Archive for June, 2004

Some bad news

The Wings have decided to keep top prospect Igor Grigorenko in Russia for another year. The decision was made in light of the likely coming work stoppage/lockout which has a high probability of causing a large part of the season to go unplayed. The Wings think it’s better to have Igor playing in Russia than just sitting around over here waiting for the NHL to start up again. That’s very safe reasoning but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing for Wings fans who already have waited a year for the next Datsyuk/Zetterberg-like prospect. The fact that he has another year remaining on his contract with his team in Russia sure didn’t make the decision any harder for the Wings.

Apparently, he is fully recovered from the terrible car accident he had over a year ago which kept him from coming to the NHL last season (thank goodness the reason is more benign this time around). His agent said “There are no problems health-wise. I saw him two months ago. He’s bigger, strong like a bull.” Considering the guy almost died from complications involving a fat embolism aside from breaking a hip bone and his legs, it’s amazing he’s doing anything, let alone playing hockey at a high level with a very good chance at being a star in the NHL.

His agent thinks it would be better for Igor to develop for another year in Russia rather than come over to North America and play in the AHL for that time. I agree with him, as much as I want that kid to be in the Winged Wheel right now. Good luck, Igor2 (that’s not a typo, that’s my nickname for him). From what I hear, you’ll be well worth the wait.

Red Wings Draft Review

Here is the complete list of picks the Wings took in this year’s draft:

Third round, 97th overall
Johan Franzen, C

Fourth round, 128th overall
Evan McGrath, C

Fifth round, 151st overall
Siarhei (Sergei) Kolasau, D

Fifth round, 162nd overall
Tyler Haskins, C

Sixth round (192nd overall)
Anton Axelsson, LW

Seventh round (226th overall)
Steve Covington, RW

Eighth round (257th overall)
Gennady Stolyarov, RW

Ninth round (290th overall)
Nils Backstrom, D

I honestly don’t know anything about any of these guys so I’ll direct you over to the authority on Red Wings prospects, Red Wings Central, for their coverage here and here. From what they say, it doesn’t look like it was too bad a draft for the Wings but it’s unlikely we’ll see any of these player for years, with the possible exception of Johan Franzen. Nothing spectacular but that’s to be expected with the Wings’ poor draft position.

In other news, the Ottawa Senators have traded Patrick Lalime to the St. Louis Blues, it was announced today, for a conditional fourth round pick in next year’s draft. The deal was almost certainly to make room for Dominik Hasek, who has reportedly agreed to a deal with the Senators which will be officially announced on July 1 (hat tip to Ottawa Senators Fanblog for that link). The Blues’ #1 goalie before Lalime came to town was Chris Osgood and that is the second time Hasek has screwed up Ozzie’s career, even if it’s less direct this time around. I really hate to see that because I’m still a fan of Osgood but Dom is not one to have his will denied and it’s unfortunate that the Blues chose to trade for Lalime. Although, they were apparently already looking for a goalie change so I guess it’s just a fluke that it worked out this way. Can’t help but feel bad for the guy though. I’m guessing he’s not the biggest fan of Dominik Hasek at the moment.

Contract Updates

Brendan Shanahan
The Wings have officially told him that they will not exercise their option on his contract next year, a fact which makes him an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. The Wings would like to bring Shanny back if he takes a considerable pay cut and they have had “talks trying to find common ground to keep Brendan in a Red Wings uniform,” as Ken Holland said Friday.

As much as I’d hate to see Shanahan leave, I have to admit he didn’t do a whole lot in the playoffs to warrant being brought back. He has been huge for the Wings since coming to the team during the 96-97 season and was one of the major reasons they won the Cup that year but lately, his play has declined and it’s becoming harder and harder to justify keeping him around at his current salary. I do hope he takes a pay cut and stays with the team but I’m not too confident that will happen.

Kris Draper
Ken Holland and Draper’s agent, Don Meehan, have met recently but the Wings GM is remaining mum on the issue other than to say “We’ve obviously made an offer. We’ll continue to talk.”

Draper has always said he wants to stay with the Wings but their new policy in preparation for the likely coming salary cap will put a big bump in any discussions between the two sides. He will want a raise from the $1,475,000 he earned last year after the career season he had and it’s doubtful the Wings will be willing to give him much more. They are concerned with getting their pay roll closer to the ceiling expected to come with the new CBA and are going to be very tight with their money. They had a situation much like this in the summer of 2001 when Martin Lapointe became a free agent after a career year of his own. They lost him to the Bruins and he hasn’t been the same player since. Draper is one of the most likely candidates for the captaincy and the Wings do not want to lose him, though if he demands too much, they’ll have to let him go. If both Draper and Shanahan leave the team this off-season, it truly will be the end of an era.

Pavel Datsyuk
Talks with the Wings’ young star have not gone well, if this Ken Holland quote is any indication: “We’re miles apart.” The two sides met Friday to discuss a deal and a qualifying offer has been made to Pavel.

Pavel is another player who has repeatedly indicated his desire to continue playing for the Wings but it’s obvious now that the offers from teams in Russia are playing on his loyalties. His agent is probably telling him it would be smarter to play in Russia because of the coming labor problems but that is only screwing the Wings over. The Wings’ vaunted youth movement talent won’t mean jack if they can’t keep those players here. He probably wants a raise himself, after the great season he had but again, the organization will be loathe to shell out that extra money.

Mathieu Schneider
Ken Holland made an offer to Schneider about a week ago but said “I have not heard back.” Schneider will become a free agent on July 1st.

The Wings need Schneider back but again, probably don’t want to pay anything more than the $3,750,000 he earned last year. Since he had a good season himself, he too will probably be asking for a raise which the Wings in turn will not be all that willing to give.

Chris Chelios
He is another potential free agent and the Wings have been talking to his agent about possibly bringing him back. Of course they are hoping he’ll take a pay cut and they probably don’t expect him to play a ton but they want his experience on the blue line and will likely make a reasonable effort to have him in a Red Wings uniform next season. It’s pretty surprising considering his age but the Wings always bank on experience and this is no different.

Boyd Devereaux
The Wings will not make a qualifying offer to Devereaux, making him a free agent July 1st. They would like to bring him back next year but only if he takes a considerable amount less than the $1.6 million he made last year. That’s perfectly understandable since, for a guy nicknamed Boyd “De-void” Devereaux, $1.6 million is a bit too much. I wouldn’t be too sad if he wasn’t with the Wings next year but if he is, I’d be okay with it. He just needs to step it up and contribute.

(Above from the Freep)

Dave Lewis
It was announced today at the draft that Lewis finally signed that contract and will officially be the Wings’ head coach next year. It was a mere “formality,” according to Ken Holland, since they two sides had agreed on terms more than week ago. The contract is for one year and as per the Wings’ standard policy, the financial aspects were not disclosed.

I can’t say I’m too thrilled with the prospect of Lewie returning as coach but the Wings know what they’re doing, as wrong as it may seem to me. Although, he has been coaching a team built for Scotty Bowman and maybe it’s time for the organization to build for Dave Lewis. The fact that it was only a one year contract is interesting and doesn’t show a much of a vote of confidence from the team. Bowman used to be on a year-by-year basis but that was health related and that doesn’t apply here. Oh well. We’ll see how he does this time around. He’s lucky he works for the Wings, otherwise he’d have been gone last year.

Todd Bertuzzi Charged With Assault

The British Columbia Crown Police have decided to charge Canuck Todd Bertuzzi for assault causing bodily harm in response to his on-ice, attack-from-behind, sucker-punch that left Steve Moore of the Avs severely injured. Moore was left with a severe concussion and broken neck. Doctors are unsure whether he will be able to play competitive hockey again.

After the March 8 incident in Vancouver, NHL executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell suspended Bertuzzi for the final 13 regular season games, as well as the entire 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs (which amounted to seven games for Vancouver). In addition, Gary Bettman must reinstate Bertuzzi to the NHL, something Todd has yet to request. This aspect of the punishment allows the NHL to extend Bertuzzi’s suspension into the next season, something that Bettman would be more likely to do with a shorter Canuck playoff run. Money-wise, the Canucks organization was fined $250,000 and Bertuzzi lost almost $500,000 in salary for missed-games.

The charge against Bertuzzi is the result of four months of Crown investigation, and Bertuzzi is set to appear in provincial court on July 9. I have a hard time figuring why it took four months to investigate what happened, since there are countless camera angles that show Bertuzzi following Moore the entire shift leading up to the attack. In addition, several Canucks players had vowed revenge in response to Moore’s hit on Markus Naslund, which left him out for 3 games with a concussion. There’s no question that the Canucks wanted Moore’s head, and I’m sure the tough guys on the Canucks were given special instructions to meet this demand for revenge.

Bertuzzi has since apologized for the attack: “I had no intention of hurting you. I feel awful for what transpired” and “I don’t play the game that way. I’m not a mean-spirited person.” The most chilling part of the apology is the apparent detachment of saying “I don’t play the game that way” when you clearly do. I’d like to ask him, ‘Who does play the game that way, Todd? Who was that who attacked Steve Moore?’

There is a recent precedent to on-ice attacks leading to criminal charges. In February 2000, Marty McSorley was charged for hitting Donald Brashear in the head with his stick. There is a major difference between the McSorley and Bertuzzi incidents. Brashear was injured more from hitting the back of his head on the ice than the actual stick-swinging. McSorley didn’t direct Brashear’s head into the ice like Bertuzzi did with Moore. With Bertuzzi, there was the sucker-punch, and then Bertuzzi jumping on Moore’s back, slamming his face into the ice. It is likely that this is what broke Moore’s neck. In addition, Bertuzzi tried to punch Moore again as he lay on the ice unconscious, but, fortunately, Avs came to his aid. I see much more intent to injure and severity in what Todd Bertuzzi did.

In the end, McSorley was convicted of assault with a weapon, and given an 18-month conditional discharge. He never played in the NHL again, and is now head coach of the Springfield Falcons of the AHL. Bertuzzi is probably facing probation if convicted.

As for my personal views on the Bertuzzi incident, I’ll defer you back to my March 10 article, “Bertuzzi Disgraces Our Game.”

Red Wings Draft Preview

Here’s the list of picks the Wings have this year:

1st Round: none (Since they traded away their pick in the Robert Lang deal, the Caps have the option of taking this year’s 29th pick or waiting until next year and taking the Wings’ 2nd round pick. It’s not likely that Washington will do that so I don’t expect the Wings to get a first rounder this year.

2nd Round: none

3rd Round: #97

4th Round: #128

5th Round: #151 (for losing Luc Robitaille to Group III free agency), #162

6th Round: #192

7th Round: #226

8th Round: #257

9th Round: #290 ]

Click here for the complete draft order.

Rounds 1-3 are tomorrow starting at 12:00 ET and Rounds 4-9 are on Sunday, starting at 9:00 ET.

The Wings will be thinking long term as usual this year since they won’t find anyone in the draft who will be NHL ready immediately and they don’t have any huge needs at the moment anyway. They will need to find guys who will play for them down the road and do their usual good job of finding hidden gems, though that will be harder this year than most because this draft is considered weak by just about everybody.

They haven’t had a first round draft pick in four years and it’s worked out alright for them so far but they’ll need to start drafting higher in the coming years by not trading away their picks all the time for immediate results. Their scouts have done a great job of picking up surprising talent but the Wings haven’t been able to get their hands on much size recently and that’s really becoming an apparent weakness. Going after small, European forwards is all well and good when they end up having the skills to compete in the NHL but they need to find some big guys to fill their forward spots as well.

I have faith in the Wings’ front office to make good picks with what they already have since they’ve done so in the past. If they can pull off a trade to move up in the draft, great. But they don’t have a whole lot of leverage to do something like that and I don’t expect them to.

No Ovechkin for the Wings

The Wings have now denied the rumors that they are looking to trade up for the #1 pick. Their Assistant GM, Jim Nill, said “It’s scary what the price would be,” that price likely being a package of talented young players. The Wings are fairly short on that commodity and know that the first players asked for would be their top three (Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Jiri Fischer) as well as a couple of their non-NHL young guys like Igor Grigorenko. The fact that they don’t have a first or second round pick this year doesn’t help them either, especially since this draft is considered to be very weak.

Well, there goes that dream. Not that I really thought it could happen but it was nice to think about. The next time the Wings will be in a position to draft a future franchise player of the Mario Lemieux vein, as Alexander Ovechkin is supposed to be, is when they have degenerated into the 1980’s “Dead Things.” Hopefully that day is a ways off.

Alexander Ovechkin

The Washington Capitals won the draft lottery and will be first in line to draft this year. The man who is almost certainly a lock for the #1 pick, Alexander Ovechkin, is widely considered the best Russian player in the draft ever and the best player to come up in the draft since Mario Lemieux. He has been compared to Ilya Kovalchuk, though he is better in the defensive end and apparently has a better attitude. He is seen as capable of competing in the League immediately and is by far the best of what looks to be a weak draft year.

There is the usual speculation about whether the team in the #1 position will take the pick or trade it away, either for more spots later in the draft or active players. The Chicago Blackhawks are one of the teams that is actively pursuing such a trade with the Caps. Their assistant GM said as much yesterday when he told a newspaper in Illinois that his team was “talking to Washington and we’re talking to them aggressively. This is a franchise-type player we’re talking about. The Florida Panthers’ former GM, Rick Dudley, admitted to discussing trading up for the #1 spot with Washington before he was fired a few weeks ago. His replacement, Mike Keenan, apparently wants to do the same. The other two teams rumored to be interested are the New York Islanders and our Detroit Red Wings.

All of this speculation is likely in vain since the Caps no doubt see the value in a player like Ovechkin and plan on using him to build up their dying franchise. If anyone else gets the guy, it likely will not be the Wings since their standard policy of “everyone’s untouchable” seems to still be in place and the Caps would demand too high a price. Stranger things have happened before, though, and maybe they’ll be able to work a deal like they did with Robert Lang. I highly doubt it but I can dream can’t I? That’s the curse the Wings have for being so good for so long. They’ve had to fight against the built-in cycle system of pro sports and have really had to dig in the draft and on the market to stay at that level. Either way, this draft is going to be interesting and I’ll about have a heart attack if the Wings end up getting Ovechkin.