Monday, June 25, 2012

Eagle River!?

Speculations are dumb. Unless they're mine. The Pittsburgh Penguins made a big splash at the draft. They unloaded Jordan Staal to Carolina in the middle of his wedding, and freed up some cap space by sending Zbynek Michalek to Phoenix. The assumption by many that this is to go after major unrestricted free agents Zach Parise and/or Ryan Suter is not without merit. They're the biggest offensive and defensive UFA's this season, and any team looking to build a foundation or give their team much needed depth and talent for playoff/Stanley Cup contention. But what amazes me is the length people will go to justify why their team has the inside track. From Triblive:
"Also, Parise and Crosby are good friends and share ties to a Minnesota prep school, Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Crosby is already in the ear of Parise about the possibility of playing together."
How stupid is that? Let's ignore for a moment that, as PavelsBabbles pointed out at WIIM, Patrick Eaves and Parise graduated together from Shattuck-Saint Mary in 2002, these aren't high school buddies picking their college together so they can have a total bitchin' dorm togther. (Seriously man, all the chicks are going to be crawling over us.) They're professional hockey players looking for the best place to win the Stanley Cup and make a boat load of money in the process. When I first read this explanation for why Parise is headed to Pittsburgh, I thought of this:

So remember, Parise, Crosby and Eaves are all lackadaisically connected to Duckie from Pretty in Pink and some extra not wearing a shirt. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What the Red Wings Draft Picks Should Mean to You

Another draft has come and gone, and the Red Wings have made their choices. We all waited in anticipation as to who the Red Wings would draft. There's almost a manic-cathartic release when your team makes its draft choices. The belief is either A) your team's picks will be immediate solutions to whatever problems are ailing the team or B) your scouting team is full of slack-jawed idiots.
Pictured: The (former) Columbus Blue Jackets scouting team
One thing I've learned about reading stuff over at the The Lions in Winter is just how sharply diverse the perceived needs of the fan base and commentators differ from those held by the team its self. Believe me, I'm no different. I think I have figured out exactly the types of players the Red Wings need to draft/sign in order to be successful. I've laid it out in explicit terms. That being said, the Red Wings could do the exact opposite of everything I said, win 16 Stanley Cups in a row, and prove me wrong wrongity wrong wrong. I would find a way to somehow maintain my robust albeit healthy ego and enjoy the ride anyway, but the fact is that I'm an amateur commentator with opinions.

I mentioned robust ego, so a picture of Kanye West with a teddy bear
birthday cake seemed like an automatic must have
Maybe the Red Wings' draft picks are solutions to their problems: what remains to be seen is whether those solutions will be implemented immediately, in the near future, or 5-7 years down the road. There's going to be a lot of speculation and clairvoyance going on with regards to the Red Wings' draft picks. However, I'm one of the, if not the only Red Wings blog that has "draft pick" in the name. I'm pretty sure that makes me uniquely qualified to talk about these choices. So allow me to share with you the pro's, con's and the x factors that may make or break our 2012 draftees. After the break.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why Darren Helm's Contract Is Perfect

This morning, the Red Wing Twitterverse went nuts when Darren Dreger broke the story that Darren Helm agreed to a 4 year, 8.5 million dollar contract with the Red Wings. A lot of people jumped up and down about the signing. Some people high fived each other and threw confetti. One person showed symptoms of severe head trauma and has hopefully received immediate medical attention.

Don't worry, Bert, I won't let the #ToddBertuzziManCrush die
Picture Source
For me, the Helm contract isn't just a good thing, it isn't just a great thing, it's the Nicklas Lidstrom of possible contracts the Wings could have offered Darren Helm. It's perfect. I've explained my thought process on comment sections around the Red Wings Blogosphere, but I want to expand on it and centralize my thoughts here for everyone to consume. So here it is, the reasons why Darren Helm's contract is perfect.

#1: The Length of the Contract: 
Darren Helm is currently 25. He is right at the beginning of what a lot of people probably consider to be the peak years for a hockey player. Skill wise, you're about as fast and quick as you're going to be, your shots are about as good as they're going to be, and you've finally gotten the hang of the level of competition, speed, intensity and physicality of the NHL. We can't expect everyone to be winning Norris Trophies at age 40 or still being offensive threats the way Jaomir Jagr and Teemu Selanne have been in their twilight seasons.

A four year contract brings us to Darren Helm, age 29/30. He's probably peaked on the bell curve and is going to start to decline. That doesn't mean at age 30 he's going to turn into a completely useless player. But around that time, he's going to start to get a little slower, a little less quick, a little less able to be the physical force he is now at age 25. However, over the next four years he has the opportunity to continue to grow as a hockey player and become more than just a really fast penalty killer. 

"But Mike!", I hear the complaints from naysayers, "All Darren Helm has is speed! He can't even finish his goal scoring opportunities and when his speed goes he'll just be useless!"

I'll address this point more completely, but in short I'll respond by saying that he has time to develop more of a scoring touch. I've maintained he should spend a summer living and training with Datsyuk and then maybe he'll get more scoring skills. More to the topic of the length of contract, after four years the Red Wings can take a look at this 30 year old center and figure out whether or not he's still a good fit for the team.

#2: The Price Tag:
8.5 million for four years. People on Twitter did the math and shared that it comes to an annual cap hit of 2.125 million. Look at other third line centers. Yes, there are some that are bargains. But there are many of them who were producing around what Helm does. Being bumped up to just over 2 million puts him around the higher end of the pack, sure, but it's not an astronomical for a 3rd line center. 

It also doesn't hurt the Red Wings' overall salary cap for the other signings we still have to make and the shopping we want to do. As Detroit Free Press' Helene St. James Tweeted, we have to sign Abdelkader and Quincey. Expect around $20 million left in cap space. That's plenty of cash to shop for Parise, Suter, Semin and Jagr. Not to mention Holmstrom if he decides to come back. 

#3: What Darren Helm Means to the Team:
Going back to the point about he doesn't finish his goal scoring opportunities...

Well a couple things I'll say to that. For starters, he's a third line center! Check this out, it shows where Darren Helm ranked in among other third line centers midway through last season. Average goals: 5.2 Average assists: 7.1 Average points: 12.3. For all intents and purposes, he had hit the league average - he was a touch under, but minimally so. Third line players aren't there to put up huge offensive numbers. They're there to grind down the other team, kill penalties and be a physical force for your team. Yes, you need depth down into your 3rd and 4th lines and getting points from those guys can be huge contributions, especially come playoff time. 

Kris Draper only broke 20 goals 1 season of his career. Why are people expecting Darren Helm to be any more than that? 

What Darren Helm is here for to win face offs, bring speed and grit to the 3rd line and to the penalty kill, and he does all of those things exceptionally well. Don't believe me, check this out. This is 2 years ago in the playoffs. May I present: DARREN HELM - ONE MAN PENALTY KILL

If that's what we can expect from the man I affectionately call Dirty Darren Helm, I'd say that's worth $2,000,000 a year. Because this is a guy who, as I have argued previously, may be wearing the A on his jersey in upcoming seasons. 

#4: The Concern:
Yes, there are some concerns. As I wrote in the comments over at The Production Line, Helm was bit by the injury bug. He suffered a knee injury, and those can be nagging and continue to hurt a player, especially a guy like Helm who's major strength is his speed and quickness. We've seen what freak wrist injuries can do (see Mike Modano and Pavel Datsyuk), especially for Helm who I'm looking forward to being a big face off guy for the Red Wings. 

If Darren Helm continues to suffer from these injuries and/or other injuries as a result of his rough and tumble play style, his performance could suffer as a result and lessen his value to the team.

Summary after the break

Monday, June 18, 2012

Top 3 Datsyuk Plays That Set Up Other Datsyuk Plays

Pavel Datsyuk is a magician. We all know it. I've often remarked to other people that he should be barred from playing in the NHL because it should be illegal for one player to be that much better than everyone else. I honestly believe he is the best complete player in the NHL and I think I could say that even if I wasn't a Red Wings fan. Better than Malkin, better than Crosby, Ovechkin...everybody.

Source: Al Bello/Getty Images North America
He does some amazing things on the ice. He does them with the puck and without the puck, offense, defense, shots, passes and dekes. He's always trying new things, or old things in new ways; just in general trying to find any way to be successful and help the Wings win. But what has surprised me is how he seems to keep moments filed away in his memory for future use. He remembers something he did or something someone else did and uses that information to do something impressive. A perfect example is him punking Shea Weber.

But what I don't think people realize is that Datsyuk can do this across games, across seasons even. Something he does in 2003 can be tweaked and reused in 2007. I don't mean using the Datsyukian Deke on multiple goaltenders, but something even bigger and better. To use a football analogy: Datsyuk is a one man play action pass. He "runs the football", getting the other team to believe he's going to do one thing, then does something else. And the other teams have to respect his play, because he's so damned capable. Let's get to the list.

#3: Pavel Datsyuk and the Corner Office: Datsyuk is in the corner, working away at Nashville Predators LW Nick Spaling. Then this happens.

Now, that's a great goal. And it shows the versatility of Datsyuk. Finesse? Nah, just going to beat you by being stronger. A little more than a year later, I was watching a Wings game and a play took place. It made my mind flash back to the Spaling play.

Look at it. He's in almost the same spot on the ice. The way he dips his shoulder. Oduya has to respect Datsyuk's play. He knows Datsyuk is stronger than he looks, he knows that he can drive to the net just like against Nashville. So he tries to give him space and cut off the angle of attack, and Datsyuk snaps off one of the most wicked passes I've ever seen. 

#2: Datsyukian Crime Spree: This one may seem like a stretch to some people, but trust me when I say that Datsyuk doing what he does forces players to think differently. It's 2002, and Datsyuk is a young forward still trying to find a place in the Red Wings organization. Jaomir Jagr is a veteran goal scorer. Then this happens:

How does this play set up future Pavel Datsyuk plays? I want you to ask yourself a question: how often do you see anyone in the NHL try to just stick handle pass Datsyuk anymore? Not very bloody often. Instead, because of Datsyuk's known pension for thievery players have a tendency to either make a pass or try to protect the puck by putting their body between Datsyuk and the puck and skating away. 

I would imbed the videos, but blogspot will only allow me so many imbeds. So check out these two plays, both against Nashville. First in 2010 he picks Kelin's pocket and this year, he kindly lightened Roman Josi's wallet. Those plays maybe don't happen if Jagr never makes the fatal flaw of thinking Datsyuk is just some young punk back in 2002.

Number One after the break

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

An Living Memorial: Vladimir Konstantinov

It's hard to imagine, but tomorrow marks the 15th anniversary of the tragic accident that ended the career of Vladimir Konstantinov. For those who maybe don't remember, it was less than a week following the glorious Red Wing sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers to win the Stanley Cup. This was the first Stanley Cup to come home to Detroit since 1955, ending a 42 year drought that was the longest in NHL history at the time. Konstantinov was on his way home from a celebratory party with his fellow countryman and future Minister of Sports for Russia Viacheslav Fetisov. Also in the limo was team masseuse Sergei Mnatsakanov.

This is the look of a Russian who is content with destroying you.
Getty Images
The limo was being driven by Richard Gnida, who had no business driving a golf cart, let alone a limo. He had lost his driver's license. Twice. For alcohol related offenses. According to a story from the Augusta Chronicle, "It was the second time his license had been revoked. Since 1994, he had been ticketed for operating while impaired, operating under the influence and unlawful bodily alcohol content and twice for speeding..." Oh, he also had marijuana in his system, which we all agree is something you should have when you're at your job driving a limousine. Why he was hired by a limo company as a driver is one of those mysteries of life that might not ever be solved, like whether or not there is a God and why people think that Will Ferrel is funny. 

Two careers were ended here.
What we did know is that one of our Heroes of Hockeytown who brought home the greatest trophy in sports had been felled because some idiot decided to run a limo into a tree. And three exceptionally great people were hurt as a result. 

Thankfully, Fetisov was able to recover from minor injuries sustained in the wreck. He continued to play for the Red Wings for another year. Mnatsakanov suffered severe brain damage and paralysis, but also managed to survive the crash. And then there was Konstantinov. 

I remember having it explained to me at the time, that basically his brain and neck had been whipped around, his head smacking off the inside of his skull and his spinal cord ripping loose from the base of his skull. I remember thinking there's no way someone could survive that. I remember feeling devestated that after something so amazing had happened to Red Wings fans and the team, that such unmitigated disaster could happen. It wasn't right, it wasn't fair. 

"He was one of the best at his position when he had the accident...He was getting better and better every season, and was just excelling as a hockey player. And just when he hit his prime -- the accident happened", Nicklas Lidstrom told ESPN.

Then they all survived. Then a year later, I was in tears as I watched on television as the Detroit Red Wings won another Stanley Cup, and I got to see this:
Right where he belongs
The loss of Konstantinov meant so many things for the team and fans. First, Konstantinov was a hard hitting, physical defenseman. He made the other guys on the ice not want to be there. You never knew when Konstantinov would decide you were no longer welcome in his presence and promptly remove your face from your skull with a hard check. There are a lot of Red Wings moments that bring me climax-esqe joy, but one of the top ones has to be this:

That hit should be shown before the start of every Red Wing game. Actually every hockey game. Ever. I just love how business like Vladdy is afterwards. Like it's time to go to lunch, and he hopes the cafeteria has that minestrone soup he really likes. And that bitch Barbra from finance better have those files on his desk, otherwise he's going to flip her ass over like he just did to that other bitch Claude Lemieux. 

The loss of Konstantinov also caused a curse. A Kurse of Konstantinov if you will. Because after we lost him, Detroit didn't really have that physical defenseman, attempts to get one usually failed. You did have guys like Jamie Pushor, Aaron Ward, and others but none of them were dominating physical defenseman the same way that Konstantinov was. There were players like Uwe Krupp who ended up with terrible back problems that caused him to miss 60 games, Derian Hatcher who signed a 5 year deal with the Wings and then played 15 games in one season due to injuries. Then the lockout happened, the salary cap came into existence and his contract was bought out by Philadelphia. Jiri Fischer collapsed on the bench due to his heart deciding to stop, Andreas Lilja got punched in the face and had concussion symptoms for a year.

It wasn't until another K came to the team that I feel like the Red Wings finally had another player like Konstantinov. Ayoung Swede named Niklas Kronwall came to the Red Wings and has basically become Vladimir Konstantinov Mark II. If you don't believe that, watch this hit of Konstantinov on Peter Forsberg and then watch almost any Kronwalling video.
Believe is what Konstantinov did, the Red Wings did, and we all did.
We should all believe in bigger things more often.

But Konstantinov means much more than just a great hockey player to the Red Wings. He embodied strength and talent together: the Russian Five line was a collaboration of different skill sets and specializations, but all of them were great hockey players in and of themselves. On top of that, while many perhaps thought Konstantinov was dead, he has persevered and survived and excelled, becoming an artist and regaining memories,
mobility and speech.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Red Wings Captaincy Question

This was an inevitable thought process. Once Nicklas Lidstrom retired, it was only a matter of time until every Detroit Red Wings fan would go through this. Whether on your own, online or in person with friends, family and co-workers, we all would eventually have to ask: Who will replace Nicklas Lidstrom as the captain for the Wings?

Good night, sweet prince.
Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski - US Presswire
I found myself waiting to have this thought process, out of respect for Nicklas Lidstrom. It just didn't feel right to jump right in and talk about who to fill the Captain vacancy right away. I mean, how long do you wait to not be an insensitive, disrespectful asshole? It was like thinking about how long until after my wife died that I have to wait until I can start dating again.

I've managed to wait about a week after Lidstrom's retirement to talk about this, and it still doesn't feel okay. But I take solace that I'm not Ryan Field of Fox Sports Detroit who asked Nicklas Lidstrom that question at Lidstrom's retirement press conference. Which is basically like taking a date to your spouse's funeral. Seriously Ryan? The guy just retired and you're asking "Who would you like to take your job?" Fuck you.

I digress. I eventually came to terms like with any position in a professional organization or business, as much as you miss the guy and respect him and wish him the best, you have to fill the position. Someone has to wear the C on their jersey and it's not wrong to start having that discussion. My thought process is probably pretty similar to a lot of people's, but I want to share it and give my rationale for it. Then there are a couple of possibly scenarios that will change the landscape a bit, and I want to walk everyone through those.

Henrik Zetterberg will be the next Captain of the Detroit Red Wings:
There's a couple of points I want to address first. My wife has a few co-workers that are sort of her hockey crew that she talks hockey. Moment of ass kissing: how awesome is my wife that she has hockey friends? Anyway, one of them suggested that Henrik Zetterberg was going to be traded.

Henrik Zetterberg is not going to be traded. For starters, he has a contract that is going to take him into the next decade. Literally, 2020-2011. His cap hit will be roughly 6 million ever year, according to CapGeek and that'd put him around age 40 when his contract ends, roughly around the time he might be thinking of retirement and the Wings needing a new dynamic two-way center. While I'm sure any team would love to have Henrik Zetterberg, what would they have to give up in order to get him? Probably more than they're willing to give, because the Red Wings are certainly going to want to raid the kitchen if they're going to let Z go. That's not even taking into account his skill set and his leadership qualities. So, Zberg is going no where. Secondly, if anyone thinks he's getting the Captain spot because he's Swedish, you're wrong. NotPavelDatsyuk joked the Captain test was going to be on Swedish history. But it's just a joke. If any North American born players on the Red Wings were as important and strong of a leader as Zetterberg is, they'd get it.

Niklas Kronwall will not be getting the Captain job, but will retain his Alternate Captain Role:
It's not an insult to Kronwall that he not the get the Captain job over Zetterberg. If we look at this purely from a seniority standpoint - which we're not, because then Holmstrom would get the C - Zetterberg has a few more years on Kronwall. A lot of people are happy with Kronwall's contributions to the team. He's a hard hitting, physical defenseman who has shown improvement in his own zone and with his offensive talents. He deserves to be a top pair guy and has shown a lot of poise and maturity when dealing with the media.

So much so that I believe he is the Red Wings NHLPA representative. If I recall correctly, when the possibility of reorganization came up back around January, they talked to Kronwall about it because he was the guy for the Red Wings to talk about stuff on behalf of the NHLPA. If I'm wrong about this, or misunderstanding it, please someone share.

Kronwall is going to be important to this team for years to come, but there is one and only one reason why I do not want him wearing the C on his jersey: Niklas Kronwall is going to be suspended for one of his hits someday. You can agree or disagree with that assessment if you want, but it's going to happen. I think that Kronwall plays on the line between acceptable and unacceptable hits, sometimes going over the line, but usually being on the right side of it. And I like that he does. However, the standard set by Oh Captain, My Captain Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom over the past 30 years is that the Captain of the Red Wings is to be a bastion of sportsmanship, respect, honor and dignity, and that could be weakened if I have to read on "Red Wings Captain Nicklas Kronwall Suspended for Illegal Hit"

Giving Kronwall the Captain role would potentially force him to change the way he plays, and I don't want him to so long as his hits are clean. I know Oh Captain, My Captain Steve Yzerman changed his play style to be a better teammate and leader, and a good Captain should be willing and able to do that. But as long as the Red Wings need Kronwall to be the guy he is right now, it would be unfair to the team and to Kronwall to put that weight on his shoulders. Kronner has earned every role he has on the Wings right now and I want to see him continue those roles.

Pavel Datsyuk won't be getting the Captain Role:
I love Datsyuk. But there are two reasons why he won't be the Red Wings Captain. First, he's shy. He's ridiculously shy. While he's opened up more and gotten better about talking with the media, he's still very shy. The second reason, and this may seem really unfair and almost Don Cherry-esqe: Pavel Datsyuk does not have a command of the English language. If you're the Captain of a team in the NHL, you have to be able to communicate with North American media. A lot of European players/captains can speak English well. Lidstrom could. Zetterberg's English is pretty solid. Chara's has the language down pretty well, too. Unfortunately, Datsyuk doesn't.

This leaves two potential Alternate Captain spots left available, and with some potential major free agency dealings in the Red Wings future, we have a number of possible scenarios that can play out. So let's investigate those after the break.