On the defense

I was only able to watch the first period last night, so I did not see the collapse that resulted in an embarrassing loss to the League’s last place team. However, you can read all about it over at Gorilla Crouch, where Dave suggests the game was further evidence that the team needs to acquire a top four defenseman at the deadline.

I have to disagree. The Wings are set as far as the top four is concerned. Nick Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, and Andreas Lilja rank among the better top fours in the League. The temporary second paring of Lilja and Brett Lebda is just that, temporary, and will be broken up when Kronwall returns toward the end of the month. They don’t need a top four guy.

Say they do go after a top four guy. What would the defense look like with a new guy of that caliber?

Kronwall-new guy

Tell me that third pairing isn’t a little scary. Both players are strong defensive defensemen, but they are two of the slowest Red Wings. What about this?

Lilja-new guy

So, the team’s best young and third-highest paid defenseman would be relegated to third pairing minutes.  Great. How about this?

new guy-Chelios

What’s the point of acquiring a top four guy if he’s playing on the third pairing?

None of the above scenarios do much for me.

You’ll notice the absence of  Brett Lebda in those mock-ups. That’s because a call for a top four defenseman is an attack on #22. I think Brett’s been something of a disappointment this season because he’s not producing offensively. However, he is a great asset to the team and the argument can be made that he has been underutilized. The last thing the Wings need going into the postseason, where team speed is essential, is to push one of their best skaters out of the lineup.

You might say they’d take Lilja out instead. But if the goal of getting a top four guy is to get larger and more physical, dropping Lilja would make little sense.

This lineup argument is one thing. But the key is the fact that acquiring a top four guy like Rob Blake (who is likely headed to Anaheim) or Brad Stuart would cost far too much. They don’t need a top four guy and they can’t really afford one anyway.

A depth (i.e. a 7th or 8th man) defenseman may be affordable, however, and is something Ken Holland should consider, given Derek Meech’s inexperience.

For the most part I’m actually comfortable with the idea of Meech as injury insurance, especially since he’d play with Chris Chelios, but I’d be more comfortable if the team at least had the option of putting in a veteran. Meech is a strong young defenseman, but his lack of playing time at the NHL level is a concern. If he sees the ice more often down the stretch, that concern would be addressed somewhat, but a veteran still may not be a bad idea.

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  1. Let's just look at the big picture here..
    8 straight wins and one loss, and Dave wants to trade for a big name defenseman, that obviously no one wants or he wouldn't be available.

    The Mik got it right last night when he said:
    "The players without the puck are supposed to give the puckcarrier something to do with it, and they are just not doing it tonight".

    As for Lebda, they better make him #7 before the playoffs and move Meech up to #6.

    "I think Brett’s been something of a disappointment this season because he’s not producing offensively. However, he is a great asset to the team and the argument can be made that he has been underutilized. The last thing the Wings need going into the postseason, where team speed is essential, is to push one of their best skaters out of the lineup."

    If Babcock doesn't take him out of the line-up, our opponents will in the playoffs. He was thrown around like a rag doll in the playoffs last year because of his stature. Great skating and attitude does not go far in the playoffs when you are a mini-defenseman. Move him to #7 as soon as Kroner returns to get Meech more experience. Meech is also a great skater.

  2. Scott H says:

    Ok….not being a hockey player myself, this question might seem ridiculous, but I am curious nonetheless.

    How reasonable would it be to put a forward into a defensive position?

    Not that it could or would ever happen, but sneaking Downey into a defensive posture every now and then could really keep an opposing team looking over their shoulder, not to mention an opposing coach struggling to keep lines together.

    Does a coach have to declare his players positionally before a game?
    Has this type of thing ever happened?

    Thanks for not calling me an idiot 🙂

  3. Sarah Baker says:

    I guess I'll just have to go ahead and disagree with everybody. The Wings' defense is set. The whole thing. The top four. The bottom two, three, whatever. That includes Lebda, whom I think HockeyTownTodd is being way to hard on. He's no Chara or Pronger (thank God), but he's not afraid to stand up for himself. I do not recall this rag doll business to which you are referring…

    If the Wings make any change in the defense, it should be trading Lilja for another D of similar standing only because they can't re-sign him before the deadline. (Which I highly doubt will happen.) This team is freaking good. It is working. It does not need anything. Look at the record. It speaks for itself. Don't mess with a good thing.

    As far as having a safety net if people go down, Meech is more than capable, and the Wings have two defensemen in the minors who could easily handle time on the third pairing in the NHL (Quincey and Ericsson). Quincey showed he could be counted on last year and though he has been underwhelming in Grand Rapids recently, he's just adjusting to being sent down (and quite frankly, the whole team's been underwhelming…) and I have no doubt he'd be ready in a heartbeat if the Wings were to call on him again. Meanwhile Ericsson is a lock for the NHL, and would probably be ahead of both Meech and Quincey on the depth chart were it not for the fear of losing them on waivers.

    So, on the whole, the Wings are good to go. Bring on the playoffs. May the deadline bring us nothing but movements of draft picks and obscure minor leaguers who'll never even see the NHL bench. Go Wings!

  4. Sarah Baker says:

    Scott –

    The forward as a defenseman thing has been done before. Bowman used to make Federov play defense from time to time and we've had a number of fringe guys who played both, just filling in depending on whichever position we needed. They don't usually switch them back and forth mid-game though. That said, I don't think there's any rule about declaring them before the game or anything. I don't know if that's something Babs would be willing to do, or if Downey would be able to handle it but it is an interesting idea.

  5. Justin says:

    I agree with Matt. We definitely don't need another "top four" defenseman. If we do get a d-man, a depth d-man would be a better choice.


    Don't mean to nitpick, but I still like the guy and it's Fedorov with two o's.

    About playing a forward on defense:

    You can't do it with just anybody. Fedorov was an exceptional case, and he still fills in as a defenseman for Ken Hitchcock in Columbus sometimes. There are some other players around the league who have played both forward and defense in their careers as well: Cristoph Schubert, Brent Burns, Scott Niedermayer, Mathieu Dandenault, and Jason Ward, just to name a few.

    And then there are players who play the defenseman's position during powerplays. Babcock does it with Samuelsson. Usually these are players with good, hard slapshots and enough skating ability to fall back into a defensive posture should the puck get turned over. Daniel Alfredsson, Brad Richards, Ilya Kovalchuk, and more – they all do it too.

    I don't think using Downey in either of these possibilities is a good idea. It would hurt the Wings more than anything. It's usually OK to play a defenseman as a forward because if he makes a mistake, well it's OK. But a forward playing defense with no prior training? A mistake can lead to a goal scored against you. Not as OK.

    If any other forward on the Wings gets played as a D-man, it would have to be Draper. Fast, defensively sound, and willing to fight for the puck along the boards. And they wouldn't be losing out on a lot of offense either. Let him go take the faceoffs and then fall back to D. Would be interesting to see.

  6. Scott H says:

    I just don't think we have an answer for the playoffs. We don't have anyone to punish people for entering the zone. We are a skill team that loses in the playoffs because we don't hit hard enough. Pronger won the cup for Anaheim last year. Who is our punisher? The refs clearly look the other way during the playoffs so we need to have an answer soon or we will be out early again (that is the consensus of all of my hockey loving friends.) I thought Drake would be tougher than he is, which basically leaves Downey to lead the charge. There has to be more….1 injury to the Eurotwins and we lose in 4.

    Just a concerned opinion.

    p.s. Am I the only one that thought Lilja looked exceptional during the LA game?

  7. Scott H says:

    Have you seen this kid, by the way? WOW!!! http://wickedwrister.com/?p=54

  8. Justin says:

    AH so you're one of those misinformed people who think "grit" and "hitting" are the only things that matter in the playoffs. Guess what? They aren't. And no, they are not necessary components of a Cup winning team. Sure they help, but their need is so immensely overrated by the media.

    Most recent example of a skill team beating a "grit" team: 2004, Tampa Bay over the Calgary Flames, one of the biggest goon teams in recent history. And it's not like the Hurricanes were particularly gritty in 2006 either. They didn't have any big, punishing defensemen. The exact opposite in fact. And last year, it took the Ducks a flukey goal and a bad giveaway to beat the Wings. It wasn't "grit" that won them the series. And "out early again"? Losing in the Conference Finals is not "out early".

    So please put away those tired, old cliches about the playoffs and grit. I'm so sick of hearing about them.

  1. […] over at On the Wings disagrees that the Red Wings need a top four defenseman. He thinks a top four of Lidstrom, Rafalski, Lilja […]

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