Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Wiz Biz: Defending Conklin, Red Wings

It's been a little while since I wrote about the Detroit Red Wings' progress, namely because it seemed like weeks were going by without them playing. Obviously the big breaks between games makes content a little thin over here, but I can assure you there are some irons in the fire in the near future for some articles not related to Detroit.

In the meantime, I feel like I have to address Detroit's recent ill fortune. After starting the season with five impressive wins, Detroit has fallen to Washington in a 7-1 laugher and a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets. A little bit of controversy surrounds both of these games as the starting goaltender was...wait for it...Ty Conklin. Yes, that fellow who played in the first three outdoor games, including Detroit's 6-4 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. He's had a rough couple of starts but I'm here to say everything is going to be alright for Ty.

At first everyone was impressed with Ty's shutout in the game against Colorado. It was a fine 29 save performance, no doubt. The follow up to Conklin's impressive showing was perhaps the most embarrassing loss I have ever seen Detroit suffer in the regular season since I became a hockey fan when I was about eight years old. Nothing went right. Not to pin it all on Conklin, but there were key moments where big saves needed to be made and it didn't happen. Needless to say it was an ugly game that made Conklin look like a buffoon. The next game for Conklin was a short-notice start against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday. In lieu of Jimmy Howard and his wife bringing a brand new baby and future Detroit Red Wing legend into this world, Conklin was peppered with 31 shots, three of which went in. Not the worst performance but when your team can't muster more than a single goal, it's not good enough.

So two bad starts after one really good one leaves people wondering what the deal is in Detroit. The schedule is not going to get any easier this season and while I give all due credit to the Washington juggernaut, the game with the Blue Jackets should have gone better. I say this knowing that Columbus was very hungry for a win and the return of James Wisniewski was a huge boost to their team. The question some Wings fans may be wondering: is Ty Conklin going to be alright for us backing up Jimmy Howard? Is goaltending depth a concern?

Yes, he is. No, it is not.

To put it very succinctly, Ty Conklin is a good goaltender. He has yet to grab the brass ring and be the number one guy on a team, but I would argue he doesn't need to be as he puts up great numbers as the backup. He was 18-8 in Pittsburgh in '08 and he was 25-11 in Detroit in '09. He's still on a great team today in Detroit, so I think it's fair to say he should be able to perform to those levels should he need to.

Unfortunately, lots of people remember the infamous blunder in Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006:

Apologies for the poor quality and apologies to any Oilers fans out there who still have a sore spot over that. The fallout from Conklin's Folly did irreparable damage to his time in Edmonton, but like a cat hurled from atop the dining room table, Conklin landed on his feet in Pittsburgh and continuum the momentum in Detroit. As a Red Wing, Conklin went 25-11 in 40 games with a 2.51 GAA and a .909 save percentage. His time in St. Louis was less pleasant, barely putting up a .500 win percentage and posting some really cruddy numbers. After two seasons in St. Louis, Conklin is back and that is where we are today.

Last time Conklin was here, he put up great numbers for a backup goaltender. I can't think of another backup kicking around the league right now who put up a strong showing strictly as the backup. Hopefully in the coming months we see more of this:

And less of the bad stuff we saw last week. As I said about Detroit's PP problems and faceoff struggles, it's no reason to be alarmed this early in the season, and in the end Detroit finds a way to continue to improve itself. Conklin's two bad games aren't cause for alarm. Yet.

Furthermore, I think that Joey MacDonald serving as our number three guy adds a level of security that Detroit lacked last year. I can sleep soundly at night knowing that if our top guy falls, our backup Ty Conklin can come in and do just fine.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Wiz Biz: Detroit Thus Far

So far, so good.

The Detroit Red Wings have started the 2011-2012 NHL season with a 3-0-0-0 record, posting a 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators, a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche, and last night's 2-0 shutout over the Vancouver Canucks. Before I plan the parade route, let's be serious. Three wins is a good start to the season, especially since two of them were shutouts, but it does not mean Detroit is going to be an unstoppable juggernaut from start to finish.

It's tough for a die-hard, fanatical fan such as myself to admit this but there is a very noticeable problem with the Red Wings of this season. The power play for the Wings is 0 for 16 on the power play this season. As in 0% effective. Granted, there are five other teams who have yet to tickle the twine on the power play yet this season, but this article isn't about them. It's about being truthful about the Red Wings' start this season.

Another obvious statistic that is disturbing is the failure at the faceoff circle. Currently, Detroit is ranked 25th in the NHL with a 45.9% faceoff success rate. The obvious target for criticism would be young Cory Emmerton, who currently has a goal, an assist, and is a +2 in his three games as the fourth line center. Hard to blame the kid for being a loser at the dot when everywhere else he's performing beyond expectation. Darren Helm hasn't been too hot at the faceoff circle either.

I'd love to go off on a tangent about how it's too early to judge any team by its start. Even the Blue Jackets, the Jets, and the Rangers don't deserve any ire from their fans for not yet getting a win. As for Detroit, at this point in the season, on paper, two shutouts and three wins looks good. Jimmy Howard and Ty Conklin look sharp. Jiri Hudler, last year's major disappointment, leads the team with three points. Jonathan Ericsson is a +4 with zero PIMs and Jakub Kindl is among league leaders in plus/minus with +5.

In the long run, I have no doubt that Detroit will be just fine. The power play will work itself out. Its likely that the faceoff issues will also work themselves out and our success rate will improve with every game Emmerton gets under his belt. However, the Wings' start is by no means a work of art. Don't hand them the Cup yet.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Wiz Biz: NHL Realignment

As it was tweeted a little more than an hour ago on Twitter, via the venerable vizier of vision, @TSNBobMcKenzie, it appears the Detroit Red Wings are coming to the Eastern Conference. Yes, finally, after ludicrous travel schedules year after year, the Wings are awarded a spot in the...Southeast Division? Wait, what?

Yes. According to Bob, Detroit and Winnipeg are swapping spots, which puts Winnipeg in the acceptable Central Division, just out of reach for intense inter-Canadian slugfests within the Northwest Division. So neither team really gets what it wants, and Detroit gets to face the likes of historic NHL franchises as the Tampa Bay Lightning (est. 1992), the Florida Panthers (est. 1993), and the Carolina Hurricanes (est. 1997). When I think of the Detroit Red Wings, I think of boiling hot temperatures, bikini babes, and parties on the beach 'til the break of dawn. Well, at least, that's what Will Smith promised me.

This is a very poorly thought out move by the league. It's moving Winnipeg, a team that obviously cannot last in the division with some of the worst attendance numbers, into a comfortable position where it can play its obvious Canadian rivalries sometimes but still fill the uninspired role of Nashville and Chicago's whipping boy (at least for a few years). Meanwhile, Detroit, arguably one of the most popular teams in the league, gets shoved into the problem-child division in a very transparent attempt to bolster the weak Southern market. There's a lack of foresight into what this will do to for Detroit's own attendance numbers, which have been called into question a number of times. While it is true that on television Detroit looks like it has a problem, 2007-2008 appears to be an anomaly based on the stats ESPN affords us. Aside from that year, they were a consistently strong draw at home and the road. But I'm getting off on a tangent and there's another lengthy debate to be had.

Detroit Red Wings fans in Detroit don't want to watch Florida, Tampa Bay, and Carolina nine times at home. Detroit Red Wings fans want to play the teams they actually have rivalries with: Montreal, Toronto, Pittsburgh (among the newer rivalries, admittedly) and yes, Chicago. On what planet does it make sense for the Wings to play Southern teams? What happened to the solid plan of having them play Columbus and Nashville, newer expansion teams? Didn't that go well? In my brash and boisterous opinion, it went pretty well for everyone. I love Columbus and Nashville's competitive teams. I love watching the Red Wings duke it out with them in March and now into April. Columbus feels like it's getting closer to kicking Detroit's ass every year. Nashville is already there with their hyper-defensive, extremely well coached team. Chicago will always be Detroit's greatest rivalry. They mirror them in many ways, and even though they never really had to face the Wings, they won the Cup in 2010 for the first time since the Fantastic Four debuted. In 1961, for those who are not comic book nerds like myself.

All tomfoolery aside, let me be terse and concise for once. Moving the Detroit Red Wings to the Southeast Division is NOT a good idea. Yes, it benefits the Jets to move to a competitive, strong Central Division. Yes, it even benefits the Southeast Division to gain an incredibly strong competitor who WILL draw on the road. However, it is a complete fumble and mismanagement of the league's potential for business. Detroit going into a division with Montreal, Toronto, and other logical geographical (and historical) rivals would reignite passions that have long since suffered in Hockeytown. It is entirely ludicrous and unacceptable that a league that had fifty years to develop the "Original Six" rivalries would stomp all over their own history by taking the easy way out of a long, thorough discussion of realignment.

I sincerely apologize to the teams of the Southeast Division, their fans, their players, and anyone associated with the NHL teams situation in the South. I love your teams. I hope they stick around for as long as possible; the idea of more cities losing NHL teams to league mismanagement is something that sickens me. I want what's best for the Southeast Division and its teams. Unfortunately, what could be interpreted as a move with good intentions is just plain nonsensical. I don't want to make it sound like Nashville should be the team to "take a bullet" and join your division but in reality, it should be them. I personally think it would even work better. From my rudimentary knowledge of NCAA football, there's already a pretty good Florida-Tennessee rivalry going on. Can that translate to the ice as well?

Please NHL, do not do this. Do not make such a blunder. This is a Battle-of-Waterloo like mistake waiting to happen. Don't waste an opportunity to reignite some of the most priceless rivalries.