The Malik Report
by George Malik on 08/14/12 at 03:24 AM ET
Despite many TMR readers’ protests to the contrary, the Red Wings front office really has only two (and maybe three) pressing issues to address before the start of the regular season: the Wings need to re-sign restricted free agent Justin Abdelkader to a new contract, they need to add some sort of free agent defenseman to serve as a band-aid until the team chooses to make a trade to acquire a more meaningful reinforcement to offset the losses of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart (and that trade may occur at the start of the regular season, or it may not take place until the trade deadline, depending on the team’s desire to entrust its blueline to “the kids”).
Ideally, the Wings would also add a #7/8 defenseman who could be sent down to and recalled from Grand Rapids as necessary, but the Wings could at least in theory add NHL clauses to Nathan Paetsch and Triston Grant’s contracts if they so wish.
Otherwise, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James suggests, the Wings will sit on their cap space and wait out post-CBA-negotiation training camp and exhibition season jockeying for the 23 spots on the team’s roster, with neither an expensive trade for a top-pair defenseman, nor an earnest attempt to acquire a top-six forward in the offing:
Other than closing in on a contract with forward Justin Abdelkader, it’s quiet on the Red Wings front. General manager Ken Holland said Monday he talked to Abdelkader’s agent last week and will do so again this week. Abdelkader, 25, is a restricted free agent coming off a two-year, $1.575-million deal.
Abdelkader’s linemate, Darren Helm, signed a four-year deal worth $8.5 million last month, but Abdelkader will come in closer to an average cap hit of around $1.5 million.
Team officials who saw Abdelkader play for Team USA at the World Championships in May were pleased with how he performed, and he’s expected to continue his progress next season either as a third-line winger or fourth-line center.
Once Abdelkader is signed, the Wings aren’t likely to do anything else up front. They were interested in unrestricted free agent Shane Doan, but at this point, he hasn’t visited Detroit and there aren’t any active talks with his agent. The Wings are flush with forwards as is, especially once Abdelkader re-ups. “We think we’ve got as many as 16 forwards fighting for 14 jobs,” Holland said.
Otherwise, Holland said, “on my to-do list, I’d like to get one more NHL defenseman, either via trade or the odd guy out there on the market.”
Trade talks have been sparse, though, partly because like every other GM, Holland is waiting to see what happens with the collective bargaining agreement. The current one expires Sept. 15, and the NHL and the Players Association are holding talks to negotiate a new agreement. Few people in hockey expect one to be completed in time to avoid a lockout.
For the moment, anyway, it really does appear that the Wings are willing to embrace their (relatively speaking) youth movement and will cross their fingers that their current combination of superstars (Datsyuk, Zetterberg) returning veterans (Cleary, Bertuzzi, Franzen, Samuelsson), players in their mid-to-late-20’s or early 30’s making pushes to earn star status (Kronwall, Filppula, White, Howard) or at least more prominent roles (Ericsson, Quincey, Helm, Abdelkader, Eaves, Miller), new acquisitions (Brunner, Tootoo, Gustavsson) and real or defacto rookies (Smith, Kindl, Emmerton, Mursak, Nyquist) will come together and get the job done—to the point that players like Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson, Brian Lashoff, Adam Almquist (that’s how the Griffins are spelling his name) and, when Joey MacDonald’s traded, Thomas McCollum and Petr Mrazek may represent the team’s first options as injury replacements instead of minor pro veterans—with the team choosing to add veterans and/or meaningful additions as deemed necessary after the first quarter, third, half or even two thirds of the regular season, only dipping into the organization’s deeper-than-expected pool of prospects as necessary.
These very real indications from the Wings’ management haven’t stopped the rumor mill from churning, no matter how unrealistic the team’s chances of landing a Bouwmeester, Yandle (see: teams don’t trade top-pair defensemen unless they get top-pair defensemen in return, and the Wings are short on those kinds of tradeable assets), Doan or anyone else who is theoretically available, and the very obvious, “Wait and see” philosophy is resulted in the continual skewering of Ken Holland and the rest of the Wings’ front office, to the point that I genuinely wonder if someone’s going to TP his house when he returns from British Columbia…
But it should come as little surprise that the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa’s in full freakout mode today, suggesting that the Red Wings may not be able to afford trading for Jay Bouwmeester (Krupa believes that Filppula and Ericsson would be required to snag Bouwmeester, who he believes is overrated), but he believes that the team absolutely must pay whatever price it takes to acquire Keith Yandle from Phoenix, assuming that the Coyotes’ ownership situation continues to be a mess…
The Red Wings have inquired about Yandle. But what complicates their pursuit is the perilous ownership situation in Phoenix. If the current arrangement collapses this summer, the NHL may opt to kill the franchise and hold the first dispersal draft in 21 years to divvy up the roster. The Red Wings might have to trade for Yandle, first, or risk losing him.
Though Krupa believes that the Wings’ wait-and-see philosophy may prove helpful if teams get into roster and/or cap trouble at the start of the regular season for reasons other than a glut of defensemen under 1-way contracts:
If the new collective bargaining agreement results in a lower salary cap, which seems likely, teams may need to pare salaries. That would force some to let players go, and the Red Wings and their pro scouts are aware of those possibilities.
Meanwhile, several good top-four defensemen may be available either at the trade deadline or next summer, as free agents. They include Alexander Edler of the Canucks, Ryan Whitney of the Oilers, Lubomir Visnovsky of the Islanders, and Kimmo Timonen of the Flyers.
For now, however, the Red Wings are likely to play largely with what they have. That means skating with a less skilled, less experienced back end than at any time in the past 22 years.
In 1990-91, the season before Lidstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov arrived, the Red Wings defensive corps consisted largely of Rick Zombo, Yves Racine, Brad McCrimmon, Rick Green, Bobby Dollas and Steve Chiasson. That was more experience than the current sextet of Niklas Kronwall, Kyle Quincey, Ian White, Ericsson, Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith. But it also was far less talent. The Red Wings finished 34-38-8 that season, giving up 297 goals — 25 more than they scored. It was the last time they did not make the playoffs.
To avoid that fate, the current, diluted defensive corps must excel, probably without significant reinforcement, while a skilled group of forwards continues to supply ample goals and Jimmy Howard continues to improve.
The prevailing sense is the Red Wings believe the current defensemen plus one veteran will play well enough until new personnel rules are adopted or the ownership of the Coyotes finally solidifies. Then, at some point, they will make a move, one that is integral to approximating the sort of performance their fans have come to expect for two decades.
I wouldn’t pin all my hopes on the Coyotes’ “tale,” especially given that he’s their #1 defenseman (even with the reacquisition of Zbynek Michalek, the Coyotes’ defensive corps is not exactly deep, and, again, the Wings don’t have a top-pair defenseman to give the Coyotes in return for Yandle’s services), but I do agree with Krupa regarding the concept that the Wings’ defense must step up in a big way to ensure that the team remains at least one that makes the playoffs this upcoming season, and while his assessment of the challenges facing the Wings’ six current defensemen is just as panicky as his feature story is, I’ll at least give a nod to his suggestions regarding the players who represent the Wings’ “top pair” at the present moment:
2011-12: 15 goals (career high), 21 assists (less than half his career best, 45), -2
Although he should resist the temptation to do “too much” with Lidstrom gone, Kronwall must provide something closer to 50 points than the 36 he tallied last season. He also must lead the young unit of defensemen by example, returning to his higher standard of defense, including eliminating an occasional mental mistake. It is a tall order, but it is essential Kronwall improve and lead if the Red Wings are to begin to counter the loss of talent.
2011-12: 25 assists (career high), 32 points (career high), +23
He complemented Lidstrom last season, but faded when he was paired with anyone else. The Red Wings were the best team in the NHL in mid-February when injuries struck. They needed White to step up, but like Kyle Quincey, he faded. The Red Wings hope for more career highs, and also need White to solidify his defensive play to the point where his partner does not affect him.
Krupa has an interesting take on the wild stallion who still needs a little taming in Brendan Smith, too:
Listening may be the most important thing Smith can do this season. He is amply talented and enormously confident. But when talent and confidence are unbridled, a young defenseman often drives west on I-96 to rejoin the Griffins.
Coach Mike Babcock summed it up late in the season, saying Smith needs to be the best defenseman for the Red Wings, not their opponent. Perhaps Smith would be wise to remember that when Lidstrom showed up in Detroit, there was much talk about his offensive ability, too. But, 20 years later, Lidstrom said the most important thing he learned that first season was the necessity of taking care of his prime responsibility.
“It is something our assistant coach, Dave Lewis, back when I first came here, told me,” Lidstrom said. “‘Look, just play your position right. Especially as a young defenseman coming in, you have to play your position right to stay in this league. I think I was a good listener back then.”
Smith’s indicated that his desire to develop into a bigger version of Niklas Kronwall involves a healthy dose of taking after Lidstrom in terms of both his positioning and his ability to know when to step up and when to sit back and make the safer, simpler play, which Smith readily admits he needs to work on.
As for the Wings’ one likely reinforcement, however, let’s go through the list again: Carlo Colaiacovo, Jaroslav Spacek, Michal Rozsival, Pavel Kubina and Scott Hannan represent perhaps the most well-rounded players out there, with Matt Gilroy, Cam Barker and Chris Campoli serving as wild cards, players like Brett Clark, Colin White and Milan Jurcina representing sound defensive players, and if the Wings want to get mean and nasty, Sean O’Donnell, Jim Vandermeer and Kent Huskins representing size, strength and snarl.
But that’s it. Otherwise, the Wings’ self-stabilization on defense will have to come from Kronwall, White, Smith, Jonathan Ericsson, Kyle Quincey and Jakub Kindl.
In foreign-language news, as Yahoo Sports’ Dmitry Chesnokov reported, Pavel Datsyuk will be taking part in some charity hockey games at the end of this month, alongside Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin. According to Sovetsky Sport’s Dmitry Nesterov, three games will take place on August 26th (in Kazan, Tartarstan), August 29th (in Moscow) and on September 2nd (in Magnitogorsk), with the funds raised slated to benefit the families of those lost in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crash;
• If you missed it, Hockej.cz’s Libor Kult wants us to know that former Wing Jason Williams has signed with Ambri-Piotta of the Swiss NLA;
• No pressure, but Expressen’s Henrik Sjoberg notes that former Wings prospect Daniel Larsson’s been tagged with the enormous task of replacing the Anaheim Ducks’ new back-up goaltender, outgoing Swedish Eliteserien championship-winner Viktor Fasth. Larsson claims that he’s up to the task of backstopping AIK Skelleftea to another title, but Expressen’s Jonatan Lindquist argues that Larsson and Niklas Lundstrom give AIK Skelleftea the tenth-best goaltending tandem in the 12-team Eliteserien.
Back over on this side of the pond, you may take this for what you will, from the Free Press’s David Ashenfelter:
Rachel Paris says the general manager of the Anaheim Ducks threw a chair at her and injured her in a fit of anger over his team’s loss to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2009.
But Bob Murray and two of his top assistants say they have no idea what Paris is talking about.
Lawyers on both sides of the dispute will select a jury today in U.S. District Court in Detroit to decide who is telling the truth in a lawsuit filed by Paris.
“She’s lost her house, she’s lost her car and she hasn’t been able to work,” Paris’ lawyer, Mayer Morganroth of Birmingham, said Monday. He said Paris suffered debilitating injuries that have prevented her from working.
Murray’s lawyer, Steven Potter of Auburn Hills, said the accusations are bogus: “We’re confident that the jury will make the right decision after they hear all of the evidence.”
Paris’ lawsuit alleges the incident occurred around 10 p.m. May 14, 2009, in the press box after the Red Wings scored a tie-breaking goal on the Ducks in Game 7 of the playoffs at Joe Louis Arena.
In fundraising news, I’ll ask again: I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to do so, but one way or another, I’ve got to start raising $$ for the Traverse City prospect tournament and the Wings’ main camp, regardless of whether they’ll actually take place. Paypal is a little easier to work with in terms of keeping one’s donations private, but it takes a healthy chunk out of those funds, and while my product is not tangible (unless I start selling t-shirts with snappy sayings), Kickstarter might be a more easy-to-track way of raising what I’m estimating will be about sixteen or seventeen hundred bucks, though it requires an Amazon account to donate.
And if you happen to have any tips as to how I might be able to register a redirecting domain name to make things easier than typing out http://www.kuklaskorner.com/index.php/tmr when you want to access this blog, let me know..
And finally, I happen to be a Fatboy Slim fan since Better Living Through Chemistry, so it was wonderful to see Norman Cook and our favorite sports team’s symbol come together at the Summer Olympics’ closing ceremonies, as noted by the Wings’ Twitter account:
How did Al the Octopus find himself in the Olympic Closing Ceremony yesterday? Because the world loves Al the Octopus. twitter.com/DetroitRedWing…— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) August 13, 2012
Quickie update: According to Expressen’s Petter Jerden, the Frolunda Indians’ first line consists of Dick Axelsson, Mattias Olimb and Fabian Brunnstrom…For the moment. The Eliteserien’s a little under halfway through its month’s worth of exhibition season play, as is the case for just about every European league.
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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.