and the Flames team that lost to Tampa Bay in the 2004 Cup finals, said he’s excited to play for a talented puck-possession team.
“I’m not a rushing defenseman but can hold my own moving the puck. I look forward to getting the puck to (the forwards), kill penalties, block shots,” Commodore said. “That’s one thing Ken and Babs said the Wings needed — someone to be hard to play against.”
Commodore has played 454 games during parts of nine NHL seasons with New Jersey, Calgary, Carolina, Ottawa and Columbus, picking up 23 goals, 81 assists and 645 penalty minutes. Commodore got to know Holland last summer at a golf outing in Western Canada. Holland called him “a good person.”
“He’s helped Carolina and Calgary in playoff runs,” Holland said. “He’ll work the front of the net to move people out. He’s a good guy on the third pair, got a presence to him. If we put him in the right situation, he’ll play good hockey for us.”
That’s the theory, and regarding his spat with Mike Babcock when Commodore was with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks back in 2002? It’s been resolved in more ways than one, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted:
Commodore, however, is definitely familiar with coach Mike Babcock. The two of them were together in Anaheim when Commodore was a minor leaguer trying to earn a spot with the Ducks. He never did, and when Commodore was in Columbus two seasons ago, he ripped Babcock in an article, calling Babcock an “obstacle” in his career.
“That happened eight or nine years ago and that’s water under the bridge,” Commodore said. “We’ve both won Stanley Cups since then (Commodore in 2006 with Carolina, Babcock 2008 in Detroit) and moved on from that.”
Babcock felt likewise, calling Commodore a welcome addition.
“He’s a guy we targeted from the start,” Babcock said. “The only issue I had was his conditioning. He was just a kid trying to work his way up, just like anyone else. Here with the Red Wings we expect elite fitness and we expect that from him.”
Commodore said he’s already spoken with Babcock regarding the article and there are no lingering issues.
No worries, as both told the Free Press’s Helene St. James:
Mike Commodore was driving around Kelowna, British Columbia, on Friday when his phone rang. Five minutes later, he’d agreed to a one-year, $1-million deal with the Red Wings. His next call was to general manager Ken Holland, and then, to Wings coach Mike Babcock. The call to Babcock was especially important, as Commodore needed to clear the air between them because of harsh criticism he’d aimed at Babcock in January of 2009, accusing him of hampering Commodore’s career nearly a decade ago.
“We talked, and it’s not an issue,” Commodore said. “It’s water under the bridge. I’m looking forward to playing for him. He was pushing to get me there. We’ve put the past behind us, and are just looking ahead to a positive relationship.”
Babcock echoed that thought.
“Mike’s and mine’s disagreement was over his physical fitness, but he was a young guy at the time,” he said. “It won’t be an issue. We’re thrilled to have him. He’s someone we targeted. He’s a big stay-at-home D-man who can play physical, who can box people out around the net, and kill penalties. He’s a right-handed shot, which we need. We think the dimension of toughness is a key component, and he gives us that.”
Commodore was surprised to hear from his agent on opening day of free agency. After two-plus seasons in Carolina, where he won the Stanley Cup in ‘06, he was traded to Ottawa in February of ‘08. Commodore signed as an unrestricted free agent with Columbus in the summer of ‘08 for five years and $18.75 million. He had a solid first season with the Blue Jackets, producing 24 points and going plus-11 in 81 games, but was plagued by groin injuries in ‘09-10 and found himself pushed aside in ‘10-11, to the point he was put on waivers—and cleared—in January. He was bought out by the Blue Jackets on Friday, and then found the Wings waiting.
“It all happened really, really fast,” Commodore said. “I was prepared to wait till August. Instead it all went down in 15 minutes. My agent called, said I had to make up my mind now. I thought about it for two minutes, and decided I couldn’t pass it up. The last couple of years have been tough. I feel like I can still play at a high level, I just need the opportunity. Detroit is a fabulous opportunity to play with a ton of world-class players. I’m very excited to think that their GM and coaching staff think there is a role for me. I’m looking to prove them right.”
Here’s hoping that he proves his detractors wrong and the Wings right, big time—and could he please, please, please wear #64?
We could start a campaign on Facebook. Or Twitter. Which will be interesting to monitor as the Wings…let’s say they tend to…discourage their players from using Social Networking software and leave it at that…
Also of Red Wings-related note this morning: If you missed it, as the Winnipeg Free Press’s Ed Tait and the Winnipeg Sun’s Ken Wiebe note, the Winnipeg Jets (2.0)‘s first free agent signing was former Red Wings defenseman Derek Meech, who signed a 1-year, $750,000 deal to play for what is now his hometown team;
• I’m not sure if I’d call it fascinating, but Wings VP Jimmy Devellano engaged in an hour-long interview with The Score’s “Norm at Night,” talking about his hockey legacy, the business of hockey and the Tigers, but not about the Wings’ free agent plans. You can download the interview here;
• The Grand Rapids Griffins both announced that their home opener will take place on October 14th and have kick-started another campaign to have their New Year’s Eve Game jersey designed by fans via PuckDrawn.com;
Update: As of 5:35 AM, I have been up for 14 of the last 17 hours and about 30 of the last 36, so I’d like to politely decline to translate Hockej.cz’s Vaclav Jachim’s interview with Jakub Kindl until later today.
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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.