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Abel to Yzerman

Wing Bloggers Roundtable Stops At A2Y

I’ve been searching for imagery of Jiri Hudler in a Baltic barnyard.  No “luck” so far, but l’ll keep looking.

In the meantime?  All your favorite Wing bloggers plopped down, cracked some warm American cheap stuff and answered three questions from yours truly. I think I got everybody but my gmail inbox is a frigging three-ring circus.  So, if I missed you…let me know.

My questions were posed thusly:

—Which team do you believe should be considered the Wings greatest rival and why?  Also, what criteria do you think should be considered?

—Dallas Drake is the easy ingredient to point to in terms of who/what was missing last year.  Who do you believe will fill that role both in terms of grit and a source of motivation, or are both of those qualities overrated?

—Detroit was the last team to repeat as champions.  The two previous years they’d been to the Final and Conference Final, so they’d played a huge amount of hockey over a three year stretch prior to ‘98.  I have no idea where I’m going with this question…do you think this Wing can maintain their level of play like the ‘98 team did even after so many consecutive years of May/June hockey?

The Triple Deke
Rival: When Pronger got traded to Philly, I sort of had this hollow feeling and actually said it sucked a little bit.  I hate the Ducks, but I also love hating them; it’s a type of entertainment that you don’t really get from the other sports.  Now?  I’m not sure if Anaheim is #1 on that list.  They still have Perry and Getzlaf, but Pronger was the undisputed queen of the fairies.  He was the glue that held the hate together.  But I guess, until I see something to prove otherwise, the Ducks would still be the top rival.  You’ve got the history of hard fought playoff series, the requisite amount of animosity between the fans and teams, and the fact that Corey Perry is going to be 30% douche-y-er to make up for Pronger’s loss. 

Drake: I think the “one missing guy” thing is overrated, because it’s too hard to gauge and predict.  It’s easier to point to Drake in retrospect than it was during the season, or even before it (when nobody was saying “he’s the missing piece!”).  I think if the Wings win it all it’s going to be because a handful of guys really picked up the slack.

98: The teams from the ‘95 to ‘98 had the fortune of not suffering a bunch of injuries, whereas ‘07 and ‘09 team weren’t so lucky.  To be honest: I have no idea how it’s going to turn out.  Maybe the amount of hockey that they’ve played over the last three years is something that they won’t feel until they’re older.  I hope that’s the case.  It’s hard for me to judge because the last athletic thing I did was open a pickle jar for my girlfriend like two weeks ago.

Winging It in Motown
Rival: Which team do you believe should be considered the Wings greatest rival and why?  Also, what criteria do you think should be considered?

Man, that’s a tough question. Obviously ten years ago, the easy answer would be Colorado with no need for explanation if you followed hockey at all. Before this summer, I would have said the Ducks sat on top of my list primarily because of the 2007 postseason and our hatred toward Chris Pronger. With his move to Philadelphia and the outcome of the Stanley Cup Finals, my vote for the Wings’ greatest current rival would now be Pittsburgh. Why? Playoffs tend to produce rivalries (think Colorado and Anaheim) and this is just another example. Losing in Game 7 to the Penguins leaves a bitter taste in my mouth and makes me like them less and less. Even Wings’ fans who believe Sidney Crosby is one of the league’s best get sick of the fawning over him and that has led to some hatred.

In terms of criteria, I would have to say the teams must have played against each other in the playoffs at some point. There must be a moment that sticks out as a defining moment in the rivalry. The personality of the team’s players is key (case in point: Chris Pronger, Patrick Roy, and Claude Lemieux).

Drake: Dallas Drake is the easy ingredient to point to in terms of who/what was missing last year.  Who do you believe will fill that role both in terms of grit and a source of motivation, or are both of those qualities overrated?

I believe grit is a huge factor and definitely not overrated when it comes to the postseason. I am excited to see Darren Helm play a full season with the Wings. If he can have a legendary shift on the PK in the postseason without much time spent in Detroit during the regular season, I can only imagine what he’ll do in the 2010 playoff run when he has all that experience and familiarity with his teammates under his belt.

Sometimes I think motivation is overrated, but our 1998 championship is proof that it can play a very important role in the regular season and playoffs. I don’t know if we have someone this year to fill the role of motivation like we had in Drake two years ago and Hossa last season.

98: I do believe the Wings can maintain their level of play even with so many long postseasons. That doesn’t mean I think we’ll for sure see Detroit back in the finals, but I don’t see it affecting most of our roster. I’m sure all of these long seasons wear out some of our veteran guys like Tomas Holmstrom, who has admitted his body has taken quite a beating and may retire after this season because of it. But for our players in their prime like Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Franzen, I don’t see it being a problem.

Snipe Snipe, Dangle Dangle
Rival: It’s tempting to say Pittsburgh, but with them in the East, I don’t think they’re quite relevant enough for biggest rival status.  Since so few games are played against them (barring a ridiculously unlikely third meeting in the Finals), I think it would be hard to have a real rivalry with them.  In light of that, I look at Anaheim as the Wings’ main rivals.  One of the key ingredients to building a good rivalry is some nastiness, and even with Chris Pronger and his elbows out of the picture, there is still plenty of that to be found there.  (It’s also worth noting that I’m making this choice based mainly on the scientifically sound measure of how much time that I spent yelling at my TV during games against each team.)  You need to have a little bit of blood, a high level of play, and some key playoff meetings to form a good rivalry, and I think the playoff series over the last few years have demonstrated that all of those elements are there.  Chicago probably comes in second, but they need to have a couple more good seasons where they challenge the Wings before they establish themselves as top rivals.

Drake: I’m not sure there’s any heir apparent to the Dallas Drake role on the roster this year.  A lot of guys have things to prove, but there’s nobody that the team can rally around saying, “Let’s win one for ____.”  I like to think that the sting of losing Game 7 will be enough motivation all by itself.  As far as grit goes, I think the Wings will once again be relying on their power play to be their enforcer.  It’s not all that different from last season.  The only time I really felt that lack of grit played a big role was in the Anaheim series this year.  I spent most of those games cringing because I was sure one of the Wings was going to get hurt, and I would have loved to have had a fighter to drop the gloves once or twice.  (Although after seeing Lilja miss the rest of the season from his concussion and Kopecky break his face, I was pretty well convinced that nothing good would come of a Wing fighting.)

98: I don’t see any reason why the team can’t maintain its level of play.  They have the skill, the experience, and as much motivation as ever, and I don’t believe that the off-season personnel changes will be as disastrous as a lot of naysayers think.  When you get right down to it, there still isn’t a single team in the NHL that can match the Wings skill-wise, and if they play to the best of their ability, there’s no reason that they can’t do deep into the playoffs again.

The Production Line
Rival: I have to think that the Red Wings greatest rival – right now – is either Pittsburgh or Chicago. It’s obvious why Pittsburgh’s in the conversation: back-to-back Final appearances and certainly a possibility for a third in a row. They aren’t division rivals (or conference rivals for that matter), so they don’t see much of each other in between playoffs, though, and that might be a necessary component to a great rivalry.

Which leads us to Chicago. They were pretty awful for a lot of years, but they aren’t awful anymore. Here’s a team that’s on the upswing, has a very exciting crop of youngsters and usually plays Detroit pretty tough – especially in an arena filled with people who hate us. Add the extra ingredient of poached Hossa (with a slice of Good Riddance Kopecky Pie), and you’ve got an explosive matchup.

Drake: I won’t go so far as to say that grit and motivation are overrated qualities, but if Hossa couldn’t get motivated playing against a former team that he spurned for a “better chance” to win the Cup, I’m not sure there’s a more intense situation out there for a player heading into June. Granted, that might be a special case because he failed in ways unimaginable to everyone in April.

Dallas Drake brought something besides motivation for the Cup, and that was a presence. A presence in the room, a presence on the ice, you felt every single shift. I think that energy is brought in a kid like Darren Helm. I dare you to tell me that your heart doesn’t beat just a little bit faster when he came screaming off the bench and in on a forecheck.

Is he the next Dallas Drake? Maybe. He certainly needs that grizzled veteran feel that can only come with time, but in terms of on-ice intangibles: he’s got it.

98: Your question is very similar to The Production Line’s for this Roundtable, so I’ll let Rob dive deeper into that then I’ll go. But, that said, I really do feel like the team has enough in the tank for another run. It doesn’t help that this is an Olympic year – and you’ll never be able to duplicate the mindset of the ’98 team with what happened with Vladdy – but this is a well-coached team with a great system that a ton of talented players buy into.

Also, they’re about 79 years younger on average now that Chelios has departed.

Bingo Bango
Rival: Hmmm the Wings greatest rival, of all time?  Hard to pick with so many whiney little bitchy fans and teams out there.  For me, I guess it depends on the era.  One of the greatest rivalries in ALL of sports was the Red Wings/Avalanche battle of the 90s.  Good ole fashion hockey.  You had talent, physicality, and tiny little Ozzie going toe to toe with that crazy bastard Roy.  Every criteria I look for in a rivalry was rolled into those fights. Talent, passion, Stanley Cups, media trash talking, fans bitching, it was everything the hockey gods intended a rivalry to be.  The best part for a Wings fan was watching the Wings bend the Avalanche over and make them cry for their mommies multiple times.  Well that and having front row seats to their ultimate and expected pathetic demise.  That still brings a smile to may face and if I were an emotional person, a tear to my eye.  As far as a rivary now, Chicago or Pittsburgh, but I’m going to have to go with Chicago. With Pittsburgh being in the Eastern Conference and Bettman up their ass it makes it a little less interesting.  But Chicago, well even last year they thought they could compete with the Dynasty, causing the Wings to have to continuously knock down the little guys. This included the ass kicking they administered on the national stage during the Winter Classic.  And yet the cocky little turds still thought they would advance to the Finals.  Ha.  If that attitude isn’t going to start at least some sort of intense competition, I’m not sure what will.  And then this year with Hossa and his butt buddy Kopecky departing, Chicago will be a damn good team and some heated exchanges are sure to ensue.  I guess even if the players don’t feel the rivary, I’m sure us fans will bitch at each other enough.

Drake: Dallas Drake was the key ingredient that many people stated was missing last year.  A possible fill in this season is Todd Bertuzzi.  He’s getting up there in age, has bounced around for the last couple years, and simply wants to win.  Other teams and bloggers have said he gets along with the guys in the locker room so he could be someone they could rally around.  And we know he has the grit of a power forward.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be sold on Bertuzzi, but I could see him filling this role.

98: There has been a great deal of talk about the Wings running out of gas due to the number of long seasons they’ve had compounded with this season being an Olympic year.  I believe the complacency and exhaustion will set in half way through the regular season.  It only seems natural at this point.  But with the leaders in the locker room, a little Babcockian magic, and whatever the hell that switch was they flipped last year, I expect this team of champions to overcome that hurdle and reclaim what is rightly there’s….Lord Stanley.  Oh yes watching Bettman get his panties in a bunch while handing the Cup to the Super Swede once again, is the thing dreams are made of.

Babcock’s Death Stare
Rival: I think it absolutely has to be Chicago. So much of a rivalry is the hatred off the ice just as much as the intensity on. I’m sure everyone will tell you both of those things have left the Detroit/Colorado “rivalry” and I’m not breaking ground by saying that’s barely a rivalry anymore. But not only did this past playoff series restore some hatred and history in the storied Detroit/Chicago rivalry, but it’s also of interest to the rest of the league because everyone wants to see the talented but young up-and-coming team against the older, but more experienced winners. Everyone expects a changing of the guard eventually, but I don’t see it this year. I don’t hate Hossa for leaving, but that kind of thing can only add to what started to heat up last season.

Drake: I think these qualities are overrated in that it isn’t what cost us the Cup this season. Drake was very good in his role, and he was a very good motivation for the team—much better than Hossa, who, sadly, was a distraction by the time the Finals rolled around. I am a big fan of Maltby and Draper but they just don’t cut it every night for those big shifts that fire up the team. I don’t think you have to look any further than Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves for two young guys who will score big goals for this team and who will never cheat you on effort on the ice. I think adding Hossa may have added an additional feeling of “holy hell we just won the Cup and then we signed Marian Hossa” situation which might have inspired some lazy play. I think losing 88 goals of offense won’t hurt Detroit as much as it will force them to realize that to be a dominant team they will need to focus more on cutting down the goals against to compensate for what will most likely be a reduction in goals for.

98: Absolutely—not even a concern for me. This team is not okay with losing. Chris Osgood is not okay with becoming everyone’s hero once he woke up in time for the playoffs, only to be slightly out of position on two Stanley Cup Finals Game 7 goals. Brad Stuart is not okay with causing turnovers that led to those goals. Niklas Kronwall is not okay with hitting the crossbar with just minutes left. This team has a big veteran presence, but almost the complete majority of the team did not play big roles in any of the previous three Cup wins before ‘08. They want to establish themselves as a continuation to the dynasty that the Steve Yzermans and Brendan Shanahans started with the ‘97 Cup win. Babcock’s at the helm and there is just no excuse for moping around the ice and feeling sorry that they came so close and didn’t pull it off. Energy and hard work will be rewarded, and this team will be viewed as a contender yet again as soon as the season starts.

Nightmare on Helm Street
Rival: Chicago.  The Detroit/Chicago rivalry has been around forever.  The Wings and the Blackhawks have faced each other over 700 times in their history.  Chicago had been dormant for many years now, as had their obnoxious drunken fan base.  While less than 10,000 were filing into the United Center, the masses of the Windy City were rooting for their Bears or one of two of their baseball teams.  Now that their high draft picks are starting to pan out, hockey’s become relevant again.  And my, oh my, have the idiots lined up in droves to jump on the bandwagon.  You want proof?  Check the feed from the early 2000’s until about a year or two ago when Detroit would come into town; Winged Wheels all over the place.  But they never stopped hating us.  Those games when Detroit would come in and kick their teeth in on the scoreboard (still do), the Chicago fans would spend more energy booing the Wings than cheering the Hawks.  Now that they’re the new “it” team, they think they have something to cheer about.  They over achieve and make the Western Conference Finals.  Hossa jumps ship and takes his bum shoulder and his Slovak man-servant Kopecky with him.  A changing of the guard has all but been declared by the NHL before the puck has even dropped this year.  You want criteria for a rivalry?  History, animosity between fans, competition, hate…real “kick your dog if they lose to this team”, punching holes in the walls kind of hate.  You want it?  I got it.  And if there are any Detroit fans who don’t hate the Blackhawks…I call them naïve.  Go ahead and make a visit to the UC or any other Chicago venue sporting something Detroit and see if you don’t come out with a new perspective.  I hate Chicago.

Drake: Dallas Drake is the easy ingredient to point to in terms of who/what was missing last year.  Who do you believe will fill that role both in terms of grit and a source of motivation, or are both of those qualities overrated?

Justin Abdelkader is the next Dallas Drake, only younger and more talented.  Both are North-American born grinders who played college hockey in Michigan.  Both are leaders on whatever team they play for.  Abdelkader may be a year out from filling this role completely, but he will one day, mark my words.  Right now, we have Bertuzzi to fill that role.  He might not possess the leadership qualities, but despite what the Canadian media tries to put in your head, the dude can still crash and bang.  He’ll do for now.  If it works, fine.  If the ‘Tuzz falters, we Abadabbadoo waiting to step in.

98: Yep.  As I told The Triple Deke in their roundtable question, the key is Mike Babcock.  He knows how hard to push these guys so that they don’t break.  He didn’t crack the whip all last year, even when they sucked, because he knew that it wasn’t the right thing to do.  This team has enough talent to get by (in the regular season) on talent alone.  Coupled with great work ethic and a few guys with something to prove this year, they’re going to be just fine as usual.  Then we sit back at the end of the regular season and say, “oh yeah? Well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Motown Wings
Rival: There are many worthy foes who could claim this title. Over the past two years, Pittsburgh has materialized as a hated opponent, given our battles for the Stanley Cup, but they reside in the Eastern Conference, and a good rivalry is predicated on both regular season and playoff competitive bitterness. Chicago wants to be our rival, but until they do something like win a playoff series against us, it’s still completely tilted in our favor, and there can be no rivalry where only one team continually dominates.

So, I’ll take Anaheim. Western Conference foe? Check. Back and forth battles in the playoffs? ’07 and ’09 fit the bill. Physical and sometimes dirty play? Believe it. Yes, the bitterness will diminish a bit with the defection of Mrs. Pronger and her wife Chris to the Philadelphia Flyers, but there are still plenty of villains like Getzlaf and Perry to hate on.

Drake: Dallas Drake is the easy ingredient to point to in terms of who/what was missing last year.  Who do you believe will fill that role both in terms of grit and a source of motivation, or are both of those qualities overrated?

I suppose it’s Todd Bertuzzi by default. I don’t know what motivation he immediately brings to the table other than his own personal justification for the Moore hit and his lack of production, but he does bring some grit to the table and has never won the Cup. I think Mike Grier would have easily met all of these criteria, especially since he has a connection to Detroit, but he’s with Buffalo, so Bertuzzi it is.

98: Borrowing from my answer last week to the Triple Deke’s question, I think there are some challenges (Olympics, injuries, number of games played), but if any team knows what it takes on a physical and mental level to make deep playoff runs on a regular basis, it’s the Wings. Let’s just hope they stay healthy.

Rival: Given that the Red Wings, at least as the Detroit Cougars and Detroit Falcons, pre-date the Original Six by a few years, and given the vast changes in terms of their placement in the NHL as part of Eastern and Western Conferences whose memberships varied over the years…

This is an unbelievably loaded question.  Rivalries depend on regular-season histories, the viciousness of playoff battles won and lost, whether hated teams remain solid competition or drop off in terms of disliked personnel, coaches, and threat to actually defeat you (the Avalanche aren’t exactly tearing it up these days), and in the 30-team, unbalanced-schedule NHL, how often you play them.

Add in the fact that the Red Wings’ seventeen-year string of qualifying for the playoffs and making deep Cup runs in at least half of those years spawn rivalries with teams that wouldn’t usually consider the Red Wings a nemesis, as well as the fact that the decline of the automotive industry has scattered lifelong Red Wings fans across the U.S., making games against Nashville and even Phoenix that much more heated, and top it off with the fact that the last decade’s worth of expansion means that teams like Nashville and especially the Columbus Blue Jackets have had one-way rivalries with Detroit since their inception, and you’re asking a question that’s entirely subjective.

Historically speaking, the Wings had their nastiest battles against the Blackhawks, Maple Leafs, and Canadiens.  During the days of the Chuck Norris Division, the Blues and North Stars entered the fray.  In the 90’s, the Wings became rivals with the Sharks, Dallas Stars, and obviously the Avalanche and even the Devils, while this decade has spawned scraps with the Ducks, Predators, Blues, Blue Jackets, and even the Hurricanes and Penguins.

Add in the fact that I’m the kind of hockey fan that holds grudges, and there aren’t many teams that the Red Wings play that I do like.

Long story long, I think that, historically speaking, the Blackhawks and the Maple Leafs are the Wings’ biggest rivals, over the last seventeen or so years and four Stanley Cups, the Avalanche, Stars, and Ducks were the big guns, and these days it’s a mishmash of the Hawks, Ducks, and those dastardly Penguins.

For me personally, having sold my soul to Mike Ilitch and the Red Wings in 1991, and growing up on Hockey Night in Canada, it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs that will be the nexus of my hockey hatred, regardless of whether the Wings play them once a year or never again.  I was born four miles north of Canada in Detroit and raised in Garden City, and as a kid fascinated by the fact that somebody went and drew a line in the middle of the Detroit River that made the next town over a different country, I’ve never understood why people in the real “South Detroit,” some of whom who were born or live within sight of Joe Louis Arena, all of half a mile away from Riverside Drive, bleed blue and white.

Windsor cable doesn’t carry Fox Sports Detroit, you can buy the Maple Leafs’ version of Inside Hockeytown at convenience stores, and it’s nearly unpatriotic to root for the American team that’s way more local than the corporate behemoth three and a half hours up the 401.  Add in Wendell Clark, Tie Domi, Doug Gilmour, Felix Potvin, and the first-round, game seven loss to Toronto in 93 at Joe Louis Arena, with me sitting about fifty feet behind the Wings’ bench, and I will never head into the 416 area code wearing anything but red.

Drake: Losing the Cup on home ice, the handshake incident (regardless of what we think about it, it pisses the Wings off, and that’s what matters), and the desire to prove their critics wrong about everything from Nicklas Lidstrom’s play dropping off to the supposed decline of a team deemed not only “too old,” but also “too thin” because of their free agency and KHL-poaching-induced personnel losses serve as more than enough motivation to get that damn Cup back.

I think that filling Drake’s skates is a harder question to answer and a more pressing issue.  Gaffes in Game 7 included, Brad Stuart’s proven a tremendously reliable “glue guy” who bridges the gap between top-four offensive skill and third-pair grit that Bob Rouse and Chris Chelios once did.  He can play 20 minutes a night, work the power play, penalty kill, and he’s subtly vicious in the way he smears opposing forwards into the boards with a little hip twist to make every bodycheck wear them down.

The Wings haven’t really had a forechecking presence like Dallas Drake since, of all people, Boyd Devereaux and Pavel Datsyuk did the job in 2002.  The worst part of this summer’s free agent losses was that, while they didn’t forecheck with the best of ‘em, Mikael Samuelsson and Jiri Hudler at least had a little snarl to them, and Marian Hossa could bully his way past players.  Kopecky obviously didn’t fill Drake’s skates adequately, but the Wings can’t and probably don’t expect Darren Helm to bang the hell out of people over the course of his first 82-game season, so, in some ways, it’s Todd Bertuzzi’s job to blunt his tendency to take stupid penalties while playing more of a grinder’s role when necessary.

I think that the Drake issue and the question as to whether Jimmy Howard can suitably back up Chris Osgood won’t have answers until the trade deadline, when the Wings will either feel comfortable standing pat or they’ll go out and find the players they need to do the job come playoff time.

98: Yes.  If anything, last year was a “learning year” because the Wings struggled with the bugaboo that is the self-induced Stanley Cup Hangover, which seems to affect only those who believe in it and those who put too much pressure on themselves to maintain playoff-level intensity during regular-season play, and I think that the losses of Todd McLellan and video coach-turned-Sharks assistant coach Jay Woodcroft really hurt the Wings’ penalty-killing and defensive posture.

The Wings are, if not the most physically fit team in the NHL, then in the top three, and the influences of the mental-and-physical-fitness-freaks that were Igor Larionov and Chris Chelios and are Kris Draper, Pavel Datsyuk, etc.  These players know how to prepare themselves to play from late September to June, and I fully expect them to play more consistently and employ better tactics on the penalty kill, free agent losses included.  Our expectations for them are nothing compared to their own, and when the Red Wings are their own biggest critics, I tend to think that you don’t need to worry very much about the Wings’ desire, determination, and focus upon playing a hundred-plus games for the third year in a row.




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About Abel to Yzerman

Welcome to Abel to Yzerman, a Red Wing blog since 1977.  No other site on the internet has better-researched, fact-laden and better prepared discussions than A2Y.  Re-phrase: we do little research, find facts and stats highly overrated and claim little to no preparation.  There are 19 readers of A2Y. No more, no less. All of them, except maybe one, are juvenile in nature.  Reminding them of that in the comment section will only encourage them to prove that. Your suggestions and critiques are welcome: wphoulihan@gmail.com