Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Blackest Ace Award

I made up the Blackest Ace Award last year because I thought Jiri Hudler should have played and might have made the difference in the Anaheim series. This year, it doesn't make nearly as much sense. But nonetheless, I will present it to...

Jonathon Ericsson

He's number 52 there. Good number.

Few can argue with the benching of Aaron Downey or Justin Abdelkader; given how well the fourth line performed throughout the playoffs, Darren Helm in particular, it's hard to see how either could possibly have done better. Jonathon Ericsson probably was best left on the bench too - having only played 17 NHL games, all earlier in the year, Ericsson was about as green as you get (well, actually, not as green as Kyle Quincey or Darren Helm....) Even so, there were two points when I was extremely nervous, and in my panicky rage, I told myself that Ericsson ought to be sent in, namely after Game 4, Round 1, and after Game 5, Round 3.

I'm not a huge Brett Lebda fan, not because he's incompetent but just because he doesn't bring a lot to the table. He is solid defensively and only getting better in that respect as he matures and gains experience. He isn't overly physical, however, and he has little offense to contribute. So when things got rough and Lilja was already out of the lineup, I thought Babcock had little choice but to shake things up by inserting Ericsson. Babcock himself had said in a presser that he couldn't believe Ericsson wasn't playing, and had earlier in the year called him "an NHL defenseman".

He's a big fella. Skates, scores, fights. I'm pumped.

Now, the playoffs being now over and the Cup being won, I was obviously on crack. But Ericsson still merits discussion. Particularly, the question is, does he make the team next year? Babcock's clearly in love with him, and so am I. And let's face it, those are the two most important voices in the Red Wings organization. But Ericsson's got a few folks ahead of him. As of today (ie, prior to free agency) here's the Wings defensive depth chart:


Given the Wings organizational stance against having kids on the roster who aren't getting significant playing time, Ericsson will have to secure a Top 6 job to make the squad. Assuming Lilja doesn't come back, Ericsson is still number 9, stuck behind Derek Meech and Kyle Quincey because they can't be sent down to the AHL without clearing waivers. Mathematics tells me that means he has to move up three spots. Here's what Ken Holland has to say on the issue, courtesy of Bruce MacLeod:
General manager Ken Holland said this morning that the Red Wings will carry eight defensemen again next season. Holland said that if unrestricted free agents Brad Stuart and Andreas Lilja both sign with Detroit, the Red Wings will have "10 NHL defensemen." That figure includes the eight that Detroit had on its roster through this season -- Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Stuart, Lilja, Brett Lebda, Chris Chelios and Derek Meech. Holland also labeled prospects Kyle Quincey and Jonathan Ericsson as NHL defensemen...
Well that makes things pretty darn interesting. MacLeod goes on to guess that the Wings' outstanding depth and the Wings' tight budget means Stuart won't be back. And as much as I would be content to see Stuie return as the number 4 D-man, I wouldn't cry if he got replaced by Ericsson either. You see, to me Brad Stuart is a rich man's Andreas Lilja. Yes he has offense and moves the puck better than Lilja. Otherwise they're the same. Stuart gets caught out of position alot going for hits. He makes bonehead mistakes (the Crosby goal in game 3) and he wanders out of position in the offensive zone. I would always see him in Holmstrom territory and wonder who that forward was, then I realized it was Brad Stuart. The Wings like D to jump up, but only in an opportunistic sense - jump up when there's something "up". Otherwise hold the frigging line. Stuart didn't really ever catch on to that.

What the fuck are you DOING!? Blue LINE not blue ICE!

Now, with a team defense as good as the Wings' and a partner like Nik Kronwall, Stuart's errors likely will not be very noticeable, but his physicality and offensive contributions will be. But that being said, I would not put Stuart's value at more than 2M. I'm not saying that he needs to take a pay-cut to 2M to stay here, I'm saying he's not worth more than 2M in the first place. In March I wrote that I thought Stuart would leave in FA and that Ericsson would take the number 4 spot next to Kronner. I'm sticking with that. I thought Lebda would get traded because I didn't think the Wings would go with 8 defensemen, but apparently they are. So here's my guess for next year's D:


Chelios and Ericsson will likely rotate out with Meech and Quince. It's certainly a very green blueline but hey, that's what trade deadlines are for. If the Wings go into the season with this lineup, they're sure to pull the trigger on a Stuart-like deal in February. So all this having been said, yeah I see Ericsson in the lineup. 6-5, 220, scores, skates, hits, even fights. Oh, and one more note about Ericsson: I consider myself a number afficionado, and I have to say: 52? Gorgeous. Looks great on a big guy. Couldn't say why. It just does.

Tomorrow: WTF!? Award
Nominees: Jiri Hudler, Dallas Drake, Val Filppula