The Malik Report
by George Malik on 07/31/11 at 07:32 AM ET
Over the last week, I may have stepped away from my computer a little too often for my liking, but I haven’t been removed from constant talk of the Red Wings’ present and future given the retirements of Brian Rafalski, Kris Draper, Chris Osgood (and probably Mike Modano), the additions of Ian White, Mike Commodore and Ty Conklin in the player personnel department or the swapping out of assistant coaches Brad McCrimmon (now coaching Lokomotiv Yaroslavl) and Paul MacLean (now the Senators’ head coach) for Jeff Blashill and Bill Peters.
My family’s as hockey-crazy as they come, and whether one of my uncles or cousins has raised concerns about the Wings’ ability to either replace Rafalski or simply apply a band-aid till the trade deadline (where we all assume Ken Holland will use his cap space to make a big addition or two), whether we’re talking about the fact that the Wings’ assistant coaches must restore the commitment to defense that got away from a team giving up goals off the opposition cycle or porous penalty-killing unit, or who’s going to step up and be the next big thing on defense and up front (where just about everyone believes that the Wings could use more size, if not snarl)...
So I’ve had quite the week of getting grilled and sometimes drilled by the kinds of hockey lifers who either haven’t heard of Kukla’s
[edit: Korner] or simply know me too well to think that my opinions are worth their salt (at least occasionally or playfully? It’s hard to tell), and we seem to have come to a sort of McElgunn family consensus (I happen to be hanging out with my mom’s family):
We agree that, given the ridiculous cap hits and front-loaded natures of the trade-for-and-sign free agents-to-be or unrestricted free agents proper, Ken Holland and the Wings’ front office really did the best they possibly could to retain good soldiers and/or difficult-to-replace parts in Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller and Jonathan Ericsson 9and no, they’re not Ericsson fans), replace Rafalski’s production via White, add a little toughness via Commodore and at least provide the 15-20 wins that a healthy Chris Osgood could have provided via Conklin and re-signing Joey MacDonald.
We also agree that the team’s probably going to have to wait and see what unfolds and what weaknesses appear as the season goes along and that Holland will all but have to make some sort of big acquisition at the trade deadline to give the Wings that missing size or scoring depth up front that was missing against the Sharks, if not adding a little more pop to the blueline if the Wings’ current crop needs assistance…
But the talk about prospects and whether the players who have to step up collectively to fill the long shadows cast by the absences of Rafalski, Draper and Osgood in the locker room, on the bench and on the ice haven’t come to much. The fam’s tended to assume that the Clearys, Kronwalls and Franzens of the world, and especially a Todd Bertuzzi no longer encumbered physically by the sense that he’s on quintuple-secret probation should he use his size and strength and/or drop the gloves, can step up. But as to who might replace Lidstrom and/or provide that grit and grind on the forecheck, or whether Blashill and Peters can reinvigorate Babcock’s message on the defensive end, well, we’re talking about the kind of consensus-building that’s going on on capital hill (and boy howdy, is that mess ever stupid).
The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa seems to summarize the thoughts shared by each and every one of us who are united by the fact that we cheer for the Red Wings in suggesting the following...
This fall, we’ll see how the gold-standard organization recovers from a roiling offseason. The Red Wings, praised because of their consistency, were rocked by tremors that might have crumbled another franchise.
Out: elite puck-moving defenseman Brian Rafalski (retired with one year remaining on his contract), possible Hall of Famer Chris Osgood (retired), ageless grinder Kris Draper (retired), and assistant coaches Paul MacLean (Ottawa) and Brad McCrimmon (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl).
In: well-traveled defenseman Ian White, former University of New Hampshire puck-stopper Ty Conklin, stay-at-home D-man Mike Commodore, and assistants Jeff Blashill and Bill Peters.
Rafalski, Osgood, and Draper won a combined 10 rings. Rafalski, effortless under forechecking heat, might have been the NHL’s best seam passer. Osgood was past his prime, but was an important backup because of his experience. There wasn’t much juice left in Draper’s legs, but he compensated with his head and heart.
Amid all that change, nobody is expecting the Wings to stumble. That’s because they have high-end talent in the most important areas: goalie, defense, center, bench, and corner office.
Jimmy Howard, the ex-Maine goalie, was good in the regular season (37-17-5, 2.79 goals-against average, .908 save percentage) and better in the playoffs (7-4, 2.50 GAA, .923 save percentage). Nicklas Lidstrom will be back for at least one more year. Considering how Norris Nick performed in 2010-11 (16-46-62, 23:28 average ice time), the captain could have signed a multiyear extension. Players around the league often cite Pavel Datsyuk among the more respected and feared rivals. Henrik Zetterberg, the No. 2 center, doesn’t have many rivals in the two-way pivot department.
Coach Mike Babcock will be energized with two new assistants. Ken Holland could be the best GM in the business. Babcock sets the tone on the ice. Holland does the same in the front office. Detroit isn’t going anywhere but up.
That’s the theory, anyway.
It’s harder to suggest that Wings fans united by blood, fandom or anything else in between know what to make of one Jakub Kindl, whose status as a full-time roster player and possible top-four guy with Rafalski retiring and Jonathan Ericsson possibly exiting, as things appeared to be heading in late June, dissolved into, “Commodore’s going to push him, hard” or something similar by the second week of July.
The Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness took note of Kindl’s presence in Detroit ant at Kris Draper’s retirement presser on Tuesday, and he spoke to the prospect that was supposed to be a sort of non-physical puck-mover and top prospect of the Jiri Fischer variety and developed into anything but a player who sold fans on his ability to step into the top-four and onto the power play. When Wings fans talk about Brendan Smith as their next great puck-moving defensemen, it’s as if we’ve already consigned Kindl to the scrap-heap, and Kindl believes that he’s got more to give, especially given Rafalski’s departure:
“I was really shocked when Raffi retired, I’m not going to lie,” Kindl said. “He had one-year left and he could still play. I didn’t expect that at all. I looked at that as an opportunity for me to play more in more situations for more minutes,” Kindl added. “I’m a year older with one more year of experience.”
Kindl, who has two years left on a deal that’s paying him $833,333 a year, was unable to beat out Salei in training camp and therefore found himself as the Wings’ seventh defenseman. And Kindl didn’t exactly excel during his start to his seven games of the season. He was a minus-6. He wound up appearing in 48 regular season games due to long-term injuries suffered by Rafalski and Brad Stuart. He had one goal and four assists and finished a minus-6, averaging just under 14 minutes of ice time. As the season drew to the playoffs, Kindl did find himself in a battle with Salei for the sixth spot on defense which was eventually given to the veteran defenseman.
“I’m really looking forward to this season,” Kindl said. “Last year was a good experience and a huge challenge for me.”
Almost a year ago, Babcock had this to say about Kindl, who essentially made the Wings’ roster because, at 23 (now 24), he was out of waiver options after some up-and-down seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins…
“The challenge for him is to find the confidence to be an NHL player,’’ Wings coach Mike Babcock said prior to the start of training camp. “There’s no question in my mind, or Kenny’s (general manager Holland) or Jimmy Nill’s (assistant GM) that he’s ready to play. But now, you got to decide you’re ready to play. He has a lot of things we think are important to play in the (NHL) on the back end,” Babcock added. “The ability to move the puck and he skates good. Now, the ball’s in his court. No one ahead of him is giving him a job. He’s fighting for ice time and more opportunity to play.”
And Babcock, who suggested that Kindl had locked up a roster spot after the playoffs, didn’t and doesn’t necessarily believe that Kindl has to turn into a physical player to evolve into a tenacious and reliable one:
“He just needs to compete,” Babcock said. “When he competes real hard, he’s very good defensively. All you’ve got to do is look at all the great players and their competition levels are through the roof. If you don’t have that, you’re not going to be a good player. Competition level, drive and willingness to win battles leads to all the other things,” Babcock added. “Once you get confidence to do that and feel like you’re strong enough to do that, it’s amazing how the rest of your game and your hockey skills come out.”
Kindl fully believes that he can realize the potential that made him the highest-drafted Wing since Marty Lapointe when the Wings picked Kindl 19th overall in 2005, telling Pleiness that he’s not afraid of the fact that he’s now looking up at a regular roster spot on the depth chart:
“I don’t think about it,” Kindl said. “I know I can play. I’m only 24 and I hope I have a long future ahead of me. I’ll do whatever it takes to remain on this team and stay in this league.”
And instead, Kindl told Pleiness that he attended Draper’s retirement presser because a workout buddy inspired the hell out of him:
“I saw how hard he worked as a 40-year-old,” Kindl said. “It was great. It kept me going. It was getting to the point where it looked like he was kicking my butt (working out) so I had to push it even harder,” Kindl added. “On the other hand, he was looking at me like a 24-year-old and he was trying to prove something to get better. We pushed each other. It was great for both of us.”
I do believe that Kindl can step up and achieve his “upside” as a 40-point-producing offensive defenseman, but if he was skating uphill previously, he’ll be climbing the Log Slide if he doesn’t deliver soon.
Shifting focus back to retired and soon-to-be-retired Wings, and perhaps adding a little levity to the situation, the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons offers this observation about Kris Draper (he mentions the whole Pete DeBoer “turning down” the Red Wings to become the New Jersey Devils’ coach thing, too, but given the way things turned out, it’s hard to suggest that Babcock wasn’t the one doing the turning down):
Maybe in some kind of tribute to Kris Draper’s retirement, the Atlanta Braves bought minor-league catcher Wil Nieves from the Milwaukee Brewers for the price of $1. For the record, the Red Wings got 17 great seasons out of Draper after then-assistant GM Doug MacLean plucked him from the Winnipeg Jets for a buck.
I’m just not going to comment about the fact that a certain columnist for New York Magazine suggested that the “best story” about a player acquired for $1 did not involve Draper, but instead, former Wing Ray Sheppard…
• The Wings haven’t posted a story about Brian Rafalski or Jim Nill’s participation in a ball hockey tournament at Clark Park in Detroit as part of the Urban Harvest Ministries and the Clark Park Coalition’s “Family Day,” but the Wings’ Twitter account and Facebook page posted pictures of Rafalski doing his thing;
• And the last “evening report” covered Mike Modano’s status as leaning toward retirement via an interview with Dallas’s Sport Radio 1310 the Ticket, as reported by Defending Big D’s Brad Gardner, but the Free Press’s Steve Schrader listened to the full audio of the interview and now relays home a very different message Modano delivered, stating that the Red Wings’ team plane, Red Bird II, had what they call “short legs” in the aviation industry:
“Back and forth to Phoenix and back and forth to San Jose?” Modano said in that interview with a Dallas radio station. “On that little puddle-jumper they got? We gotta stop in Nebraska and refuel? Fill up the gas tank and go the rest of the way to San Jose? That bird can’t make it on one tank of gas. They got a new one this summer.”
What, Redbird, the pride of the Little Caesars fleet?
“So going to San Jose, say we leave at probably noon Detroit time—that’s 9 o’clock out there,” Modano said. “We roll in around 4 or 5 o’clock San Jose time. When I first heard that, I was like, ‘I never heard that story from anybody else,’ ‘cause I never talked to Hullie and all these guys about playing in Detroit. Brett brought up the plane, you know, wait till you see this thing, but he never mentioned if you go to the West Coast, you gotta stop somewhere to get some gas. I’m like, what?”
Modano also had a theory as to why the Wings didn’t trade up sooner.
“Apparently they’re pretty superstitious about this plane; they’ve won four Cups with this thing so they kept it,” he said. “I’m like, burn this thing down. ... It can’t be (Nick) Lidstrom or (Steve) Yzerman or (Henrik) Zetterberg, it’s gotta be Redbird One.”
As Schrader points out, the Wings retired Red Bird for their current DC 9-50 that you can follow via its tail number, N682RW, on Flightaware.com, a decade ago, and it’s never been particularly uncommon for the Wings to gas up in Lincoln,
[edit: make that NE] on the way west while fighting against the jet stream—but that the 60-or-so-seat aircraft can go from coast to coast with a tailwind.
Getting a replacement isn’t cheap—even a reconditioned plane like Red Bird II can cost several million dollars—so if Mr. Ilitch found a bigger, better plane, that’s a helluva investment.
And Schrader had this to say about Kris Draper’s new status as a member of the team’s front office, doling out a special “Stevie” award:
The “Greeter at the Joe?” award: To the Red Wings, who turned the page on another chapter, but not completely. Like Chris Osgood before him, Kris Draper retired but will stay with the organization in a job to be determined. Which is nice, but you have to wonder: Exactly how many of these jobs do the Wings have sitting around?
Something tells me that special accommodations can be made.
Shifting gears to the “foreign language news” category, Henrik Zetterberg did indeed take part in Timra IK’s farewell game for top prospects Anton Lander and Sebastian Erixon, and Timra IK’s website reports that Zetterberg registered two assists as the alumni team beat Timra’s current roster.
Sundsvalls Tidning covered the event and posted a photo gallery of the affair embedded in their main story (Aftonbladet’s Patrik Sjogren posted a blurb from the event, as did Expressen’s Tobias Bjorklund), and Zetterberg offered the usual commentary to ST.nu’s Mimmie Akerlund:
“The team has a very special place in my heart,” says Zetterberg, and continues to talk about the game: “I don’t think the coaches were particularly pleased with the game,” he says, smiling.
• And in Slovakia, Hokej.sk (the author’s name is “jazva”) reports that Slovak league slugger Michal Novak gave Wings prospect and Saint John Sea Dogs forward Tomas Jurco some basic pointers about fighting.
A direct or even rough translation of the article would just be butchery—here’s the rough text of Google’s translation…
“I never was nonwhite, but I thought that the new season, I would try it. I know that a strength of other boys in the junior league enough and has already attracted quite. So I took the opportunity to learn about some basics of Misa, who is in this direction is very good, “explained Thomas Jurčo unconventional training allowance.” I tried to learn the basic strokes and act so that my opponent nezbil. Do not be an easy target. Over time, more can be learned and perhaps in real I can capitalize on the battle. “
Kosice talented pupil knows very well that, although it will never bully, in practice, in a similar situation can get. Pästným battles are still from time to time keep out even the biggest stars of the NHL such as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or Vincent Lecavalier. “Exactly! And when the time for me to come out, I do not look like a harrier. Do not do this, I want to change the bully, just want to learn about basics. The next season is already on youtube then may appear different type of video than my fintičkách whether góloch, “smiled the winner of the Memorial Cup.
So let’s get the basic message down instead: Jurco’s never fought, but he’s gotten some guff from opposing teams’ players, and while he doesn’t exactly plan on making fighting a big part of his game, he’d like to not get his butt kicked if he does choose to toss ‘em. And of course he’s still not too keen on the concept that he’s “Mr. YouTube.”
Also of Red Wings-related note: Via RedWingsFeed, Causeway Crowd’s Steve Kendall notes that Wings goalie coach Jim Bedard will be holding a goaltending clinic at Ashburnham, MA’s Cushing Academy on August 12th and 13th;
• According to the Port Huron Times-Herald’s Paul Costanzo, the Port Huron Fighting Falcons will hold an “Igor Larionov night” on November 26th;
• This week’s Hockey News is promising a feature story about Mark Howe’s long-delayed naming as a Hockey Hall of Famer-to-be;
• And as I was chased off the beach at the Hurricane River campground by black flies preceding a summer storm, I’ll suggest that Pro Hockey Talk’s James O’Brien’s assertion that Chris Osgood’s status as the last helmet-cage-wearing goalie, as noted by the Toronto Star’s Denis Grignon, has relegated unsafe helmet-cage combinations to the past tense, well…
There are a bunch of cage-wearing dorks, myself included, who might get into a heated discussion as to whether it is in fact safer to wear some sort of helmet with a goal cage affixed by J-clips instead of the goal mask which protects its wearer from frontal and sometimes side impacts from pucks, but doesn’t necessarily make a goalie anything more than bareheaded when it comes to facing flying elbows, knees, and other parts of hockey players who come hurtling toward goaltenders on a regular basis.
Add a Comment
Please limit embedded image or media size to 575 pixels wide.
Most Recent Blog Posts
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.