Monday, September 10, 2007

Sopel, and Reinventing the Power Play

Word on the street is, the Wings want Brent Sopel to come in for a try-out. Dave at Gorilla Crouch suggests he, Lilja, and Kindl will be duking it out for the 4th D position. Over at A2Y the Chief questions why this guy is still available if he's so good, and why he'll settle for a try-out and not a contract. And, as I write, I see Bruce MacLeod confirms Sopel will be in camp. Whatever the circumstances, I don't see why the Wings should sign this guy, at least to the big club.

He doesn't put up lots of offense. The guy had ten more points than Brett Lebda last season, for a total of 28. TSN's player profile says:
Owns a booming point shot and solid offensive potential. Is a great student of the game and willing to play any style necessary.

Must make better use of his 6-1, 205-pound frame. Can at times make a mental blunder in the defensive zone.
He has offensive potential? At least Kronwall and Lebda are young for all we hear that phrase. And he doesn't look like a defensive stud either. You replace him with Lilja and what do you get? No better on defense, less physicality, oh yeah, and the almighty slapper. Let's talk about that.

The slapshot has been a highly prized tool for the Wings, driving their power play all through the Mathieu Schneider era. When Schneider was hurt, the Wings' PP suffered terribly. The Wings' whole strategy involved getting Schneids the puck, him drilling it at Homer, and the Wings forwards cleaning up down low.

Unfortunately, this strategy does not work in the playoffs. In the playoffs, guys are suddenly willing to sacrifice their body time and time again to block shots, even from the fearsome Schneider. While the slapper is a valuable commodity in the regular season, in the playoffs it becomes dramatically less valuable. The Wings must develop a powerplay that focuses on cycling down low, using the creativity of Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Hudler, and Fil, and crashing the net hard with Homer, Cleary, Franzen, and Grigorenko. As for blueliners, we need guys who can make good passes, move quickly along the line, and can release an accurate shot. The only times Detroit successfully got pucks through was when they had a lot of movement at the blueline. So, Lidstrom, Kronwall, Rafalski, maybe Lebda (given his speed) ... oh yeah, and Meech. Red Wings Central:
Smooth, fluid skater ... great poise with puck ... carries puck up the ice efficiently ... crisp breakout passer ... excellent vision ... good point shot including strong one-timer ... intelligent on power play ...
Sounds like an ideal candidate when it comes to getting quick shots on the move from the blueline. I'm not saying he'll get lots of time, but if the Wings' PP is struggling Babcock would be crazy not to insert this guy, even if as basically a PP specialist. Sopel? HockeyinHD comments on the A2Y post that the Wings might carry him, keep everyone else, and end up with 8 d-men, possible since I don't believe the Wings are carrying a 3rd goalie this year. I could get behind that, especially when you consider this quote via MacLeod:
"We've got six NHL defensemen under contract now," said Holland. "We want to carry seven."
Given that Meech is under contract, that tells me Holland is not counting him when he tallies the seven NHL D-men. Which means, he may be simply getting a roster spot by default, and will be the Wings' eighth D. I'm fine with Sopel or Cullimore filling bench space. But making Sopel the 4th D? He doesn't make sense, and neither does centering your whole PP strategy on a big shot from the point, even if it does bring success in the regular season.