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The Malik Report

Red Wings remain busy planning for free agency, draft, prospects-signing, and more Dick (Axelsson)

The Chief and most Red Wings fans have probably readjusted to the concept of not watching hockey a little over a week after Red Bird II touched down at Metro Airport and unloaded the Red Wings for the last time for the 2010-2011 season, but between Ken Holland’s talks with the media and Jimmy Devellano’s always well-placed barbs, the Red Wings’ front office has politely let it be known that they remain incredibly busy evaluating their players, including potential free agents and/or retirees, via exit interviews, and while the team waits to make moves until Nicklas Lidstrom makes his decision as to whether he wishes to continue playing…

The Wings’ players and bench will undergo a makeover this summer, the team’s about to prepare for the draft, which is only a month away, and free agency on July 1st, and as Holland has stated and now reiterated to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan, the team does not plan on making a marquee signing:

“I’ve found there are two different (free-agency periods),” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “From July 1 to July 7, you have the premium guys who are getting premium dollars. After that, you have guys who are waiting for deals.”

The waiting strategy has actually worked for the Red Wings — Patrick Eaves, Ruslan Salei and Mike Modano were signed as the summer faded into early fall. Plus, the Red Wings need to watch their dollars this offseason. They currently have 15 players locked up next season for $46.8 million. The salary cap, yet to be announced, is projected to be around $62 million.

That leaves the team eight slots to fill with approximately $16 million. But included in those eight slots are spots for defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Jonathan Ericsson, and forwards Eaves and Drew Miller, all of whom Holland would like to retain.

“You try to dovetail what is out there to fit your needs,” Holland said of the market. “But there are years when you need a defenseman and there are good forwards available, then the next year there are defensemen when you’re looking for a forward.”

The market, as a cursory glance at Capgeek.com’s lists of available forwards, defensemen and goaltenders reveals, is both top-heavy and thin, which makes signing a Brooks Laich, Joel Ward or even a Ty Conklin very difficult. The Wings will have to be creative, but, hopefully, not as creative as Kulfan believes in terms of signing real and genuine “wild cards”:

Jaromir Jagr, 39, is considering a return to the NHL after spending the last several seasons in Russia. If Jagr were to come back, however, he likely would return to the Penguins or Rangers.

Paul Kariya, 36, who didn’t play this season because of post-concussion syndrome. At this point, it’s not certain Kariya will be ready to play next season. And if he does, he likely will return to the Ducks to play with his friend, Teemu Selanne.

In the interim, the Wings’ pro scouts will continue to gather information as the Conference Final series go on before having an early-June powwow with Ken Holland, Jim Nill, Ryan Martin and the amateur scouts, who will “dovetail” their concerns with that of the team’s drafting, free agency and plain old re-signing needs, as well as the graduations of players like Jan Mursak to the big club, as the front office attempts to glean a big picture about the organization’s navigational tack going forward.

I didn’t post this until late in the day on Friday, so if you haven’t listened to the interview yet (and I’ll try to transcript it later today—I’m on watch for the big guy this morning), Chris Chelios told WDFN’s Sean Baligian and Killer Kowalski that the team is,  astonishingly busy from an outsider’s perspective, ten-year veterans of the organization included:

Download file.

You’re also going to want to watch all three of Art Regner’s interviews with Holland from Friday, because Holland says that the trading season (FTR: Holland directly debunks the Zach Bogosian trade deadline rumor)—and Devellano seemed to let it be known to the Sporting News’s Craig Custance that the team is inclined to move Jiri Hudler and attempt to recruit Bob Boughner as their assistant coach—begins around June 15th, and he does confirm that the team’s concerned about letting younger players go (both Mursak and Cory Emmerton are no longer waiver exempt, and the team believes that Tomas Tatar, Brendan Smith and the Jordan Pearce/Thomas McCollum goalie monster need at least cup-of-coffee “looks”) for the sake of veterans…

But at the moment, the team is trying to grab onto the assets it already has, as noted by the Free Press’s George Sipple, in two players who they must sign by June 1st in 2009 draft picks Andrej Nestrasil and Adam Almqvist:

Nestrasil, 20, was selected 75th overall and is coming off his best season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. After notching 108 points in 116 games in two seasons with Victoriaville, Nestrasil had 19 goals and 70 points in 58 games for Prince Edward Island. Nestrasil also had one goal and five assists in five playoff games.

“He’s got good size,” Nill said. “He’s 6-3, strong in the corners, good hands. Reminds us a little of Tomas Kopecky. His skating has got to get better, but you like everything else about him.”

Nestrasil, from the Czech Republic, likely would play in Grand Rapids (AHL) next season. Almqvist, 20, was drafted in the seventh round (210th) out of Sweden. Almqvist (5-10, 170) played last season for HV71 and would remain there next season even if he signed with the Wings. The defenseman led the Elite League with a plus-20 rating and had 16 points in 52 games.

“He’s played two years in the Swedish Elite League,” Nill said. “He’s a good hockey player. He’s just got to get a lot stronger. His hockey sense is as good as anybody.”

Nestrasil’s also a very good worker. I haven’t seen Almqvist so I can’t give you a take on him, but for a 20-year-old, Nestrasil’s very “with it” and has bought into the Wings’ system and requests to bulk up. I think the team will definitely sign Nestrasil and will at least hedge its bets with Almqvist.

As far as the other player of note recently is concerned, Dick Axelsson’s signing with MoDo Ornskoldsvik wasn’t a particularly big deal to the English-speaking Red Wings fans…

But helig skit, is it a big deal in Sweden. MoDo Ornskoldsvik is one of the Eliteserien’s marquee franchises despite playing in a relatively small market, and they had to win a relegation round to not simply find their Forsberg/Naslund/Sedin/etc.-producing hockey tradition sent down to the Allsvenskan.

That’s like imagining the Red Wings being sent to the AHL should they hit the tank, so it was a big deal when they brought in Ulf Samuelsson to coach the team, it was a big deal when they asked Markus Naslund to be their GM, and snagging the biggest-name free agent from the market to bring a team that’s hit the skids back to respectability? That’s a big skittin’ deal.

Axelsson told Expressen’s Henrik Sjoberg that the mighty Foppa, Peter Forsberg, gave him a call while Axelsson was having lunch with Naslund—who’s promised Axelsson and told Allehanda’s Per Hagglund that Axelsson will receive oodles of ice time and a role as one of the team’s leaders—and even Mr. “I’m Leif Boork from Sweden,” the country’s version of Don Cherry, is talking to Expressen and saying that he hopes the team doesn’t go and get too many Canadians to upstage the revival, so Axelsson was front-and-center in the Swedish media on Friday.

He’s the big deal, the team’s marquee signing (along with Riku Hahl), so while we Wings fans tend to write him off as a Prima Dona, it’s important to remember that MoDo’s banking on him.

Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson has confirmed to Varmlands Folkbladet’s Johan Hedlund that the Wings plan on qualifying Axelsson to retain his services, too:

The 24-year-old had a contract with the Detroit Red Wings for the past three seasons, and when the contract expires this summer, the team will offer him a new contract to retain his rights.

Detroit’s strongman in Europe, Hakan Andersson, expects his club to prepare a contract proposal.

“I believe absolutely that we will. It’s my understanding and that of my bosses as well,” he told VF-Sporten.

“We’ve told Dick that we believe in him and that, when he feels ready to compete for a spot on the roster, he’s welcome to come over. Whether it will be this upcoming year or the next, we’ll have to see. But if he comes, he must be prepared to fight for it up to 110%.”

What do you think about his switch from Farjestad to Modo?

“It’s not necessarily too bad. I suspect he’ll have to take even more responsibility on in Modo than he did with Farjestad.

I had to translate that second-to-last sentence several times and do it word for word, and that’s basically what he says, so while Naslund and Forsberg and Samuelsson are willing to stake their reputations on a story that Henrik Sjoberg describes as a “Dick-story to the end”...

so it was a Dick Axelsson-story to the end. The puck genius will play for MoDo next season.

Sport-Expressen led the way with this story, which is now one of the biggest of the “silly season.”

14 May—He chose to stay in the Eliteserien
18 May—He chooses between MoDo, Skelleftea and HV71
19 May—He chose to turn down HV and play with either MoDo or Skelleftea AIK.

[Friday] came the news that he’d chosen MoDo—and now you have to wonder what names are on the way after Dick.

MoDo seems to have something really good happening now, and it will be really exciting to see how the team looks in the winter.

But it’s also important to note that Andersson’s not staking his reputation in Dick’s success or failure. In a salary-capped NHL, it makes a ridiculous amount of sense to sacrifice one of the spots on your 50-man roster to a player who could, if he gets his butt in gear, post 20 goals and 50 points in the NHL, especially when you don’t have to pay him more than a signing bonus if he’s not playing in your system.

He’s like having a joker in your back pocket. You never know when you might need it, even if he is a bit of a head case.

Also of Red Wings-related note: The hockey season is still humming along but I’m in full, “Spend an hour a day reading foreign-language newspapers” mode, and Russia Today provides a handy translation of a story from Sportbox.ru, in which Spartak Moscow’s GM, Vladimir Shalaev, says that former Wing Dominik Hasek hasn’t received any contract offers from KHL teams, but still has some hopes of continuing to play at 46:

Forty-six-year-old Hasek has defended the colors of Spartak in the 2010-11 season, with the Red-and-Whites failing to make the playoffs.

”We didn’t even think about prolonging the contract with him as we want promising youngsters to play for Spartak. The market for goalies is quite small now. I mean, the Russians. We must grow our own goalies,” Victor Shalaev told Sportbox.ru.

”As for Hasek, he calls us up on the phone from time to time – me or our General Manager. We communicate. But it is not about work, more about life,” he added.

Shalaev said the Czech veteran is not planning to retire from competitive sport.

”I did not ask about that. But as far as I know he has offers from European clubs – one from the Switzerland and another from Czech Republic. Nobody for the KHL has expressed interest in him,” he said.

Dennik Sport’s Miroslav Horak reports, however, that Hasek’s offering a “no comment” about the news, and as Horak notes, for European teams, this time of year is equivalent to the middle of July.

European hockey is kind of like the NFL—while teams start their seasons in September and, if they’re lucky, are playing for a championship in March, they start holding dry-land training sessions in May and June, and are playing exhibition games by early August. The various Euro Hockey Tour tournaments have a hand in extending the season, however, because they’d be done in January if there weren’t breaks in October, December and January to play for their national teams in the Karjala Cup, the Channel One Cup and LG Games, as well as the various holiday breaks.

• One of the Wings alums who’s certain to be playing, Metallurg Magnitogorsk forward Sergei Fedorov, won an award for the “best veteran player” at the KHL’s awards banquet on Friday night;

• Also in KHL and Wings alum news, it’s not surprising to hear that Slava Fetisov and CSKA Moscow have lost the services of Alexei Kasatonov, who’s going to join KHL president Alex Medvedev and SKA St. Petersburg. If you remember the story about Kasatonov and Fetisov (Kasatonov initially balked at Fetisov and Igor Larionov’s attempts to join the NHL legally, so the Green Unit pairing had a bit of a falling out), this isn’t exactly a surprise;

• At the other end of the spectrum, now that he’s an alumnus as both a member of the roster and front office, the Montreal Gazette’s Red Fisher paid tribute to outgoing assistant coach Brad McCrimmon, before taking note of the fact that Kris Draper’s weighing his family obligations versus continuing his playing career:

Brad McCrimmon, one of the good guys in hockey, won’t have his assistant coach’s contract renewed by the Detroit Red Wings after three seasons behind the bench. McCrimmon had an 18-year playing career with six NHL teams. Bob Boughner, who left his assistant’s job with Columbus this week, is being mentioned as a replacement.

• If you’re interested, MLB.com’s Jennifer Langosch reports that Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is in fact a Red Wings fan;

• The Free Press’s resident Wings reader columnist, Josh Huebner (I’m starting to think that he must be related to a higher-up, because the Free Press tends not to anoint one “reader,” though he’s a superb writer), says that the Wings should go after Shea Weber or try to draft Adam Larsson if Nicklas Lidstrom retires. Um, no foolin’;

• I’m not going to comment about the Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason’s Kevin Bieksa-Lidstrom comparison, as innocent as it may be;

• Let’s all be surprised that Kerry Fraser of all people tells TSN that Scotty Bowman was quite the wily coach, and that Marc Crawford was uncontrollably foul-mouthed;

• And yes, the Free Press’s Ryan Ford, it’s pretty easy to translate all this Jets talk into reminding Wings fans that Mike Ilitch paid a buck (since repaid, and the waiver fee, I believe, is now at least $4,000) to pluck Kris Draper off the Jets’ roster back in 1993.

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MsRedWinger's avatar

I’ve been reading this Shea Weber talk all through this past season.  And all I’ve seen Weber say is that he wants to stay in Nashville.  And I find it hard to believe that Nashville would let another team get him.

So…  to all those who long for Shea Weber in the Winged Wheel (and I’m not among them)... I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 05/21/11 at 10:18 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

He’d be far too expensive in terms of both salary and the kind of stuff you have to give up to make a $6 or $7 million offer (think first-round picks for several seasons and 2nds and 3rds as well).

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 05/21/11 at 10:30 AM ET


Malik, try actually reading the articles you cite.  Jimmy D. didn’t say they were looking at trading Hudler or hiring Boughner.  They were both Custance’s ideas.  Someone just cut off an end-quote after the quote they used.  This is the type if irresponsible asshat “journalism” that makes you look like another no-talent hack.

Posted by Pokerandpucks from Belding, mi on 05/21/11 at 11:50 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

I am a hack. And I’m not a journalist, I’m a partisan Wings fan and writer. I don’t do journalism. And you can bet a bucketful of insults that Custance’s suggestions were from Jimmy D.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 05/21/11 at 12:01 PM ET


I am one who’d love to have Shea Weber on the Wings, but I’m way, way, way past believing it would ever actually happen.

If poaching Predator defensemen is indeed on the menu, though, I’d rather wait until the end of next season when Ryan Suter is a UFA. If Weber gets a fat enough contract this year, I don’t see how Nashville can keep Suter as well when his contract is up. The timing works out, too, if that’s the year that Lidstrom (perish the thought) finally hangs ‘em up.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 05/21/11 at 03:35 PM ET

RWBill's avatar

The Chief and most Red Wings fans have probably readjusted to the concept of not watching hockey a little over a week after Red Bird II touched down at Metro Airport and unloaded the Red Wings for the last time for the 2010-2011 season

Not quite, I was quite sad again yesterday realizing I wouldn’t be watching any Red Wings hockey this weekend.

Posted by RWBill on 05/21/11 at 08:54 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.