Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hypothetical: Playoff MVP

What if the Red Wings had won the Stanley Cup? Of course, we would have all lost our damned minds, there would have been a week long bender of Red Wings fans, and between February and April of next year, there'd have been a slew of newborn boys named Gustav and girls named Joakina.

For the record, they'd make one gorgeous child together. (Photo: AP)
If the Red Wings had won the Stanley Cup, a question popped into my mind: who would have been the Conn Smythe winner? It may seem silly, but while we wait for more signings and camps and pre-season to start, might as well have a bit of curious fun.

In case you're unaware, the Conn Smythe trophy is awarded to the player who is judged most valuable to his team during the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs - and interestingly, that's based on the entirety of the playoffs. It could be awarded to a team that got knocked out in the first round. It can, and has, been awarded to a player of the team that lost in the Stanley Cup finals. Roger Crozier (Red Wings, 1966), Glenn Hall (Blues, 1968), Reggie Leach (Flyers, 1976), Ron Hextall (Flyers, 1987) and most recently Jean-Sebastien Giguere (Ducks, 2003) have all won the Conn Smythe as a member of the losing team. So if anything, the Flyers excel at doing a really great job while another team wins the Stanley Cup. That certainly explains the Mike Richards and Jeff Carter trades. 

For the purposes of this discussion, we're going to assume that the winner would come from the hypothetical Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. Seeing as how both of the actual playoff series the Wings played in went to 7 games, I'm going to say that our hypothetical Conference and Stanley Cup final series both go to 7 games. I believe there are four players who would have been worthy of "nomination", so to speak, for the Conn Smythe from the Red Wings this year. I'm going to extrapolate their stats for a full 28 games, with one or two "X Factors" for each player that would have been proof of them having gone above and beyond for the team and made them worthy of winning. They are listed in no particular order. 

Contender #1: Damien Brunner
Actual Stats: 5 goals, 4 assists (9 points); +2 and 1 GWG (OT winner against Anaheim)

Potential Stats: Brunner averaged a goal about every 3 games, and an assist about every 4. He could have potentially had 10 or more goals, 8 or more assists for 18 or more points. We will also assume one of his potential goals would have been a game winner. 

Why Brunner for Conn Smythe: Brunner led the team in scoring over the playoffs, and based on the numbers that could have continued to be the case over the course of a full 28 game Cup run. He tied Pavel Datsyuk for 3rd in points during the playoffs in his first ever NHL playoffs. The Wings had signed Brunner to give them that scoring umph and he seemed to be doing so.

X Factor(s): Brunner seemed to be ignited by the playoffs, after slumping in the regular season. His goal scoring abilities could have been further energized from making it deeper into the playoffs and having a shot at a Stanley Cup. So my above projections could have been conservative. Also, we did not yet know he was going to bolt for free agency.

Why Not Brunner: It would seem strange to award a first year player on a one year contract the playoff MVP award. There's also nothing to suggest that simply being a hot goal scorer during the playoffs means you have the greatest "value" for your team. Sergei Fedorov led the team in goals, points and GWG's during the 1997 cup, and that Conn Smythe was awarded to Mike Vernon. Fedorov lead the team again in goals and came in 2nd in points in the 1998 Cup run, and that Conn Smythe went to Oh Captain, My Captain Steve Yzerman.

Contender #2: Henrik Zetterberg
Actual Stats: 4 goals, 8 assists (12 points) and a plus 3 rating. He also had 1 game winning goal. His 8 assists and 12 points were team leading during the playoffs, and he was tied for 2nd place in goals. 

Potential Stats: Based on averages, Henrik Zetterbeard could have put up at least 8 goals and 24 assists for 32 points. We'll assume at least one of Hank's goals would have been a game winner and his point totals would have continued to lead them team.

Why Zetterberg for Conn Smythe: Well point production make him a solid contender, not to mention how big some of his goals were. Hank inherited the mantle of the Red Wings from Nick Lidstrom, who inherited it from Oh Captain, My Captain Steve Yzerman. Not to mention the added pressure of keeping the Red Wings playoff streak alive, Zetterberg had an insanely daunting task that he did not back down from. 

X Factor(s): Being the captain of the team certainly goes a long way. Yzerman in 98, Sakic in 96, Joe Nieuwendyk, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Jonathan Toews have also recently won the Conn Smythe as team captains. Also, Zetterberg's ability to not only produce big points for the Red Wings, but also to be a major shut down force for opposing teams' top goal scorers radically increases his value. 

Why Not Zetterberg: As I said with Brunner, it isn't just about goal scoring. We've seen several goalies win the Conn Smythe, (Tim Thomas, Johnathan Quick, Mike Vernon - hell Patrick Roy is the only player to win the Conn Smythe three times). Also, there is a pattern of players not winning it more than once. Steve Yzerman only won it once, Nick Lidstrom only won it once. Claude Lemieux won it once. I'm not saying that he should have won it more than once, I'm more perplexed that he'd win it over the likes of Scott Stevens and Martin Broduer and have to wonder if Professional Hockey Writer's Association wouldn't maybe like to have that one back. 

We're faced with two big questions: Was Zetterberg as valuable to the Red Wings in this hypothetical as he was in the 2008 win and/or was there someone who was more valuable?

Contender #3: Pavel Datsyuk
Actual Stats: 3 goals, 6 assists (9 points) and a plus 2 rating. He had zero game winning goals but he was third in goals, tied for 2nd in assists and third in points. 

Potential Stats: Pasha could have produced 6 goals and 12 assists for 18 points. There's a good chance at least one of those could have been a game winner. 

Why Datsyuk for Conn Smythe: Because he's Pavel fucking Datsyuk. Doesn't matter that he wasn't leading the team in goals or assists or points; all of his goals and assists were crucial. Not to mention we also rely heavily on Datsyuk to be a shut down man for the other teams' top lines, and he has achieved a Draper-esqe status for "Oh shit, get him in there for this face off!" in crucial game moments. 

X Factor(s): Having not won the Conn Smythe before - rightly or wrongly - some might feel that Datsyuk is owed or due. He's won Selkes, he's won Lady Byngs, he's won Stanley Cups; the Conn Smythe would be appropriate on his mantle, too. Also, because he does shit like this. Twice.

Why Not Datsyuk: While goals and points aren't everything, it can hurt a player's chances when the expectations are a bit higher. Some felt that Datsyuk did not perform as well as he could have and should have in the playoffs, and in particular against Chicago where some Datsyukian goals could have easily changed the outcome. If he continued to struggle, or was thought to be struggling, it may have slipped away. 

Also, Pavel may be the victim of "Yeah, he deserves it, but _____ deserves it more"

Contender #4: Jimmy Howard
Actual Stats: Save Percentage: 92.4%, GAA: 2.44. 1 shutout, but sadly, no points. 

Potential Stats: I feel that those numbers are very accurate for the level of play we got from one James Tiberius Howard during the playoffs. Those numbers are slightly worse than Corey Crawford's (93.2% save, 1.84 GAA). So it's safe to say that with those kinds of stats, Howard could have taken us to the Cup. I think we can add at least 1 more shutout in there, as well. 

Why Howard for Conn Smythe: Without Jimmy Howard, we don't make it into the playoffs. While you can't exactly take into account regular season performance, it's hard not to with Howard. He kept the Red Wings in games against Anaheim and kept giving them chances to win that they capitalized on. He certainly demonstrated why the Red Wings signed him to the contract extension.

X Factor(s): After the Red Wings were eliminated, Kronwall expressed sadness that they couldn't have gone all the way for Jimmy. His own team wanted to win the cup for him, which suggests his team thought him the most valuable. Also, I'm pretty sure Corey Perry was put on suicide watch after this save. 

Why Not Howard: Howard did let in some goals that he should have made saves on. Giving up a 3 game to 1 lead against the Blackhawks, part of that has to rest on the goaltender's shoulders. His stats were extremely good, but the two goaltenders who made it to the Cup finals had better stats. Often times, to qualify for the Conn Smythe, a goaltender has to seem as though he even more above and beyond than perhaps a forward or defenseman. A goaltender has to steal the playoffs, and some could maybe argue that Howard wouldn't have performed to that level.

So there you have it. I did my best to be fair and equitable to all four. I'm very interested to see who you think would have won in a hypothetical 2013 Red Wings cup run. If you think another player would have been more worthy of the Conn Smythe, or just want to make a case for one of the players I listed here, please leave a comment or sent me a Tweet. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Free Agent...uh...Distemper? 2013

I'm back! I apologize for my absence, folks. The job I was working was not conducive to watching Red Wing hockey, tweeting and blogging. So much so that I did not get to see a single game of the series against Chicago. However, as I announced on Twitter, I've accepted my first teaching position. Besides allowing me to follow my dreams, it also allows me to return to being a much more dedicated Red Wings fan and blogger.

But enough about me, let's talk about what happened today.

Produced by Michael Bay
First, let's sum up the situation. The Red Wings just came off an impressive and surprising playoff run. Having dispatched the Anaheim Ducks, something that was not supposed to happen, they took the eventual Stanley Cup champion Black Hawks to seven games - something else that wasn't supposed to happen, as evidenced by the fact that no other team in the playoffs did it.

They were all but written off by many. The last hurrah of a dying, fledgling empire. Except they didn't die, they fought and showed the NHL that they're still a competitive club. It was inspiring. How inspiring you might ask?

Bill Paxton did it better

There were a few things on the Red Wings to do list coming into free agency this year: Make sure they were secure in their 2nd line center, make sure they were equipped to score goals, and follow that classic Red Wings guideline of not spending too much for anyone. Let's review some of their moves heading into today.

  1. Re-Sign Pavel Datsyuk - This was a no brainer. It was leaked that Datsyuk was eyeing up returning home to Russia. Which basically made fans shit themselves for two reason. First, we wouldn't have Pavel Datsyuk anymore, and second, losing Pasha would have almost guaranteed a giant payout for Valtteri Filpulla. Datsyuk's three year contract extension gave us temporary relief to both of those problems. Pav did express that he does still want to return to Russia to finish his career, so this three year extension could be his last. Maybe he does the 1 Year Nicklas Lidstrom method or maybe not. But at least we don't have to panic quite yet

  2. Buyout Carlo Colaiacovo - Another no brainer. Now I want to say, this has nothing to do with Colaiacovo's skill and talent as a hockey player. When he played, he was a very reliable defenseman and played very well when his name got called in the playoffs. But the exact concern that we all had going into the season proved to be exactly the reason he had to go - Carlo Colaiacovo is made out of particle board and scotch tape. He just couldn't stay healthy to contribute to the team. Compounded by the emergence of Brendan Smith, Danny DeKeyser, Brian Lashoff and Jakob Kindl, Colaiacovo and Ian White became the odd men out. White was out the door as an unrestricted free agent anyway, so the buyout had to be spent on Cola. 
By Federal Law, I am legally obligated to post this gif since I mentioend
Carlo Colaiacovo by name.
So with those two big house keeping proceedures out of the way, what were going to be the moves by Ken Holland and company this year? Keeping in mind, there weren't huge free agents hitting the market like last year. There was no Parise, no Suter, not even really a Weber. A lot of good players were coming to the market, but nobody that made all others pale in comparison. 

  1. The Red Wings sign former Ottawa Senators Captain Daniel Alfredsson - This was a pretty blockbuster signing. Everyone - including the Ottawa Senators - thought Alfie would be back for one more year and then retire a Senator. And that's would have been a great story. However, Alfredsson said he wanted to win a Cup before he retires and was convinced Detroit would give him the best odds to do it. So he took a $5.5 million contract* to come here to do it. It should be noted that he was also wooed by none other than Red Wing captain and Confectionery Magnate Henrik Zetterberg, and the two have played on the international stage together. He also played with Red Wings forward and That Guy From Office Space Patrick Eaves when Eaves played in Ottawa. 

  2. It's tricky. 5.5 is a lot of money for a guy who is turning 41 at the end of the year. Granted, he is a proven goal scorer and point producer who still has a lot to offer a team. We do also benefit from what I've dubbed the Old Man Bonus Loophole. Basically, as it was explained to me by J.J. from Kansas - a player who is 35 years or older can have performance bonuses built into their contract. If they don't meet those benchmarks, they don't get the bonus, and their cap hit is their base salary. If they do earn the bonuses, the CBA allows those bonuses to exceed the salary cap up to 7.5%, or $4.8 million. The overage is then charged to your next season's payroll. It's sort of like charging it to a credit card and hoping you can pay it off later. Risky, but does help manage cap space.

    So is it worth it? Well it's hard to say. It is a risky move. It could pay off like snagging Luc Robataille or Brett Hull or Dallas Drake. It could also end up not working out at all, like Jerome Iginla, Marian Hossa (for Pittsburg and for us), and those slew of aging veterans who left their teams to chase glory. More importantly, the signing of Alfredsson has had a very serious repercussion, to be discussed later.

  3. The Red Wings sign former Florida Panthers Center Stephen Weiss - As I mentioned before, securing a stable center for the second line was a major priority for the Red Wings. Since the word "stable" was used, this basically disqualified Valterri Filpulla from consideration. Well, not exactly, but Weiss was a highly sought out candidate for being exactly that - he's a solid, stable point producer and would be a perfect 2nd line center for any team, this one included. Initially numbers around $6 million were thrown out for his contract, and it seemed to come down to us and St. Louis. Then the news came that a much more reasonable 5 year, $4.9 million cap hit deal was reached and the Red Wings gave one more middle finger to their division rivals before packing up to move east. 

  4. This signing has all the markings of a classic Ken Holland and Company move. A smart, affordable signing, snagging away a prized prospect from other teams because that's what we do. After missing out on the big names last year - really at no fault of his own - and staying quite at the trade deadline, Holland is definitely showing himself to still be a capable and top tier GM.

    If for no other reason than because...

  5. Valterri Filpulla signed a deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning - Oh Captain, My Captain Steve Yzerman gave Filp the deal he was looking for, signing him to a 5 year, $5 million a year contract. No doubt looking to fill the void left by the Leclavier buyout, the Filp signing was actually a win-win. The Red Wings got to free up the roster spot for Weiss and save $100,000 a year, and Filpulla got what he wanted: the big payout he was looking for, and he no longer has to live in the shadow of much more talented, beloved and higher paid centers.

    Welcome aboard, Val! 
  6. What's the Deal With Damien Brunner? - This is the complication left by the Alfredsson signing. That $5.5 million could have been partly used to retain Brunner, not to mention the roster spot Alfredsson takes up is one that Brunner would potentially take - both are right handed shot right wingers. Granted, it could be that the reason the Red Wings pursued Alfredsson is because Brunner had already made up his mind to go elsewhere, or maybe Alfredsson was an insurance move in case Brunner didn't bite and the insurance policy paid out prematurely. Or this was an intentional decision made by Ken Holland. It has been rumored that the Red Wings made several offers to Brunner, and he turned them all down. Either way, there's been a whole lot of nothing said out of the Brunner camp so far, and not much in terms of rumors as to who has been speaking to him. All that we've heard so far is that he won't be coming back to Detroit. 

  7. The thing is, without a proven track record in the NHL, Damien Brunner could literally be another Ville Leino - tons of talent, tons of potential, and then runs off to another team for a huge payday and be roundly mocked for being a huge bust of an investment. Or he could sign a big payday with another team and end up potting 30, 40 or 50 goals a year. I made mention on Twitter today that the Alfredsson v Brunner signing could very well end up being the next Hossa v Franzen debate. It could also end up being one more example of why Ken Holland and his team are that much smarter than the rest of us. Either way, it is sad to see the Damien Brunner experiment come to an end.
So it was an eventual and interesting first day of this year's free agency for Red Wings fans. Some of the questions have been answered and some still remain, most notably are we really going to fucking re-sign Dan Cleary? Also, is it true that Sidney Crosby really called Cleary to try to woo him to the Pittsburgh Penguins? Either way, it did lead to one of the greatest Whoabot tweets of all time. But there's something I take from all this, and it makes me very happy.

Our playoff run did more for this team than we realized. I have to believe that teams and players around the league looked at the Red Wings team that was counted out and they took notice. That Red Wings team was good. Maybe not great, and maybe not a championship team, but a damned good one. They didn't win and compete because they were lucky; it's because they worked their ass off and had a lot more talent than people realized. 

Alfredsson and Weiss noticed and wanted to come to this team that may be "rebuilding" or "reloading" or whatever word you want to use, because despite challenges and set backs, they could have beaten the Black Hawks and threatened the Kings with being on the receiving end of an upset from a lower seed. With more hard work and dedication, and yes a little bit of luck, this team just might be a contender.