Saturday, April 28, 2012

I'm Forever Yours....Faithfully: End of Year Wrap Up

Because Journey is the Red Wings' soundtrack.

For starters, if you haven't yet read The Production Line's post on this subject, you need to go read it right now. It's sad and harsh and concerning and it's also insanely honest, forthright and accurate. I pride being honest and forthcoming, even if what you have to say is not what people really want to hear. Actually, I pride those traits ESPECIALLY if what you have to say is not really what people want to hear, but they need to hear it. 

I also want to say that I know I come off as critical, and maybe overly critical. And while I would never claim to be the greatest Red Wings fan ever, I don't think anyone should question my loyalty to the team. I love my Red Wings and I love hockey. I appreciate that these guys have skills that I also possess, but on a level that I just cannot ever reach. I appreciate their dedication to their craft, to their team, to the city of Detroit and the professionalism they display. My criticisms always come from a place of "I know the level you guys can be at, I want you to be there, and I think you want to be there, too"

My passion for things is very roller coaster-esqe. Fantastical highs and rage fueled lows. With all it's strengths and faults - and believe me, I recognize its faults - it's the kind of person I am.

It needs to be said how much hope and optimism I had for this season. I disagree with TPL and others in thinking Ian White didn't live up to the standard set by Brian Rafalski. I think he did. I think Ian White was a perfect fit into the team, I think he was a great pick up in the off-season, and I have high hopes for him down the road. I think he could play on the top line, and the first PP team. I think he could compliment Kronwall excellently in years to come. I thought we had the weapons up front, provided they had the seasons they needed to have, to be strong offensively. I thought we were solid defensively and the team was making a stated point to be better in their own zone. And they were.

Jimmy Howard needed to step up this year, and anyone who thinks he didn't, we can no longer be friends. Like, we need to form West Side Story street gangs and fight over that, because I am ready for a brawl. Jimmy Howard is everything this team needs in net, and I think he can get even better.

That being said, as a historian who values context, who values chronology, who values connecting ideas and themes and events to form coherent theories and predictions, I do agree with TPL and others that the Wings find themselves at a crossroads here. I think we can put this team into a historical context that will very accurately demonstrate what they need to do in the off season.

The Post 2008 Stanley Cup Red Wings are the 1994-1996 Red Wings

The beginning of the Scotty Bowman Red Wings marked two events. First, it was the beginning of the Modern Red Wings Dynasty. Secondly, it marked the beginning of yours truly getting into hockey and the Red Wings. One of the things I very distinctly remember about the Red Wings at the time is that they were good, but they were behind the league in strategy. When they lost to New Jersey in 1995 in the SCFs and the Colorado Avalanche in the WCF's in 1996, they had a good team, but it wasn't yet a great team. There were pieces missing.

Yes, the Red Wings had high powered scorers in Steve Yzerman and Sergei Federov. Yes, they had a great offensive/power play defenseman Paul Coffey. Yes, they had a net front presence with Dino Ciccerelli. However some critics felt as though the Red Wings didn't have the grit to win. They were getting out worked, beaten physically by bigger, stronger, harder working Colorado and New Jersey teams. They also needed not just veteran players (like Coffey and Ciccerelli), but better veteran players.

Konstantinov needed Fetisov. Kozlov and Federov needed Larianov. A young Nicklas Lidstrom - I'm going to say again so it sinks in, a young Nicklas Lidstrom - needed Larry "This is a Guy" Murphy. Chris Osgood, a promising young goaltender, needed Mike Vernon. We also needed to get one of the weapons that beat us; a strong, gritty, I'll kick your ass power forward with a wicked shot and great hands, so we went out and got Future Controversial League Disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. 

On top of that, coach Scotty Bowman pointed the finger at Steve Yzerman and said "You're going to be a two way player" and he pointed his finger at Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Joey Kocur, Darren McCarty and other 3rd and 4th line players and said, "You have to have an impact every game; whether it's winning face offs, wearing down the other team, scoring goals or all of the above. You can't just be extra guys on the bench".


Fast forward a few years, and a couple of Stanley Cups under our belts, 2001-2002 we had to do it again. Murphy was gone, but Lidstrom was there. We brought in Chris Chelios, to have defensive leaders and models for Dandenault, Fischer, Duchesne, Olausson and others. Federov and Larionov were there for a young Pavel Datsyuk. While we were yet to see some of the weapons we have now, they were laying in wait: Zetterberg, Kronwall, Hudler, Ericsson, Filppula, Howard, Quincey, Franzen, Kindl, Abdelkader, and Helm were all drafted and/or started playing between 2000 and 2005. 

They all came into the Red Wings system watching guys like Federov, Yzerman, Hull, Shanahan, Robataille, Lidstrom, Murphy, Draper, and so many others be successful. They learned what it meant to be a Red Wing and to win because of the foundation that had been set. The Red Wings learned what it took not just to compete in the NHL but to win in the NHL and set the bar in the NHL. When you could no longer just have Wayne Gretzky stand behind the net and throw passes out front, and Steve Yzerman or Sergei Federov finesse their way to goals, when you had to have guys like Shanahan and Draper and McCarty, the Wings embraced that and then showed the rest of the league how to do it better. 

The Red Wings are in the exact same situation now. In the early 90's, the Red Wings' strategy had become stale and lost effectiveness. They stood up, took notice what was changing in the league, and changed in order to be successful. As a result, they became the standard of what to do. Once again, the Red Wings' strategy has become stale and lost effectiveness. It's on their shoulders to stand up, take notice what has changed in the league, and change to continue to be successful.

Speed: The league has struggled since the lockout to increase the speed of the game. They have tried to open up the game so faster plays through the neutral zone would be more exciting for players and fans alike. The Red Wings have also struggled at times to accomplish a speedier game. Darren Helm is a great addition to the Red Wings in favor of speed. But the Red Wings don't utilize speed effectively. 

The Red Wings aren't very good at the dump and chase game. Watch this first goal by Nashville in game 5.

Notice how Legwand is moving forward as the puck gets dumped. He stays onside, but he's already moving into the zone with speed. The Hudler Goal happens for the same reason. You have to approach the offensive blue line already moving and gaining speed. You can't be standing at the blue line, get the puck and THEN try to gain the zone. You can't be standing at the blue line and THEN try to chase the play in. The number of times I saw the Wings get beat to and/or out worked on a dump in was nerve wracking. Check out another one of my fabulous infographics.
Black dot: Puck. Black X: Dump location
Red Letters Red Wings' player at the time of dump
Piss Yellow: Defender's location at the time of dump 

The puck gets dumped in, and that big blob of yellow indicates the defensive player having to turn around and chase the puck. While they'll be moving backwards, that turning to skate will cost them some time and speed that the pressing forward has to take advantage of.

The red squiggles behind the Red Wings players indicates the amount of time and space they've had the throttle down, trying to gain as much speed as possible before they hit the blue line. The green lines are to help emphasize the space between the pressing forward at the time the puck is dumped in.

You have almost an extra third of the distance on the ice that the forward has to close between them and the defensive player. On top of that, they've had less space to gain speed and momentum, so they aren't up to full speed unless they're Darren Helm. (Hint: The entire team is not comprised of Darren Helm clones)

If you're the pressing forward, you have to have as much speed as possible in order to maximize the amount of distance closed as the defensive player turns and tries to gain speed to chase the puck. The pressing forward has to have as much speed and be as close to the blue line as possible at the time of the dump. 

Granted, you have to communicate well, you have to know that's the plan and you risk a lot of off-sides penalties. You also have to be ready in case the dump shot is blocked and you have a streaking forward who now has to turn and skate back. Also you have to giggle at any sentence with the words "dump" and "streaking" in it. But it's a matter of risk versus reward, and I'd rather they take some risks than a bunch of wimpy offensive pushes that yield little to no pressure and scoring chances. 

Size: Simply put, the Red Wings have to get bigger. Now granted, unless they all take steroids and HGH, it's not likely that the Red Wings will magically get bigger. Red Wings forwards average 6'0, 197lbs. I'd like to see that closer to 6'1 or 6'2 and break 200lbs. Why? Well the Red Wings defense averages 6'1 and 206 lbs. That means they have about an inch and about 10 lbs on their own forwards. And this is a team who some may argue is a bit too small. Including me.

NHL forwards are getting bigger. The defensemen are getting bigger. And they're not getting super slow. They're not the guy from QWOP flailing around haphazardely and uncontrollably; these guys are pretty damned nimble and fast for their size. When the Red Wings lose Brad Stuart, they're going to have to find a replacement that can be a physical presence on the blue line and who has some size to them. They need to be able to lay a lot of good hits on guys and wrestle these bigger, stronger forwards off the puck . Ryan Suter is 6'1 and 200 lbs, so he'd be good. Doug Janik (6'2, 211), Jakub Kindl (6'3, 216) and Brendan Smith (6'1, 199) are all great choices, too.

The Wings should start searching for players via trade or draft that can bring some size. Unless they posses skill sets that are astronomically high, I wouldn't look at any player that isn't 6'0 or taller, and at or breaking 200lbs.

Strength: The Red Wings need a guy in the top 6 who meets the definition of a power forward. And by power forward, I don't just mean a gritty, physical forward. We have Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Patrick Eaves, and Drew Miller for that. I'm talking about a gritty, physical forward that is a 30 or 40 goal scorer. I think the Wings had one of the first ever power forwards. You may have heard of him, a guy by the name of Gordie "I'll Punch You in Your Stupid Face and Score Goals" Howe. We got another one in the late 90's with a guy named Brendan "I Would Kill Myself but then I'd Have to Fine Myself $2500" Shanahan. Toronto had Wendell Clark, Vancouver had this guy named Todd Bertuzzi who over 6 seasons with the Canucks scored 174 goals, 244 assists for 418 points. He apparently then left the planet in search of necks to break elsewhere in the universe and sent his less talented twin brother Clod Barfluzzie to take his place in the NHL 18 months later.

I'm pretty sure this is the guy Johan Franzen is supposed to be. At 6'3, 233 he's the biggest Red Wings forward who is closer to 30 than he is to 40. Problem is, Franzen likes to go 3, 4, 5, 6...14 games without so much as an assist. He's prone to injuries. He scores 1 goal in the playoffs that is banked off his ass. He doesn't really hit people. He doesn't fight people. I think the most physical I've seen him ever were the last 2 or 3 games of the playoffs this season. That's not a power forward. That's a forward who happens to be big and is wildly inconsistent.

The Red Wings need a guy that is a double threat: He can go into the the corner and deke it out of the corner or just beat you down until you cough up the puck. We need a guy who can score pretty goals from the slot or camp the front of the net and do things other than take goalie interference penalties. Parise, Semin, and Andrei Kostitsyn are all UFA's this year, although I wouldn't call any of them "power forwards". There's Jagr, who...I dunno. We passed on him this past off-season and after the season he's had with Philadelphia, no way to know if he'd come to Detroit. There is David Jones of Colorado who's put up just shy of 30 goals these past two seasons. He's 6'2, 210 so he's a bigger guy.

We need that guy again. We don't need an aging one of those guys. We don't need one of those guys who clams up for multiple games, especially when those games are in the playoffs. Maybe if Jiri Hudler goes elsewhere and Franzen gets promoted from guy who sweeps the stairs to the guy who tells Gustav Nyquist to sweep the stairs, he'll become the forward we need him to be. Otherwise, we have the hockey equivalent of a 5.25 million dollar paper weight.

Since it's all the rage, and every one of us who has a room temperature IQ knows it's a useless gesture, I'd like to give you my shopping list for the off season/the lines I would like to see. Also, you should go read A Nightmare on Helm Street's points on the off season.

Outgoing Mail

Jiri Hudler: I have to say this surprised even myself. And then simultaneously, I was not surprised at all. This past season, Jiri Hudler made me really happy. Almost as happy as Happy-Hudler. He put up points for us like he's supposed to and was an integral part of the Zetterberg-Hudler-Filppula line that was so effective. That being said, the 2010-2011 season, he was abysmal. And going back to my points about size and strength, Hudler is 5'9 and 181. If the team wants to get bigger and stronger (and it should) then a guy like Hudler needs to go. We also can't afford to have him backslide into another 10 goal season. Hudler could be used as a trading/bargaining chip. Or just let go to free up cap space.

Danny Cleary: I have nothing but respect for the guy. He works hard, he's dedicated, and you could see a spark back late in the series against Nashville. But it was too little too late. I've said before that I don't buy it anymore when Mickey Redmond says this guy can play on any line. Between his knees, his age, and his game style, I just don't think he can anymore. If he wanted to take a million bucks a year and stay on the bottom 2 lines, that'd make more sense. But he's not worth 3 million dollars a year and a top 2 lines spot. Cleary should retire. 

Tomas Holmstrom: Again, nothing but respect for the guy. He's done a job that few guys are really keen about doing it and he's arguably done it better than anyone over the last 20 years. You'd be hard pressed to find many players in the history of the NHL better at standing in front of the net, screening goals, getting deflections and rebounds and being a general pain in the ass than Tomas Holmstrom. That being said, he's 39 and unlike Lidstrom, he's showing that he's 39. Just like the Red Wings can't afford to have a guy whose only job is to be a goon, the Red Wings can't afford to have just a guy like Holmstrom anymore. Like Cleary, Holmstrom should hang up his skates. 

Ty Conklin: I like #Conkblocker. I was happy to see him come back to Detroit to back up Jimmy Howard. Unfortunately he did not do the job up to snuff. And Joey MacDonald did. Plus he's 36. So let Ty go and bring up Joey. 

Kyle Quincey: He was brought in to be a game changer for the playoffs. And he failed miserably. He got suspended for a dumb hit, he took a lot of dumb penalties, and was generally meh. People ragged on Ericsson, and I don't really know why. He was better than Kyle Quincey. And he's bigger and stronger than Quincey. Let's toss him in a trade package and wave good bye. 

Brad Stuart: As Winging it in Motown pointed out, Brad Stuart seemed to leave his heart in California on the Wings' last trip out west. He became a huge liability for the Red Wings late in the season and the playoffs. With guys like Kindl and Smith waiting to emerge, we should let Stuart go and focus our attentions elsewhere. 

Other bloggers have made more moves than I have, in my changes, I've only made two changes, but they're pretty major changes. It also keeps us about $6 million under the cap, without accounting for players in Grand Rapids who could come and go, or taking in account players getting salary bumps in this off-season. This does allow for pay raises, other signings and trade deadline moves if we so choose. 

My Lines:
Numbers in parenthesis are their cap hits. Asterisk numbers have been rounded. #'s are players in a contract year. 
Line #1:
LW: Valtteri Filppula (3.00m) C: Henrik Zetterberg (6.00m)* RW: Johan Franzen (4.00m)*
Defense: Niklas Kronwall (3.75m) Ian White (2.875m)

Line #2: 
LW: Gustav Nyquist (875k) C: Pavel Datsyuk (6.7m) RW: Rick Nash (7.8m) 
Defense: Nicklas Lidstrom (6.2m) Ryan Suter (3.5m)

Line #3:
LW: Todd Bertuzzi (2m)* C: Darren Helm (1m)*# RW: Patrick Eaves (1.2m)
Defense: Jonathan Ericsson (3.25m) Brendan Smith (875k)

Line #4:
LW: Drew Miller (837k) C: Justin Abdelkader (800k)*# RW: Corey Emmerton (500k)*
7th Defense: Jakub Kindl (900k)*

Why Rick Nash instead of Zach Parise?
Two reasons. First I want to say I have nothing against Parise. In fact, I have bigger problems with Rick Nash's personality. I think he's kind of a douche. But I wonder if perhaps much of that could be the fact that he's been a superstar goal scorer in Columbus and becoming part of a team that is bigger than him might be what he needs (also, keep this kind of thing in mind, because I'm going to come back to it and blow your fuckin' mind later on). But the two reasons I have for Nash over Parise are as follows
  1. Parise sat out the 2010-2011 season with a bad knee injury. While he may have healed completely from the injury and he's played this whole season, it's something to consider. 
  2. Rick Nash is 6'4 and 218. He's another Franzen. Parise is 5'11, 195. Plus Rick Nash is a left shooting right winger. Who was another big, strong, powerful winger for Detroit who intentionally played on the opposite wing from his shot? Brendan Shanahan. 
Someone to consider:
There was a guy in last year's off season that I wanted the Red Wings to pick up. Unfortunately they didn't, but I'm sort of hoping that maybe the Red Wings could snag him. Jamie Oleksiak, currently a prospect for Dallas. He's 6'7 and 242 pounds. If the Red Wings could secure this guy without giving away the farm, it'd be a huge pick up. Assuming this kid stays healthy and develops into the sort of complete defenseman the Red Wings would expect him to be, he could be the kind of behemoth defenseman they may need in years going forward.

Final Thought:
As ANOHS pointed out, changing a team means exactly that. It can hurt, it can be unsatisfying and unhappy. You love Jiri Hudler, or Kindl, or Stuart, and it may kill you to see them go. That's fine. We have favorite players. I was sad to see Keith Primeau go (he was my first favorite Red Wing). I was sad to see Shanahan go, I cried when (OCMC) Yzerman retired, and fumed when he went to GM in Tampa. But here's the thing to consider, and I think (OCMC) Yzerman is a great example. While it's important to think about what's important for the team, think about what's the player wants. Like I said, I'm going to blow your fuckin' mind.

Maybe Hudler or Franzen would be happier somewhere else. Brad Stuart, another great example, is going to be better off back west. Even if the Red Wings would be better off with Brad Stuart on the lineup, Brad Stuart might not be. (OCMC) Steve Yzerman loves Detroit, he loved playing here, he loved being a part of the administration. However, he's a very competitive guy who wants to continue to be excel in the things he sets his mind to. He wasn't going to be content being a VP in Detroit, he wanted to excel and run a team and Tampa gave him the opportunity. Believe me, I would love to see the day where we have the Detroit Red Wings run by Oh Captain, My Captain, but for now, he has to do what is best for him to satisfy his career goals, and right now that's Tampa Bay.

Hell, maybe what Valterri Filppula really needs is to not be second fiddle to guys like Zetterberg and Datsyuk. Maybe he needs a place where he really is called upon to be their top goal scorer. Or maybe he needs to go to Edmonton and provide a stable, experienced hand to a bunch of young upstarts (and die a little bit inside every day for the rest of his career). 
Edmonton's new arena proposal was designed based on the Oilers tradition
of players throwing out trade requests and having them come right back
(Photo: CP/City of Edmonton)

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