The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/05/11 at 02:54 PM ET
As Red Bird III gets underway flying the Red Wings from Denver to St. Louis sans an update on Valtteri Filppula’s status, and, according to Yahoo Sports’ Nicholas J. Cotsonika (via the Wings’ Twitter account), we wait for the Board of Governors to finish their golf games as their meetings aren’t even scheduled to start until 6:30 PM EST, we’re officially playing a professional waiting game in terms of finding out whether a Wing who’s finally fulfilling his massive potential will miss a short period of time or a long period of time, and whether, by tonight or tomorrow evening, anyway, the Wings might have a (proposed) new home.
So let’s pass some time talking about this morning’s crop of Red Wings news, starting with the dreaded (by me, anyway) realignment issue:
It’s particularly interesting to me that both Wings GM Ken Holland and VP Jimmy Devellano were more than willing to admit to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness that while the Wings obviously want to witness some sort of substantive change regarding their current placement in a Western Conference whose schedule requires two dedicated West Coast swings every year (and three or four more short trips west), they understand that whether we’re talking about swapping one team into the Southeast Division to replace Winnipeg or we’re talking about that fancy-schmancy four “conference” concept, it’s going to be very hard to get 20 of 30 members of the Board to agree on any course of action:
“I’ve seen the proposals on the agenda,” Holland said. “You either have three divisions in the west and three in the east or you have four regions. I don’t think we can have anything else. You can debate who goes in what division or region. I don’t know if there is another solution.”
The playoff format would have the first two rounds be played entirely within your division.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Devellano said. “The four-division format is good because you play teams in your own time zone (or close to it) and the first two rounds are in the division. But the problem is there would be two divisions of eight teams and two with seven,” Devellano added. “A lot of people have problems with that.”
“The fans want to see us play more Eastern Conference teams,” Holland said. “They’d like to see more of our road games in prime time instead of 9:30 and 10:30. We would prefer, come playoff time, not to be going back-and-forth across the country every four days. We also understand that it’s a 30-team league,” Holland added. “Everyone wants to feel a little bit good what the final solution is going to be. We’re trying to be flexible in our thinking that’ll allow us to vote in a couple different directions.”
Another proposal, which was floated out there by tsn.ca, the league would just simply swap Detroit and Winnipeg and make no other changes. That would be the Wings would join the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division, along with Carolina, Florida, Washington, and Tampa Bay. The Jets would join the Central Division, with Chicago, Columbus, Nashville and St. Louis.
The Wings don’t believe this will happen, however. Whatever proposal goes on the table it takes two-thirds to approve in order to pass.
“Getting two-thirds votes is not easy,” Devellano said.
A “simple” Detroit to the East swap would decimate Western TV exposure. If you put the Red Wings in the East in a trade for Winnipeg, you take 8-10 national television appearances away from Western Conference teams that are already precious few. During the regular season, the NHL On NBC hasn’t aired a game of a team west of Minnesota since 2008. They haven’t aired a game from a team west of Dallas since 2007. Putting Detroit in the East just further isolates those teams from big-time exposure, and continues the knock on the NHL and it’s television partners for only promoting it as an east coast league.
So, in other words, if you’ve read everything above and you take the Board of Governors to be what I believe them to be—businessmen and billionaires who are chiefly concerned with their own teams’ bottom lines, and as older men whose egos are wrapped up in their big boys’ toys, a group that’s resistant to change…
I’d highly suggest that we assume that nothing will happen, or at least that whatever change is made will be minor, especially until the Phoenix Coyotes’ fate is sealed.
While we’re talking about “change” for change’s sake, the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman, who believes that the Coyotes could be headed to Seattle, Las Vegas, Quebec City or Kansas City (where Phillip Anschutz’s AEG group runs an empty rink), offers both an interesting take on realignment as it applies to teams’ travel expenses and a suggestion that we should assume that the Wings will definitely move…personnel...eventually:
A story to watch: What are contenders San Jose ($2.5 million in cap room), Boston ($4.5M), Chicago ($5.5M) and Detroit ($5.6M) going to do? All of them are expected to add for the Cup run. Who will go first?
Everything depends on injuries and how Ty Conklin starts to shake out as Jimmy Howard’s back-up (don’t forget that Joey MacDonald is waiting in the wings there), but I think it’s a safe assumption to suggest that the Wings might be eying the kind of big top-nine forward that might add size necessary to withstand the grind of playoff series against teams like the Sharks and Hawks, and they may yet choose to stack their blueline with another top-four defener…But it’s also pretty safe to suggest that none of these potential moves will happen until the trade deadline, barring a player falling into Ken Holland’s lap at an affordable (i.e. draft pick and/or middling prospect and/or non-essential roster player) price.
Also in the projected personnel department, NHL.com’s Mike G. Morreale confirms that defenseman Mattias Backman will indeed play for Sweden at the World Junior Championships, joining Czech Republic goaltender and Wings prospect Petr Mrazek, and Morreale reports that defenseman Alexei Marchenko was named to Russia’s preliminary WJC roster as well;
More locally speaking, it finally sounds like the birth of Alexander Brunnstrom means that his dad, Fabian, will afford the new dad the opportunity to stop driving up and down I-96 (should I wave as he passes the South Lyon exit?) to visit the Mrs. and the new little Mr. and finally settle in with the Grand Rapids Griffins for a much-needed extended stint in the AHL for the sake of both earning regular playing time, regaining his confidence and perhaps getting some sleep, as he told the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema:
“Everything went fine with the baby and the wife is good, everything is all right,” Brunnstrom said. “Now I’m back on the ice and it’s a lot of fun.”
If his mind was on his family across the state, it didn’t show against Chicago. Brunnstrom had a goal and an assist as the Griffins won their third game in a row. He gave Grand Rapids a 1-0 lead 4:01 into the game when the rebound of a Logan Pyett shot came to his feet just outside the crease, and he calmly deposited the puck into the net for a power-play goal. He also generated numerous scoring chances, and was solid defensively, both at even strength and shorthanded.
“Wait until this guy gets some practice in,” Griffins coach Curt Fraser said. “He’s got a tough job right now with a wife and they just had their first child. He’s been up and down, played a game for Detroit, played a game for us, and that’s got to be a little unsettling for him. Once he gets down here with his family and gets some practice in, then we’ll see the real Fabian. I can guarantee that the fans will love watching this kid because he’s the real deal.”
It was only Brunnstrom’s fifth game with the Griffins, and he has two goals and three assists. As he gets more comfortable—he played on the top line with Gustav Nyquist and Jamie Johnson—he should be able to create even more offense. It didn’t look like that was an issue, though, Saturday night. Brunnstrom, however, wasn’t ready to go quite that far.
“I don’t know about that. I was exhausted, to be honest,” he said. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep last two nights, the baby kept me up. I guess it’s something I’ve got to get used to now.”
At this point, even given Valtteri Filppula’s uncertain status, the best thing for Brunnstrom involves playing 20 minutes a night in the AHL, and I’d like to believe that he’s going to come back feeling like an NHL-ready player again in a month or two.
If Filppula injury involved more than stitches, his immediate replacement, Cory Emmerton, will draw back into the lineup after a much-needed change of his own—time to recharge his batteries after starting to fade, as many rookies understandably do when adjusting to the pace, physicality and physical/emotional/psychological grind that is playing in the NHL—and Emmerton told MLive’s Ansar Khan that he’s done his best to remain ready for action when called upon:
“Just continue to work hard, wait for the next chance and as soon as you get in, you got to make a statement that you should be in the lineup,” Emmerton said. “I’m just trying to stay prepared, stay mentally strong, physically strong, stay in the gym and be ready for the next chance. Next chance I get I plan on taking it up another level, almost force them to keep me in the lineup.”
After picking up two points (goal, assist) in the season opener, Emmerton has gone 17 games without a point. The team isn’t counting on him for offense, however. The Red Wings need him to forecheck hard, be strong on the puck, play solid defensively and improve in the faceoff circle. Emmerton has won only 38.5 percent of his draws (40-of-104). He has struggled even more on the road (19-of-56, 33.9 percent), where the home center has the advantage of being able to put his stick down last.
Being a center, Emmerton had an edge over Patrick Eaves and Fabian Brunnstrom in the competition for a lineup spot because Babcock wanted to use Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader on the same line. But Babcock finally decided to move Abdelkader to the fourth-line center spot and sit Emmerton. Veteran Chris Conner, up from the Grand Rapids Griffins, has played the past two games.
“It’s definitely not easy. You learn on the fly,” Emmerton said. “You’ve just got to work from the defensive zone up, especially as a young guy for the Detroit Red Wings. Slowly, you try and bring the other aspects of your game along.”
Emmerton might be better-suited to playing on the wing at this point, but while there’s no doubt that he’s a little physically underpowered (just like Jakub Kindl last season, Emmerton’s finding out that it can take a player fully ready for NHL action a full year or more to gain the NHL-level strength and conditioning which can only be acquired by enduring the grind), he possesses fantastic work habits, great positioning, an underrated playmaking savvy and good chemistry with the most surprisingly fantastic fourth-liner the Wings have found over the past 3 or 4 seasons in…Tomas Holmstrom?
Finally, for now, anyway, I never got to weigh in on the whole Wings-Amway sponsorship spiel, and the latest, “Oh, those dastardly Wings, they think they’re so entitled, blee bloo blah bloo” from Lambert allows me to do so.
Here’s what I’ve got to say about that:
Yes, it creeps me out as much as it creeps you out. Regardless of whether you want to call Amway a pyramid scheme, a bit cultish or plain old too warm and fuzzy for an international conglomerate, well…
1) The Wings received a huge chunk of money from a Michigan-based corporation that’s actually making money in this economy for the sake of naming Amway their “presenting sponsor”;
2) To some extent, there is a very natural fit given the Van Andel family’s ownership of the Grand Rapids Griffins, and to some extent, as suggested in the media while I was gone, this deal makes more than just business synergy given that the City of Detroit’s finances are a mess, Wayne County’s finances are under investigation and the State of Michigan can’t seem to get much of anything done regarding investing in infrastructure projects which would benefit the State down the line (see: the Moroun smear campaign that derailed the International Trade Crossing), so if the Wings are to attempt to privately fund the building of their own rink in a year or five, the Van Andels could become a partner in such a venture;
3) And, perhaps most importantly from a practical standpoint, the Red Wings’ trainers and medical staff spend a remarkable amount of money providing the Wings, Griffins and the team’s prospects with necessary dietary supplements to fuel and maintain the athletic machines who do the revenue-producing for the team both now and in the future, and to have a company which just happens to be able to provide such supplements essentially provide professionally personalized recommendations for the Wings’ players while giving them options that, in this day and age, are incredibly important to test to ensure that cheap and/or detrimental-to-health “fillers” and traces of any sort of substances which might infringe upon the NHL’s performance-enhancing substance ban, all free of cost…
I mean, Amway’s basically subsidizing the Wings’ training staff, taking tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of financial obligations off their hands while providing the kind of personalized service to their players that professional hockey equipment representatives give the players in terms of their sticks, skates, gloves, etc., and on top of it all, the Van Andels are more than happy to align themselves ever closer with the Ilitches as the team hopes to find a way to fund a new rink, all via the what is clearly a multi-million-dollar deal along the lines of Belle Tire’s presenting TV sponsorship?
Hell yes, it’s creepy, but it makes business sense, and the Red Wings are a business, first and foremost, so they’ll sign a deal with Larry’s Fly By Night Bean Business if it advances the brand, serves its personnel in an advantageous manner and strengthens corporate alliances. I don’t have to like it but I definitely understand why the Wings chose to do what they did.
Update: I hate to agree with him on this one, but Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski’s right in my book for suggesting that the “four-conference” plan kinda screws teams over in terms of making “divisional” playoffs based on their actual win-loss-OT records as opposed to the number of “seeds versus teams” available in each “conference.”
Update #2: According to NHL.com’s Mike G. Morreale, Teemu Pulkkinen will play for Finland at the World Juniors.
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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.