Saturday, February 23, 2013

Musings: Does Nyquist Need to Issue an Ultimatum?

He's done it before. "Y'know, when I first realized we were going to Detroit, all I could think about was getting that trophy. I gotta be straight with ya, Babs, now I'm just thinkin' about..." wait, no sorry. That's one of the riveting scenes from Top Gun where Tom Cruise struggles to come to grips with his talent, responsibilities and limitations, as well as the haunting death of his father. Wrong Goose. My bad.

"I'll never let go, Jack. I'll never let go" - Christian Bale to Brad Pitt in, "Inception"
This is a thought I've been kicking around for some time. With the injuries and guys being moved around and lines being juggled, the one thing that Red Wings fans still have not been able to see is Gustav Nyquist as a staple figure in the Detroit line up. Instead he's played 2 games, where he's seen bottom line minutes and had few opportunities to make good on the talent that he possesses. It's been frustrating. Meanwhile, Tomas Tatar has seen 9 games this season; while he's been on the bottom pairings as well, he's also gotten some power play time and has been able to develop chemistry with his team mates. To his credit, he's potted 2 goals with 2 more assists and is only -2. He's a year younger than Nyquist, was drafted a year after Nyquist and on a team that touts seniority, paying your dues in the minors and earning your spot on the roster, Tatar over Nyquist seems odd. So what gives?

Well, during the off-season and lockout, Tomas Tatar made a number of comments that demonstrated his desire to play in the NHL. This link and this link are Google translations of some interviews he gave - and a big thanks to George Malik for getting these to me. The translations are rough, but the message essentially comes down to: If the Detroit Red Wings don't want to play me, then they should trade me. Play me, or I want to go somewhere that will. There was also a post on Tatar's Facebook profile along the same lines that has since been deleted.

I'm not so naive as to believe that Ken Holland immediately called Mike Babcock on the phone and said, "Tomas Tatar posted stuff on the Intrawebs demanded playing time or else he's going to leave! PLAY HIM, BABS! PLAY HIM NOW!" You don't get to be Ken Holland if you can be publicly blackmailed by an AHL prospect, even if that prospect is showing a ton of upside. That being said, you also don't get to be Ken Holland if you aren't tuned to what your players are thinking and feeling and are completely deaf and numb to what they're saying. Tomas Tatar's words had to have resonated with Holland a bit. It strikes me as curious that Tatar would be bumped ahead of Nyquist in the depth charts, and I'm convinced that Tatar's ultimatum contributed to that. Now the end game of the decision could be to get Tatar NHL exposure so he can be traded, and this is all Holland being a genius again.

Or maybe he did call up Tatar because he didn't realize how close he was to losing a valuable prospect. It's hard to say.

Maybe Gustav Nyquist needs to do the same. He seems like a ridiculously nice guy, a team player, and you have to respect the fact that he also seems to be ridiculously patient. So maybe it's just not his style. But I have to believe that the guy wants to play in the NHL, and I have to believe he's disappointed and/or frustrated by watching guys get bumped ahead of him. Tatar and Joakim Andersson both got the call, Petr Mrazek (while a completely different position) has as many games this season in net for Detroit as Nyquist has had on the ice. Nyquist has also logged almost twice as many games in Grand Rapids this season than Mrazek, plus he's been there for a few years now.

I want to be clear: I'm not saying Tatar, Andersson and Mrazek shouldn't be on the team. Mrazek and Andersson do have a queue ahead of them. As long as Howard and Gustavsson are healthy and playing well, Mrazek should be in Grand Rapids. Andersson should come up if Eaves, Miller, Abdelkader and Emmerton aren't getting the job done. But I absolutely applaud the Red Wings for giving them both the opportunity to compete at the NHL level. Still, it's troubling not to see Nyquist given the same chance.

1st of what I hope will be many, many more while rocking the Winged Wheel.
I've been trying to brainstorm why Nyquist hasn't been given more of a chance in the NHL this year. So far I've come up with a number of potential scenarios. #1: He did something terrible to the Babcock or Holland family. Something unspeakable. #2: The Red Wings decided that he's already proven himself as an NHL player and they want to test out other prospects. #3: The Red Wings have already assessed his value and have decided he's worth more to them as a trade or as draft picks when someone offer sheets him. #4: Having taken Tatar, Andersson and Mrazek at various points this season, the Red Wings feel like taking Grand Rapids' top scorer and point leader would cripple them. #5: Ken Holland and company have a strategy that would make an M. Night Shamalamadingdong/Inception hybrid movie look simplistic by comparison. #6: They're mad. They're absolutely crazy and just doing it wrong.

Ultimately the point I'm trying to make here is that maybe it's time for Nyquist to make his desires and expectations known. Next year, teams lose 6 million in cap sace, dropping from $70.2 million to $64.3 million. The Red Wings have to (potentially) resign Filppula (UFA), Cleary (UFFFFFFFFFFF please God no), Damien Brunner (UFA please God yes), Joakim Andersson (RFA), Drew Miller (UFA), Ian White (UFA), Jakub Kindl (RFA), Brendan Smith (RFA), Kent Huskins (UFA), Brian Lashoff (RFA), Jimmy Howard (UFA) as well as Gustav Nyquist (RFA). That's $17,894,721 dollars in cap space opening up. Some of those guys have to be resigned, some could be resigned, some should be let go. Some will get raises, some won't. They'll be sitting at $44,515,166 in salaries after this season, giving them $19,764,834 to spend.

Goose, if you want the playing time you deserve, and if you want to be a part of that $19 million spent on making this team better, then maybe you need to stand up and ask for it. And if the Red Wings aren't willing to give it to you, then as sad as it will be, maybe it's time to start talking to teams who will.

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