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.