Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings’ possible changes involve conference, players, blueprint for the future

The Detroit Red Wings’ timing of the team’s locker-room clean-out was…convenient. The team understandably wants to get down to the business of preparing its returning players for the off-season, tending to the injured and determining what changes the team has to make systemically (that’s Mike Babcock and the coaching staff’s department), what the team plans on doing in terms of re-signing players or making renovations via free agency or trades (Ken Holland, capologist Ryan Martin and the pro scouts’ areas of expertise) and how the team’s long-term outlook will influence both its moves at the NHL Entry Draft in June (Jim Nill, Hakan Andersson and the amateur scouts’ department) and the shape the Grand Rapids Griffins will take, call-up pecking order included (Griffins GM Bob McNamara, coach Curt Fraser, assistant coach Jim Paek and Jiri Fischer and Chris Chelios are in the player development business).

In short, the Wings’ front office has a lot of work to do and its players need to get a few weeks of rest and recuperation in before sinking their teeth into their off-season training regimens and/or scheduling any necessary surgery dates…But scheduling the locker room clean-out for a weekend date meant that the local media could stuff its sound recorders, Flip cams and video cameras with the necessary quotes, stock up for the weekend sports wrap-up TV shows, Monday’s newspaper columns and sports talk radio segments, and then shift focus to the Tigers (and, inevitably, the Lions). Do it on a weekend, get it over with, and maybe hope that the media and fans move on to the next thing as the team goes about addressing some very real questions not involving Nicklas Lidstrom’s return without much hassle.

The timing of it all was convenient and downright smart. It’s a team’s prerogative to protect its players, and asking an equally travel-weary media corps to get up early on a Saturday morning instead of waiting for a Monday when there’s a Tigers game but no hockey on TV, and time for the kind of reflection that would have brought on even harder questions than a team that’s lost in the second round, to the same team, for consecutive seasons would have to answer on Monday.

Good for the team, which needs to address its failings and make plans for the future in short order. Hard for the fans who’ll return to work on Monday, for the most part, and be staggered by the hole in the internet left by the absence of Red Wings-related content or discussion. Players, management and the media tend to get things done and move on to the next thing. Those of us left in the sports version of mourning will take much longer to digest and come to terms with the fact that our team was hoping to advance to the Western Conference Final as of Thursday morning, and by Monday, some of its players are already packing up and preparing to leave town for their off-season homes, and, in some cases, weighing decisions as to whether they want to chase bigger dollars on the free agent market, or whether they want to continue playing at all.

Sure, we’ll hear some players speak to the local sports talk radio outlets early this week, and the articles will continue to roll in for a while, but by next weekend, we may be stunned by the silence in terms of anything Wings-related. That won’t last too long as we’re all on Nicklas Lidstrom watch, and the draft’s coming, but for a while, it’s going to be too quiet far too soon.

If you missed Saturday’s slate of stories and interviews, there’s quite a bit to catch up on, including some comments from Kris Draper which suggest that he’s very seriously considering putting his family first, absolutely eloquent comments from Mike Babcock about the example Mike Modano set for the team’s youngsters by handling his regular and post-season scratchings with class and dignity and the usual tea leaf-reading’s worth of statements from Nicklas Lidstrom about his every-year decision-making process as to whether he’ll commit to the off-season process of training and preparing for another year’s worth of hockey or whether he plans on calling it a day.

The curve-ball that was thrown our way,however, came from Red Wings VP Jimmy Devellano, who made an incredibly well-calculated and well-timed remark by telling the Sporting News’s Craig Custance that, should the Atlanta Thrashers move to Winnipeg, the Red Wings would remain in the Western Conference…For the 2011-2012 season…

According to Jimmy Devellano, Detroit’s senior vice president, a move won’t be happening next season for the Red Wings. “We’re going to be right where we are next year,” he said on Saturday. “Beyond that, I can’t comment. Next year we’re right where we are.”

Moving East would mean money and time saved on travel for the organization, not to mention reasonable start times for fans in Detroit when the Red Wings are on the road.

That’s why Devellano is holding out hope that it could still happen as soon as the 2012-13 season. “Fingers crossed, toes crossed, saying prayers,” he joked.

Devellano reiterated his comments to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...

“Where do things stand?” Devellano said. “We’re gonna be right where we are next year. Beyond that, I can’t comment.”

Devellano is hoping things will change after next season.

“Fingers crossed, toes crossed,” he said, laughing. “Saying prayers.”

But that’s easier said than done, obviously—the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Columbus Dispatch’s Michael Arace revealed that the NHL has assured them that there is no gentlemen’s agreement between the Wings and the NHL to move the team East before any other team, giving both the Blue Jackets, who’d also like to cut their travel, and especially the Predators, who have more natural geographic rivalries with Southeast Division teams and have quite a bit of pull on the Board of Governors as well (David Poile and Craig Leipold were some of Bettman’s staunchest allies during the second lockout, and if the NHL’s scheduling of past, present and future All-Star Games and Entry Drafts are any indication of whose palms need to be greased, the Wings aren’t the league’s most favored nation)...

But the timing wasn’t good—for the NHL—this instance, as the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons pounced on the suggestion from a Toronto Maple Leafs-centric point of view…

Toronto hockey fans openly cheering for an NHL return to Winnipeg should do so at their own peril. Should the Atlanta Thrashers be sold to Winnipeg interests and moved to Canada, another move would have to follow — a team from the Western Conference eventually moving to the Eastern Conference.

It may not happen right away. But if it does, the likely candidates to land in the East are the Detroit Red Wings, which is terrific news if you like rivalries, not so great if you’re hoping to see the Leafs return to the Stanley Cup playoffs some day. The Red Wings, under Ken Holland, are an annual playoff team. That means one more team the Leafs would have to beat out in order to make the Top 8 they keep talking about.

The realignment may not occur next season — and Columbus is fighting with Detroit to move from the West to the East — but right now, for the Leafs to qualify for the playoffs next season they’d have to beat out Boston and Tampa, the conference finalists, along with contenders such as Washington, Pittsburgh, Montreal and Philadelphia. Then you add in Buffalo under new ownership, the Rangers with Henrik Lundqvist, and playoff also rans, Carolina and New Jersey, and you see what the Leafs are up against. Add Detroit to the mix one year later and only gets that much more complicated for the Leafs.

And the Calgary Herald’s Eric Francis both mentioned the topic on the Hockey Night in Canada’s Satellite Hotstove (he notes that Mike Babcock was upset with the concept that Mike Modano was a “failed experiment” at the 2:05 mark; at the 3-minute mark, Mike Milbury whines about the fact that Pavel Datsyuk was on the bench at the end of the game, and relocation talk starts at the 6-minute mark) as well as his Sunday column in the Calgary Sun:

If [the Thrashers] do move, there will not be time for the divisional re-alignment the Detroit Red Wings have been pushing for for years due to travel, cost and media concerns. here isn’t enough time for the board of governors to vote on it, although it’s almost certain the Wings would be back in the Eastern Conference the following year.

And here’s his take on Modano…

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told the Sun Saturday he takes great exception to media suggestions the Mike Modano experiment in Detroit was a failure. Despite being a healthy scratch for all but the last two playoff games, Babcock said the 40-year-old forward never let his ego get in the way of being a good teammate. He likened it to the role respected but aging leaders like Lanny McDonald, Jim Peplinski and Tim Hunter played in Calgary when they won the Cup.

“Part of your legacy is how you handle yourself when things aren’t so good, and he handled himself unbelievably,” said Babcock. “He wanted to be part of something and that was a great message to the team.”

Which segues nicely into the Detroit Free Press’s Helene St. James’ report about Modano’s statements, and Babcock’s, on Saturday:

“When I was sitting him out at one point this year, I said to myself, ‘Geez, I wish I wouldn’t have made that call,’” Babcock said. “But after watching what happened and how Mike Modano handled himself, I’m real thankful that we made that call because of the fact that he became part of our team. The way he handled himself, the type of man he was, and the type of teammate he was, that’s part of his legacy as well. He was absolutely fantastic. A great pro and a good teammate, and I think a real inspiration to our guys. It’s unfortunate he got hurt. He tried catching up, but in today’s NHL, at 26 never mind at 40, it’s a tough go. I was thrilled when he started Game 6 at center ice for us here. We’re happy he came.”

Modano, of Westland, was lured by the Wings to come home last summer, but the severe wrist injury derailed his season. It couldn’t have turned out much worse.

“No, not really,” he said. “No one would have ever guessed what happened. As far as the injury, I think once that happened and I was told that timeline of return, I knew I was in trouble. I knew I wasn’t going to be easy coming back from that and even when I did, it was going to be tough playing. Couldn’t have been worse timing and unfortunate the way things happened throughout the course of the year. But, the first two months were fun.”

Asked what his future holds, Modano, 40 was pensive.

“The answer is, I don’t know,” Modano said. “But I have a lot of thoughts. I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Your knee jerk reaction is to kind of walk away considering the way things ended, and not give it a chance, but I think you need to give it a fair assessment and a long thought process and then hopefully I can come up with answer. But I don’t think it’s going to be very drawn out.”

Again, Modano wants to eventually join the Stars’ organization…

“I think that depends on the ownership situation,” Modano said. “But I’ll head back there and then at some point probably re-connect with him and see their direction and then figure out what I’m going to do as far as playing and make that final announcement and move onto something else.”

Kris Draper, however, seemed…Let’s say “more certain” that he has a tenuous future with the team given the progressions of Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves, competition from unrestricted free agents-to-be Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller and graduating Griffins forwards Cory Emmerton (who hasn’t been guaranteed a spot on the team) and Jan Mursak (who has), as both players must clear waivers next season. Draper sounded like a man who’s seriously weighing family considerations into his decision-making process, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted:

“Obviously this season didn’t start the way I wanted to, getting injured,” Draper said. “But physically everything felt good (as the season wore on).”

Still, Draper realizes he’s at the point in his career where the end is near.

“Every athlete never wants to face with that choice (retirement), but you know it’s going to end and it’s coming to an end,” Draper said. “I’m closing in on that. I just want to do what’s right. I want to do what’s right for my family, number one, and for myself and for what’s right for this organization which I respect so much. I want to have a good meeting with Kenny and go from there. We’ll see what happens.”

Draper said it’s too early to speculate as to whether he would continue playing elsewhere if the Wings were to tell him there’s no room here. But it’s doubtful Draper would play for any team but the Wings, given his family is established in metro Detroit.

“This is home,” Draper said. “This is all my kids know. I want to do what’s best for them. I don’t want to be selfish. All the sacrifices that my wife and kids have made for me, the travel the road the rips, me missing ice shows and stuff going on at the school like Christmas concerts. Usually it’s just Julie (his wife) sitting there and dad isn’t there, and that’s something why I have to do what’s right by them. I want to put them first and they deserve it at this point in my career and their lives.”

If Draper were to retire, he’d all but immediately be named the team’s first strength and conditioning coach.

Chris Osgood sounded more willing to stick it out for another season—assuming that the team’s willing to give him a shot—as DetroitRedWings.com’s Michael Caples noted…

“I still want to play, I would miss it if I didn’t,” said the 38-year-old Osgood. “It’s a lot of things. You get older. I have three kids now; I have other things going on besides hockey. I still love playing, but like I said, there will be lots of things that will go into my decision. Right now, first off is to talk to Kenny and figure out what they want to do, and what I want to do.”
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Osgood captured Stanley Cup rings with Detroit in 1997, 1998, and 2008. He has played 565 games for the Wings, and 744 total NHL games because of stints with the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues. This season, Osgood became just the 10th goal all-time to reach the 400-win mark. He holds a career .905 save percentage, and 2.49 goals-against average. His numbers are even more impressive in the playoffs; Osgood has 74 wins, a .916 save percentage, and 2.09 goals-against in 129 postseason games.
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“I don’t think it’s a matter of me thinking I can’t play,” Osgood said. “I know I can still play, and that’s something that will definitely go into it too. That would be a ‘Yeah, I’m going to come back’, because I know I can still play. But there are a lot of other things that go into it too. It will take me a while, but there will definitely be a day where I’m going to have to decide, and it will probably be sooner than later.”

Babcock may have made the most telling comment about both Draper and Osgood’s futures, and the deference that the Wings will give them based upon their roles as both players and player mentors:

“It’s uncertain every year when you get to a certain age,” Babcock said. “Drapes was fantastic for us this year. Ozzie obviously had a tough year, just injury-wise. But those are special people in that they are invested in the company. How we perform each and every day matters to those guys. Their role with Jimmy Howard and their role with (Darren) Helm and (Justin) Abdelkader are things we can’t measure, but we know we can’t do. We’re not in this locker room. We’re not in the weight room, we’re not managing those things. They are. And that’s what has made their legacy as players here in Detroit even bigger and stronger because of what they’re willing to do for the company. To me, that’s why you win for long periods of time. So those guys are valuable, valuable resources to us as coaches and management, and to the players. Those are hard decisions for them, and hard decisions for us.”

And Osgood ensured the Free Press’s George Sipple that he’s fully healthy after undergoing what turned out to be pretty major reconstructive surgery on to his groin while the same specialist who repaired Draper’s sports hernia was working on Osgood’s injury:

“I feel real good,” he said today as the players cleaned out their lockers at Joe Louis Arena. “That’s something, probably the only thing I know is a for sure, I feel real good. I feel I can come back 100 percent. If I couldn’t, then I definitely wouldn’t consider coming back. That’s something that I feel real good and that’s not a factor in my decision.”

Osgood said he wasn’t sure when he’d meet with Wings general manager Ken Holland.

“I’m here for a while and I see him in the summer,” he said. “but I would have to imagine there would be a certain date set up for me to decide or them to decide what they’re going to do.”

Osgood did admit, however, that he’s got family considerations to worry about, too, as MLive’s Ansar Khan noted:

“I’ll talk to Kenny (general manager Holland), work things out on my own,’’ Osgood said. “First, if I want to play again. Second, what my role would be and if they even want me back. I’ll talk to my wife and see what she thinks, if I should keep going or be around the house a little more than I have been in the last while. I got three kids now. They play 20 soccer games, I see two or three of them. That factors into it.’‘

Also in the injury department, the team confirmed that both Todd Bertuzzi and Danny Cleary suffered concussions, but the team suggested that neither player would be suffering long-term effects from their concussions. Bertuzzi didn’t speak to the media—the Detroit News’s Kulfan reports that that’s because Bertuzzi suffered a “jaw injury”—but Cleary spoke to DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose about his concussion:

“It would obviously been nice to play that last period and given it one last chance,” said Cleary, who was relegated to the Red Wings’ locker room following a hellacious second-period collision with teammate Jiri Hudler.

Neither Cleary, nor forward Todd Bertuzzi were around for the final outcome of the Wings’ 3-2 loss to the Sharks at HP Pavilion. Both forwards suffered concussions. Bertuzzi was injured when he was hit in the face by Dany Heatley’s helmet in the first period. Cleary was injured when both he and Hudler were going after a loose puck in the defensive zone when they accidentally collided.

“It was a little scary there for a little bit,” Cleary said. “I didn’t remember anything, really. So it took a few hours to get back.”

Cleary needed to be helped off the ice by teammates, and appeared to be very shaken up from the hit. He was immediately tested for a concussion, and said he will have a follow-up exam this week.

“I have to go do that again on Tuesday,” Cleary said. “I have to take the neuropsych test. I don’t think I would have been cleared for the beginning of the (next) series.”

The Red Wings’ unrestricted free agents, by and large, suggested that they’d prefer to return to Detroit rather than seek paydays elsewhere, as the Detroit News’s Kulfan...

Potential unrestricted free agents Jonathan Ericsson, Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller all said they’d like to re-sign with the Wings, but aren’t sure what the future holds. All are expected to receive offers on the free-agent market if they reach that stage.

“There’s a lot that goes into it but I want to see what Detroit thinks,” said Miller, an East Lansing native. “I fee like it’s a place I fit in and found a role.”

Ericsson, in particular, could attract a lot of attention from other teams.

“There are options but I really like it here,” Ericsson said. “I like everything about this team and organization.”

Eaves said, “I really like it here and I’m sure it’ll iron itself out. The season just ended and I’m still feeling that loss from the other night. But I really like it here.”

The Wings’ free agents-to-be also spoke to MLive’s Khan about their situations:

“I might make more money somewhere else, but I want to stay,’’ Ericsson said.

Ericsson turned down a multiyear offer worth $2 million a season. He probably could get more elsewhere.
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“I would definitely like to (come back),’’ Miller said. “I feel like it’s a place that I fit in and found a role. Definitely want to see what Detroit is thinking, if they want me back. I think everyone would like to play for the Red Wings. The last two years have been great. I accept my role. I always want to expand it.’‘
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“I’d like to stay here, but I don’t know what’s going to happen,’’ Eaves said. “I haven’t really thought about it, with the season ending so quickly.’‘

At this point, the best guess is that with Ericsson, it’s going to come down to money as a) the Wings view him in a more favorable light than fans like you and me might and b) defensemen are always in demand, so it’s not as if he’ll be easy to replace.

Money comes into play with Miller and Eaves as well, as does Draper’s status and how the Wings plan on bringing Jan Mursak along.

You can scratch your head about this one because the Wings probably won’t bring Ruslan Salei back…

Defenseman Ruslan Salei, on his future, “Absolutely I would like (to return). But as of today it’s unknown. I like the organization a lot, I like the city, I like the team, I like to be here. It was a positive year for me. I felt good. I really enjoyed it.’‘

And as Khan notes, the Wings received good news on the injury front and on the academic front as well: Pavel Datsyuk stated that his wrist was sore, not sprained, broken or otherwise required to be repaired by anything other than rest, and Justin Abdelkader’s probably going to be able to complete his degree in supply-chain economics at Michigan State this summer:

“I’m getting excited to get that done,’’ Abdelkader said.

The biggest question regarding the Wings’ future involves the man who’ll determine the course of action his team takes in captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who told Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji that he was at least dissatisfied with the method in which his team’s season ended:

“You feel like you’re doing the team picture way too early,” captain Nick Lidstrom said. “You’d rather do it in June with smiles on your faces. It’s disappointing being knocked out in the second round. I thought we battled hard, we fought back, we just didn’t have enough in that last game.”

Aside from Brian Rafalski, who sounded a little bit like a man who’s pondering playing out the last year of his contract while speaking to the Detroit Hockey Weekly’s Paul Harris...

Everything points to Lidstrom’s return. But Rafalski isn’t so sure As Red Wing players cleaned out their lockers on Saturday, Rafalski was asked if it is hard to fathom Lidstrom not being back.

“No. Everyone makes their own choices, their own decisions,” Rafalski said. “I respect whatever choice he makes. It’s something that I think is an internal family decision. That’s the way it should be.”

Even the Free Press’s master of gloom and doom, Evil Drew Sharp, suggested that all indications point to Lidstrom returning:

The Wings appear more confident in Lidstrom’s return for another season than they did at about this time a year ago, when they also cleaned out their lockers and had their exit meetings following another second-round elimination to San Jose.

Coach Mike Babcock said he thinks Lidstrom’s coming back, strictly because the Wings remain a Stanley Cup contender. It’s hard walking away when you know you’re still playing at a considerably high level. It’s why it’s much harder for Lidstrom than it was for Steve Yzerman when Detroit went through the annual “Will he or won’t he?” uncertainty in Yzerman’s closing seasons. Yzerman wasn’t a sustainable force on the ice in those final couple of seasons. He knew he couldn’t physically play anymore following the 2006 season. But Yzerman could walk away and there wouldn’t be a sizable drop-off because Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were emerging into top-10 stars.

Is Niklas Kronwall, coming off his finest season, ready to step into that No. 1 defensive pairing?

“It’s certainly nice when you hear others say good things about how you’re playing,” said Kronwall. “It gives you more confidence and even more incentive to keep working hard. But I’m like everybody else. I don’t want (Lidstrom) leaving right now because he’s still such a tremendous player in how he thinks through the game.”

There’s added pressure on Lidstrom, because everyone agrees that his presence on the Wings next season—which would be his 20th—could make the difference between the Wings being good or exceptional.

“I like the team even without me in the lineup,” Lidstrom said Saturday. “You look at how close we were to advancing, being in one-goal games pretty much every game. Going down to the wire, it could have gone either way. I believe this team is going to be strong for years to come.”

Devellano told the Detroit News’s John Niyo that Lidstrom is highly likely to return…

“I hope I’m not naïve,” said Jimmy Devellano, the Wings’ senior vice president. “He’s too good, he’s had too good a year, and I think he loves leading the Red Wings. It’s only a gut (feeling) — I could be wrong — but I believe that he’ll be back.”

But as for Lidstrom himself, he’s planning on taking the usual amount of time, energy and effort to weigh his own, his family and his team’s considerations before committing to play another season at 41 years of age, stating that he’d make his decision before July 1st, as usual:

“It was tough,” he said Saturday. “Especially as you get up there in age. That’s why I’m taking it one year at a time and not rushing into anything. That’s the same approach for me this year.”
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“I think it’s everything,” he said. “You take everything into account. How you feel. Motivation. Family situation. You just take everything into account before you make a decision.”

Still, if he’s taking into account his own play individually, even Lidstrom had to admit Saturday he’s hardly regressing.

“I felt I played better than I did last season, and that’s something I wanted to do,” said Lidstrom, who finished second among NHL defenseman in scoring with 62 points in the regular season, then added four goals and four assists in 11 playoff games. “I wanted to have a stronger year than I did last year. I thought I did that.”

His teammates and coach campaigned in earnest, however, as MLive’s Khan noted:

“I think if our team was no good, Nick wouldn’t even consider coming back. But I think having the kind of year he did and the kind of playoff he did and the kind of playoff our team had, it’s given me confidence he’ll be back,” Babcock said. We felt we were a very competitive team in the playoffs. We’re getting good growth out of our young guys. (Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg) are in the prime of their careers. Mule (Johan Franzen) is a guy we think can be way better next year with health. So if Nick decides he wants to stay, he’s going to be playing on a good team with an opportunity.”
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“It’s hard to retire when you’re the best,” Danny Cleary said. “I hope he comes back for the team’s sake, for everybody’s sake. His presence would be missed.”

Said Kronwall: “If I had to guess, I think he’s coming back. Maybe it’s because I hope he does, so much.”

It’s Kronwall’s progress that was on Babcock’s mind, however, noting that the team’s chosen to stop employing Lidstrom on the team’s penalty-killing unit to reduce wear and tear…

“We think that gives him the best opportunity to be successful,” Babcock said. “Why would we wear him out when we don’t have to? Obviously Kronner is a guy who continues to take steps and we need him to do so.”

While Lidstrom himself seemed to suggest that there’s unfinished business to take care of, despite his protestations to the contrary:

“I thought I played better than I played last season, and that’s something I really wanted to do,” Lidstrom said. “Looking at this team, there’s great potential. We have star players, we have the supporting group that are one of the best in the league. Look at how close we were to advancing — going down to the wire it could’ve gone either way. I want to kind of get over this loss first and kind of take that out of the equation. It was very hard, especially the way we fought back. We showed a lot of character, will and determination. We pushed (San Jose) until the last minute of Game 7.”

Therein lies our transition to talking about the team moving forward in a more comprehensive sense. Babcock suggested to the Free Press’s St. James that the team’s not going anywhere anytime soon...

“I think we’re going to see some changes, no question,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I think it’s very important as we ask our players to train all summer and to work and get better, that as coaches, we do the same thing and as management we do the same thing. We’ve got to improve our team. The bottom line is, the final four is going on, and this is the second year in a row we’re not involved. Now, last year, we weren’t close to being involved. This year, you had to like the way our team was. The reality is, we have to be better.”

And St. James suggests that getting better involves continuing to witness progress from Lidstrom’s heirs apparent in Kronwall and Brad Stuart (no one player will ever be able to replace Lidstrom):

Kronwall, 30, and Stuart, 31, also are top defensemen. Kronwall is gifted offensively, more of a join-the-rush type than Lidstrom, and is one of the fiercest open-ice hitters in the game. He led the Wings with 23:04 minutes of average ice time during the playoffs. Stuart is the sort of big, heavy stay-at-home defenseman teams covet, the perfect partner for an offensive defenseman. Both played key roles in stretching the second-round series against the Sharks to seven games.

“Kronner is a guy who continues to take steps, and Stuie, he’s just been fantastic,” coach Mike Babcock said Saturday. “I think every year, the way he plays at playoff time, he’s even better. That’s just the way he is. He had a great year for us.”

And then there’s the rest of the blueline to consider:

In addition to the continued growth of Kronwall and Stuart, the Wings saw Jonathan Ericsson come through with a solid regular-season performance to finish as a plus player for the first time in his career, playing the sort of steady hockey they saw from him in the ‘09 playoffs. Ericsson, 27, is an unrestricted free agent and will draw good offers, but he said his priority is to stay in Detroit.

Jakub Kindl, 24, had a great second half and will have every opportunity to build on that next season. Management thought he was as good as veteran Ruslan Salei down the stretch, and lobbied Babcock for Kindl to play over Salei. Brendan Smith, the Wings’ first-round pick from 2007, is also ready to challenge for a spot.

Brian Rafalski returns for another season, and while his health—especially his back and his knee—is a concern, the Wings have cut his minutes to around 20 a game. His tape-to-tape outlet passes are a key reason why the Wings get going so quickly on offense.

Interesting to know that it was Holland and Nill who wanted to see what Kindl could do toward the end of the season, isn’t it?

The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson believes that the Wings need to focus on adding youth, youth and more youth to a lineup that’s racked up too many miles on the playoff odometer to successfully compete against younger teams like the Sharks:

Forget the birth certificates; it’s the sheer volume of playoff battles that may be catching up to them. Guys are getting hurt. Lidstrom has always seemed bionic, but he’s the only one. Lidstrom has played 258 playoff games; that’s like an extra three regular seasons. Holmstrom has played 175, Rafalski 165, Datsyuk 121, Zetterberg 108 and Cleary 102. Those are hard, intense games.

What the Wings must do is get younger on the back end. This is a major concern. I don’t see any Shea Webers (25 years old) playing 25 minutes a night. Or Victor Hedmans (20 years old) playing 20 minutes a game. They need a top-four defenceman 25 or under, likely in a trade. Maybe they should take a run at Zach Bogosian in Atlanta. If so, they would have to include Filppula in a trade rather than Hudler. He has the skill-set to be a 65-point player but not the consistency.

That’s something that MLive’s Ansar Khan suggested on Saturday morning, but he believed that someone else, like Hudler, would have to be the bait.

They’re never going to start over; “rebuild” isn’t in their vocabulary. Ken Holland, the smartest general manager in the business, has always been able to change on the fly, picking up a body here, a body there in free-agency or waiver claim (such as Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller, two solid fourth-line guys). Older guys have always wanted to play in Detroit (think Bertuzzi, Rafalski or Dominik Hasek). But the Sharks were able to draft Couture and Setoguchi in the first round (both scored in Game 7 against Detroit Thursday) and Vlasic in Round 2. The Red Wings have high hopes for puck-moving defenceman Brendan Smith, a first-rounder in 2007, but really that’s it.

Holland has a nucleus, but it’s an aging nucleus. He know he has to find players. Lidstrom, who shows no slippage in his Hall of Fame game, won’t play forever and, with his son back in Sweden playing hockey, is again mulling whether to sign a new contract. “I think he’ll be back. If he wins another Norris (Trophy) (it would be his seventh), he can challenge Bobby Orr (eight),” said Mike Modano, who will likely be retiring. Guys like Rafalski and Holmstrom have lots of wear on their tires. Bertuzzi’s skills are diminishing, too. Datsyuk is in his prime, so is Zetterberg. But they could use a Couture, who might be the rookie of the year, and a Setoguchi, who is playing on the top line in San Jose with Jumbo Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

“Some people in the league think 30 is old. I think it’s young,” said Holland, a few months ago. “Babs (coach Mike Babcock) says we have a two-year window (with this cast). I think you just have to get into the playoffs and there’s so little to choose (between teams). The system today is designed to stop dynasties. There’s no dynasties anymore. You can be really good for a year or two, then the salary cap hits you. We have to draft and have cap space and we’ll see.”

The Red Wings have a good kid in Justin Abdelkader (a second-round draft pick in 2005) and they have the fastest player in the league in Darren Helm, also taken that draft year. But the cupboard is pretty bare of really good young forwards. The only farm-hand winger who’ll likely be on the roster next year is Jan Mursak, 23 The Wings could dearly use a Jeff Skinner, who made a stunning impact in Carolina this year as an 18-year-old, but the Hurricanes got Skinner at No. 7 last June. The Wings, as usual, don’t pick until the bottom third of Round 1 when the pickings are a lot slimmer.

If you look at the team’s future salary commitments on Capgeek.com, things don’t look as scary (ditto for RedWingsCentral’s prospect chart) for a simple reason:

After next season, when Babcock and Holland talked about their “two-year window” of Cup contending opportunity closing without making any major renovations, it’s not just Rafalski, Stuart or Kronwall who come off the pucks. Tomas Holmstrom and his $1.875 million salary cap hit come off the books, as does Todd Bertuzzi’s $1.937 million cap hit.

It’s then, during the 2012-2013 season, that the team’s hoping to bring Brendan Smith into the rotation on a full-time basis on defense, freeing up money for Brian Rafalski and/or Lidstrom’s replacements, and if Holmstrom or Bertuzzi return, they’d have to do so at reduced salaries, which would give the Wings the opportunity to re-stock their forward cupboard in earnest…

And it’s also likely at this point that the Wings believe that Tomas Tatar, who’s got 20-goal potential (think Hudler’s slinkiness plus Danny Cleary’s grit), possibly Gustav Nyquist and possibly even Dick Axelsson to make the jump, refreshing the Wings’ forwards with youth, speed and offensive panache. None of them are particularly big (Smith’s the biggest of the bunch at a gangly 6’2,” and Axelsson’s not far behind at the same height, but Tatar’s 5’9” in his shoes, on a good day, and Nyquist is 5’11”), but the Wings have tended to import size and strength to off-set the small, skilled players they tend to draft, and the next next wave (Louis-Marc Aubry, Trevor Parkes, Riley Sheahan, Joakim Andersson, Brian Lashoff, Travis Ehrhardt, and even Thomas McCollum, Jordan Pearce, and possibly Andrej Nestrasil) is big, off-setting the smaller types (Landon Ferraro, Mitchell Calahan, Teemu Pulkkinen, Calle Jarnkrok and Adam Almqvist) with the kind of size that the Wings haven’t really had since Fedorov and Shanahan were around.

So there’s a master plan in place that involves ensuring that, somewhere over the next two or three years, the Wings find their Setoguchi or Pavelski, find their Clowe or Vlasic and venture into the free agent market to look for a Clowe-sized reinforcement to buy time until the big kids come along.

In the interim, I’m guessing that the Wings will remain relatively conservative, however, and that we will see, including Mursak and Kindl, at most four new faces, assuming that Hudler doesn’t return and that the Wings decide to import a seventh defenseman.

It is entirely possible, however, that the only new faces we’ll see on defense are Jakub Kindl as a regular and Doug Janik as a full-time seventh defenseman as his contract’s a one-way affair, Mursak up front and possibly Draper battling it out with Miller, Eaves and Cory Emmerton for the 12th and 13th forward’s spots at training camp, with Osgood and MacDonald reprising their roles as Howard’s back-up and alternate, respectively.

All of that being said, bottom line? Speculation included?

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wings let Ericsson and Hudler go, ask Draper and Osgood to retire and bring in a new back-up, either a top-four defenseman or top-nine forward who can add size and scoring punch and a cheaper free agent alternative to fill in the other spot, and maybe bring in a seventh defenseman as well…

But I wouldn’t be surprised if the only changes the Wings make involve Mursak, Kindl and Janik, maybe even with Hudler and Ericsson returning as well as Draper and Osgood.

It is speculation at this point, and at this time of year, we tend to assume that the Wings are going to make radical changes, and even when Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky, Ty Conklin, Hudler, Darren McCarty and Aaron Downey exited, we wound up with Bertuzzi, Eaves, Jason Williams, Miller and Jimmy Howard graduating to the big club.

Ken Holland, Jim Nill, Ryan Martin and the Wings’ braintrust make deliberate, conservative moves, and they look to bring in players who deliver the most bang for their buck, even if they’re older or smaller than the hockey pool participant would prefer.

Right now, all we’ve got are questions and time, and until the captain makes his call, they’re uneducated guesses at best.

So now we wait.

Multimedia: In the, “In case you missed it” department, from Saturday’s post:

• The Wings posted pictures of the locker room clean-out on their Facebook page and a 21-image gallery from today’s clean-out on their website;

• The Free Press posted a gallery of the locker room clean-out;

• The Detroit News’s locker room clean-out photo gallery, too;

• The Red Wings’ website posted a video thanking fans for their support…

As well as clips of Mike Modano…

 

Danny Cleary…

 

Justin Abdelkader…

 

Henrik Zetterberg…

 

Kris Draper…

 

Chris Osgood…

 

Coach Mike Babcock…

 

And Nicklas Lidstrom speaking to the media:

 

• And in the “new media” department, Fox Sports Detroit posted a 3:10 clip of comments from the players and coach;

Grades: On Friday night, the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan and Chris McCosky posted a photo gallery-based slate of player grades, and today, the Free Press’s Helene St. James provides player assessments:

Valtteri Filppula

C+: Had 39 points after a bland season. He was very good against the Coyotes and excellent against the Sharks. Elite player when he puts his mind to it.

Playoffs: B-
...
Brian Rafalski

B-: His outlet passes are crucial to getting the forwards going, and he had another solid season points-wise even as he struggled with injuries. Had just three points in the playoffs.

Playoffs: C+
...
Jimmy Howard

B: Started the season well, then struggled along with team in January, but was solid down the stretch. Played well against Phoenix and gave the Wings a chance in every game to beat the Sharks.

Playoffs: B+
...
Mike Babcock and his assistants

B: They had the Wings in great shape after the first half, but they tumbled a bit in the second, falling out of second place in the West. Babcock admitted he hasn’t figured out the formula for how to deal with a long layoff between rounds, as the Wings looked rusty when the Sharks series began. The bigger problem was the power play—there were too many times it failed to get even a quality chance against the Sharks, especially when a goal would have made a big difference. Juggled lines and made adjustments to help get the Wings back into the Sharks series.

Playoffs: B

Also of Red Wings-related note: If you didn’t see it on Saturday morning, Hat Trick Dick watch is on again as Dick Axelsson’s future in what will presumably be the Swedish Eliteserien or KHL, and today, Expressen announced the winner of its “Guldpucken” (Gold Puck) award.

AIK Stockholm’s Viktor Fasth, not Axelsson, won;

• From the Free Press’s Steve Schrader, the News Quiz isn’t particularly exciting, but Schrader’s giving an award to Nicklas Lidstrom this week…

The ‘41? He’s Just a Kid’ award

To Nicklas Lidstrom, who is currently deciding whether it’s time to call it a career. Hey, I’d love to see him back with the Red Wings, to at least call it an even 20 years, but it’s his call and nobody else’s. But let’s hope, when he’s trying to decide what’s best for him and his family, one of the questions he asks himself is, “What would Chris Chelios do?”

• The Free Press also mentions a certain author from Friday’s post-mortems, going into detail about how said author disparages Detroit and the state of Michigan as well as the Red Wings’ players, traditions and fans.

I will say this: the gentleman on question spent Friday and Saturday in near masturbatory (yes, I’m using that word) glee on Twitter, lapping up the negative comments and in-kind personal attacks like a baby who was gleeful about taking the biggest crap in the maternity ward. There is no way to interact with him that can go well because he obviously revels in saying hateful things, provoking people and reveling in any response whatsoever to his actions.

I understand that Yahoo Sports’ fellow writers think that his “eulogy” was hilarious, as did many people who use the, “Can’t you take a joke?” excuse to say truly hateful things, but you and I can act in a different manner to achieve a more positive response. I would highly suggest that you, me and everyone else who was offended by those remarks use Yahoo’s sports abuse form to demand a formal apology from Yahoo Sports for what was said, because even when you exclude Wings fans from the equation, some truly horrible things were said about Detroit and the State of Michigan and the people who live there, and when you separate sports from the equation…

Those comments are even more unacceptable. It’s one thing to savage a Wings fan. It’s another to equate the city Of Detroit or state of Michigan with the kind of foul filth that was spewed.

• While we’re talking about irritating factors, the Mercury News’s Mark Purdy reports that Sharks coach Todd McLellan, who’s off all our Christmas card lists, insists that the Sharks are both a gigantic underdog and are not respected by their opponents, with their team motto, per the Mercury News’s Mark Emmons, stating, “Adversity breeds growth,” and it’s more than a little amusing to read the Boston Globe’s Kevin Dupont, who’s despised Thornton since the day the Bruins drafted him, almost choke on his words while gushing about Thornton;

• On the other side of the Western Conference finals, if I may continue to be acerbic, you can read the Free Press’s George Sipple’s profile of Canucks forward, Livonia native Ryan Kesler, who very specifically chose to root for the Colorado Avalanche instead of the Red Wings as a kid and turned down offers from Michigan and Michigan State University to go to Ohio State, which tells you all you need to know about his Thornton-sized personality;

• We’re also going to conveniently ignore that two of the three Red Wings playoff series which NHL.com’s John Kresier includes in his “seven of the best playoff series of all time” list involve Red Wings losses;

• And we’ll conclude the “sour grapes” portion of the entry by noting that the New York Post’s Larry Brooks confirms that a) the NHLPA will boost the salary cap to over $60 million this upcoming season, and b) the Winter Classic will involve the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, to be played in Philadelphia. Franchise pecking order and all;

• The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson penned two additional columns, and he stated the obvious in his “Short Shifts”:

Alex Ovechkin can bring you out of your seat (not at the worlds, where he had ZERO points in five games for Russia), but Pavel Datsyuk is the No. 2 player on the planet, right behind Sidney Crosby. He was playing the series against the San Jose Sharks with his left wrist bandaged. We know his left one was sore because he took a poke at Torrey Mitchell with his right fist. I used to think Henrik Zetterberg and Datsyuk were dead-even in talent and all-around game, but the wondrous Datsyuk is better.

• And sometimes you need to take your comments where you can get ‘em. The Buffalo News’s Larry Felser

Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink
 

Comments

Chet's avatar

I would highly suggest that you, me and everyone else who was offended by those remarks use Yahoo’s sports abuse form to demand a formal apology from Yahoo Sports for what was said, because even when you exclude Wings fans from the equation, some truly horrible things were said about Detroit and the State of Michigan and the people who live there, and when you separate sports from the equation…

it strikes me that moving on from this season, and this guy’s comments, are the better move. if the team we love isn’t going to get rattled by what’s said and done by external sources during good times and bad, no fan of metro detroit or its hockey team should, either.

in other words, to give this guy’s comments so much as one more second of thought is to give them more power than they deserve. for me it’s, “what are the wings planning over the summer?” and “how much ass will they be kicking next season?” cheap humor and petty insults those may have been, but the team, its fans, and those who live in the area dignify themselves most by not dignifying those comments any further.

Posted by Chet from twitter: thegansen on 05/15/11 at 08:41 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

My only theory here is that I’d like to have him treated like a child. I know there would be no sincerity whatsoever in any kind of apology delivered, because you’d need to have a soul to feel remorse, obviously, but…

The only way to treat bullying like this is to go back to grade school and complain to the principal. If people don’t want to act on it any further, that’s fine…

But one way or another, the entire Puck Daddy crew and Yahoo Sports in general lost an enormous amount of credibility in my opinion by endorsing his comments.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 05/15/11 at 10:32 AM ET

monkey's avatar

In the age of Twitter we have Malik.

The talk about the Thrashers moving west is intriguing.  Gut says Columbus would move in that case to preserve the balance of power. 

It would be the lazy way out to move Nashville to the SE division and Winnipeg into the Central, although I can see the league doing that, maybe even for one year if Nashville has zero pull (could you imagine being stuck in that kind of yo-yo scenario?  Nevertheless it doesn’t seem out of the question in Gary’s World), because even if the schedule is already set you could just swap schedules and tweak as necessary.

Winnipeg ever playing in the Eastern Conference, even for just one year, would be bizarre and absurd.

In any case most likely candidates to move east are Detroit and Columbus.  Detroit has dibs, but once again this is Gary’s World.  NBC would probably get final call.

Posted by monkey from Finland on 05/15/11 at 12:04 PM ET

monkey's avatar

I remember when the eulogies used to be funny.  Now they’re just mean spirited and a waste of time. 

There is a difference between a roast and outright vitriol.

Posted by monkey from Finland on 05/15/11 at 12:09 PM ET

cs6687's avatar

I just don’t believe the NHL would mess with the competitive balance by moving the most successful franchise in the last 20 years to another conference. It would be like MLB moving the Yankees to the National League. Detroit is such a drawing card for a lot of western cities. Columbus and Nashville, if Atlanta is moved, should be considered before Detroit.

Posted by cs6687 on 05/15/11 at 03:28 PM ET

thethirdcoast's avatar

George,

Thanks for the scoop on Kesler. After reading that piece I am completely ambivalent regarding the outcome of the WCF.

At this point I would like to see Tampa earn its second Cup or see the Bruins end their drought.

Posted by thethirdcoast from Algiers, DZ on 05/15/11 at 05:05 PM ET

ChowYunCat's avatar

George, you’re the best thing in hockey outside of the Wings.  Thank you for expending so much effort in bringing us news every day.

Posted by ChowYunCat on 05/15/11 at 05:49 PM ET

Avatar

I remember how much faster the off-season seemed to go with all of George’s stuff when he was at Mlive. I’m looking forward to more of the same this off-season. Thanks, George.

Posted by godblender on 05/15/11 at 06:16 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

So now we wait.

So much depends on what Nick decides to do.

I have now sworn off reading anything from Yahoo Sports the same way I long ago swore off Evil Drew.  No time for that garbage.

George, thanks for keeping us informed.  This page is my first stop every day.

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 05/15/11 at 06:37 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

My hope is that the off-season will go as fast for us as possible, and it’s my job to make sure that you’re gonna get as much Wings coverage as I can fit in the blog during that time.

Regarding Yahoo, I think it’s…It was incredibly immature of the Puck Daddy staff to encourage a slate of attacks on Wings fans, the city of Detroit and Michigan wrapped in the, “Can’t you take a joke?” cliche. Unless Cotsonika writes something Wings-related, I may no longer post form them, or at least remind you that they’re idiots whenever I post something from there.

And, truth be told, the pages I go to first? ESPN’s NHL page, because it’s been my home page for 17 years, TSN and here, Kukla’s Korner, because Paul almost inevitably has the scoop on everything.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 05/15/11 at 10:32 PM ET

Guilherme's avatar

Yipee!‘s dibs in Michigan aren’t less stupid than saying “no player wants to live in Edmonton” or the constant remarks about Dany Heatley’s accident.

Posted by Guilherme from Brazsil on 05/16/11 at 12:15 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

What you said, Herm.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 05/16/11 at 03:10 AM ET

bezukov's avatar

Regarding Yahoo, I think it’s…It was incredibly immature of the Puck Daddy staff to encourage a slate of attacks on Wings fans, the city of Detroit and Michigan wrapped in the, “Can’t you take a joke?” cliche. Unless Cotsonika writes something Wings-related, I may no longer post form them, or at least remind you that they’re idiots whenever I post something from there.

As Wings fan, I’m used to the haters, and as someone who suffers through season after season of living with Blue Jackets fans, I’m mostly immune to the peanut gallery comments. 

The Yahoo guys strike me in two ways.  The first is akin to what we saw from Jack Edwards in the first round… its just the lack of professionalism.  Everybody (even sports writers/broadcasters who claim to have no bias).... everybody… has a favorite team.  Thats fine.  Just be professional about it.  At the very least, its a little embarrassing for the Puck Daddy guys, even though they probably can’t hear themselves think over the smug self satisfaction they’re feeling.

Second, how nice it was for them to withhold comment until the Wings were eliminated.  So kicking us when we’re down is the way to go eh boys?  Grow a pair.  If you wanna write a hate piece, have some brass, write something when the Wings are still in it.  Take a chance at being proved wrong, I’ll at least have respect that you took your shot while the Wings and their fans were still on their feet.  I know everyone else in the hockey world is probably having a big guffaw, but to me they just look like a couple of pussies.

I know Wings fans have a reputation for being touchy, and its probably true.  But am I to believe that Habs, Leafs, and Bruins fans are any different?  Granted they haven’t enjoyed as much success and Wings fans are probably spoiled.  But in the end I have no doubt they are just as touchy about their team as we are about ours.  Why don’t I ever see “Can’t you take a joke?” pieces pointed at them after they’ve had their hearts ripped out?  At very least don’t piss on my back and tell me its raining.  Call a spade a spade, don’t tell me its all in good fun.

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 05/16/11 at 02:33 PM ET

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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.