Archive for September, 2005

Red Wings 2005-2006 Season Preview

Well folks, it’s almost that time of year again. The time of the year where, about three times a week, you dedicate a roughly three-hour time slot to your favorite hockey team. For us here at On the Wings that team is obviously the Detroit Red Wings and with the start of the regular season just around the corner, I am going to attempt to give you an idea of what our Wings will look like this year.

So here we go:

The Wings’ most recent “addition” has been a familiar face with the team for three years: Pavel Datsyuk. After lengthy and confusing series of negotiations finally wrapped up early last week, Datsyuk arrived in Detroit Monday and formally signed a two-year $3.9 million contract. It was the most important signing of the off-season and should give Wings fans plenty of reason to be positive about this season. The Wings will be relying on Pavel to provide plenty of offense this year and if he’s really the player we all hope he is, he’ll have another good year. He will need to translate success into the playoffs, however, to make his signing truly worthwhile. Whether he can do that remains to be seen.

Next we have Kris Draper, who is coming off a career year in 03-04 (Selke Trophy, 24G, 16A) and seems to have picked up right where he left off by having a strong pre-season. The Wings signed Draper to a four-year $11.2 million deal after the 2003-2004 season and are counting on him to provide the same versatility he has added to the team since he came here.

Due to injuries and the shortness of the Wings’ playoff run, we haven’t seen a whole lot of Robert Lang since he came to the team at the end of the 03-04 season but that will change this year. He showed us a little of what he is capable of during the playoffs last year and I’m looking forward to getting a full season out of him. Lang and Datsyuk will share the unspoken #1 Center title. His more physical style and strength will compliment Datsyuk’s small size and pitiful physical weakness.

Next we have Jason Williams, who had a very good year in Finland over the lockout, notching 26 goals and 17 assists in 43 games. Williams has been somewhat of a disappointment over the years because he has not lived up to his potential. He has a lot of skill and has shown flashes of it in the past but not very consistently. Hopefully this year will be different, as he should be getting an increased role.

Finally, we have Steve Yzerman, who is not returning for a farewell tour but is expected to make a significant contribution to the team. The last time we saw The Captain, he was writhing on the ice and though he says this is not necessarily his last season, we should be left with a better final memory of the man who has led the Wings as long as I’ve been a fan. I like what little I’ve seen of Yzerman during the pre-season and I do not buy the notion that he will be a non-factor this year. He will contribute and will be an important piece of the puzzle. However, he is currently day-to-day with a groin injury and may miss the start of the season.

Tomas Holmstrom comes first alphabetically among the left wings. He’ll fulfill his usual role of goalie pest and he’ll hopefully score a lot of key goals like he’s good at doing, both so the Wings win and so my hockey blogger league fantasy team does well (the rest of you hockey bloggers are going down!). He had a decent year with Lulea of the SEL (14G, 16A) and while he’s never been a big goal scorer, he should contribute some back-breaking goals often enough. Don’t expect him to draw any penalties though. The refs hate him.

Next is another pest, Kirk Maltby. Malts’ value is in his penalty killing and work ethic along the boards. His mouth is another important asset and has been responsible for sending opponents to the penalty box many, many times over the years because of his penchant for vocal jabs and provocation. He won’t have someone to back him up as he scurries away this year, though, so maybe he’ll tone it down a bit.

Now we get to the offensive left wingers. Brendan Shanahan is back after picking up his player option and says he has something to prove. He hasn’t been up to snuff the past couple years, in the playoffs especially, and Wings fans have begun to lose patience. I think we’ll see something of the old Shanny this year. Not the ’97 Shanny but I do think he’ll be a stronger offensive presence this season. He has nothing to lose at this stage in his career.

Next is Henrik Zetterberg, who returned to the ice last night after healing from a hip injury and lit it up with three points in the Wings’ 9-0 romp over the Jackets’ B-team at the Joe. He’s due for a breakout year and even if he doesn’t score as much as Pavel, his two-way ability makes him highly valuable.

On to the right wingers. Mark Mowers spent some time with the Wings last season and is a solid role player. He has shown at least once that he has a good set of hands and may be able to contribute more if given more ice time.

The last forward I’ll look at is newcomer Mikael Samuelsson. I have to say I do not know anything about this guy except that he has some decent size (6’2″, 211 lbs). He doesn’t appear to be much of a goal scorer or a tough guy. He is expected to arrive in Detroit tomorrow, after finally getting a visa.

The Wings will be without Ray Whitney and Darren McCarty, after being forced to buy them both out in July. I doubt anyone will notice Whitney’s absence much but McCarty will certainly be missed, both for his off-ice relationship with the fans and for his on-ice toughness. Though he was not as much a physical presence as before, he brought a level of grit that the team does not have any more. They did not do an adequate job of replacing him and may suffer for it down the road.

Forwards overall
The Wings are in good shape with their forwards, as long as they stay healthy. They still have a good amount of talent and the best part is that they have a mix of youth and experience. They will not be staking their Cup hopes on a group of unknown youngsters nor will they rest on the old legs of a group of veterans. Hopefully they’ve struck the right balance.

Chris Chelios comes first alphabetically so he comes first here as well. The Wings signed the 43-year-old to a one-year, $1 million deal back in August and will count on him to mentor the team’s younger defensemen while taking a reduced role.

Next on the list is the newly-acquired Andy Delmore. I’ve gotten mixed reports on him but the final word seems to be pretty negative. I suppose there’s a reason Sabres fans call him “Any Elmore – No ‘d.’ ” He does have a two-way contract, though, so it’s not a guarantee that he’ll be on the main roster. If he does play in Detroit, he should at least be an asset on the power play.

Jiri Fischer is one of the two men the Wings see as their defensive pillars of the future. The pillar metaphor is apt because at 6’5″ Fischer is the tallest player on the team. He had a somewhat disappointing season with the Wings in 03-04 but has looked good in competition since then. He will be an important part of the defense this season and should begin to take a leading role with Chelios on the way out.

The highest paid and arguably most important player on the team is Nicklas Lidstrom. He is certainly the anchor of the defense and is an amazingly steady player. He’s one of the best in the business at what he does and that is why the Wings are paying him $7.6 million this season. It’s the final year on his contract and he may be moving on afterwards so enjoy watching him shut down the opponents while you can. I fully expect him to make a run for the Norris this year.

Next is Mathieu Schneider, who the Wings re-signed in August to a two-year, $6.6 million contract after negotiations that began before the lockout. Schneider was up there in Norris voting last season and will be another key component of the defense. He’ll carry a lot of minutes and will bring a nicely balanced game to the ice. He has a good shot and is a good asset to have as a top-level defenseman.

Another newcomer to this defensive corps is Andreas Lilja, who I confess, I know little about. He has good size at 6’3″, 228 lbs and has recovered from an injury suffered in training camp. If nothing else, he should have decent chemisty with the Swedish players on the team, especially if Mike Babcock creates a sort of “Swedish Five” unit.

Just a couple days ago, this section would only included Derian Hatcher and Jason Woolley. However, the events of Tuesday night’s Avalanche game changed things a bit, as the Wings will now be without Niklas Kronwall’s services for at least six weeks as well.

Hatcher was bought out and will only be missed out of regret that he didn’t get much of a chance to prove himself due to suffering a knee injury early in the 03-04 season. I will personally miss Woolley, though there is a chance that he will be signed after all.

The Wings had high hopes for Kronwall and are sort of left with little recourse by the hockey gods. There was considerable buzz about the young Swede and that has since been replaced by a whole lot of disappointment. Hopefully, Nik will get well as soon as is safe and be back on the ice wowing us with open ice hits and his offensive abilities. UPDATE (1. Oct 05): Kronwall will have surgery on his left knee and will be out 4-6 months. That puts his return at or near the end of the season. The Wings will likely put him on the injured reserve list now and free up some space to grab a replacement.

Defensemen overall
Here too the Wings have what looks to be a good mix of youth and experience. How it will all play out over the course of a season obviously remains to be seen but on paper they should be fine defensively. The injury of Kronwall adds a bit of concern to the equation but I think with Lidstrom and Schneider anchoring the top two pairings, they’ll be pretty well off until he gets back. I think Fischer will become more important this season so I expect him to be on top of his game. There are two unknowns in Delmore and Lilja but at least they’ll have quality players around them and that should help them adjust if they need to.

I’ll begin with the man who is likely to be in net at the start of the season, Manny Legace. In 2003-2004, Manny showed the league that he is ready for a starting role after so many years of playing backup to star goalies. It’s something Wings fans have known for years but were satisfied to ignore because the Wings could always afford a top goalie. Well, now Manny could be the guy we see in the net night in and night out. I expect him to be his usual self this year, solid but not stellar.

Chris Osgood is back in the Winged Wheel and while that doesn’t thrill a lot of people, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Osgood has his big faults like every other goalie but he has even bigger strong points. Everyone remembers the bad goals he lets in (and they were bad, no disputing it) but it seems no one remembers the times where he was the only thing keeping the Wings in a game. He can be a very good goalie when at the top of his game and in those times, bad goals are few and far between. He has to recover from a torn groin muscle, however, and may not be ready to play until a couple weeks into the regular season. At that point, expect a battle for the number one spot because, although they’re in a great position to give significant time to both men, Babcock would like to have either Osgood or Legace be The Man.

In the meantime, we’re likely to see would-be U. Maine senior Jimmy Howard on the bench in all the goalie equipment. Howard was a standout in college and the Wings have high hopes for him in the future. He’s looked good when I’ve seen him play and should be alright backing up Legace for the first few weeks. I am a little worried at the prospect of Howard becoming the starter because of injuries but the Wings wouldn’t be the first team to rely on a rookie goalie.

The Wings’ goalie corps included Dominik Hasek, Curtis Joseph and Manny Legace in 2003-2004 but now only Legace remains. Hasek moved on to the Senators (and appears to be kicking some serious butt) while Joseph signed with Wayne Gretzky’s Coyotes, thereby moving even further away from Toronto, where his heart lies. I don’t think Joseph ever really fit in here and the whole fiasco with Hasek last season is better forgotten.

Goaltending overall
The Wings’ goaltending situation is maybe as not as reassuring as previous years because they don’t have a big name starter but they do have two experienced goalies who should be able to pull them through a regular season. Not many teams can say they lost two goalies of the Hasek and Joseph’s caliber and yet end up with starters of acceptable quality. Their goaltending probably is their weakest point but I’ll still be reletively confident with either Legace or Osgood in net as long as the rest of the team is playing well.

The Wings have a totally new coaching staff this year, headed by former Ducks head coach Mike Babcock, who brought his assistants, Paul MacLean and Todd McLellan with him to Detroit. I’ve really only heard positive things about Babcock, though I haven’t seen enough of him yet to form my own opinion. It sounds like he is just what this team needs, which at the very least means a new face behind the bench. He is a good coach for development of young players and will become even more valuable as more and more veterans leave the team. I am looking forward to seeing what Babcock and his assistants can get out of this team. It’s certainly one of the more positive points going into the season.

I believe Wings fans have many reasons to be optimistic about this season. Sure, things aren’t as slam-dunk as they have been in recent years but given the results of the team’s latest trips to the playoffs, I think they have as good a chance this season as any to go far. It won’t be an easy ride and could get ugly at times but that will be more because of a more level playing field across the league than anything else.

I don’t know about you guys but I’m looking forward to Wednesday night.

9/28 Notes

Today I’ve got some good news and some bad news so brace yourselves.

Bad news first:
… The Wings lost 2-1 to the Avs last night. Big deal, you say, it’s just exhibition and doesn’t matter. However, it may turn out to be a game we’ll remember down the road. This may come as a shock since the game was not televised but at the end of the first period, Dan Hinote gave Niklas Kronwall a hip check along the boards that resulted in Kronwall’s leaving the ice and heading to the dressing room with a knee injury. Now, I don’t know about you guys but when I see “knee injury” I assume the worst because I’ve seen too many players have serious knee injuries take them out for a long, long time. Minor knee injuries aren’t all that common, it seems.

The Wings’ luck with important defensemen and knee injuries is not good and I’m really hoping this is not just another case of a blown ACL. First Jiri Fischer in 2002-2003, then Derian Hatcher in 2003-2004. Now we may be robbed of one of our most promising players who is fresh off a breakout season in the AHL. Wonderful. If you pray, you might want to add Nick2 to your list of petitions. Besides the implications for the Wings’ season, he’s a nice guy and it’s just polite to hope he gets better soon anyway.

… Don’t expect to see Chris Osgood on the ice any time soon. The Wings are not going to let what happened with Dominik Hasek last season happen with Ozzie this season. He will not play until he is healed and even then he may not immediately play in Detroit. Wings GM Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press Monday: “In all probability, when he’s ready to play, he’ll play a couple games in Grand Rapids. He’s going to need some games.”

What’s interesting is this: if Osgood isn’t ready to play by 5. October, the Wings will start the season with Manny Legace in net and former U. of Maine standout Jimmy Howard backing him up. That’s a would-be college senior instead of Joey MacDonald, an established AHL goalie. Looks like the Wings have a lot of confidence in Howard, though the chance that he may become the starter because of injuries is a little scary to me.

Now the good news:
… Pavel Datsyuk says he wants to be with the Wings for a long, long time: “I want to retire here,” he told the Detroit News yesterday. (The Freep has a Pavel piece of their own today here.)

By that I assume he really means “I want to retire here …. if they pay me enough money and give me short contracts so I don’t over-commit.” Still, it’s positive news and gives Wings fans hope for a bright future beyond this season, as long as he’s not planning on retiring any time soon.

Don’t expect Pavel to be in the lineup tonight, however. The News reports that Babcock would rather wait until Friday night versus the Maple Leafs to play him. Despite their obvious on-ice chemistry, he won’t play with Henrik Zetterberg, at least not to begin with. Expect to see him play with Brendan Shanahan and either Jason Williams or Mikael Samuelsson (who is to arrive in the country later this week).

… While Wings fans at the Joe won’t see Datsyuk in the lineup tonight, they may see Henrik Zetterberg, who has been recovering from a hip flexor sustained in training camp, for the first time this year. He had a pain-free practice yesterday and said he hopes Babcock will have him dress. Babcock will make the decision today, after seeing how Hank is feeling.

… Fans at the Joe should also get their first look at new defenseman Andreas Lilja, who also has been recovering from a hip flexor. He played in last night’s untelevised game and will play in three of the last four pre-season games.

UPDATE (2:30 PM ET):
The latest news on Niklas Kronwall is not good. He was scheduled to have an MRI to determine the extent of the damage today but there is little confidence that the results will be positive. Head coach Mike Babcock told the Free Press this morning that,

“Anytime a guy’s face is sheet-white after something happens, with a guy like Nik, something’s wrong. We’re hoping that we get a way better report than we did from the doctor last night at the game today with the MRI. But realistically, he looks like he’s going to be out for a while.”

If the injury turns out to be as serious as everyone fears, it will be be Kronwall’s second big leg injury in as many seasons with the Wings. He played 20 games with the team in 2003-2004 but broke his leg during pre-game warm-ups after catching his skate on a rut in LA. Now we have guys like Chris Chelios saying, “Hopefully he’ll heal quick and be here for the middle of the season and the remainder of the season and the playoffs.” Yeah, hopefully.

The worst part about all of this is he wasn’t even supposed to play yesterday, according to the Freep. Jamie Rivers was slated to be in the lineup but because he is injured, Kronwall took his place. Now Rivers, who was fighting for a roster spot, may have a job, at least until Kronwall can get back. Other possible replacements include Andy Delmore and Brett Lebda, neither of whom are very exciting or really adequate.

I was looking forward to seeing more of Niklas this season, especially after the year he had in GR but I guess we’ll have to wait. If it had to happen, I suppose now is as good a time as any because he should be able to make it back for when it counts without too much a rush.

I’m sure we’ll get a more concrete confirmation on his status later today or tomorrow.

UPDATE (8:44 PM ET): is reporting that Kronwall will be about at least six weeks with an injury that includes some ACL and MCL damage in his left knee. Ken Holland says he will be examined on Friday and his status will become more certain then. They’re obviously hoping it’s not the season-ending injury that it could be.

More to come in the next few days and weeks.

Wings defeat Dallas Stars, 4-2, in Hockeytown

On Sunday, the Detroit Red Wings defeated the Dallas Stars, 4-2. Kris Draper notched two goals in the third period. For the shootout, he had another opportunity to score but missed the shot. Brendan Shanahan and Dan Cleary also scored for the Wings. Detroit also won the shootout.

It appears that the lockout did not affect Draper’s offensive abilities. “One of the things Mike said was, ‘Don’t think, go fast,’ and that has been one of my theories since,” Draper said. “It is fun when things are opening up a little bit, especially down low.” Head coach, Mike Babcock, hopes to see Draper use his speed more. “I expect him to be good,” Babcock said. “He is probably one of the best athletes in the game.”

It sounds like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and even Jamie Rivers may return on Wednesday when the Wings play Columbus. “He is a great young player,” GM Holland said. “All the moves made this summer were to make sure we had Pavel and Zetterberg. It would have been a great loss to buy people out and not have Pavel.”

I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the hockey game on Sunday. Because of all the construction on the freeways heading into Detroit, it took an hour and a half to get there (normally a 30-45 minute drive) and we got into JLA with 4 minutes before the puck dropped. I was lucky because Steve Yzerman actually played. But unlucky because I left my camera in my dorm room so I borrowed my mom’s. Her camera had a minute of battery left and 3 photos left on the memory space. None of which I realized before I got to JLA. So I have 3 photos, but I haven’t transferred those few photos yet.

Anyways, the fans weren’t as energetic as a typical mid-season game, but I was just happy to be at the Joe watching NHL hockey. I happily bought two t-shirts and an Yzerman bobblehead. My room at home is filled with autographed Red Wings memorabilia, none of which I took to college because I didn’t want to get it ruined. So all my unsigned stuff was brought to my dorm room to Wing-ify it. As the game went on, the “lets go Red Wings” chant became much more pronounced.

I must say that after watching a shootout live, I’ve become a big fan. The whole crowd was chanting “Manny Manny.” It was intense. However, I hope that this shootout feature is not added on in the playoffs because the prospect of OT, double OT, or even triple OT is what makes the playoffs so incredibly exciting. Remember Larionov’s goal against the Hurricanes or Yzerman’s goals over the Blues? Good times.

The Wings play Colorado tonight, but unfortunately it won’t be shown on TV in the Detroit area. Go Wings!

It’s in ink

It’s really official now: Pavel Datsyuk actually signed his contract today and will begin practices with the team tomorrow.

The details I gave earlier turned out to be a little wrong, however. His contract is apparently for two-years, $7.8 million (instead of $7.6 million), meaning he will earn $3.9 million this season. That makes him the second highest paid player on the team (he is no longer tied with Robert Lang at $3.8 million a year).

So unless something wholly unforeseen happens, we will see Pavel Datsyuk in the Winged Wheel again, probably as soon as Wednesday night.

Congratulations, Pavel, and welcome back. I hope you’ll earn that money.

Picture of the Day

Pavel Datsyuk in Omsk, Russia:

Wouldn’t pick him out to be an NHL near-superstar making $3.8 million, would you?

I’m guessing Pavel’s in line for a plane taking him at least part of the way back to Detroit, where he is expected to arrive today.

Thanks to Kukla’s Korner for the picture.

UPDATE (26. Sep 05): The Detroit News reports that Pavel was scheduled to arrive last night (Sunday) and will sign the contract sometime today. He is expected to practice tomorrow and will be in the lineup for Wednesday’s game against Columbus. Babcock says he will play with Brendan Shanahan but not Henrik Zetterberg, at least not initially. Zetterberg also may return to the ice Wednesday after being out due to a hip flexor injury.

Wings play Columbus in exhibition game

I’ve never been so happy to watch real live NHL hockey on tv. Seriously. Last night, I had multiple meetings preventing me from watching the Wings play Colorado Avalanche (which they won in OT, 3-2). I saw a few clips from the game and Lidstrom scored in his classic spot, by the blue line, in OT. Shanny was the only one to score in the shootout.

I’m watching the game right now against the Blue Jackets with a little under 5 minutes left in the 1st period. It just feels so good to watch “my team” play. Live. On tv. Wow. I love the sound of skates pushing off the ice, the puck hitting the crossbar (although that can kill me too), and the rattling of the boards after a big hit. Ah, the joys of hockey. Thus far into the game, we’ve had 2 Wings penalties (Mowers and Sloan) and 1 Columbus penalty. The first 3:24 went without a single whistle and Draper had a chance to capitalize on a 125 foot pass from Kronwall (I believe). While I’m unsure about how certain rules will work out over the next little bit, I do like offensive chances like that because they’re allowed to do two line passes.

This is just making me more and more excited for the pre-season game vs. the Stars that I’m going to on Sunday. Sorry guys, I know I’m just rambling right now but it’s wonderful to procrastinate doing homework by watching hockey.

I did see some clips of the NHL’s new marketing campaign, My NHL. I personally don’t care for it. They compare a warrior to an NHL player in 5 “chapters.” Why can’t they just pick some of the best players out there and do like a crazy highlight reel? Why do they feel that they must go to Shania Twain or a ‘hockey warrior’ to market hockey? To see what I’m talking about, watch this (the commercial cuts aren’t until later in the press conference) video.

I’ll probably update my ramblings after the game. Go Wings!

Update: The Wings tied with Columbus in the last 43 seconds of the third period. With little left in OT, the Blue Jackets beat Jimmy Howard to win the game, 3-2.

Wings 3, Avs 2 (OT)

I wasn’t able to watch the whole game last night because I had a meeting I had to attend but I was able to catch the first period and record some observations.

– Babcock apparently likes Yzerman on the left wing and started him with Maltby and Draper. I noticed that this line played a lot in the first period, as did the Wings’ second line. Yzerman looked good and didn’t seem to be too much affected by the visor he’s wearing.

– Jason Williams, Robert Lang and Brendan Shanahan played together and had some good chances. I like that combination, two strong and skilled forwards combined with Williams’ youth and speed. Should be a good one.

– Jiri Fischer has jersey #2 again, now that Derian Hatcher is with Philadelphia. He played with Mathieu Schneider in the first period.

– I didn’t find the trapezoid behind the net overly obtrusive, though the crappy reception the TV in the lounge downstairs gets may have something to do with that. I can already tell, though, that the goalies are going to have trouble adapting.

– Unlike the exhibition games I’ve been reading about, the pace wasn’t disrupted by penalties in the first period. It wasn’t until six and a half minutes into the game that a penalty was called and up to then, there was a pretty good pace. There were only two penalties total in the first period, both on the Avs, and it seemed the players had adapted pretty well to the new rules.

– Manny Legace made the start for the Wings and looked sharp, though he wasn’t tested much as the Wings dominated the play for most of the period.

– Niklas Kronwall is certainly offensively-minded. He joined the rush a number of times and created some chances for himself and others. As long as he knows the correct balance, I have no problem with him getting involved in the offense. It adds a bit of excitement to know that there is another player on the edge of the screen who is a threat.

– There wasn’t anything too exciting play-wise in the first period but with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg not dressed, that was to be expected. Still, it was exciting just to see the Wings play again, after a year and a half. Any pessimism I might have had is gone. The Wings can compete, it will just be tougher than before. I’m looking forward to the season more than ever now.

– I would have liked to have seen the shootout after the game and Brendan Shanahan’s goal, in particular. I wonder how common shootouts will be in the regular season.

For a more standard game summary, check out the Freep’s, which is entitled “Not matter? Heck, Wings still top Avs.” My sentiments exactly. It may have been exhibition but it was Red Wings exhibition and for a fan who hadn’t seen hockey for so long, it could only serve to re-light the fires.

Also, FSN will broadcast the game from Columbus tonight at 7:00 ET.

Go Wings!