The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/12/12 at 12:45 PM ET
From about mid-February onward, and even if the Red Wings don’t win another playoff game this spring, I have and will continue to maintain the opinion that the Wings’ conscious decision to not replace the leadership of Kris Draper, Chris Osgood and Brian Rafalski on the ice, bench and in the locker room, the turnover that is breaking in two assistant coaches at the NHL level, the team’s inability to find a puck-mover of Rafalski’s caliber and the coach and management’s decision to sink or swim with what are “youngsters” by Wings standards in players like Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler, Cory Emmerton, Jonathan Ericsson Niklas Kronwall, Ian White and Jimmy Howard instead yielded and will probably result in what we’d deem a “rebuilding” year—or perhaps a “reloading” one by Wings standards—and I think the growing pains and likely off-season roster-bolstering via free agency (barring any decisions by Nicklas Lidstrom to do other things than continue to play hockey) were probably all accounted for prior to the commencement of the 2011-2012 regular season.
The Wings’ lack of swagger and media-inflated status as underdogs extraordinaire against the Nashville Predators have many pundits insisting that the window of opportunity has closed on Detroit once and for good in a league where one supposedly cannot win without superstars in their early 20’s on the roster, and the Fan 590’s Greg Brady offers a lengthy suggestion that the wings are too old and that their prospect cupboard is too bare for them to continue to succeed in the post-season:
I can honestly say this is the first year I’ve looked at the Red Wings since 1993 and not seen a Stanley Cup contender. The first year if you’d give me only five teams that could/should win the Stanley Cup (and usually there aren’t any more than five) that the Red Wings aren’t on the list. That’s a hell of a run, and I’m not sure the Red Wings are going to miss the playoffs any time soon, but I really do believe that more talented teams than Detroit (San Jose, for example) have missed recently, or almost missed this year as the Sharks nearly did.
San Jose’s roster was lauded in two tight series against Detroit for having many more talented younger players, and some of those have been high draft picks, but others have developed through their system. Who’s Detroit’s best player under 30? Well, it’s either Val Filppula or Ian White and both are 27 years old. There’s really no other options, and nothing against Jimmy Howard, who’s one of the best twelve or fifteen goalies in the NHL, but I’m not so sure he’s elite either. That’s not even to say Howard may not be better than Chris Osgood as a “skilled” goalie but he hasn’t got near the team in front of him any of Vernon, Osgood, Hasek, or, yes, Curtis Joseph had, in the last 18 years or so. Let’s not forget this team made a star out of Manny Legace, a journeyman goalie before he got to Detroit, and a journeyman goalie after he left Detroit, with no playoff round wins, I should add.
San Jose’s players under 30 who are better than any of their under-30 Red Wings counterparts? Sit down, I don’t want your joints to stiffen up. Logan Couture (22), Joe Pavelski (27), Ryane Clowe (28), Brent Burns (26), Jamie McGinn (23), and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (24). That’s not to say Filppula isn’t “better” than McGinn right now, for example, but it speaks to what a seemingly now “average” Western Conference team like the Sharks have that the Red Wings don’t.
Are the Wings to blame for this? If you can’t sign young players via free agency, and for the most point, you cannot as UFAs anymore, and teams aren’t stupid enough to trade elite talent in their early-to-mid 20s to your team, then how do you get them?
Ken Holland’s been a fantastic general manager in Detroit, and likely has a job for the rest of his career, and he boldly dismissed an out-of-his-element Dave Lewis after only two playoff runs and Lewis alienating Curtis Joseph, Sergei Fedorov, Steve Thomas, and Brett Hull. He hired the coach most fanbases dream of having in Mike Babcock. It’s hard to say Holland has done anything less than a very good (at the worst of times) to an exceptional beyond belief (at the best of times) job. For every brilliant trade or free-agent masterstroke there’s a signing of a Derien Hatcher or Uwe Krupp.
But Holland’s never had the luxury of having bluechippers show up at the age of 18 or 19 ready to contribute, and certainly very few recently. The evolution of the Red Wings over the next three years and certainly for the first couple post-Lidstrom years will be downright fascinating. You, as a Red Wings fan, can be as loyal as you’d like to be towards Lidstrom, but isn’t the best thing for the FUTURE of the Red Wings for Lidstrom to retire this summer, and for the Red Wings to be able to sign Ryan Suter or Zach Parise? It’s been a while since the Red Wings have signed or even been able to sign financially an elite free-agent. That player was Marian Hossa and both player and team could only commit to one year and the Red Wings still won fifteen playoff games that season.
For the record, I still think the Red Wings are winning this series against Nashville — they were a lousy road team much of the year, so winning once in Game 2 or Game 5 in Nashville and protecting home ice isn’t forecasting some tremendous surprise…but it is the first time I look at the Red Wings and will be SHOCKED if they end up in the Stanley Cup Finals, and, again, imagine being SHOCKED the Yankees are in the World Series or Patriots are in the Super Bowl. We’re not there yet — I think we are with the Winged Wheelers.
I’ve seen some of the Wings’ best prospects, and especially the European and college-aged ones who don’t participate in training camp, for more than a few summers now, so I tend to believe that there are gems yet to be discovered by those outside of Detroit in the prospect pipeline, and I don’t buy the concept that a team must be built around superstars 25 years of age and younger to succeed over the long haul—the Wings haven’t done that since around the time Brady suggests they were last not a Cup contender—but it’s up to Holland, Jim Nill, the Wings’ management, coaching staff and especially the players to prove the pundits wrong all over again…
After a season that feels as much like a leadership changeover year as the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons combined. Detroit’s core has sank, swam and struggled over various courses of time, and what they do over this playoff run and the following regular and post-seasons will truly tell the tale as to whether the Wings’ window of championship opportunity has closed.
Detroit’s been too old and too slow and too small since 1994, however, and I’m not about to count them out just yet.
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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.