Sunday, January 6, 2008

4th Liners and MVPs

First things first: the Wings play Colorado tonight and Homer and Malts return. The unsurprising thing is that Holmstrom will return to Datsyuk's line, which should make for a pretty dynamite top unit. The surprises are these: Drake will stay on the Grind Line, despite Babcock's promises earlier this year that he would have a reduced role in the first half. I guess it's the second half now, but I figured that since Drake had to step up in Maltby's absence Babcock might give him a breather.

The other surprise is that Samuelsson, who has stepped it up lately, got dropped to the fourth line with Franzen and Kopecky. Granted, another way to interpret this might be that Babcock means for the fourth line to be something more like the 3.5th line, given it's got two top-six forwards on it. Kopecky worries me, but one thing Babcock might start doing as we approach the home stretch is to double-shift Datsyuk and Zetterberg, to give the Wings three legit scoring lines. Franzen has also been scoring lately, so a Hank/Dats-Mule-Sammy line could actually do pretty well for itself, in both ends of the ice, methinks.

Say the Mule line pulls ~12 minutes a night. Divvy up the third forward's IT between Dats, Hank, and Kopy. All three would play wing for two reasons - less skating for the Eurotwins and more IT at center for Mule, who clearly excels there. If you're worried about Dats and Hank's minutes, I think you can take them off PK duty. The Wings have six solid PK forwards besides them: Draper, Franzen, Maltby, Cleary, Filppula, and Drake. Kopy and Sammy can also kill if needed. Obviously you can use the twins there in a pinch (big face off, late-game, 5-on-3, etc) but I think, as good defensively as they both are, I don't really want either blocking shots at this point, not if we've got the talent to not really need them.

On to far more trivial matters, namely the huge glut of mid-season grades, awards, and predictions. I could really care less about all of these; all I do is scan the article for Wings' names, feel good when I see them and feel outraged when I don't. Then I remember what a pointless fucking exercise they are and get on with my life.

I will say a few things though, out of boredom mostly. First of all, Hank Zetterberg is better than every one of the other EC forwards getting tossed out there, and I will not even mention his Selke-caliber defense. I will say exactly one thing: despite some injury time, he is in the ballpark for top goals and points. Unlike Lecavalier, Kovalchuk, Crosby, Alfredsson, Heatley, Ovechkin, Spezza, St. Louis, and Sundin, Hank plays in the Western Conference, which is a) arguably the superior conference, b) inarguably the vastly more defensive conference, c) inarguably the more physical conference, d) inarguably the conference with better goaltending, etc. The guy is going to score 50 and 100 in the West, which I think blows 60 and 120 in the East out of the water. I don't understand how the guy doesn't more credit for doing what he does IN THE WEST.

All this having been said, Jarome Iginla is far and away the most valuable of the forwards being talked about, including Zetterberg. Luongo could beat him, but of forwards Iginla takes the cake. He's on pace for 60 and 120, not just in the West but in the Northwest, home to Luongo and Lemaire. The guy isn't just his team's leading goalscorer, like Zetterberg, he is also their captain, like Lidstrom, and their heart and soul, like Draper (to say nothing of their sheriff, like Downey).

But back to the Wings. As much as Hank is much better and more valuable than the Eastern high-fliers, he is nowhere near being the Wings' or the league's MVP. It's not even close. We went 4-1 without him. You might argue Datsyuk is more valuable, you might not. For the record, I would, but it's not the point. Nick Lidstrom is so far and away the MVP of the Wings it's not even funny. Hank can't be the league's MVP if he's not even his team's MVP. Can you imagine five games in the middle of the season without Lids. I can't. It's not just that I don't want to, I literally can't. It's beyond human reckoning. The guy is the fucking most important player on the team. A defenseman is in general more valuable than a forward to start with. We're talking about 30 minutes a night against the league's top talent. Don't even start the conversation. Don't even try to talk about Hank being the MVP. It's not even fucking close.

Should be between Luongo, Iginla, and Lidstrom. Then again I'm WC-biased. But my point is you'd think that a guy who is undisputably the best player at his position, who is the captain of far and away the best team in the league, would get at least some consideration. Whatever. When he lifts the cup in June, Crosby and Lecavalier can go... well I'll let you finish that.