Archive for July, 2008

The Hat on Hossa

Eric Duhatschek has a good piece on the Marian Hossa signing. One particularly interesting bit:

The risk for Hossa, who has been a remarkably durable player over the years, is that his good health continues. Hossa had major knee surgery in his final year of junior, but has been a picture of health ever since — missing just 22 games in eight years, 10 of them last year, split between the Penguins and the Atlanta Thrashers.

Six of those games came this past season after Hossa sprained his knee in his first game as a Penguin on the 28th. He recovered nicely from that injury, however, finishing third in post-season scoring with 23 26 points in 20 games.

I’m liking his tendency to remain healthy, though it’ll be tested in the more physical West.

One other particularly good section in the article:

… Accordingly, the Red Wings understand better than most the pitfalls that await a team the year after a Stanley Cup victory — the short summer, the need for motivation, the focus that every opponent has for the defending champions.

It is one reason why Holland, with no discernible holes in his team, wanted to make a couple of changes anyway — to ensure that the hunger is present again, when the team opens training camp in September. …

The shaking-out

Update (10:18 PM): Of course, as soon as I write that I’d like to see Mac take a two-way contract, the Windsor Star comes out with a report indicating he may not be willing to do so. Come on, Mac! I thought you loved GR. – Matt

Updated @ 10:00 PM – see end of post – Matt

The Lilja, Stuart, Conklin, and Hossa signings raise questions about the final makeup of the Wings’ roster. Here’s how I’m hoping it all shakes out:

To start, the Valtteri Filppula question. If anyone offers him $3+ million and he takes the offer, the Wings’ can’t stop him leaving. However, I like to think Fil would relish the thought of playing for the Cup again, particularly with a winger like Hossa. Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t see a problem there as long as he’s willing to accept $2.5 million or less from Detroit.

On the way out should be Dallas Drake, who ought to retire in order to make way for others. All indications seem to be that he’s going to hang them up while he’s on top. It’d be great to have him back, but there’s not a lot of room.

I’d love to see the Wings convince Darren McCarty to take two-way contract. It would be a move aimed at bringing in a physical presence if needed for the playoffs and would go a long way in boosting the popularity of hockey here in West Michigan. Mac can still bring it and would be valuble to have available.

I’d prefer they keep Aaron Downey around the main squad, but if it’s he who goes to GR, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. By all accounts, the guy is so good in the lockerroom that I don’t hesitate to overstate his role in the Cup win when I talk about the guy. If nothing else, I think they should make Downey Director of Team Morale or something.

Assuming Fil re-signs, Drake retires, and the enforcers split as outlined above, the Wings would end up with 12 forwards with settled statuses: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Marian Hossa, Dan Cleary, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Mikael Samuelsson, Jiri Hudler and Aaron Downey/Darren McCarty (with this guy sitting out more often than not).

I’ve seen a lot of reports stating they want to carry 13 forwards, so there’s a spot up for grabs. Personally, I’d love to see Darren Helm take it over Tomas Kopecky. The kid certainly earned it during the playoffs and would make the fourth line killer once again. However, his ability to return to the AHL without having to clear waives could mean he’ll be headed back to GR, unfortunately.

Another option for this spot is Ville Leino. Apparently, they want to bring the Finn over this season and not to play for Grand Rapids. He would face the very difficult proposition of beating out a Babcock favorite (Helm) and a good, skilled grinder (Kopecky). I can’t see that happening.

I’ve seen some talk about Justin Abdelkader, but I can’t see him cracking the lineup. He should go to Grand Rapids and get acclimated to professional hockey before he makes the leap. He’s going to be really fun to watch in GR this year, if that’s where he ends up.

On the defensive side, as I stated in the Hossa post, I think Kyle Quincey’s days as a Red Wing are over. There are a lot of fond memories of the kid from the 2007 playoffs floating around, but the fact is he’s not a very good skater and is not much on the offensive side. In other words, he’s not the prototypical Red Wings defenseman. He lacks the size to make up for those skill deficiencies in the way that Andreas Lilja does. He’s also got an apparent attitude problem. He’s got to be the odd man out in this situation. If they can’t swing a trade for picks or something, waive him.

As for Chris Chelios, as I wrote before, he’s going to have to decide for himself whether or not the very reduced role he’s facing will be acceptable. I’d love for him to come back because he brings so much to this team, but he’s certainly slowly being ushered out. I have a hard time seeing him doing anything but come back, though.

I know many fans can’t stand Lilja, but I’m a little more “eh” about the guy. He’s got an upside as a shot blocker and PKer. The guy is not here to carry the puck and make two-line passes. He’s not your typical Red Wing defenseman, but his size and physicality are meant to compensate. Obviously, his downside is that he has all-too-frequent and very visible gaffes. Still, I’m inclined to buy the argument of his few defenders that these mostly happen when he’s left out to dry by his more offensively-minded partners. If anything, he needs to improve his recovery skills. Anyway, unless he’s majorly beaten out in camp and the Wings look to trade him, Lilja’s one half of the third pairing, with Brett Lebda likely making up the other half.

I think Jonathan Ericsson is ready for an NHL job, but it won’t be this year unless he “pulls a Filppula” at training camp and forces his way onto the roster by being so good. The potential for him to be a hugely dominate AHL defenseman and the confidence that would arise from that makes sending him back to GR an attractive idea. I think he’s stronger mentally than Quincey in that it doesn’t seem likely he’ll have an off year as a result of coming down from the high of being a part of a long playoff run.

With Lidstrom, Rafalski, Kronwall, Stuart, Lebda, and Lilja under contract and assuming Chelios signs, the Wings would be up to seven defensemen with an apparent interest in carrying eight. Unless Ericsson tears it up in camp, that spot should go to Derek Meech. Meech is NHL-ready and is out of options. I’d hate to see him forced off the team, so I hope they make a point of keeping him around. He, like Ericsson, is the future of the Detroit blueline.

Now to goaltending. Chris Osgood is the starter at this point, there’s no question. He’s arguably playing the best hockey of his career, so it’s his job to lose. The job of back-up is a little more up in the air, though not too high. Jimmy Howard is going to have to be stellar in camp to pass Ty Conklin in the depth chart. Or Conklin will have to be awful.

Personally, I’d rather Conklin be the guy on the bench recording faceoffs while Jimmy gets actual ice time in Grand Rapids. Howard needs to have at least one strong year in the AHL before he’ll be ready for the NHL and if he can play the majority of the season with the Griffins, he should have the stability necessary to do that. Conklin is a great insurance policy, as his record this past season for Pittsburgh indicates.

So to me the 2008-2009 Wings roster would ideally look something like this:

Datsyuk-Zetterberg-Holmstrom
Franzen-Filppula-Hossa
Cleary-Draper-Maltby
Samuelsson-Hudler-Helm ( or, more likely, Kopecky)
Downey

Lidstrom-Rafalski
Kronwall-Stuart
Lilja-Lebda
Chelios
Meech

Osgood
Conklin

GR:

Leino
McCarty

Ericsson

Howard

That’s my take on the situation. We’ll see how much of it happens!

One last question that obviously needs addressing at some point is who is going to replace Todd McLellan.

In any case, the Wings are poised to have another great season. Like last summer following the loss to the Ducks, I’m fully confident in their ability to go all the way. They appear to have all the tools in the right places once again.

Update (10:00 PM): I should add here that I think the chances of a Red Wings post-Cup hangover are slim. This team is too well-coached and too focused for that. They certainly aren’t counting their chickens before they’re hatched, you can bet on it.

So, my fellow fans, feel free to do some harmless counting of poultry while the team takes care of business like group of professionals they are. There’s no harm in our being excited about their chances. – Matt

I really can’t wait for hockey to start up again!

Marian Hossa now a Red Wing

Update (5:10 PM): I’ve been sneaking reads about the deal all day, and the more I read, the more I like it, for a few reasons.

First of all, Hossa’s offensive upside is huge. The guy’s a great skater with great hands and solid hockey sense on the attack. That much was obvious from the Finals as well as the game in which he had a hat trick against the Wings while with Atlanta. He gives the Wings a real finisher like they’ve been lacking really since Brendan Shanahan left. The idea of a potential Hossa-Datsyuk-Zetterberg power play, or even strength unit, is incredible.

Second, the more I read, the more I see that my comment below about Hossa not being a defensive stalwart was uninformed at best. While the guy is not Selke material, I keep reading about his solid two-way game and that’s great. The last thing the Wings need is someone to cherry pick and shirk defensive responsibilities. As long as he’s responsible in his own end, he should be in good shape in Detroit.

Third, I love that he came here to win. Obviously, he’s being compensated very well, but he rejected more lucrative offers in order to have the best shot at playing for the Cup. That should mean he’ll have the right attitude while he’s here, though I’m still a little unsure about his lockerroom presence. If anyone has input on that, I’d love to hear it. That remains my only qualm at this point.

As addressed briefly below, the deal does of course open the Wings up to the poaching of Valtteri Filppula by some nutso GM because their ability to match a potential offer sheet is now much more limited. However, given the fact that Fil seems to remain a well-kept secret, I doubt we’ll see any $5 million-a-year offers for the kid. So there shouldn’t be much of a problem there unless a GM gets vindictive.

Make no mistake about it, at this point, this looks like an incredible move by Ken Holland. There’s obviously a lot that can go wrong with bringing a big star into the lockerroom, but here’s hoping this becomes more of a Brett Hull/Luc Robitaille signing than a Curtis Joseph one. If it’s the former, we’re in for one heck of a season.

For a few more takes on the deal, see

Abel to Yzerman

Bruce MacLeod (here and here)

George Malik (wrap-up)

James Mirtle

– Matt

Update (1:43 PM): Okay, this really is the last thing until I get home: the effect this deal has on the Wings’ other free agents, most notably Valtteri Filppula.

The Wings have $4 million or so left now under the cap and still have Filppula, Chris Chelios, Aaron Downey, Darren McCarty, Kyle Quincey, Jimmy Howard, and Jonathan Ericsson unsigned. Aside from Fil, those players come cheap, but they do add up.

Jimmy and Ericsson can be sent to Grand Rapids next season and thus not count against the cap. Howard isn’t the AHL-dominant goalie the Wings want him to be, so that’s not a bad route. Ericsson’s development may be hurt, or he could pull a Kronwall and have an AHL-best year as a defenseman.

Downey or McCarty will have to accept a two-way contract or go elsewhere since there just isn’t space on the roster for both of them. It’s pretty obvious that Kyle Quincey’s days as a Red Wing are over. And Chelios will have to decide if he really wants to stick around now that the Wings have six seven signed NHL defensemen.

As for Filppula, he’s not going to break the bank, but any contract he signs will bring the Wings uncomfortably close to their self-imposed cap of $2 million below the League one if they bring back Chelios, Mac, or Downey as well.

As George Malik points out, the Wings will have to be quick to lock Fil up as other teams will probably try to poach him as the UFA market dries up. – Matt

Update (1:08 PM): One more thing while I’m still here at work: aside from the fact that it’s Marian Hossa, the best part about this deal is the fact that it’s just for one year. That leaves the Wings with a lot of room to deal with Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen now that they can begin contract talks as of yesterday.

On the downside, it could bring Zetterberg’s price up. No real worries there, though. Hank’s not going to drive a hard bargain and the Wings will give him the raise he deserves. – Matt

Via TSN: one year, $7.4 million.

I’m at work, so I can’t say much now, but wow. This is obviously a huge signing. I just hope Hossa can fit in the system without disrupting chemistry. He’s not exactly a stalwart two-way guy like just about all the Wings’ forwards.

On paper, though, this makes puts the Wings yet another step above the rest. The best defense in hockey with some of the most dangerous forwards in the game. Wow.

More to come.

Retaining the Defense

I apologize for my disappearance over the last few weeks. I’ve been busy with my new job and life. And getting a much-needed break from blogging, I suppose.

I can’t say much now, but I’m glad to see the Wings bring back Brad Stuart. The four-year deal really solidifies the defense for the coming post-Lidstrom reality. Stuart fits in well with the team and brings a nice element of physicality that goes great with Kronwall.

Of course, this, together with the Lilja signing, perpetuates the developing logjam on the blueline. It’s great that the Wings have seven NHL veterans on the blueline again, but players like Derek Meech and Jonathan Ericsson remain stuck on the outside looking in.

Meech is out of options and will have to remain as the 8th man (or be let go), but it looks like Ericsson will have to return to Grand Rapids with the experienced gained from being along for the ride on a Stanley Cup run. Hopefully he won’t go the Kyle Quincey route and have a bad year as a result of being demoted.

At this point, the Wings are doing everything right: bring back the Cup-winning team. If a favorable opportunity arises to bring in new talent, I’m not opposed to the idea, but the last thing I want to see is a disruption of team chemistry in an effort to sign an unnecessary big name. They can do it again with the same group of guys.