Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Sorry Sammy

Okay, so, I was wrong when I suggested the Wings' biggest need at the deadline was secondary scoring. Well I wasn't wrong, secondary scoring was the biggest problem, then. It's just that all the kids needed was an infusion of pressure and IT, not veteran talent. Valtteri Filppula has gotten the most spotlight, with Hudler, Sammuelsson, Kronwall, Cleary, and Franzen all stepping up.

I stand by what I said, that acquiring Selanne would be a great move - it would bolster a potent offense, and with a proven winner. The addition of Selanne would make for one of the best offenses ever, and would come at the cost of no prospects, picks, or players. That being said, my guess is for Selanne it's Ducks or retirement. And it's clear now the Wings don't really need a scorer, at least not of his caliber.

So the big question, really, is can the Wings' kids maintain their scoring prowess when Hank returns tomorrow, and Homer does later in January. Let's take a look at their performances during Hank's four-game absence.

@Minnesota, W, 4-1
Every one of the top six (Fil, Dats, Cleary; Mule, Sammy, Huds) collected a point. Nick, Lebs, Lilja, and Rafalski got assists. Kopecky scored late.

@St. Louis, W, 5-0
Fil (2 G) and Huds (1 G, 1 A) blow up and grab most of the spotlight. But take a look at the veterans: Datsyuk 3 A; Lidstrom 1 G, 1 A; Rafalski 1 G, 2 A. Sammy also picks up 2 A.

@Colorado, W, 4-2
Fil pots 2 again. Hudler scores. Sammy grabs an A and an empty-netter. 2 A for Kronner.

@Phoenix, W, 4-2
Sammy scores, Hudler, Kronner, and Fil get assists. It's all about Datsyuk though: GWG, assists on the tying goal and the empty netter.

St. Louis, L, 2-0
I didn't see this game so I'll assume it didn't actually happen.

So one question is, did the kids, Filppula and Hudler especially, step up because of the increase in responsibility? Or can we attribute their success to veterans like Datsyuk and Lidstrom cowboying up in Z and Homer's absence and improving the players around them? Little bit of both I think. Datsyuk was unquestionably the MVP of the road trip, stellar* in both ends, with Val being the prime beneficiary. He and Hudler were beauties both, engineering the efforts of the secondary scorers, dominant with the puck in the offensive zone. To me Hudler was the best kid on the trip; he was Datsyukian at times.

Which is why I think Babcock's doing the right thing putting Z on the second line tomorrow. I think Datsyuk has shown, in this mini-absence as well as at the end of last season, that he needs Hank less than Hank needs him. Z's more the goalscorer, Dats more the playmaker. Put any guy with some goal-scoring sense on the line and Pavs'll make him look good. But while Hank can be the more dynamic and prolific of the two, he needs a playmaker of his caliber to really make use of his talent. Huds isn't quite there but he's close at the moment. As good as Jiri has been lately, he'll be all the better with Z taking all of the opposing D's attention. I would expect Hank won't score much in the first few games back, but that Huds will have a lot more space and will find a currently hot Sammuelsson a lot. And that's especially good because we can expect Z to be a little rusty, so look for Huds and Sammy to pick up the slack.

(We need a nickname for Huds, a la Mule or the Perfect Human. I've been going with "The Littlest Red Wing" or "The Little Red Wing That Could" but the guy needs something a little more complimentary. How about "The Subtle Knife." Nerdy, yes. But appropriate: Huds is small, doesn't look like much, but he'll fucking kill you. Also he can cut windows into parallel universes. Actually, that name is so cool I think I'll have to give it to Dats. Hmm. I'll think of something for you Huds.)

So with Fil still on Pavs's line, and Huds and Sammy benefiting from Zetterberg's return, hopefully the Wings are appropriately set up to keep their young talent contributing. However there is one issue: as I mentioned, with Hank centering his own line he'll get a lot of attention. Including physical attention. Which makes me a little concernicus. If he were on Dats's wing he could elude attention as The Subtle Knife is currently the league's best player. Then you could put Filppula and Hudler together, keeping the appropriate goal-scorer/playmaker dynamic. But you risk screwing up Fil's mojo which the Wings likely don't want to do.

One good question: Do you put the Eurotwins together for the PP? At the moment I'd say no. Use your two lines as they are (adding Franzen up front to the second unit). The other good question: where does the Wings attention turn for the deadline? Clearly it must be defense. I'll talk about the Wings deadline strategy and cap situation in the next few days.

*- language nerd moment: I think the word stellar has become unfortunately watered down. It once meant star-like, celestial, godly, angelic. All more fitting descriptions of Datsyuk's performance lately.