Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Doing the Unthinkable: Defending the Defense

Okay, so, we're off to a bad start. Nobody is disputing that. Nobody is happy about our start. We're scored 4 goals and allowed 11. Our power play, despite an astronomical number of chances, has been lackluster at best and a greater travesty than last season at worst.

As I wrote before, the whole sky is falling mentality is unjustified. The season should be 82 games, but it's only 48, or just a touch more than 50% of what we should have. 3 games is 6.25% of 48. 6.25% of 82 is 13.12 games. So 13 games. Granted, nobody would be happy if we'd won only 4 out of 13 games, everyone would be pretty disappointed and they'd be right to be disappointed. But what I'm hearing isn't disappointment it's bat-shit insanity.

Speaking of bat-shit insanity...

And effectively a 1:4 goals for/goals allowed is nothing to thumb our nose at. We got problems. The thing is, I don't think we have an awful lot to panic about. Not yet. So I'm going to defend the defenders, because I think they still have the opportunity to prove to be a solid defensive core.

You cannot deny the injuries are crippling us (pun intended)

We haven't had anything approaching a consistent line up this entire season. Before the season even start, Carlo Coaliacovo suffered an injury. And then Jakub Kindl suffered an injury. Then we actually started playing hockey and we discovered our defenseman had been rebuilt with paper mache during the lockout.

This is seems like as an appropriate time as any to post this.
Since the start of the season, Colaiacovo got hurt (again), Jonathan Ericsson stepped on a puck, fell down and hurt his shoulder in practice, and Ian White suffered Miken Helmdano injury and cut his leg on Jimmy Howard's skate. I think Kyle Quincey got temporarily hurt somewhere in there, too. I mean, it's just been a revolving door of injured defenseman. The Wings have 8 defenseman on the roster right now, and I'm thinking only 2 of them are close to being 100%

Niklas Kronwall has the immense task of stepping into to fill some of the minutes left by Lidstrom's retirement, and he's being asked to do so while not having the same defense partner in any game so far. At least not to my knowledge. He played with Ericsson against St. Louis and Lashoff against Dallas. I'm not sure who he was with against Columbus, but if it was Lashoff, that was the kid's first NHL game.

How can any of these guys be expected to develop chemistry and the crucial communication that is absolutely necessary for defensive pairs to operate effectively come game time. Normally, you'd have practices and pre-season games to work out the kinks, and this defensive core that was already over-hauled and questionable has had no chance to do so. Then the injuries were the equivalent of putting a tossed salad into a card shuffler.

Let's take a look at those chopped vegetables.

Niklas Kronwall: I'll make this short because I already talked about Kronner's situation. But I will point out that with a massive increase in defensive responsibility and a revolving door of defensive partners, Kronwall still leads the team with a +3 rating.

Ian White: Unlike the forwards so far this season, Ian White has managed to score a goal. He's eaten up a good deal of minutes, and I've seen him out during the power play and the penalty kill. Because of injuries and call-ups, he too has suffered from line shuffling and changes in partners, but so far he's avoided major boneheaded mistakes. He still doesn't quite seem to be surefooted and comfortable on the Red Wings blue line, but I still think he's an underrated defenseman. Despite the 11 goals the Red Wings have allowed, White has managed to maintain an even plus/minus rating.

Jonathan Ericsson: Ericsson has actually showed flashes of hope during that blowout against St. Louis. In the Winging it in Motown game thread and on Twitter, I saw people almost unanimous that Riggy Shitbox was anything but that. If you don't believe me just remember this: the only game that he played in, the Wings allowed six goals and scored zero and Ericsson has an even plus/minus rating. Granted, he played PK time and goals scored on a PP/PK do not give a minus point to players on the PK, but that's for good reason - the PP is expected to score. Hear that, Red Wings? THE POWER PLAY IS EXPECTED TO SCORE.

Kent Huskins: I admit, I know nothing about the man. He's bounced around the minors and a few NHL teams and never made a big splash. The Wings signed him and brought him up literally the afternoon they were set to play against the Dallas Stars. I never saw him make a terrible play or be involved in travesty against Dallas, and he came out with an even plus/minus rating after that game. If anyone is blameless right now on the Red Wings roster, Kent Huskins is that lone man.

Brian Lashoff: This kid has perhaps taken his call up from Grand Rapids as seriously as anyone. Yes, the kid has made some mistakes. He was out of position and not covering his man when Ryder scored his second goal against Detroit. But that was after he made a nice shot block, and this was his second NHL game ever. He's going to make mistakes. But at 23 years old, he not only scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game, but it was the first goal scored by the entire team this season.

Brendan Smith: He's made a great showing so far this season. Much like Huskins, I haven't really seen Smith make any very seriously boneheaded plays, but he's minus 2 so far on the season and definitely needs to focus a bit more. The thing is though that he's getting some serious minutes, including power play and penalty kill minutes, and to top it off, I've seen him carry the puck out of the zone better than our forwards have been. It's entirely possible that what's killing Smith is him trying to do too much while our offense continues to be lethargic.

Carlos Colaiacovo: To me, he's sort of a cross between Ericsson and Huskins in that I haven't seem him do anything really stupid, he seems to be playing his role on the Red Wings well enough, and the only thing preventing me from figuring out how good he's going to be is because he got hurt. I know Colaiacovo is injury prone as all get up, but you can't exactly blame the player for that. It's not like he wants to get hurt, and he hasn't done anything to put himself at extreme risk. It just so happens he's Rick DiPietro's illegitimate half brother.

Kyle Quincey: He's the only guy who really doesn't deserve to be defended. He's minus 4 so far in the season, and we've seen highlight reel goals of guys punking him, or him being out of position, or him being unable to make simple plays (or combinations of the aforementioned). Plus he seems to be intent on taking stupid penalties at the worst times. The thing is though, is he continues to show moments of promise. He's been trying to shoot the puck, his moments of sheer stupidity have really honestly been few and far between when you consider his ice time, and he made a spectacular sprawling play against Dallas to help prevent a goal. It has just been the case that when Kyle Quincey has decided to fuck up, it's either resulted in a goal or a penalty.

The fact is, out of those guys, there's only one who should really be in the hot seat. The rest are having their performance corrupted by the swaths of injuries and a shortened season. Granted, that latter is not that strong of an excuse because every other team is dealing with the exact same lack of a pre-season and a lot of them don't seem to be struggling the way this team is.

But you also have to keep in mind that it's almost impossible for a defense to do their jobs if their offense can't score goals, can't keep the puck in the other zone, and the power play is a giant pre-mature ejaculation. Would P.K. Subban help? Oh sure, but at what cost? And Kyle Quincey is the only guy who really who you can really say is on the chopping block. The point is, once again, that you have every right to be concerned, but do not write this defense (or even this team) off quite yet. It's still too early.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

First Game Recap of the 2013 Season

It's surreal, really, what happened last night in St. Louis. There was no reason to believe it could have ended in the catastrophe that happened last night. Shut out? Impossible! Zetterberg had donned the captain's C and was going to be on a line with his overseas partner in crime Damien Brunner. Filpulla had recovered from his injury, had been doing awesome in Europe and had just come off an excellent season. And we still had Pavel Datsyuk! Sure the defense was without Lidstrom and Stuart, but we still had Kronwall, and Ericsson isn't horrendous and we would get to see Brendan Smith in action. And there's always James Tiberius Howard in net. It can't possibly end in travesty. Right?

What the fuck is this shit!?
I'm not going to cover the game. There's almost no point. It was a stunning failure from the entire team. You can start talking about who is responsible for the thumping they received and who isn't, but you'd end up listing the entire team roster, the coaching staff, and upper management. I think the only guys who aren't responsible are the equipment managers. As far as I know, nobody's skates broke or put on the wrong jersey.

Instead I want to talk about what all of this means and the reactions of the fans. As I participated in the WIIM game thread and watched comments unfurl on Twitter, there were a myriad of different emotions being thrown around, and in the minds of some people they seemed to get crossed. Nobody was happy or pleased with what they saw. Some people were unhappy but timid. Some were unhappy and enraged. And some were ready to fire Mike Ilitch, Ken Holland, Mike Babcock, every Red Wings forward (except for Damien Brunner), every Red Wings defenseman (except Brendan Smith) and at least one goaltender. They were engaged in the hockey fan equivalent of Dooms Day Preppers.

People in Group 1 looked at the other two groups like nutters. Sarcastic comments about how the Wings would never win another game, and this one game is precisely indicative of the entire rest of the season. People in Group 2 looked Group 1 in confusion because they weren't being mad enough, and Group 3 with derision because there's no reason to be that downtrodden. And Group 3 looked at the other two on a CCTV system from inside their bunker.

The proper group to be in, which just so happens to be the group I belong to, is Group 2. And what some people need to understand is there is a monumental difference between anger, disappointment and frustration and the abandonment of hope.

Is there era of Red Wings excellence over? Are we seeing a return of the Era of the Dead Things? Should Red Wings fans abandon hope, cast the Winged Wheel into the fire and turn their hockey adoration to St. Louis, Chicago or, God help us, Colorado or Nashville?

It's one game. It was a travesty of a joke of a game, to be sure, and with the abbreviated season, each game really is worth twice as much as it would have been otherwise. There isn't that middle chunk of the season that will afford you the cushion of early season rust and snafus. But it's still only one game, and it's only one game after only one week of practicing together as a team*. You just simply cannot predict what the whole season will hold based on what happens in the first game. Remember last year the Wings won their first 5 games, and then dropped 6 straight. Year before that, they shut out Anaheim on the first game. Both of those seasons had frustrating, disappointing playoff exits. 

But here's the flip side of that: if you think that somehow the people's anger and fury last night was unnecessary you're just as wrong as the people who think the sky is falling. We just came out of a lockout that should have never happened. We're watching a season start in January that should have started in October. We should be talking about the emerging playoff picture because we're half way through the season, not because there's less than 50 games period. 

We're angry and we're frustrated. As Red Wings fans we no doubt have inflated expectations. We've been coddled by a team that has known immense success, but in our defense, that team, from its players to its coaches to its ownership has been promising and delivering success for two decades. So when our Red Wings didn't live up to even modest expectations of a hard fought loss, and that was our first taste of Red Wing hockey, you bet your ass we were mad. 

And we had every right to be. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dollar Hotdog Power Hour Podcast: Episode 6

We finally get to talk about NHL hockey!
I decided the logo needed to come back

This time around I actually get to talk about actual hockey stuff with Kevin and Michelle. We answer a great question about which players not named Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, and Petr Mrazek we expect to see from the Griffins playing for the Red Wings this season. We all talk fondly of and pay our respects to everyone's favorite Swinglish Professor, and we share our hopes and fears about our new captain and the team he's going to lead. I also hit the record button before they realize it, and we completely fluster Michelle. Also, the ending is so totally Kraft.

Kevin's Blog and Michelle's Blog should be checked out and shared, as usual.

We hope you enjoy it and as always, you should share it will your friends, family and complete strangers. They'll appreciate it.

Editor's Note: We have a fairly low limit for space on our Podbean account, so I may have to delete/archive older podcasts. If for some reason you want to hear past episodes that aren't working normally, let me know and I can somehow get you the original mp3 file.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Three Big Questions Facing the Red Wings

With the major news that a damaged, incomplete NHL season had been salvaged from the pits of hell and degradation, our eyes have to turn to our respective teams and what this shortened season can mean for them. The Red Wings and their fans are no exception.

1) When should the next captain be announced, if at all?

I've already written extensively and definitively about who the next Red Wings captain will be. The major changes that have happened since I wrote that, in terms of Red Wings personnel, is Brad Stuart left and the Red Wings didn't sign Parise, Suter, Semin or trade for Nash. None of the players the Red Wings signed in the off-season are worthy of challenging any current Red Wings for any leadership role.

So do you stitch the C to Zetterberg's uniform in this partial season, and how soon do you do it? Personally, I don't see any reason why not to make that decision and announce the choice. While you don't need a captain, it's a good thing to have. It creates a focal point of leadership, a source of trust and respect, and hopefully can help elevate the overall team play.

Zetterberg is a talented, dedicated, charismatic and respected player and person. He was involved in some of the meetings during the CBA negotiations and spoke to the media about it. He played stupendously overseas during the lockout and developed a great relationship with Damien Brunner.

When to make the announcement exactly should be determined by what exactly the schedule ends up looking like. If the Wings' first game is at home, make it just before that game. If they're going to be away, make it before games start. Certainly, I think the announcement shouldn't come until the team has come together in total for official meetings and practices.

2) When should Nicklas Lidstrom's number be retired?

It's a foregone conclusion that The Perfect Human's number will join the likes of Yzerman and Howe in the rafters of Joe Louis Arena (and the future homes of the Red Wings). However, prior to the lockout, you had any number of possibilities. You could have a ceremony on the home opener. You could have it on your first home game against the Chicago Blackhawks, the team who Nick Lidstrom started his professional NHL career against. You could fold it into the Winter Classic celebrations.

Now you can't exactly do any of that, at least not in the same way. The Winter Classic this year is gone, although the Wings' first home opener scheduled for the 17th, it's against Vancouver. And the first game against the Blackhawks isn't until February 13th. And all of that is based on the assumption that the schedule won't change at all.

All of that feels kind of hallow, anyway. I mean, it won't feel like the start of hockey the same way it would have felt had we had a pre-season, and had the season started back in October. There's also a coin flip of how it'll make fans feel. On the one hand, after a half-season lockout, the fans may need a positive, emotional lift, watching their beloved captain's jersey raise to the rafters with honor and respect. On the other hand, after a half-season lockout, do Red Wings fans really want to be reminded that Lidstrom won't be on our blue line?

So the question becomes: do you wait until next season, so you have a lot more options and let the emotions of lockout subside, or do you raise it soon, to honor the man who gave the Red Wings 20 perfect seasons and use his legacy to help lift this team into the next era?

As the writer of a blog whose namesake is an homage to Lidstrom, I believe it's up to me to answer this question. I say you wait. You let this partial season go by, and you plan an amazing, home opener ceremony for the 2013-2014 season. Doing it this partial season wouldn't be an insult to Lidstrom's legacy, but it wouldn't pay it to proper respect.

3) Which prospects should play, if at all, and how much?

The Grand Rapids Griffins have put together an excellent season, especially in the wake of there being no NHL hockey. Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are putting up very solid seasons, Brendan Smith is playing very well on the back end, and Petr Mrazek is living up the hype in net. Damien Brunner, as mentioned, is also tearing it up overseas with Henrik Zetterberg.

Also earning respect and attention, Landon Ferraro, Francis Pare, Joakim Andersson as forwards and Nathan Paetsch and Brian Lashoff on defense.

The Red Wings actually could really benefit from the shortened season. To be honest, as much as I would love to see the streak continue, and as much as I don't want to see the Red Wings miss the playoffs, if they're going to do it, then now is the time to do it. You've got some older players who are starting to decline (or will soon), you've got a shortened season where hockey is going to be sloppy and sub-par, and you've got a lot of prospects who are in desperate need of NHL experience in order to become the next group of talented Red Wings.

Now is the time to play a lot of these guys. If we miss the playoffs in this shortened season while getting these guys time in the NHL, when everyone is misfiring because of the lockout, then I will be unhappily comfortable with that. The Red Wings won't necessarily feel the pressure of a full season to keep aging veterans in. Although they may instead feel the pressure of a shortened season to play aging veterans because they're "better"

Gustav Nyquist has to get the call. He's a restricted free agent, has had a great year in Grand Rapids, and has already demonstrated great ability and compatability with the Red Wings in the NHL. You have to find out right now if he's going to be a future Red Wing, or if you're going to let him go for draft picks due to RFA. Brendan Smith also has to get the call, for a lot of the same reasons, but also because you are thin at defense and are desperately in need of new talent. With Carlos Colaiacovo out with an injury, Smith has to get his debut now.

Damien Brunner was already tapped by Mike Babcock to be a top 6 forward, and his play with Zetterberg overseas seals that deal.

Those three players have to be full time Red Wings this season. Tomas Tatar has to be the first guy you call in the event that anyone is even slightly injured or ill. I don't know if I would completely pillage the Griffins roster, because they are a hockey team themselves and they need their talent to win hockey games, too. However, if the injury bug hits, or if the Red Wings decide that this is going to be the Year of the Prospect, I'll be interested to see guys like Tatar, Ferraro, Paetsch and Lashoff in the NHL.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dollar Hotdog Power Hour Podcast: Episode 5

The first podcast for 2013 is on the books! Huzzah!
I decided the logo needed to come back

This time it's just KevinMichelle and myself shooting the shit. Kevin continues to be a cynical dick about the lockout negotiations, Thomas Mccollum and Landon Ferraro win "Most Improved Grand Rapids Griffins" and I basically water board the two of them and force Michelle to attack Todd Bertuzzi and Kevin actually tries to defend Mikael Samuelsson. We also take a few minutes to defend Riggy Shitbox and I trash Darren Dreger.

Kevin's Blog and Michelle's Blog should be checked out and shared, as usual.

We hope you enjoy it and as always, you should share it will your friends, family and complete strangers. They'll appreciate it.

Editor's Note: We have a fairly low limit for space on our Podbean account, so I may have to delete/archive older podcasts. If for some reason you want to hear past episodes that aren't working normally, let me know and I can somehow get you the original mp3 file.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Awkward Shopping: Who to Buyout

Rumor has it the new CBA will include a single option buyout for teams to help bring them down underneath the rumored lower salary cap. Each team would be allowed to buy out a single contract, releasing the player the world of free agency and alleviating the team of the salary cap hit. After the last lockout, the Red Wings bought out Derian Hatcher's 30 million dollar contract.

He then went on to be featured as a member of
The Night's Watch in HBO's "Game of Thrones"
(Bradley C. Bower/Associated Press)
So the question in the minds of a lot of Red Wings fans is who do we buyout? Or do we buyout anyone at all. Now, before we consider that, let's consider a few pieces we have waiting in the wings (hahaha pun!) to help us make our decision. 

Damien Brunner: After the Red Wings signed Damien Brunner to an entry level contract, Mike Babcock announced that Brunner was already ready to play in the NHL. Many people raised an eyebrow. However, during the lockout, the other eyebrow came up in awe and excitement as Brunner joined forces with Zetterberg and the two of them have been putting up huge numbers and seem to have developed immediate chemistry. In 30 games, Brunner has put up 24 goals and 29 assists for 53 points.  Will he have to adjust to the physicality and talent of the NHL? Sure - but that's pretty damned impressive.

Gustav Nyquist: Nyquist has a lot of people excited. And those of us who were late to the Goose Party fell in love with him quickly in his short stint in Detroit last season. In 18 games, he did only put up 1 goal and 7 assists, however as a lot of people (including me) have noted, that was time spent down on the bottom lines. In Grand Rapids right now, he leads the Griffins in points with 10 goals and 19 points playing on the top line. 

Tomas Tatar: Similarly to Nyquist, Tatar has been a source of extreme excitement for a lot of Red Wings fans and has shown flashes of potential when he's come up to Detroit. He only registered 1 goal in 9 games with Detroit, but he's put up more than 50 points the past two seasons for the Griffins, and he's second to Nyquist right now with 26 points. 

There are more players waiting in Grand Rapids, but those are the big three. Brendan Smith is worth mentioning but with the Red Wings' currently thin defensive core, he's basically guaranteed a spot. There's Landon Ferraro, Joakim Andersson and a few others who aren't quite ready and aren't the bright spots that aforementioned players are. 

Now, one thing to understand about the buyout - you cannot buy out a players' contract and then renegotiate and resign a new contract with them to bring down their cap hit. If you buy out their contract, they're gone to free agency. 

So let's go down the list of some of the players we could consider