Wednesday, June 6, 2007

WOA - Defense: They're In That Awkward Stage

With the Wings' embarrassment of riches on D, some less likely D-men are being made targets by Wings fans. Namely, the Wings two youngest roster-holders, Niklas Kronwall and Brett Lebda. I'll go over why dumping each of them is an appealing move, and why the Wings shouldn't go that route, at least not this season.

Nik Kronwall

The sum of all Kronwall's faults can be pinpointed on one part of his game: physical play. Coming out of the AHL, Kronner was touted as the next Lidstrom, but with physicality! As it turns out... we're sort of glad Lids doesn't throw his body around.

First of all, Kronner's affinity for the big open ice hit often led to his being out of position, usually meaning a 2-on-1 with backcourt partner Mathieu Schneider back. (While Schneider isn't shabby defensively, he probably is the last D on the Wings I would want back on a 2-on-1.) This is without a doubt Kronner's greatest on-ice flaw. While his physical dimension is welcome, and needed in the playoffs, if he could only scale it back his good hockey sense would prove him a good defensive defenseman. But until he masters the urge to crush skulls at center ice, he will continue to be a potential liability on the blue line.

Second, Kronner's more well publicized problem is the far less controllable... or is it? Every year since joining the league Kronwall has suffered a major injury, none more ball busting than this year's broken sacrum, which caused Kronwall to miss the playoffs. While I'm not suggesting Kronner isn't both a little injury prone (whatever that means) and has shitty, shitty luck, I am suggesting that at least some of the blame can be laid at Kronner's overexuberant physical play.

I mean look at Danny Markov: Wings most physical defenseman, and until this year, tagged "injury prone". And for another proof, look at Nick Lidstrom. One of the least physical D in the NHL, and has, like, never been injured, ever. I once saw Nick Lidstrom get shot in the heart, and all he did was sneeze. I was like "Bless you" and he was like "No it's cool we don't do that in Sweden" and I was like "Wow you learn something new every day."

Anyway, while Kronner is a strong skater and has supposedly great offensive talent, he hasn't shown much of the latter (1-21-26). A lot of that, I will argue, has to do with him getting second-rate PP time behind Lids and Schneids. But combine his paltry production with the injuries and the costly errors... and you wonder why he's getting 3M next season, and the next four seasons after that.

Given these problems, a trade or cut of Kronwall is tempting, but I definitely don't see this as being in the Wings best interest. Certainly someone, whether its the captain, the Captain, or a member of the coaching staff, should try to work with Kronwall on taking his physical play down one, perhaps two notches. Secondly, Kronner should get more PP time to show what he can do. This will most certainly happen if Schneids doesn't return, but even if he does I think Kronner needs to get Top 2 IT on the power play.

If, despite these changes, Kronwall continues to struggle in the offensive, defensive, and corporeal integrity departments, I could see dumping him, especially with his salary. But there isn't a Wings young D-Man who can't wait another year*, and the Wings are far enough from cap strangulation to afford it for now.

Brett Lebda

After Andreas Lilja's surprising performance, Lebda was tagged by many Wings' forum members and blog commenters as the 7th D with Lilja jumping into the Top 6. The chief argument against Lebda is that he is supposedly, with all his speed and lack of size, an offensive D-Man, but put up stay-at-home point totals (5-13-18). However, the argument for Kronwall goes double for Lebda, having been on only the third pair and getting very little PP time.

As for knocking Lebs down to the 7th slot in favor of Lilja (or Quincey or Meech), it doesn't make any sense. Why give a veteran who isn't going to be on the team in a year PT ahead of a kid who is still developing? I agree that Lebda isn't the most exciting prospect (well, he is pretty exciting at times, but I mean, big-picture-wise) he is solid defensively if small. I think the Wings can only really afford to have one undersized, speedster, offense-specialist D-Man. Lebda obviously has the step up on Meech, but who knows. I think there's no point in not giving Lebda a full shot, including plenty of PP time, to show he can be a Top 4 D-Man in the NHL.

Posting schedule:
Tomorrow: Goaltending: Overview and Hasek & Osgood
Friday: The Kids
Saturday: The FAs
Sunday: Forwards: Overview