Thursday, February 28, 2008

Stuart and Kronner

(My posts have been getting lengthy lately, so for the reading impaired, I've decided to start putting concise summaries at the end. Scroll down for the goods.)

First things first, I love the Stuart trade, and I also predicted it, give or take a fourth round pick. He's by far the best value on the market. The guy has first round skill but hasn't found the handle. If the Wings can do to Stuart what they did to Cleary, he'll turn into a dominant defenseman. If he does reach his potential, the Wings won't be able to afford him in 09-10, but at the least they could bring him back next year, in lieu of Lilja.

Basically the Wings kept 1) their roster intact 2) all their prospects and 3) their first rounder in a very deep draft. The only criticism I could make is not snagging at least Mark Recchi, who Atlanta had no reason to hold onto. Huds for Recchi straight up? I don't know. Doesn't matter. I like this team, once it gets healthy.

Bruce MacLeod reports that Stuart will be paired with Kronwall, a wise move. As good as Meech has played of late, Kronner is second only to Lidstrom on this team (that's right, ahead of Rafalski) and a Meech-Kronner pair would be a little undersized and not great defensively. So you put Nik with Lilja or Stuart, but it makes sense to keep Lilja and Meech together as they have been for a while. Thus, Kronner-Stuart. The only problem is you've got a guy coming off a long injury break and a guy new to the team - if San Jose takes advantage of that Babcock would be wise to split them up (or just move the Meech-Lilja pair to #1).

Or, how about Kronner-Ericsson, Stuart-Meech, Lilja-Lebda? I dream of a Kronner-Ericsson pair, some day, maybe next year. Jumping up in the rush, drilling in goals from the blueline, brutalizing opponents along the boards and in open ice, Ericsson throwing hands with Pronger and widening that gap in his ugly goddam grin....

Ahem. Where was I? I drifted off for a moment. It was wonderful...

Back to Meech. The consensus is he fucking rocks. And I must say, I'm glad we didn't trade him, as I had suggested before the injuries happened. His problems are the same that we always knew: he is undersized. And I can't say it enough, it doesn't matter how talented you are, you can't teach physical, and the Wings need physical. So my original point stands that on an already small, relatively nonviolent team, Meech is playing from behind. But he's definitely in the game, as opposed to when we weren't seeing anything of him, and I assumed it was because he wasn't very good.

And he has, for the moment, jumped over Brett Lebda, who is relatively well established on the team. For the first time in a while Lebda's going to be playing for his place in the rotation, as will Andreas Lilja, who has a step up in that he does bring the hits. Lilja also leads the team in blocked shots (last I checked), something which is absolutely critical playoffs. Basically I think Lilja understands that he is not talented, and makes up for it by doing painful things.

As Iwo points out, despite all this talk of a four-horse race for the last two spots, Chelios is a fucking lock and don't even start the discussion. The only question about Chelios is whether when the playoffs start he moves up to the second pair or not. And I think he will, as I argued before, leaving the following playoff blueline arrangement:


Kronner and Raffy will swap between home and away as they have all year (when healthy). From this vantage point, Meech is the number 6, as he's outplayed Lebda, and Lilja for all his size has been a bonehead lately as well (6 PIM Tuesday, including the fatal delay of game with under 2 to go). But I think (and hope) Lilja can turn it around and whip himself into playoff shape (and we all know the playoffs puts guys on a different level.) But on the other hand, we know from '06 that Babcock will put a kid in in April. So. Who knows.

-The Stuart trade was good
-Nik Kronwall is back, and that's very good
-Derek Meech is surprisingly good
-Andreas Lilja is unsurprisingly bad
-Chris Chelios will never die
-Chris Pronger is a motherfucker, and I hope he dies soon. In a fire.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sweet Jesus.

Kenny, I'm sweating over here. Stuart, Antropov? Both still available. Fletcher's gotta be sweating - if he doesn't make a deal the media will eat him alive.

Come ooooon. Dan Cleary was the Wings' most intense player in the playoffs last year. You can't know how he's going to recover from the jaw. The Wings need a Top 6 guy to offset that - not someone of a Cleary mold necessarily, but a physical guy who can score. Prospal only went for that? I would have taken Prospal.

I don't know how LA and TO could not make a move. They have to be sitting on the trigger, making everyone sweat. Including me. I am sweating folks. Dallas, SanJose, Anaheim with their late-comers, they've all put themselves in the Wings' league. None is clearly better, and my money's on Hasek, the Twins, and Babcock in a head to head matchup.

But I'd so much rather not go head-to-head. I'd love to go foot to head and curbstomp the competition the way we did mid-season. Because you never know when a dependable Swede's gonna fail to clear and a fluke goal decides it all.

I still don't want Hossa though. Recchi, Antropov, Stuart, hell, I'll take Satan. Hossa would just make things too easy guys.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Deadline Vigil

-Mac is back. Holy shit. Yes! Guys, I'm pumped. If he sees the ice this season, wherever I am when he first gets out there in the Winged Wheel, I will stand up and clap. I hope I'm not at a funeral.

-Prospal to Philly, there goes one depth forward possibility. And Philly doesn't seem to have given up a lot for him although I don't know about the prospect. Hmmm.

-Boyle is also off the market as Tampa Bay locks him up. I'm not too concerned - he would have cost way too much to acquire and the Wings wouldn't have extended him.

-Speaking of extensions, there is no fucking way we get Hossa and extend him. It's just not going to happen. Unless we trade Zetterberg, or Lidstrom, or Datsyuk, or Rafalski. You just can't have five guys making 6M+. Take your pick. I'll go with the four we got. Same argument goes for why we can't trade for Jokinen.

-Forsberg to Colorado. Gee, they might even make the playoffs.

-Seriously, Hossa isn't going to happen. The Wings won't give up Filppula and more for a rental. Honest to God I don't know what I'll do if Holland does this deal. Unless we manage to rip off Atlanta. Which I don't see happening. One Thrasher I would like to see is Mark Recchi, as I said yesterday.

-Speaking of yesterday, damn that post was long. Thanks to Matt for the shoutout. But shit, that was long, longer than I ever envisioned it. Swear to God, that's the last time I blog on amphetamines.

If you're not interested in slogging through all 3500 words of it, my basic points were these:

-as it turns out, puck-moving defensemen are pretty important to the Wings' offense
-all our puck-moving D are injured, which sucks right now
-we have some pretty good puck-moving kids, Meech and Ericsson, so a puck-moving D isn't a deadline priority
-my deadline priorities are a physical D and forward scoring depth, ideally also physical
-I would like Brad Stuart or Hal Gill (or Rob Blake but I thought he said he wasn't going to waive his NTC), and up front I like Recchi, Nik Antropov, or maybe Feds if he's cheap. I saw somewhere that somebody was predicting it would take a major prospect and a first rounder to get Feds, or something like that. I mean I'm nostalgic for the guy but that's freaking ridiculous. He's worth a second rounder, at absolute best.

What's my guess for the deadline? I have no flipping clue. As Bill at A2Y often points out, guessing Ken Holland's mind is impossible. I think Recchi and Gill are pretty reasonable possibilities.

-By this time last year, the Wings had already dealt Jason Williams for Kyle Calder. I jumped up and screamed for joy when I saw that we had dumped Williams. As much as Calder did nothing, getting rid of Williams was still a good call.

-I would like to point out once again that Darren McCarty is friggin' back. Check this out:
The Wings just announced they have signed Darren McCarty and assigned him to Grand Rapids for a two-week conditioning stint. He'll return to Detroit around March 10. It's a one-year deal for slightly more than the league minimum at $535,000 (worth slightly more than $100,000 prorated) plus incentives.
Look closer:
He'll return to Detroit around March 10.
Closer yet:
[wi]ll return to Detroit
He will return. Not 'he may', but rather, 'he will'. I'm not a linguist or anything, but that means he fucking coming back! Actually, I am a linguist. Shit.

Edit: The important thing to know about linguists is, being a linguist doesn't make you a good writer, or a good proofreader, as highlighted by "he fucking coming back". (There's no "is" if you haven't caught it.) I'll leave it uncorrected, for irony's sake.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Deadline Manifesto

Well the Wings' last game before the deadline ended with a loss, and Kenny Holland and the Braintrust turn their full, undivided attention to the market. This team (as it stands) has made its case, and now Holland must decided whether it's acceptable as is or not.

1 As For Standing Pat...

The obvious answer is of course not, and I'm not talking about the injury situation. There have been a lot of calls lately for Holland to stand pat, but I'm assuming by "stand pat" people mean "relatively speaking, stand pat". It would be silly for Holland not to pick up a veteran d and/or a veteran forward. Philadelphia got Modry from the Kings for a third-rounder, and I would be disappointed if Holland didn't at least make a small scale more or two on that level. Even if it turns out to be a Cory Cross-type acquisition, a third-round pick is, relative to what the Wings are accustomed to giving up, flippin' nothing.

Now abstracting away from minor deals, the bigger question is whether a bigger deal is what's needed. First of all, let's address the Wings current situation, especially the defense. We've been losing like it's our job lately. But my outlook on the Wings' playoff chances hasn't changed any since before the injuries struck - in fact, it's improved. Lidstrom was my biggest fear but by the sounds of it he's (to no one's great surprise) progressing quickly and will be back before the 3-week mark that the Wings gave after his MRI. (Actually, that's not true - he'll be healthy before the 3-week mark, but he'll probably be back well after it. If you think the Wings are taking it cautiously with the likes of Kronwall and Zetterberg, they're going to sit the Regular Heartbeat for as long as they can stand to.)

This situation has in fact improved the Wings' odds, and the only player whose injury I feel may affect the Wings in the playoffs is Dan Cleary - dude was maybe the Wings' best player in the Calgary series and will have a hard time reaching his normal playoff intensity after a long layoff and without being able to eat solid foods for so long. Motherfucker got 14 screws in his jaw just so he could stop eating through a straw as quickly as possible, and get his strength back for the playoffs. But who knows how he's going to look.

2 Why the Blueline Really Matters

As for the D, the picture has only gotten brighter because we've actually gotten a good look at Derek Meech (a damn good look, in fact.) It definitely shows that he's a rookie but he's shown a lot of poise, and to me the big things are that he solid defensively, if small, and that he can jump up in the play and move the puck. The latter is maybe the most important. Because if there's one thing the absence of Lids, Raf, and Kronner has shown, it's that the Wings forward corps just can't manufacture points without a gunner on the blueline. Far and away the Wings have suffered more offensively in the Top 3's absence than defensively. Tonight was shitty for our goals-against, and not having Chris "Highlander" Chelios did hurt us. But Osgood has been excellent when not left out to dry, and while he may be hurt, Hasek has done nothing to show me he still isn't an elite goaltender, when motivated. Furthermore, the Wings have one of the best defensive forward corps in the league, with dual-Selke candidates Hank and Pavs (what don't they do together?), as well as Draper, Maltby, Franzen, Filppula, a solid Samuelsson, and the recovering Cleary.

So really the big point here is points. Hank and Pavs tried their damnedest tonight to generate O but without trusting their blueline, the Canucks collapsed on them (going up against Luongo, and Kipper last night, doesn't help). How does this effect the Wings deadline strategy? To me this shows that adding a physical or defensive defenseman isn't as much of a priority. I still think the Wings are small on the back-end and that Anaheim (and others) will try to take advantage of that. But if the Wings want to insure against injury, they'd be better getting a guy who can move the puck if Kronner or Raffy or Lids misses any time in the playoffs - because it's going to hurt the Wings' GF more than their GA.

3 Where to Find Depth

The first answer is at home. Meech has shown he's not bad in that regard and he may be the depth the Wings are looking for. But Holland ought to take a good long look at the likes of Dan Boyle or Brian Campbell. Brad Stuart might be a good happy medium, size and offense. He also fits the Kyle Calder mold - a talented guy having a shitty season, thus potentially offering the best value. If the Wings could swing him for maybe a third or second-rounder, possibly even Hudler (eeh, no that's too much), I think it would be a strong move. If he impresses, you can definitely re-sign him to replace a possibly leaving Lilja. Nothing like the Red Wings pedigree to bring out the best in folks (regarding this point, let's focus more on Dan Cleary and Mat Schneider than Calder and Todd Bertuzzi).

Ericsson, to a lesser extent, has also shown he has the goods and I think he, not Kyle Quincey, is the Wings #8 man right now. Quincey showed phenomenal poise in last year's playoffs and I think with his size he's a valuable commodity for the Wings, but he's regressed in Grand Rapids and Ericsson is just simply a more dynamic player - frigging huge, great wheels, booming shot, offensive instincts, etc, etc. He's shown a delightful propensity for violence in GR as well. If the Wings find themselves getting roughed up by Anaheim on the back-end, maybe you swap in Ericsson for Lebda (possibly screwing GR over in their playoff hunt, but man, you gotta do what you gotta do). Consider that Lidstrom will be logging ~30, Rafalski and Chelios 20-25 each, and maybe for the first time in his career, Kronner will be approaching 30 as well. That only leaves 10-20 minutes of IT for the other two guys, and you know Lilja's going to get plenty of PK time. So while Lebda's got miles of experience on Ericsson, your risk is minimal because if everyone's healthy the #6 guy is going to get minimal IT, and JMFE can potentially send a message with a nice elbow to Chris Pronger's ugly goddamn face.

Back to Kronwall for a minute. I think that from his (expected) return on Tuesday until the end of the regular season you work him slowly back up to 25 minutes. He's probably not a guy you want to rest just before the playoffs (unlike Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, Franzen, Draper, and Lilja) because of all the rest he's getting now. But when the playoffs start I think you jack him up to 30/game, or close. Consider that in the five games before Kronner went down, the Wings were averaging 3.5 goals/game. Since Kronwall's injury, they've scored just under 2. In the seven games after Kronwall went down but before Rafalski or Lidstrom did, the Wings went 3-4, averaged 2.5 goals, lost to Toronto and Los Angeles, and barely beat Minnesota in OT on a miracle come-back. If you examine the Wings last four games, excluding the one against Colorado because we can assume the emotion of Lidstrom's injury and Downey's beatdown qualify it as exceptional, you'll notice we have scored two goals in those four games. Remember when we had that really long streak of not getting shut-out? If it wasn't already, it's definitely over, like, super-over.

What I'm trying to say here is, the Wings offensive D are vastly more important to the Wings overall offense than I think any of us could have imagined, and Kronwall represents an enormous part of that. I never really realized it until he got hurt, but Kronwall was having that break-out season we had all been waiting for. So anyway, 30 minutes a night in the playoffs for Kronner, you heard me. As a rule, the Red Wings should always have a Ni(c)k on the ice starting April 7th.

4 The Deadline Plan

So as for the blueline, I think the Wings' top target ought to be Brad Stuart, because I think he addresses the (in my opinion, pressing) need for size and physicality in the back court, but also because can move the puck and will soften the blow if any of the Top 3 misses any time in the playoffs (and more immediately, he could help turn around the losing streak and get Dallas the fuck off our backs.) I'm not totally clear on who's selling so I don't know who else is out there, but I would be most happy with someone of the same mold, big, decent offensive skill, relatively cheap. As I've pointed out before, the Wings have huge salary cap space next year (but definitely not the year after) so acquiring a guy with a year left on his deal might be a good way of getting someone relatively cheap. Most teams are looking strictly for soon-to-be FAs, so a GM is more likely to dump a guy with a year left for less since there won't be as much bidding.

Bigger name candidates would be Campbell and Boyle, and Blake if he were on the market. (Man. He would be perfect. It's a shame he won't waive.) They will cost a pretty penny though and as a lot of people have pointed out, other GMs are probably looking to fleece Holland right now so I'd rather not go after one of them if it will cost us an arm and a leg. The reason I'd like Blake so much more than Campbell or Boyle is that as an older guy who's expected to either retire or return to the Kings, he's sure to cost way less. Whoever gets Campbell or Boyle will probably factor into the cost the fact that they're going to try hard to sign them long-term, something the Wings absolutely cannot do, for any player on the market. Even if they traded Dan Cleary (*shudder*) and/or Valtteri Filppula (*shudder*), the Wings wouldn't come close to clearing the necessary salary from 09-10 onward. With Kronwall, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Rafalski, and Lidstrom, the Wings have five legit superstars, and in the cap world, you just straight up can't get more than that. As it is, Hasek, Osgood, Holmstrom, Chelios, Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Kronwall, Cleary, Zetterberg, Filppula and Franzen are underpaid (to varying degrees.) If everyone on this team was getting market value regardless of age our cap number would be at least 70 million. Anyone who suggests the Wings ought to get a big name UFA at the deadline and sign them long-term is just plain-old smoking crack. It can't happen, and it doesn't need to either.

So given that costs of younger players like Campbell or Marian Hossa are much greater because they can potentially be not just rentals but major, franchise building blocks, that probably puts the Red Wings out of contention for those guys. I think Holland will investigate all of them thoroughly and I'm hoping that last year's general trend of deadline acquisitions not doing shit for anyone will bring prices down into Holland's range, but I'm pessimistic. Let the first-round picks fly over Campbell and Boyle - give me Brad Stuart.

5 Up Front

As for forwards, the Wings already have one depth, physical guy on the backburner in Darren McCarty. Guys, I'm trying really, really hard not to get my hopes up about seeing #25 in the old rouge et blanc again. Let's be realistic - he's the second most popular player of the Ilitch Era, but he's got a long way to go and to imagine him getting to a place where he can help the Red Wings, in the playoffs, is a far leap indeed. Much like with the d situation, I would consider the minimal here to be an acquisition of a lesser known guy, a physical, veteran guy. Maybe Mark Recchi, but I don't know if Atlanta's selling (besides Hossa).

As for some younger, more exciting prospects? Nik Antropov has been thrown out there and this dude has me foaming at the mouth. If Fletcher can't deal Sundin (and it looks like he won't be able to - more below) then the pressure to deal other guys will increase. Antropov is huge (6-6) and has twenty goals on the season already. The problem with him is similar to that of Hossa and Campbell - he's young and potential suitors will be thinking of him as a building block. I'm a little more hopeful that the Wings could squeeze him into the cap and extend him if he performs, especially if they offset it by shedding some salary up front, ie, Hudler (he only makes 1M, but if he ever turns it up, he'll be wanting a lot more when he hits FA in 09-10).

Vaclav Prospal has been mentioned and he lands somewhere between the veteran rental and young superstar investment. He's on pace for nearly 40 goals this season but is 33. Some team is going to give this dude cash and it's sure to not be the Red Wings. The only question is whether anybody dealing for him at the deadline will factor in a possible re-signing and drive up the price.

I like Antropov. Nagy doesn't excite me. Prospal would be cool if we didn't give up too much for him, oh and that Fedorov guy - maybe he could help, but I'm not sure of it. Maybe all the Wings' talent, being centered by a countryman, the emotion of the positive reception he receives at JLA, the standing ovation he by all accounts deserves, especially after years of absurdly stupid heckling.... Yeah, maybe he could bolster our ranks. However, I don't relish the thought of giving up anything serious for him, especially not to a division rival. But he is a grade-A example of a guy who's at the end of his career and could for a variety of reasons, re-sign for relatively cheap. Unlike Antropov, who realistically the Wings wouldn't be able to bring back, Fedorov maybe could.

6 My Final Picks

Barring any sudden, catastrophic changes of heart, which I don't expect because the Wings don't play again until after the deadline, below are some moves I'd like to see happen. Meech and Lebda were once expendable in my mind, and I still think that they won't survive the advent of Ericsson and Kindl. But they have shown themselves to be pretty capable, and it's certainly true that given the Wings' current d situation, it would be silly to give either up. With Kyle Quincey out of options, the Wings have to make a decision next year - if Lilja and Chelios re-sign, the Wings will have 8 NHL-only d-men. A decision will have to get made but I'll leave that for later discussion. Given how he has regressed a bit, Quincey is maybe available, but I can't imagine he'll swing much value, not more value than he potentially has to the Wings as a rare commodity: a pretty big, physical player.

The untouchables are Jimmy Howard, Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, and Mattias Ritola. On the borderline for me are Quincey, Brendan Smith, Corey Emmerton, and Daniel Larsson. With all the talk about the depth of this year's draft, I used to include the Wings' first round pick in that group, and I'd still like to hang on to it. But you know what, fuck it, we're picking last after all. Anyway, here are some deals I'd make:

My Favorite
Hudler, and a 2nd for Antropov
-honestly, I have no idea what Hudler or Antropov's market value is. This is a guess, but I really think Antropov would be an awesome addition.

While We're Still In Toronto
Hudler for Alexei Ponikarovsky
-6-4, 20-goal guy

Czech For Czech
Hudler for Prospal straight up
-it's not that I have anything against the Oompa Loompa. I'm just saying, he's easy to trade.

The Minor, Veteran Grab
Lebda or a 2nd for Recchi
-the Lebda version of this trade seems kind of antithetical, but if Atlanta thinks they're in playoff position they surely will not be inclined to move a veteran for a pick. My understanding is that defense is their shortcoming, so a guy who can shore up their blueline immediately and also be an investment might be pretty appealing to Don Waddell. In fact, Lebda might be overpaying for Recchi. Dealing Lebda would of course only make sense if the Wings got at least one Top 6 D in another trade.

The Ideal Defenseman
Hudler, a 2nd, or Quincey and a 3rd for Stuart
-this might be the perfect complementary deal to the above, replacing Lebda and making room for Recchi. If the Wings don't acquire a forward it doesn't make sense to deal Hudler.

Back to TO
3rd for Hal Gill
-dude is 6-7. I didn't know they went that big.

I Don't Know Why I'm Writing This, It's Not Going To Happen
Hudler, Lebda, a 1st and a 3rd for Brian Campbell
-giving up Lebda doesn't hurt so much because you imagine Meech and Quincey will replace him next year, and Ericsson down the line. But all those picks for a guy who is sure to not come back, and who neither addresses physicality on the blue-line or secondary forward scoring - this is a bad trade. Why I am talking about it.

Yeah, This Would Be Pretty Darn Cool
3rd for Fedorov
-I would name a prospect of equivalent value, but I really don't want to give a player up to Columbus. At least this way we give them the opportunity to blow the pick. Didn't work out for Mike Green and Washington though.

Hey, Speaking of BJs
3rd for Michael Peca
-here's another character veteran who can dish the puck and maybe get those kids going. Again, the perils of dealing within the division. I wonder if Ken Hitchcock would tell Holland to go to hell. I know John Davidson would.

Here's Something To Make You Vomit
Cleary and Filppula for Olli Jokinen
-it's the only way to make cap space for him. I want Jokinen bad, but then again, I want Luongo bad too. Some things just won't happen, ever. Hey, by the way, remember all those Datsyuk-for-Luongo rumors like three years ago? Knowing what we do now, would you make that trade? .... Damn, I think you - no, you couldn't. Or would you... man that's a brain-buster.

Odds For Tonight's Game

10:1 Andreas Lilja logs 30 minutes, 6 of which are manning the point on the power play (nope. a mere 20 for 'Dre.)
5:1 Jimmy Howard puts in a stellar performance (check)
4:1 The offense puts up a goose egg (almost check)
2:1 New number one defenseman Derek Meech goes down with an injury (check for a minute there)
1:1 Deputy Downey beats someone up (unfortunately, pre-game doesn't count)

Edit: Aaaaand Meech is already hurt. I would be in disbelief if I hadn't used it all up last night when Chelios got hurt. You've gotta be fucking kidding me.

Edit 2: Okay, Meech is fine. I never thought I'd say this, but thank God Meech is available to man the blue line. The thought of Garrett flipping Stafford quarterbacking the power play is enough to make me throw up.

Edit 3: I revisited the odds in technicolor above.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sweet Fancy Moses.

All that shit I said yesterday is out the window. We're fucked. Someone hold me.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

How About That Adversity

Adversity is a good thing, right? Actually I'm not being sarcastic. I still buy Babcock's line, you know, the one he broke out when Zetterberg went down for a few days and the Wings were forced to struggle on with two healthy, hot goalies, a deep defense, and a bunch of kids who looked like they were finally developing into offensive threats. Oh and that Datsyuk guy.

Well now we're in the shit, and it's safe to say we didn't know what adversity looked like until this stretch. No Kronner, no Raffy, no Clears? Hasek out, a defensive corp with Andreas Lilja, Brett Lebda, Derek Meech, and Kyle Quincey? Hudler and Filppula doing nothing? Now this is some adversity.

Maybe it's just my perspective or something, but I'm not really concerned. Maybe it's the soul crushing, heart rending, mind blowing colossus of grad school bearing down on me day in and day out that makes me think six losses in the middle of the regular season, with a perfectly good excuse is not such a big deal. Which isn't to say this shit needs to get fixed quick, and it of course isn't to say I'm not still stoked about the trade deadline, and all the more convinced the Wings need to add depth.

But folks, we're gonna get through this. Lebda and Lilja and the kids up front are gonna be better for it come April. Dats and Z? They don't need much adversity, and while Dan Cleary may face an uphill battle to get back up to speed by the playoffs, he won't need any encouragement. Last spring these guys showed they come to play when it's on the line, and a six-game slump in February is no indication to the contrary.

So I'll reiterate, this is nothing to worry about. This team is still the same team it was at the beginning of the year. And how about that Howard kid? You don't think his performance against Dallas is gonna propel him straight to the Wings' roster in September? The future is bright.

Assuming he doesn't get traded for Mats Sundin. Sweet Jesus Kenny, don't do it.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Replacing Dan Cleary in 3 Easy Steps

In Dan Cleary, the Wings lost easily their most Babcockian player. Cleary has the skill to play with the Zetterbergs and Datsyuks, the defense Babcock demands and the grit he loves. Most of all, Cleary's game goes through the roof when the stakes do. Last year in the playoffs he was a monster, and if you require more recent proof, take a look at the fact that in the opening period of the Wings' game against the Ducks in January, that crazy motherfucker threw hands with Sasquatch. How do you replace him? I mean, you don't. But how do you try?

I've got a plan. Is it insane? Yes. Likely? No. Wild, wanton speculation? Absolutely.

Move #1: Sign Danny Markov. You may be curious as to why I would suggest signing a grumpy defensive D who's sitting out the NHL season, playing in Russia, in order to replace Dan Cleary. It's part of the plan, chill. Markov comes for free, which means you add size and muscle to the back-end and keep all your chips for a trade to replace Buckets. You might even sweeten the deal by offering him a two year contract. Next year Markov could replace a possibly departing Andreas Lilja, bridging the gap until the likes of Jonathon Ericsson and Jakub Kindl are ready to help the big club. Dave at Gorilla Crouch is back and agrees that defense is the Wings' biggest need. Matt at On the Wings continues to defend the status quo and Brett Lebda. I still like Lebda and he showed what his speed can do with the game-winner in Minnesota. But just look at the Anaheim series. The one place the Wings were lacking was their ability to clear the crease and prevent Anaheim from crashing Hasek. So again while I really like Lebda, I still believe Markov is an upgrade. I liked Brandon Inge too, but an upgrade is an upgrade (not that Danny Markov is Miguel Cabrera or anything.)

Markov will bring much needed physicality, and has good speed for a big man, enough to be the Wings "offensive" defenseman on the third pair. Why the third pair and not the second? For one, as Matt at OTW has said a couple of times, a Lilja-Chelios pair would be pretty slow, potentially vulnerable. And also Markov has been playing in Russia all season and his game might take time to find form. And there's nothing wrong with having a couple guys who could easily be Top 4 defensemen elsewhere as your third pair.

Move #2: Trade for Mats Sundin. I didn't realize how big and strong Sundin was until I saw the Toronto game. And until Cleary's jaw was fractured in two places and wired shut, I laughed at the thought of the Wings needing to give up what would surely be a high price for Sundin. Now? I agree with Bill at A2Y, the Wings need to think again about getting Sundin or someone of his ilk. I would love Jokinen, as Bill suggests, but it ain't in the cards: Jokinen's deal runs through 09-10, at a cap hit of 5.25M. Next year, even with new contracts for Cleary and Val Filppula, the Wings might be able to squeeze him in. But the year after? Zetterberg's extension, Franzen, Hudler, Sammuelsson, Kopecky all needing new contracts? There's just no way to get Jokinen's existing deal into the cap.

As for Sundin, what do you give up? Start with a first rounder. Yeah, it's a deep draft, whatever. We're picking last so it doesn't matter. Then you add Lebda and Meech. I know I just said I like Lebda, and I still like Meech. But by picking up Markov you make both irrelevant, and the simple fact is, as I've said before, neither has a future with the Wings. Next year, Kyle Quincey must clear waivers, meaning he'll be Hudlered onto the roster. Unless the Wings carry eight defensemen, Meech is a goner. As for Lebda? He'd likely make the team next year, but he won't survive the advent of Ericsson and Kindl, to say nothing of Brendan Smith further down the pipeline. Again I like Lebda and would rather have him for depth than not, but to get something you have to give up something, and if the Wings do acquire a big top-6 D, dealing Lebda makes the most sense, certainly more than giving up a prospect who has a bigger future with the team.

The cherry on top to sway Cliff Fletcher? The Oompa Loompa. I like the guy, and he's won me over. He's slumping now but if the last big injury is any indication he'll step up and deliver. He is bound to be a big-time producer at the NHL level, and I wouldn't mind seeing him in a Winged Wheel for a while (if may alliterate). But like I said you have to give up stuff to get stuff. Hudler, Lebda, Meech and a first for Sundin. You avoid dealing any of the untouchable prospects (who are, IMHO: Howard, Kindl, Ericsson, Abdelkader, Helm), but Fletcher may prefer more experienced guys anyway. He's likely looking for as short a rebuilding process as possible, so young, relatively experienced NHLers may be what he's looking for. Add in the Red Wings pedigree and these guys might be more valuable than you think. Take a look at Chicago. A huge part of their rebuilding process apparently was to poach the Wings and it worked. Lang, Williams, even Sopel, have all been good for the Hawks, better than they were for the Wings.

But with the loss of Cleary and the proposed swap of Hudler for Sundin, the Wings are short on forwards. Since Cleary should be back for the playoffs, you could alternate Ellis and Downey for the home stretch, and likely the Wings' grip on home ice won't be affected. But since you've basically got another spot, why not make use of it? That's why I suggest the last and most radical part of my plan.

Move #3: Recall Darren Helm. Helm is one of the Wings' top forward prospects, and looks like the next Kris Draper. He has experience at the championship level and has played very well in his first pro season with the Griffins (compare with Jakub Kindl, the Wings top skater prospect, who is currently attempting to shoot the moon with a +/- of -22). Helm is supposedly going to make the team no later than 09-10, and is expected to challenge for a job next year. Can he help the Wings now? Who knows. Can he help them in the playoffs? Probably not. Let's find out. If he's in over his head, send him down. He'll be pumped up by the experience and will come to camp next year ready to roll. Check out these lines, assuming all three of my proposed moves:

Hank/Fil - Datsyuk - Holmstrom
Hank/Fil - Sundin - Samuelsson
Draper - Franzen - Kopecky
Drake - Helm - Maltby
(Ellis, Downey)

Lidstrom - Rafalski
Kronwall - Lilja
Markov - Chelios

For the playoffs you put Cleary on the second or third line, bumping down Sammy or Kopy. You bump Chelios up to the second pair, and make for a Lilja-Markov third pair (a damn good third pair, IMO.)

Oh, and that other Darren? Yeah, he might not be bad call up either. If he earns it.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Chris Chelios is Highlander

Another good win last night by the Wings, with the Big Five coming through on the offensive side, and solid goaltending from Osgood. Datsyuk and Zetterberg controlled the game, although I am a little concerned that the Franzen and Filppula lines didn't do much. My biggest impression from the game, though, was the 5-on-3 kill in the second period, the entirety of which was anchored by the Ancient Greek himself, Chris Chelios. Lidstrom and Lilja, two critical pieces of the Wings PK, were in the box, so the task fell to Chelios and Rafalski. According to the NHL's TOI stats for the Boston game, Chelios had a shift of 2 minutes 52 seconds, and 2:39 of that was consecutive with no whistles. Chelios helped kill all 1:47 of the 5-on-3, in which the Wings gave up only one shot, 0:13 of 5-on-4 with no shots allowed, and a frantic 0:39 of 5-on-5 in which the Wings were trapped with four D on the ice (the PKers Chelios and Rafalski, and Lidstrom and Lilja out of the box.) And all this on the second of consecutive game nights, which Chelios likely wouldn't have played if Nik Kronwall was healthy.

So what does this say? I don't disagree with Babcock's caution with regard to Chelios. He is older, and at his age injuries are much harder to recover from. For the regular season, the third pair, limited minutes, and mentorship/locker room leader role is perfect for Cheli. But in the playoffs? All that caution is useless if you don't unleash one of the best defenseman ever to play the game, especially after he just showed he is still an elite defender capable of logging big minutes. Chelios stepped up to the #4 spot last season when Kronwall went down, and was the Wings #2 man when Schneider got hurt. He averaged around 25 minutes and anchored the Wings D. I think that, unless the Wings acquire a Top 4 D, Chelios should be Kronwall's partner when the playoffs start, regardless of the injury situation. That leaves a solid Lilja-Lebda pair for the third pair, unless the Wings acquire a #5/6 D.

And the Wings should indeed still go for a D at the deadline. And the better the guy they acquire, the better the team, so if they can get a Top 4 guy, great. If there was one thing Anaheim beat the Wings at soundly in the WCF it was taking care of the crease. The Wings got pushed around up front and the Ducks continually crashed the net. And by replacing Markov and Schneider with Lilja and Rafalski, the Wings only got smaller. So a big man is definitely a priority, and I'd still love to get Blake - he would bring physicality and as a bonus, shore up the 2nd PP unit. But Chelios showed last night that the Wings don't really need a Top 4 guy, because the Wings already have 4 elite defensemen - one of them is just masquerading as a #6.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Colorado Post-Game Thoughts

- Great win. Colorado tried the same route as Anaheim used in their last game for beating the Wings, but Quenneville seemed to have missed two critical parts: Anaheim didn't beat the Wings, and Colorado doesn't really have the skill to make it work. They did a good job getting in Wings' faces, but 12 shots on goal speaks for itself. The Wings did a good job battle two enemies: Colorado, and what was either the choppiest ice or the worst luck the Wings have seen all season. They didn't get frustrated and kept to their game. As Babcock would say, "adversity is a good thing".

-I like the Hudler-Fil-Kopecky line. Kopecky had probably his best game of the year against Anaheim, after Drake and Zetterberg were already injured and Cleary got hurt in the Pronger fight (a great fight by the way - Cleary is possibly the manliest dude on the team, and held in there against Sasquatch way better than anyone who gave up 6 inches should have. He's a motherfucking cowboy, and I eagerly anticipate his splendorous playoff beard.) Anyway, back to Koko. He's been giving the team energy all year, has been eager to throw his body around, and has shown occasional signs of creativity on offense. I'm not looking for him to develop into a goalscorer, but it's clear he's got hands and Fil and Huds can make use of them. He went to the net against Anaheim and knew no pain. He brings a physical element to that line, and if he can be more consistent he'll help the Wings roll three very good two-way lines. With Hudler, Filppula, and Kopecky, are we looking at Datsyuk Jr, Zetterberg Jr, and Holmstrom Jr, respectively? Well they're all European, that's a start.

-I like the Cleary-Franzen-Samuelsson line as well, of course. Size, physicality, and shut-down defense, they've got. They make for a superior Grind Line. The only question is whether they can put together any offense, and be the Wings #2 line straight up. All three have shown offensive abilities, especially when put with one or more Eurotwins. But does any of them have the offensive creativity to feed the other two? Hard to say. Time will tell. If they can't generate offense you have to think about replacing Sammy with Fil or Huds to try and get something going. (As much as do like the HFK line, I like them a lot better as a #3 than a #2.) Or maybe the scoring winger Franzen and Cleary need is... MARIAN HOSSA!

-Hossa, Sundin... blech. They would put the Wings over the top for the Cup, no doubt. But the cost... euch. I can't even think about giving up Kindl or Ericsson or Howard. Those three are in my mind untouchable (as are Abdelkader and Helm.) But man... either of those guys would do wonders for the Wings. More likely the Wings will pick up a smaller name. Recchi, Holik, Lapointe? All solid choices. As for defense, I still like Blake but not if he's going to cost a Sundin-like amount. Scott Burnside mentions Joni Pitkanen and Dan Boyle, but again I'm concerned about the cost. Whatever the name-level, we do need to pick up a d-man. The only question is how big a name. A forward is gravy, but still welcome.