Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Jiri Hudler had a legion of enemies by halfway through the season, led by A2Y, and including myself. By Christmas Jiri'd shown us nothing and I was ready get rid of him and Jason Williams for Bill Guerin (1 outta 3 ain't bad...). But with the injury to Tomas "Koko" Kopecky, Hudler was in every game (if not for long) for quite a long stretch (he may have played every game until the playoffs, in fact... can't quite remember).
It was in this period that Hudler scored 11 goals and lit the imagination of many a Red Wing. The next Datsyuk, surely. And I'll admit, I grew fond of the guy very quickly as well. Into the playoffs we charged, and we all bemoaned that young Jiri would get the shaft in lieu of the useless Mikael Samuelsson. And sure enough, when Bert returned from his concussion, Jiri was given the Black Ace of Death, and only saw one game after.
From my tone you might guess that I wasn't as crazy about throwing Hudler in the lineup ahead of Samuelsson (who had put it together by the Anaheim series), or necessarily Kopecky (whose superior physical play and defensive capability cannot be doubted). But hindsight, I hear, is superior to normal sight, and so, I'll pose one question. What if Hudler *had* been put in against Anaheim? Here are the Wings' 12th forward numbers for TOI against Anaheim.
G1 K. Calder: 4:01
G2 K. Calder: 3:56
G3 T. Kopecky: 7:05
G4 T. Kopecky: 4:03
G5 T. Kopecky: 2:53
G6 T. Kopecky: 0:32
There was a lot of speculation that Babcock could at least throw Hudler out there for home games, where he could protect Hudler against unfavorable matchups. Take a look at G5, where Kopecky played just 2:53. Those are minutes Hudler could have managed. Now you say Hudler is weaker defensively and physically - so why not let the kid get all his minutes on the PP? He could have served as simply a PP specialist. And for a team with such power play problems, Hudler could have (maaaybe) provided a spark.
As for this upcoming season, despite having played his way into many fans' hearts this last season, Hudler may be the odd-man out next season. Take a look at the Wings currently under contract (organized into potential lines):
Now this is if the Wings choose not to re-sign Lang, Calder, OR Bert. Unlikely they do that and also choose not to go after any FAs. If Bert comes back and the Wings otherwise stand pat, you have Kopecky, Grigorenko, and Hudler fighting it out for two spots.
But suppose the Wings bring back Bert but also go for someone like Ryan Smyth, or perhaps more realistically, Slava "Baby Bear" Kozlov. Then you've got three guys and two spots, one of which is the 13th forward position. And while Hudler, really, has proved more than either Kopecky or Grigorenko, there are indications that he is third out of three. Consider that Mike Babcock raves about Kopecky's size and physicality, and also thinks he can score goals. Then consider Ken Holland giving the Slovak center a two-year contract extension. And Grigorenko? While I would like to see him get a year in GR to adjust to the North American game, the provision in his contract which allows him to return to Russia if he spends three weeks in the minors makes it seem to me that the Wings think he will earn a roster spot and regular playing time.
Looks like Jiri, an RFA, may be fighting an uphill battle. The Wings may shop the diminutive winger. But then again, if he goes in and plays well in training camp, too many good players isn't a bad thing. I expect he'll get a nominal fee (600K) and a one-year deal from Kenny, if he isn't traded.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
I'm not sure if such conclusions are warranted, and neither is David Johnson at Hockey Analysis. He suggests Balsillie will move to Waterloo regardless, and shows quotes from Bettman that suggest that he's only interested in the idea of the NHL in Winnipeg, not prepared to act on it.
All this having been said, as unlikely as it might be, I would love for the Preds to move to the Peg. And that's for one reason, and one alone: if the Preds move to southern Ontario they will almost surely go to the Eastern conference with Atlanta (which is actually west of Detroit) coming to the Central. If the Preds went to Manitoba, though, it would keep them in the West, and keep the Wings within an inch from being in the Eastern Conference. If the Preds can stay East of Detroit, and one more team from the East moves west (maybe the Panthers to Seattle? I don't know, that's out of my ass) the Wings and BJs could potentially move East with the Thrashers coming West. Of course, this is all very far off and unlikely. Mostly because Gary Bettman is a big, big...
(Photo: Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)
Now some might disagree with this pick, saying Val Filppula deserves it. And I'll admit, Val had one hell of a playoffs, especially for a rookie. He showed tremendous speed at times and scored some big goals in the Calgary series. Val often showed us why Mike Babcock praised him so highly, why despite promises he'd be kept in GR another year he was a regular on the team by early in the season. And while Fil's exploits (such as burning Scott Niedermayer... twice) will resonate in the memories of Wings fans for a while now, few can recall anything about young Kyle Quincey's performance. And that's why I picked him.
He didn't completely fuck up.
At an incredibly important juncture in the playoffs, Brett Lebda, and then Mathieu Schneider, went down, and Quince, with only a few games in the pros to his credit, jumped in and absolutely did not embarass himself. Babcock protected the kid, keeping him consistently under 10 mins, but what time he got he managed to eat with safe, sound defensive play. I was rooting the entire playoffs for him to get a point.
If Val hadn't turned in the performance he did, few would notice. Those who did would likely write it off as a soon to be very good player getting his feet wet in the playoffs and struggling the first time around. The Wings know well enough that this kind of thing happens. But if Quince hadn't acquitted himself as well as he did? He very well may have caused the Wings to give up some critical goals, and forced Mike Babcock to overwork his other five D. But the kid did alright, and he sure as hell wasn't the reason the Wings lost.
Quincey's perfomance, much like that of Andreas Lilja, ensures him (or rather, should ensure him) a roster spot next year. Yesterday I dicussed trading Lilja as a possible route for easing the Wings logjam and ensuring Quincey gets his IT. However if Quincey is not in the Top 6, or playing at least 50% of the games, he should be in GR continuing his development. Derek Meech can't be sent down without clearing waivers, so Meech is actually more likely to make the squad than Quincey. But then again, Quince may pull a Filppula, and just force Babcock to play him anyway.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Veteran defenceman Andrei Markov is staying put in Montreal after signing a US$23-million, four-year deal with the Canadiens on Monday.
The 29-year-old Markov was due to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Markov was fourth in team scoring this season, second among the club's defencemen with six goals and 43 assists in 77 games.
I'm only posting on this because it will undoubtedly affect negotations with Mat Schneider. Hard to imagine that he will take anything less than 5M now, given that he had more goals, more points, and superior +/-. I don't think Schneids will command as much as Markov due to age and possibly the perception that he is a product of the Wings' system. But then again, there is also often a premium placed on the "Red Wings Pedigree" so who knows. I think this basically seals the Wings' fate with regard to Schneider. I don't see them resigning him.
Lilja tells Ryan Getzlaf a very scary story in the Detroit crease.
(Photo: Detroit Free Press)
There's little doubt that no player performed as surprisingly well as Lilja throughout the playoffs. As soon as the early parts of the Calgary series, Wings fans noticed a distinct lack of... suckage. Lilja led the team in hits, was solid positionally, and even made a few nifty plays with his stick. Sure he coughed up an ugly one, at an inopportune time, but I think most fans can agree that Lilja's overall body of work was a pretty impressive one (relative to what we'd been expecting, anyway).
The question now is what to do with the guy. I'll talk about this in more detail when I start my offseason gameplanning, but Lilja's sudden ability to play defense gives the Wings a bit of a pile-up of talent. Let's say everyone comes back, here's the D-Men the Wings have at 7th or lower on the depth chart:
9. Meech (can't be sent to GR without clearing waivers)
Kindl and Ericsson, while tremendously exciting prospects, are very likely to be stashed in GR for a few more years. But Meech's GR time is up, and Quincey has acquitted himself very well in these playoffs. I think the prevailing thought is that the Wings will only return one of Markov/Schneider, so the Wings could potentially have Lilja in the Top 6, with Meecher as #7 and fighting for play time.
But another possibility is that it's Lilja who goes to lighten the stockpile. It sounds bizarre to trade a guy who just turned in one hell of a playoffs, but remember Mike Vernon? Same situation (okay, Lilja didn't win the Conn Smythe, but it's a similar situation). Lilja's value must be high right now, and Holland could get his $1M off the books. This year upcoming is Lilja's contract year, and afterwards he may seek a team where he can have a bigger role. And don't expect the Wings to try hard to retain him - he's already 32 years old. He'll be 33 next summer and the Wings are far more likely to bring in a developing youngster (like the 20 year old Jakub Kindl).
So I say, how about the Penguins? Didn't they need a physical, veteran D-Man at the deadline this past year? And at only 1M for 1 year, no team is likely to think it a risky option.
This having been said, I've grown quite fond of Liljahammer, and would not mind at all to see him on the Wings roster next year (especially if he can continue to hone his newfound fighting ability...) But the best option for everyone, the Wings, Kyle Quincey, and Andreas Lilja, might be a trade. Just sayin'.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
-- How good were Dan Cleary and Kirk Maltby on the penalty-kill? With Cleary on the ice, the Red Wings outscored their playoff opponents, 3-1, while a man short. With Maltby, the Wings posted a 2-2 score while short-handed.I've heard a lot of gripes about Maltby, but the guy can kill penalties. I consider him the best PKer on the team, hands down. And that certainly makes him worth the 883K/y we'll be giving him the next three years. And how about Sammy on the point? I'm no fan of forwards at the point, especially after the Jason Williams Saga, but the guy did alright. That, combined with Schneider's poor defense, makes me wonder if the Wings might not be better off going with Markov over Schneids....
-- ...Mathieu Schneider was on the ice for a remarkable four opposition power-play goals in just 8:08 of ice time.
-- ...Mikael Samuelsson did a nice job stepping into Schneider's skates on the point, averaging about the same G/60 minutes.
-- Two pleasant surprises were Chris Chelios and Robert Lang. Chelios wasn't on the ice for much offense during the regular season, but the Wings outscored opponents 11-5 at even strength with Cheli on the ice in the post-season. With Lang, the Wings outscored opponents 8-2 at even strength. Lang was not on the ice for an even-strength goal allowed in the first or third round while generating offense at a level similar to Datsyuk and Zetterberg.
(Photo: David Guralnick, The Detroit News)
Dominik Hasek is without a doubt the most batshit loco goaltender on the planet. This having been said, insanity is a sign of quality in a goalie (see: Roy, Patrick), and Hasek was pretty friggin good this year.
I won't rant and rave about how unbeatable or slinky-tastic Hasek was, because the guy did give up a few goals here and there that were questionable. It's not to say all great goalies don't give up a few goals here and there, but in 2002, I can tell you Hasek was a lot better.
Anaheim also, better than any team I've seen, did a good job of getting him low, charging the net, getting in his proverbial kitchen, and getting goals any way possible. Hasek does have weaknesses and they exploited him. But even despite all that, Hasek gave the Wings the opportunity to win every series, and it was only the stalling of the PP and some seriously fluky shit that lost the series for the Wings in the WCF.
How, precisely, did Hasek do it for the Wings? He made some stellar saves to be sure, and he even stole a game or two. But I believe above and beyond all that, it was the ability to have confindence in the goaltender that Hasek gave the Wings. Bill over at A2Y is fond of saying that Hasek is the polar opposite of Manny "The Mouth" Legace in this regard, and I have to agree with him. Day after day Wings in the locker room expressed the utmost confidence in Dom and it showed in their aggressive playing style. D-Men weren't afraid to launch up the wing on a rush, (and haven't been all year) and the Wings played with confidence and thought they could win.
Now, undoubtedly, the biggest of the Wings' offseason questions is whether Hasek comes back for another season. Despite Drew Sharp's demands, Holland will and should bring him back. Not only because he'll be pretty good, but because he'll be the best value goaltender in the league, hands down. It's true that he'll be 43, and it's true that as one gets older, one loses speed, agility, flexibility, and becomes more injury prone. Hasek can only really have a worse season than last. But the Wings can only be better, and like I said, the confidence he inspires is worth as much as his performance itself.
Playoffs MVP Honorable Mention: Nicklas Lidstrom, Dan Cleary
Wings Playoffs WTF!? Award (Monday)
Wings Playoffs Rookie Award (Tuesday)
Wings Playoffs Snub Award (Wednesday)
Saturday, May 26, 2007
(Photo: David Guralnick, The Detroit News)
Round 3 was for Hank the culmination of a season in which he and Pavel Datsyuk stepped up and unqualifiedly became the Wings' best (human) players and absolute leaders. We lost, but as I've said before, I think the loss cemented this as their team and the next Wings' cup as their job.
Zetterberg got better every round, slowly regaining form from a nasty back injury that took longer to recover than initially projected. By Round 3 he was flying and looked at times dominant. Of course he wasn't dominant nearly enough, and as has been widely reported, failed to do damage in away from home. But every Wings' player had faults and problems in Round 3 (it's sort of why we lost). I basically am selecting Zetterberg (and Datsyuk would be just as reasonable a choice for the same reason) because of his peformance in the third period of Game 6.
Just to cement how insane this guy's performance was, let me throw a stat at you, the top 4 TOI from Game 6:
S. Niedermayer: 32:10
F. Beauchemin: 31:13
N. Lidstrom: 30:13
C. Pronger: 29:17
Not really surprising at all. D-Men average is 20 mins, whereas forwards average 15. And the Wings had a deeper D rotation, whereas Anaheim depended on a Big 3. But who where the next two, you ask? They're weren't defensemen.
H. Zetterberg: 26:12
P. Datsyuk: 24:05
Those are ridiculous numbers for forwards, especially forwards who skate as much as Datsyuk and Zetterberg, around 175% of average (30 mins is 150% of average for a D-Man). I commented during the third period that it seemed like they were on the ice for 75% of the time. Apparently it was true. These two stepped up, played like machines in the third, and showed little sign of fatigue. Zatta played as much as Draper and Filppula put together. Those two aren't chopped liver! (Here's an interesting side note: Maltby played just ~3 mins in G6. What's up with that?)
Zetterberg has two years left until UFA, with a cap hit of 2.65M (RWC, HA) which is by far the best bargain in the NHL, unless Hasek returns on a similar contract to this past year's (and even that would make some sense given the risk of injury and Hasek's well documented batshit insanity). The Wings would be crazy not to make Z's extension their first priority next offseason. Lidas will also be an FA, and the Wings can point to Z's extension when trying to get a hometown discount out of the captain. Kris Draper is also an FA that offseason and undoubtedly will re-sign with the Wings for significantly less than the 2.138M (RWC, HA: 2.128M) he is currently making. Add in presumed cap increases and Summer 2008 seems like the best time to give Z his mondo deal. I expect 7 years, maybe 7.15M (a 4.5M raise, and the same ballpark as Dats).
Another less likely possibility is that the Wings swing it this year. They'd likely save a little money (Z's value can only rise as time goes on the cap gets bigger) and Hank could stop worrying about being paid so much less than his pal Pasha (I doubt he actually is worrying about it, but who knows). There is only one way that the Wings could fit a payraise in, and that's if:
1. They either bring back Hasek or bring up Howard (i.e., a cheap goalie)
2. The elect for youth up front (Huds, Kopecky, Grigorenko) and in the back (Quincey, Meech, Kindl?)
The Wings shouldn't shed salary just to give Z a raise, but if they happen to do so anyway, why not give Z what he deserves now? Like I said, unlikely, but it would be a pretty classy move to give a guy his due two years ahead of time.
Friday, May 25, 2007
(Photo: Daniel Mears, The Detroit News)
What really needs to be said besides the picture above? Holmstrom's impact on the San Jose series was incredible. After taking a stick to the eye, Homer charged back to San Jose for Game 4, slammed in a garbage goal with seconds remaining in the period, starting a Red Wings comeback that would propel them to three straight wins and a series victory over San Jose.
Early in the season, I was thinking to myself,
Self, I think we should dump Homer. He's served us well, but he's not producing anymore.Boy, is there egg on my face! Homer tore it up (granted, he had some pretty swell linemates) in the latter part of the season, but his goal production, especially on the PP, was only half his impact. Taking the abuse he does, returning from often ghastly injuries to soldier on, is the best kind of leadership there is. Given the way he personifies Mike Babcock's offensive gameplan, and his tenure with the Wings (only behind Draper and Lids), I would think Homer would be in line for a letter on his jersey. But alas, there are more veteran leaders (Lids, Cheli, Drapes) and younger guys Babcock wants to step up (Hank, Dats), so no such thing is likely to occur. But with Holland's brilliant 3-year contract extension, at a heavily hometown-discounted 2.25M, we can at least rest assured Homer will probably go his entire career a Wing.
So, knowing Basille wants to move the team and needs low attendance to break the lease to do that, what incentive does Basille have in maintaining a $40 million payroll to ice a good, entertaining team and lose money in the process? Right, very little. His only interest would be to keep young players that will be good players when he gets his team to Waterloo a couple years from now. So, say goodbye to unrestricted free agents Kimmo Timonen, Paul Kariya, and Peter Forsberg. But why stop there? Why not trade Steve Sullivan for a prospect or draft pick. He certainly won’t be around to play 3 years downt he road. Or he could trade high priced players like Tomas Vokoun, Jason Arnott and Marek Zidlicky.I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't be disgusted by such a maneuver. I know Balsillie doesn't want to lose money, but the best option for everyone is to continue to try to develop a strong team and play out his lease. If he's still losing money, move away. But I would hate to see the Wings' only real competition in the central take a nosedive in 2008. I do enjoy not playing in a top-to-bottom competitive division like the northwest, but those Preds games at the end of the season were by far the best hockey on TV in 06-07 besides the playoffs.
As if psychic, before the announcement of the Preds' sale, Johnson also posted on the topic of non-traditional hockey markets in general, saying that Bettman's plan to make hockey popular in America has failed and won't work:
Maybe Dave is right, but I'd still like to see hockey work in places like Nashville, Miami, Phoenix, etc. I understand though that there are other markets more likely to succeed. Tough call.
It is time for the NHL owners to realize that Gary Bettman’s master plan of ‘if you expand, they will watch’ has not worked, is not working, and will not likely ever work. It is time to realize that the NHL has a better hope of growing their fan base in cities like Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and even Columbus or in a new market like Portland or Seattle than in Nashville, Miami, Carolina and Phoenix. You can have a Stanley Cup winning team in Carolina or one of the best, most entertaining teams to watch in Nashville but the new fans they generate pales in comparison to the new fan interest that has been generated in Buffalo now that a quality, stable franchise exists or in Pittsburgh now that that franchise is getting better on the ice and looking more stable off the ice. If Buffalo and Pittsburgh can generate huge new fan interest in those smaller American cities, just imagine how many new fans could be created if Chicago or Boston got a better product on the ice or started marketing their franchises better. The sooner the NHL begins to realize that the future of the NHL in the U.S. is in Boston and Chicago and St. Louis and not in Miami or Nashville or Phoenix the better.The NHL needs to understand that there is nothing wrong with being a regional (i.e. northern U.S., Canada) sport, and you can even get national TV deals when the majority of your audience is regional, and then grow from there.
Anyway, without further ado, my pick for Red Wings Most Valuable Player in Round One Not Named Nicklas is:
Cleary was, as they say in France, a total fucking badass in round one. His hit on Phaneuf was, in my mind, the best hockey play of the 2006-2007 season. I'm not just talking about a bone-crushing hit. I'm talking about a bone-crushing hit on the team's hulking, fearless, and best defender, then losing his helmet, getting up grabbing the puck, throwing it on net, and having the rebound slammed in for a goal. I could not imagine a better and more effective individual effort, at least not until Pavel Datsyuk actually manages to deke through four players and score on that play (he tries often enough - it's going to happen sooner or later).
But while the Phaneuf hit itself (and the goal that ensued) was amazing, the Wings lost that game. But it had to lift the spirits of this team. As far as a real, statistical impact on the Wings' victory? How about Game 5's shorthanded penalty shot goal? The game was tied 0-0 through one and looked like the Flames might steal one in Detroit. The Wings had just lost two straight and the playoff failure monkey had yet to be removed. But Cleary, a tenacious PKer, busted down the wing, drove to the net, and earned his penalty shot. Of course he scored on it, and led the Wings to a 5-1 win in Detroit that stage the stage for elimination in G6. Had Calgary won that game? Unlikely that the Wings make it to Round 2.
Throughout the playoffs, but especially in R1, I felt like Cleary excelled in all three critical areas: offense, defense, and brain-rattling physicality. And all of that for peanuts (around 650K/year.)
Top: Cleary scores on the penalty shot in G5. (Photo: Daniel Mears, The Detroit News)
Bottom: Cleary, in the infant stages of possibly the mightiest beard ever. (Photo: John T. Greilick, The Detroit News)
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Given the uncertainty about Hasek's return and the Wings' apparent commitment to keeping Jimmy Howard stashed in GR another year, this is pretty relevant.
From AP via ESPN:
He also said it's "highly unlikely" that goalies Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala both will return for next season. Both are proven NHL netminders who shared an uneasy platoon until Toskala got hurt this spring, and Wilson fully intends to trade one of the goalies before training camp -- though he failed to find a similar trade last summer.Although Nabokov is the more proven, he is also the more expensive. It's not his 5.375M price tag that concerns me, it's that it runs through the next three seasons. Toskala is only on the hook for one year at 1.375M (is there something significant about the ending .375 for these Sharks goalies?) Toskala could be a good 1a-1b stopgap with Osgood next year, and if he knocks our socks off we could re-sign him and bring Jimmy up to apprentice under him. If he sucks, let the Jimmy Howard experience begin early. As long as the Wings have Osgood, we really have a lot of flexibility, as far as taking risks with goaltending (see: Hasek, Dominik)
Of course, Dom is still my number 1 choice. I think...
(Salary info from Hockey Analysis)
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
After a failed bid to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins, sources tell TSN the co-chief and executive officer of Research In Motion has an agreement in place to purchase the Nashville Predators.
Hockey purists who despise the notion of hockey in Nashville may get their wish if Balsillie does with Nashville what he wanted to do with Pittsburgh - move the team to Southern Ontario.
For me, I would actually be sort of disappointed if he moves them. We have a pretty great rivalry in Nashville, and one of the things the NHL needs to do is establish itself in non-traditional hockey markets (Canada ain't one). Also it would be one more team east of Detroit, making a move to the EC even more unlikely.
It's pretty nice to get a first round pick, something the Wings haven't had many of in the past decade or so. When we do have them, we seem to use them pretty well though.
Recent First Round Picks:
2000 - Niklas Kronwall (Current Wings Top 4 D)
2005 - Jakub Kindl (#2 Prospect in Wings Organization)
2006 - Wings traded back to pick Cory Emmerton (#4) and Shawn Matthias (traded in Bertuzzi deal)
(Source: Red Wings Central)
Near Future Posting Schedule:
Wings' Postseason Awards
-Calgary Series MVP (Tomorrow)
-Sharks Series MVP (Friday)
-Anaheim Series MVP (Saturday)
-Playoffs MVP (Sunday)
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
There are some good things about this, obviously all of it overshadowed by a loss, but some good things to pick out from the mess.
1. Dats and Hank played their nards off in the third. Those guys were dominant out there. It sucks that it took a three goal lead, but...
2. This will build character. I know it's basically a ridiculous thing to say when you think about it, but sometimes you don't want to win too soon. I told you it was going to be ridiculous. But I would hate for this collection of talent to get complacent. It was a good four years that the Wings had a great team before they won it all in 97.
This team was on Hank and Dats, and they lost. That really sucks for them, but it also means they're going to want it even more next year. They've never been in this position: driving the bus, and failing. They've always been behind Yzer and Shanny, and they always saw those guys handle the losses well and they prolly didn't get too upset. Well, now it's time to get pissed because it was them who failed to lead the team to the Cup.
I'm not trying to bag on the Eurotwins; they are the second and third most talented players on the team (behind the Perfect Human), and they played well. But I think now this is really, really their team - not because they won anything with them, but because they really lost something with them.
Reactions from around the horn:
Abel to Yzerman
The Chief says Game 5 was when this series ended - can't say I really disagree. Hard to dominate four games in a row. But man, it wasn't out of reach at the end. Good comments mostly from A2Y readers; staying upbeat, and proud of this team.
Behind the Jersey
Fellow Stevie worshipper Christy has her commentary on the game. Says she was frustrated by the first 50 minutes of effort. I again agree, but like I said above, it's hard to dominate a good team four straight games. They're going to figure a thing or two out at some point.
Oh yeah, and one more little bit of silver lining in tonight's loss.