Archive for April, 2005

4/30 Notes

Coming free agency fight

The Ottawa Sun reported Wednesday that several agents have informed them of their intention to take legal action against the League in order to get the restricted free agents among their clients declared unrestricted free agents, if a new CBA is not in place by July 1. Players whose contracts expire at the end of what should have been the 2004-2005 season would normally be receiving qualifying offers starting around now. On July 1, players who had not received qualifying offers would, under normal circumstances, become unrestricted free agents. That would obviously be the basis for the agents’ arguments in court.

Such a lawsuit, if the agents win, would have an enormous effect on the league, freeing up hundreds of players around the league. The League has said that player status will be determined when a new CBA is agreed on but the Sun points out that the NHLPA might be stalling on reaching a deal for that very reason. The kind of talent that could become available – players like Joe Thornton, Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Jason Spezza, or Dany Heatley, not to mention Sidney Crosby and other undrafted future stars – is something the Union would love to see on the open market.

While a free agent market like that would have formerly been a Wings fan’s dream, I think it wouldn’t be a good thing for the League. The NHL is going to go through enough chaos under the new CBA when teams have to re-shuffle their rosters to get under the bar that they don’t need the added mess of a massive free agent market. However, I guess it could make it easier for teams since they won’t have to worry about how to get rid of extra salary.

Fortunately for us, the Wings only have a couple RFA’s among their regulars. Unfortunately, they are also part of the foundation projected for the next major iteration of the franchise: Niklas Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg and Jason Williams. All three of those men had quality years in their respective leagues:

  • Niklas Kronwall led the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL with 50 points in 73 games (12G, 38A). He won the Eddie Shore Award as the best defenseman in the league.
  • Henrik Zetterberg led the SEL in scoring with 50 points over 50 games ( 19 G, 31 A) playing for Timra IK
  • Jason Williams had 26 goals and 17 assists in 43 games playing in Finland for Assat Pori

The Wings certainly have the money to keep them in Detroit but under a new system and with the rise in stock they are bound to have due to their good years, it will be a lot tougher to fit them on the roster, if they do in fact become UFA’s.

The Wings have yet to reach a deal with their biggest current RFA, Pavel Datsyuk, and I’m not sure what would happen to his status if the agents go to court and win. I’d like to have an answer to that question.

How bad would it be to lose those four to free agency in one year? When combined with the inevitable gutting the Wings will undergo with the coming CBA, we could very well have nothing left worth watching.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem if the NHL had just frozen all contracts during the lockout.

Update:

NHL VP Bill Daly calls the agents “misinformed” and says that the CBA will determine free agency, not the courts. Well, Bill, if the courts say RFA’s become UFA’s, the League’d pretty well have to listen, correct? Since when does the NHL override the courts? I’d rather not have the courts get involved but if they do, what they say goes, whether the NHL agrees or not. You’d better make sure of your legal standing, Daly, just in case those agents really do have a case.

The Czech WC team

The Czechs named their World Championship team earlier this week and they look to have about the strongest roster in the tournament, which isn’t surprising considering the talent pool they had to choose from. Of the two Czech Red Wings regulars, only one is on the roster for the Czech Republic: young defenseman Jiri Fischer. The other, Robert Lang, will not be playing in the tournament, not having played any professional hockey this year at all.

Fischer has been playing for Liberec Bili Tygri HC during the lockout. He missed the start of the season due to a shoulder injury sustained during the World Cup of Hockey in September but ended up playing 27 games and scoring 18 points (6 G, 12 A – note to self: Jiri is not a Nicklas Lidstrom, he’s more of a Chris Chelios).

He will be joining five other Wings (Datsyuk – RUS, Zetterberg, Kronwall – SWE, Maltby, Draper – CAN) in participating in the IIHF World Championship tournament, which starts later today.

Barry Smith to coach Metallurg Magnitogorsk (updated)

Red Wings associate coach Barry Smith was named head coach of Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian Superleague on Saturday. He is the first NHL coach to make the move to the lucrative Russian market, where oil lords pay top dollar for competitive hockey franchises. It is doubtful that the contract includes an escape clause where he could return to the Wings in the event that the 2005-2006 NHL season takes place.

And Barry is no stranger to European hockey. Barry coached in Sweden from 1981-1984, and in Norway from 1984-1986. He also served as a European prospects scout for the Sabres, and had a one-season stay in Italy to coach the Alleghe team and Italian National Team. In the summer of 1996, Smith was chosen to be assistant coach for Team Sweden in the World Cup of Hockey, and, later that season, became head coach of Malmo of the Swedish Elite League, only to return back to Detroit in time for their successful playoff run of 1997. And finally, Smith served as assistant coach for Sweden’s national team at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. What an international resume!

As for Barry’s experience with coaching Russian players, he helped form the Russian Five (Vladimir Konstantinov, Vyacheslav Fetisov, Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Kozlov), and has plenty of experience coaching the other Russian Red Wings.

That leaves a hole at the associate coaching spot on the Wings, assuming that head coach Dave Lewis and assistant coach Joey Kocur return. Possible in-house candidates include Pat Verbeek, Doug Brown, Jason Woolley, Igor Larionov, Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios, or even Brendan Shanahan. Basically any aging Red Wing or alumnus.

Update: (27. Apr 05 – Matt)

The Detroit News says today that Barry Smith actually turned down the offer from Metallurg Magnitogorsk and will stay with the Wings instead. Smith said yesterday that

“It’s a good organization, nice people, and they did a good job of pursuing. But in the end, I want to be part of the Red Wings.”

He was offered the job after holding a seminar for them earlier in the summer and said he “didnt expect it [the offer].”

I’d like to know where that rumor started. I imagine Reuters got their story from one of the Russian sports rags, which are not known for their accuracy.

It’s a relief to know Smith will be staying afterall. It’s hard to imagine the Wings without him there on the bench.

Update #2: (27. Apr 05 – Matt)

Apparently, the rumor came from the official site of Metallurg Magnitogorsk. The team issued a press release on the 23rd (Saturday) stating that they had reached an agreement in principle with Barry Smith and that a contract would be signed soon.

However, Smith backed out. To make it worse, it looks like Soviet Sport found that out and published it before anyone told Metallurg.

The Metallurg site points out that despite a good relationship with Igor Larionov in Voskresensk (which I’m assuming is a city nearby), Smith decided against signing due to the small chance of the 2005-2006 NHL season being canceled.

It’s funny to read the comments made by the fans about the whole thing. Typical grumbling hockey fans!

If you’re like me and can’t read Russian, use BabelFish to translate. The results are hilariously bad but you can get the gist.

Niklas Kronwall honored

The players of the American Hockey League and members of the media have awarded the Wings’ Niklas Kronwall with the Eddie Shore Award, which is given to the best defenseman in the AHL. Kronwall has been a force for the Grand Rapids Griffins this year, leading the team with 50 points in 73 games (12G, 38A) and anchoring their defense with his smooth skating and hard-hitting style. He is not, as Jes Golbez points out, the next Nick Lidstrom but he will be a mainstay on the Wings’ defense with Jiri Fischer in the future. If the Griffins do not make the AHL playoffs, Kronwall could possibly play for Sweden in the World Championships, if they have a spot for him. He certainly wouldn’t hurt the team by his presence.

Be sure to read Jes’ take on this. I got a kick out of his grudging respect of the Wings’ drafting prowess:

Say what you will about the Wing$ ‘buying’ players and buying success (Hull, Hasek, Shanahan, Lang, Chelios, Schneider, etc), Detroit would never have had such a long run of success without the amazing drafting and development record that they do.

I have to point out, though, that of those players listed, only Brett Hull and Dominik Hasek were “bought” (and Hasek was still technically acquired by a trade but I won’t argue that one because it really was the Wings’ money that brought him here). The others were traded for.

  • In 1996, Brendan Shanahan came to Detroit (with Brian Glynn) from Hartford in a trade for Paul Coffey, Keith Primeau and a first-round draft pick.
  • In 1999, the Wings traded Anders Ericksson and two first-round draft picks (’99 and 2001) for Chris Chelios.
  • In 2003, the Wings acquired Mathieu Schneider from LA for Sean Avery, Maxim Kuznetzov, their No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft and a No. 2 pick in 2004.
  • In 2004, the Wings traded the Caps Tomas Fleischmann, a first-round pick in 2004, and a fourth-round pick in 2006 for Robert Lang.

Obviously, the Wings came out ahead in those trades (especially the middle two and it’s too soon to see about the Lang trade yet) but they were trades and not free agent acquisitions. Shanahan and Chelios even deferred money (along with Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom – two Wings draft picks) to make room for Brett Hull. The Wings’ money is not the reason those guys are in Detroit. It might be different with Mathieu Schneider, who is a free agent now and is not all that likely to return (he has an inflated view of his worth as a near Norris Trophy finalist – an “honor” which came from playing with Nick Lidstrom more than anything else.). Lang will have two more years on his contract after this lockout and might just fit in enough to finish his career here.

I think the Wings’ reputation for a free agency free-spending team is a bit overblown. Sure they’ve done it in the past (Hull, Robitaille, Hatcher, Woolley – but who complains about him? -, etc.) but they are primarily built on drafting (So we agree, Jes) and trading, not by initially acquiring rent-a-players using their checkbook.

UPDATE (23. Apr 05):

From GriffinsHockey.com:

“Eddie Shore Award winner Niklas Kronwall will play for Sweden at the 2005 World Championship, which begins April 30 in Austria. In his last appearance at the 2003 WC in Finland, Kronwall helped his country claim the silver medal.”

Congratulations again, Nicklas!

A travesty, I say

The 100-by-170 foot mural of Steve Yzerman that had been on the wall of the Cadillac Building in downtown Detroit for two years is being covered with white paint. The picture was put there in the first place by Nextel, one of the Wings’ sponsors, in 2003 and depicted a uniformed Yzerman bent at the waist with the words “Born: Cranbrook, BC, 1965. Adopted: Detroit, MI 1983” below it in white-on-black lettering. Who will be replacing The Captain on the Cadillac building? It’s not known yet but I think a good guess is that it will be Ben Wallace, if anyone at all. Barry Sanders was on the wall for years before Yzerman was and obviously someone decided it was time to move on.

As a fan who has already been denied hockey this year, I am not very happy about this at all. It seems to me that Steve Yzerman has been a sports icon in Detroit long enough to deserve to have his image displayed for more than two years on the side of that building. It’s sad that his contribution to Detroit sports is being discounted so quickly. Another casualty of this bloody lockout. Ugh.

If you never had the chance to get to downtown Detroit and see the mural, click here to get a look at it (PDF). I have that the wall of my room back home and I cannot imagine taking it down. What makes it worse is that there is a very good chance he will retire before being able to play again. It wasn’t the decision of the city of Detroit, apparently, rather it was Nextel but that doesn’t make it any less insulting to me as a Citizen of Hockeytown.

Update (14. Apr 05):

A spokeswoman for Nextel had this to say yesterday:

“We’ve had a wonderful relationship with Steve Yzerman. We evaluate it every year, and we’ve decided to move forward. The mural was not intended to be permanent, and we decided not to renew it.”

I think that is very unfortunate but I guess it is an example of what this lockout is doing to the NHL’s sponsors. They’re losing interest. Let’s hope the League and PA get something hammered out soon before they have no sponsors left. (via. TSN)

Malby and Draper named to Canadian WC squad

Today, Mike Tambellini named the players that will represent Canada in the 2005 World Championships that will take place mostly next month (30. April to 15. May) in Austria. The Canadian squad will have a good experienced backbone surrounded by youth, in constrast to the US team which will be nearly all young players.

Red Wings forwards Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby are amoung the veteran players that will make up the Canadian team. They were also part of the Canadian team that won the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. So, congratulation to those two for making it.

Steve Yzerman would be on the team but decided he would not be in good enough shape.

The whole Canadian roster is as follows:

Goaltenders
Martin Brodeur – New Jersey Devils
Roberto Luongo – Florida Panthers
Marty Turco – Dallas Stars

Defensemen
Ed Jovanovski – Vancouver Canucks
Chris Phillips – Ottawa Senators
Wade Redden – Ottawa Senators
Robyn Regehr – Calgary Flames
Scott Hannan – San Jose Sharks
Sheldon Souray – Montreal Canadiens
Dan Boyle – Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards
Brendan Morrison – Vancouver Canucks
Dany Heatley – Atlanta Thrashers
Rick Nash – Columbus Blue Jackets
Joe Thornton – Boston Bruins
Kris Draper – Detroit Red Wings
Kirk Maltby – Detroit Red Wings
Ryan Smyth – Edmonton Oilers
Shane Doan – Phoenix Coyotes
Mike Fisher – Ottawa Senators
Simon Gagne – Philadelphia Flyers
Brenden Morrow – Dallas Stars
Patrick Marleau – San Jose Sharks

Update (12. Apr 05)

The Russians have released the list of players they are inviting to a World Championship training camp they are holding later this month. Like the US and Canada, Russia will be going with youth for this tournament, with a few exceptions.

Pavel Datsyuk is among the 36 players invited to the camp, as is Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Ovechkin.

Former Red Wing Sergei Fedorov is not on the list and neither are veteran goalies Nikolai Khabibulin and Evgeny Nabokov.

Team Sweden is expected to be announced Thursday. Nicklas Lidstrom has already said he will not play in the tournament but the Wings’ other Swedes are likely to be named to the roster, I would think.

Update (14. Apr 05):

Team Sweden announced its roster (PDF) today and Henrik Zetterberg is the only one of the Wings’ four Swedes to make the team.

On increased scoring

Yesterday’s Globe and Mail has a good summary of the changes the NHL is looking at implementing whenever they get around to having hockey again. One of the ideas mentioned is one I had never heard before: changing the shape of the pipes so that the puck goes into the net more often after hitting the inside of the post (rather than going along the goalline, hitting the other post and bouncing out). Since I seem to remember an inordinate number of “Hit the post!” shots last season, I might be open to this idea. But read the article and see what David Shoalts thinks will or will not be implemented by the League. Some of the proposed changes scare me.

Anyway, I find the NHL’s focus on increasing scoring rather amusing. To me this equation

more goals = more excitement

is not necessarily true. I can remember a number of high scoring games that I just hated to watch because they were embarrassments to the teams playing in them, either because of the sloppy play resulting in the goals or because of the disrespect shown the losing team by a coach not calling off the dogs. In my opinion, games that are hotly contested but that end up low scoring are some of the most exciting hockey games you can watch. I would rather see a 1-0 shutout by Curtis Joseph in which he makes 40 saves than a 7-6 game in which CuJo makes 13 saves.

Sure goals sound exciting on paper. Anyone would look at the boxscore of a 8-7 game and say “Wow, that must have been an exciting game!” and they could be dead wrong. What matters is the players and how they are playing the game. When you have teams skating up and down the ice for huge chunks of the period, with chance after chance, line change after line change, with no interruption in the flow, you have an exciting hockey game. And that kind of game does not have to result in lots of goals. With goalies as good as they are today, the league should showcase them! The league needs to work on opening the game up more rather than on opening up the nets. If scoring is so important to them, why not eliminate the goalie altogether? Then, you could have Brendan Shanahan lob a backhand from deep in his own zone and score on an empty net. Sure sounds a more exciting seeing Shanny take a pass from Pavel Datsyuk and walk out of the corner on Martin Brodeur, puck on a string. When it’s a question of whether the goalie will make a spectacular save or the skater score a spectacular goal, I find excitement.

Offense is exciting and that doesn’t necessarily mean goals. High quality scoring chances that are denied by a hot goalie in one moment but scored on by a hot forward are what create a balance in the game. The NHL should showcase the areas in which it has excellence and it can be done with the defensive players as well as the offensive at the same time.

Defense in the game today has become boring but it doesn’t have to be. In football, a team could give up the whole field but stop their opponents on the goalline with three sacks in a row and a blocked field goal. Fans remember that goalline stand, not the drive that lead to it because it is exciting to see a linebacker take down an oblivious quarterback or to see the ball blocked despite all the effort of the opposition to give their kicker the time to get the ball off. In hockey, when you see Rob Blake or Scott Stevens lay on a big hit, it can bring people out of their chairs. What are they doing when they hit an opposing player? Usually preventing a scoring chance, directly or indirectly. It’s when something out of the ordinary happens that fans get excited. Are goals in and of themselves exciting? Anyone who has noticed the increase in “junk” goals recently will tell you no. It’s the spectacular goals that are exciting, the goals in which the shooter has the room to work his magic, where the goalie doesn’t merely have to be in position to make the save.

I don’t see quite how changing the nets does anything but screw the goalies over. Defenses will collapse even harder around the net and become even more impenetrable. Forget the 1-4 forecheck. Prepare to see blocked shot after blocked shot and increased clutch-and-grab.

From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the NHL should throw out that bulbous monstrosity of a net they have as a concept. Imagine the NFL with round uprights. The NHL will look like a joke if it messes with its nets in that way.

I wonder if my definition of excitement is based on being a serious fan of the sport. It’s certainly possible that the casual fan would like to see 15 goals a game or something since they might not appreciate the finer points of hockey. Does that mean the NHL should cater wholly to them by any means possible? Is it worth it to alienate your real base by gaining fans who may or may not stick with the sport?

I would like to see the NHL work on opening up the ice rather than the nets. The flow of the game needs to be emphasized and then the goals will follow. If it takes making the rinks wider, they should do it. Sure, the owners would lose some of their most expensive seats but perhaps the excitement generated by a smoother game would lead to more sellouts that would compensate.