Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Frkwatch Update: Moose Cruise in Q

This is a semi-frequent piece that I will run as much as I can attend Detroit Red Wings' prospect Martin Frk's QMJHL games. The views and opinions are those of myself and ONLY myself. I can't claim objectivity; my sole purpose is to report what I see myself.

Marty Frk buries a bizarre pass from Nathan MacKinnon. I was there!

It's been a while since I updated the progress of Detroit Red Wings' prospect Marty Frk. Since the last update I attended a game between the Halifax Moosehead and Cape Breton Screaming Eagles on November 23rd. The game was a 4-2 win for the Moose, but not without the Eagles putting up a strong effort. Frk had a goal, an assist, was +2, and took two very stupid penalties. It was more of the same for Frk, who displays an incredible array of speed, skill, and a nose for the net, as well as a tendency to take foolish penalties more often than desired. The checking-from-behind penalty he took in the first period led to a power play goal by the Eagles, and he drew a second penalty four minutes later. Still, it was a strong game for Frk, who has an increasing tendency to take over games one way or another.

Overall, Marty Frk's progress since the last report has been spectacular. Frk is the third man on a line with Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, who are second and seventh in the Q for scoring as of the publication of this entry. Frk himself sits 29th in scoring with 13 goals, 25 assists, 38 points, a shocking 52 penalty minutes, and a much improved +9. It appears as though the slow start due to leg surgery is a distant memory. Is the World Junior Hockey Championship the next destination for Frk?

I'll leave you with another video package, simply because There isn't much else for me to write about! Stay tuned for some more puck poetry and some World Junior talk!

Coach Russell talking about a 16 year old Martin Frk.

That concludes another of many forthcoming Frkwatch entries. I'd love to read some feedback so please feel free to comment here on the blog or follow me on Twitter at @wizofozblog. Thanks for reading and as a Canadian icon used to say, keep your stick on the ice.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Frkwatch Game Two: Fifteen for the Moose

This is a semi-frequent piece that I will run as much as I can attend Detroit Red Wings' prospect Martin Frk's QMJHL games. The views and opinions are those of myself and ONLY myself. I can't claim objectivity; my sole purpose is to report what I see myself.

Frk leaving his own end on the rush. Photo courtesy of PG Marsh.

The Halifax Mooseheads are on a roll. After losing their home opener, the team has won thirteen straight games, including  7-3 victory over the PEI Rocket at home Sunday night that included five goals scored in two minutes of play in the second period. The win was huge for the Moose, who took two points off of division rivals and increased their lead in the overall standings of the QMJHL. The team looked very impressive the entire game, the exception being some shaky goaltending in the second period and some lazy power play chances that turned into two shorthanded goals. Feel free to check out the statistics of Sunday night's game right here on the Q's website.

The win at home wasn't the only bright spot for the Moose. Forward Marty Frk had a big night. Frk set up the first goal and rifled home the last goal in the third period en route to a 1G, 1A, 4S, and 0 PIM performance. This brings Frk's season totals to three goals, eleven assists, and fourteen points in fourteen games. Most importantly beyond statistics, Frk looked like the player all Red Wings fans (and management) want him to be in the future.

On his first shift of the night, Frk was forechecking harder than I've seen him play all season. He took a hard wrist shot, followed it up with another, and linemate Brett Andrews buried his fourth of the season three minutes into the game to make it 1-0. Frk is looking more and more like a deadly threat on the forecheck and as usual he demonstrated an incredible sense of where to be when the puck is loose. He's passing the puck frequently to wide open teammates and is finally taking more shots on goal. He may sit 8th on the team in scoring but as soon as he starts shooting one-timers from the point like he did on his goal in the third period, he's going to rack up the points very quickly.

Frk digging for the puck. Photo courtesy of PG Marsh.

The most impressive thing about Frk during this game was his speed. Despite my initial concerns over his lack of interest backchecking or pushing himself to skate hard, Frk demonstrated some serious wheels on Sunday, especially pushing the action through centre ice. Frk is showing a lot more Filppula and less Franzen, for those of you who understand Red Wing comparisons. It's interesting to see him working on the different elements of play from game to game.

Extracurricular activities from Frk? Photo courtesy of PG Marsh.

Another big plus from this game was Frk mixed it up without drawing any dumb penalties. Currently, Frk has 24 PIMs, good for third on the team and second among forwards. He's definitely not one to shy away from giving and receiving hits, especially questionable ones, but he played with conviction and discipline on Sunday, which was refreshing and necessary as Halifax took a few unnecessary penalties.

The biggest downside to Frk's season thus far is the undisciplined penalties as well as his strange tendency to be on the ice for bad, preventable goals. He is the one of three Moosehead skaters with a plus/minus of even or below. While most of his teammates currently possess double digit plus/minus numbers, especially the top ten scorers, Frk is simply even. It's hard to pinpoint the reason why this is the case, although one could suggest it is his linemates being inexperienced, or perhaps the discussion could be traced back to his lack of backchecking, or even just "back luck". Either way, it's something I have no doubt he will be working on over the next couple of weeks as the Moose hit the road to defend their streak before returning to the Metro Centre on November 16th to play second place Rouyn-Noranda. By the time the Moose play the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles on November 23rd, the next edition of Frkwatch, we may just be talking about how Halifax are Canada's best junior team, and how Marty Frk of the Red Wings is lighting up the Q.

Nearly eight thousand in the Metro last night for the win. Photo courtesy of PG Marsh.

That concludes the third of many forthcoming Frkwatch entries. I'd love to read some feedback so please feel free to comment here on the blog or follow me on Twitter at @wizofozblog. Thanks for reading and as a Canadian icon used to say, keep your stick on the ice.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Frkwatch Game One: A Rivalry Renewed

This is a semi-frequent piece that I will run as much as I can attend Detroit Red Wings' prospect Martin Frk's QMJHL games. The views and opinions are those of myself and ONLY myself. I can't claim objectivity; my sole purpose is to report what I see myself.

Warmup skate, Sept. 29th 2012. Photo courtesy of PG Marsh.

The Halifax Mooseheads have been touted as one of the country's most interesting teams to watch this season. With Nathan MacKinnon leading the charge on offense, not to mention his status as the potential first overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Moose could be the Q's President Cup Champions come spring and may just challenge for the Memorial Cup. If you have an itch to dive into the mind of MacKinnon, here's his Twitter. For that matter, you can follow Martin Frk on Twitter right here.

Thus far, the Mooseheads have started strong, posting a 3-1 record in 4 games and registering fifth among CHL teams in the BMO CHL Mastercard Top 10 Rankings. On the downside, the Moose were spanked 6-1 in front of 9,223 fans Friday night at the Metro Center by the Gatineau Olympiques. It was quite a crowd killer for the home opener. Thankfully, the Moose were forced to go right back to work the following night against the provincial rival Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, my hometown team, and a relatively easy opponent to beat up on after a bitter pill swallowing the night before. It should have been an "easier" game, but it wasn't. Red Wings' prospect Martin Frk was in the lineup, and thankfully there were no shenanigans on the same level as the exhibition game that took place in September.

Despite the efforts of Halifax's potent offense, goaltender Phillipe Trudeau of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles kept the game close. He registered 36 saves, good for the first star of the game, but the Mooseheads prevailed 3-2 in a shootout. Zachary Fucale had 20 saves for Halifax, with Luca Ciampini and Brent Andrews scoring. Bronson Beaton and Michael Clark scored for Cape Breton. All goals were scored in the first period.

Martin Frk's stat line for the night is not quite indicative of his performance or his impact on the ice. Frk assisted on Ciampini's goal, the opening goal of the game, was even in +/- for the night, had three shots, and picked up two penalty minutes for an elbowing minor in the second period. Unfortunately, my seats for this game were in Section 32 (which is as far away as the number suggests), so any photos I captured are not quality images. The long term plan is to snap some pictures with a high quality digital camera. Apologies in advance for the image quality.

Frk...playing in his own end? Photo courtesy of PG Marsh

In terms of his play in the offensive zone, I compare Frk to a shark. This guy has a keen sense of where to be in the offensive zone, and can turn a simple offensive zone rush into a dynamic opportunity. When he smells blood in the water, so to speak, he consistently finding in the right places for a scoring chance, and can make some tape to tape passes when he runs out of space himself. There was only one shot on goal on the evening that seriously threatened Trudeau in the Cape Breton net. Overall, he was a playmaker for his line on Saturday night, which should be good to hear for Red Wings' fans and management because it's already well known that he has a good shot.

Defensively speaking...Frk has a long way to go before he will be compared to two-way Red Wings like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. In most of the shifts I witnessed, Frk was the last Moosehead player to leave the offensive zone and he rarely placed himself in the thick of a defensive effort. That isn't surprising given that his primary function is to be a potent shooter on offense, but the above photo was one of the few times Frk drifted away from the blueline toward his own net.

To be fair to Frk, and many people will argue this, the best defense is a good offense. He did pick off a couple of passes or attempts to clear centre ice by the Eagles, which was impressive. The Moosehead attack threw their weight at Trudeau all game long, but couldn't solve him after the first period.

The Moose on the attack. Photo courtesy of PG Marsh.

Unfortunately, the game wasn't all about Frk's offensive rushes and attempted playmaking. Once again I found myself scratching my head over his choices when he attempted contact with opposing players. There were two non-related hits that were not penalty worthy, but were either from behind or the side and one while the player was on their knees attempting to get back up. His penalty was a blatant elbow to the face of an Eagles. The elbowing penalty (at 7:39 of the second period) didn't result in a power play goal for the Eagles, but it wasn't a particularly disciplined play. In a way, he made up for it when fresh out of the penalty box he helped to initiate a play in the offensive zone.

The Moosehead were able to squeeze a win out of Cape Breton in front of 8,580 fans after a reality check the previous night. Marty Frk had as good a game as any other Moosehead forward, and is slowly gaining momentum lost after a disappointing exhibition game and three mediocre regular season contests. It's no secret that Frk had surgery just before the preseason began on one of his legs. His relatively slow exits from the offensive zone, including a peculiar tendency to stride twice with the same leg before gaining speed, are likely the reason for his zero goals and two assists in four games so far. Full credit to the guy, he's definitely a playmaker on the ice and when he can play without concern of injury, he will be alongside Nathan MacKinnon in the Moosehead offense.

Bonus picture from the nosebleed section. Photo courtesy of PG Marsh.

That concludes the second of many forthcoming Frkwatch entries. I'd love to read some feedback so please feel free to comment here on the blog or follow me on Twitter at @wizofozblog. Thanks for reading and as a Canadian icon used to say, keep your stick on the ice.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Frkwatch: Game Zero

                                                                                      Photo courtesy of PG Marsh.
This is a semi-frequent piece that I will run as much as I can attend Detroit Red Wings' prospect Martin Frk's QMJHL games. The views and opinions are those of myself and ONLY myself. I can't claim objectivity; my sole purpose is to report what I see myself.

After a brief hiatus from blogging about the Detroit Red Wings I am back to bring a brand new feature to The Wizard of Os(good) blog. With the NHL's 2012-2013 season in tentative limbo due to a potential lockout, like many fans, I find myself desperate to find something to fill the void. I have always been a fan of hockey regardless of the league or the country that it's played in, so naturally I begin my search for hockey on a local level. As luck would have it, the Halifax Moosehead, a team located in the beautiful city of Halifax in the province of Nova Scotia, play their regular season home games close to where I live. In an even further delicious twist of fate, the Detroit Red Wings recently drafted a Moosehead forward into their system and signed him to a three year entry level contract. The player in question is the one and only Martin Frk, a player I had...ahem...initially intended on profiling in an attempt to boost interest in Detroit Red Wings prospect. Rather than invest the time into finishing a project like the average level-headed blogger, I decided Part Two of my "Czech Out These Detroit Red Wings Prospects" series, subtitled "Electric Frkaloo," would be scrapped indefinitely and I would endeavor to stretch my interest in Frk over the course of an entire season. Thus, Frkwatch began.

Admittedly gun-shy at the idea of putting a heavy microscope over a very green, very inexperienced professional athlete, I came to terms with the fact that my work here at The Wiz is no going to generate interest outside of the Wings bloggers. My objective isn't to criticize Martin Frk so much as excitedly document his 2012-13 season as he strives to become the next Johan Franzen or Valtteri Filppula. With that said, if I see something I perceive (in my limited knowledge) as a mistake, I'll do my best to shed some light on it. I can't wait to watch this kid grow into a superstar and I'm lucky enough to get to see him grow into a Red Wing right before my very eyes, which is a rare opportunity for a Cape Bretoner living "abroad".

With the genesis of the project put forth, here we go with Game Zero of Frkwatch. The zero, for what it's worth, is because my first report is based on what I saw today at an exhibition game. Hope you enjoy!

September 9th 2012: Exhibition Game vs. Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Result: A very chippy 5-3 loss against provincial rivals. An ejection. A disappointment.

It was a muggy day in Halifax Regional Municipality. As I left my apartment I took note of the threatening skies, hoping the rain would subside until I made it home from the game. I found myself frazzled shortly before leaving my place, noticing the game was not to be played at the home arena of the Halifax Mooseheads, the Metro Centre. I grabbed a cab to the out-of-the-way arena in the north end, the Halifax Forum, and settled in with plenty of time to scan the program for "FRK Martin" in the program. As my luck would have it, number 91 was suiting up for his first preseason game of the season.

Frk was selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in the second round, 49th overall. Touted early in 2011 as a top pick, Frk's concussion last season knocked him back near the bottom of the first round, most likely an early pick in the second. As luck would have it, Detroit snagged him and signed him to a three year entry level deal on July 31st. Frk then had a minor knee surgery in August, and as I mentioned this was his first game back.

                                                                  Frk on the offense. Photo courtesy of PG Marsh.

The game had a lot of unusual elements. To be blunt but respectful, the Halifax Forum is typical of arenas located in more rural areas of Nova Scotia: very few signs of technology, concrete everywhere, limited seating, small enclosed wooden seats, the stench of years of hockey...ahh, the smell of the purest form of the game. If you're from the area or have anything like it, you know the appeal. It's like sitting in a very old church. There's a reverence for the past. None of this was particularly "unusual" for a smaller local arena. The fog on the ice, on the other hand, was bizarre. The way the building is designed, the main doors of the arena open up to a limited sized lobby, and maybe 50 feet after the outside doors is the doorway that leads to the ice. Combine a thousand plus bodies in an early September arena as well as the horrifically humid Halifax air, there was a misty later that seemed to follow the players at times. I've never seen with my own two eyes this effect in an arena, and it added an element of awe (as well as difficulty) to the game.

Aside from the bizarrely comforting quality of the Forum, the game was by far the chippiest, roughest exhibition game I can recall. The Eagles drew a lot of penalties but it was apparent from puck drop that these two teams hate each other. When I participated in Puck Daddy's Game Show Friday back in January Greg Wyshynski and Jeff Marek joked about how Sydney and Glace Bay of Cape Breton were the Springfield and Shelbyville of Canada (pardon the Simpsons reference. To borrow another pop culture reference, think Hatfields and McCoys). In hindsight, I should have corrected them and mentioned the fierce rivalry that exists between Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia. The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and Halifax Mooseheads are a brilliant example of the rivalry. Bitter (but hopefully respectful) rivals, these two teams are constantly fighting for playoff spots and any slight advantage over the other as to who the greater Nova Scotian team is. As an Eagles fan, I never hesitate to point out that two of the thirty starting goaltenders in the NHL are former Eagles. Bonus points for those who correctly guess those two in the comments section without using the internet.

Getting back to Frk, to summarize his first preseason game back, I can only muster one word: disappointing. Yes, the Eagles won 5-3 in a penalty filled affair. That was pretty satisfying for the 2 Eagles fans in attendance. Unfortunately, and I say this through gritted teeth, Frk didn't play up to what I would guess is his usual standard. In a way, however, he made damn sure everyone knew who he was by the end of the game.

The game was mostly slow for Frk: very short shifts and very little need for speed. He demonstrated one burst of speed partway through the game that was impressive, but generally it appeared that his goal was to fine tune before any meaningful games happened. He threw a couple of hits, but I'll get to that. It surprised me that he didn't shoot the puck as much as what a prospect with a potent shot should. He did register a couple of shots, but never wound up anything noteworthy. He did, however, make a beautiful one timed pass  to a wide open Matthew Boudreau late in the second period to bring the Mooseheads to a 4-2 deficit. He made a couple of nice passes, definitely more noteworthy than his shots. I'm interested to see if he will focus his energy on a passing game during the regular season, and not what he demonstrated in the third period, which had everyone talking about him.

With the game 4-3 and the third period half over, Frk was taken down behind the Eagle net. He immediately appealed to the referees for a call, but similar to the other times he attempted earlier in the game, the referee wasn't going to give him one. Frustrated, Frk took matters into his own hands and collided with an Eagle player I can't identify (none of the players had names on the backs of their jerseys). It was difficult to say who initiated contact, whether it was knee on knee, hip on hip, or just two bodies colliding. Shortly after the colission, play was called and the two players chirped one another. Another Eagle stepped in and Frk speared the Eagle in the face, sending him crashing to the ice. Whistles blew and the crowd was feeding off of the post-whistle play, shouting at the referees (turning on Frk seems unlikely as the crowd was VERY critical of the refereeing in the game). Frk was sent off for a two minute minor for spearing and a five minute misconduct. As he made his way to the dressing room, I heard a loud crack as though a hockey stick was cracking the impenetrable concrete of the old arena. It's difficult to say whether Frk was having a "temper tantrum" or was just "unleashing frustration", but I reserve the right to give the kid the benefit of the doubt. It was definitely a frustrating afternoon for Frk and Moose.

Frkwatch: Game Zero was an incredibly interesting experience. The kid had a rough day at the office, to say the least. An assist and a game misconduct are definitely not reflective of what he is capable of and I think it would be unfair to negatively criticize him for the frustration he displayed over being upended nonstop during offensive rushes. I do, however, question his judgement regarding the spear. Even if your team is losing and you're frustrated at the officiating, cracking a player in the face with your stick is crossing a line. I like intensity among players, but it is just an exhibition game. Hopefully an elite player like Frk, who I believe will one day be a great Red Wing, will learn from Sunday's game.

Edit/Update: Here's something Jiri Fischer said about Frk. I agree with the man 100%.

That concludes the first of many forthcoming Frkwatch entries. I'd love to read some feedback so please feel free to comment, tweet me at @wizofozblog, and contact me through the blog. Thanks for reading and as a Canadian icon used to say, keep your stick on the ice.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Wiz Biz: Czech Out These Red Wing Prospects (Part One)

Right off the bat I feel less credible as a blogger for making the most simplistic pun imaginable. Either way you're already here reading so I might as well move on the to main attraction. As you guessed, this post is about Red Wings' prospects who are Czech Republic born. I'll spare you the geographically finicky argument of "well, they were born in Czechoslovakia, that's not the same thing". The point is that these prospects are in my opinion the two hottest prospects who will absolutely not see a single second of time as a Red Wing for at least the coming season.

Sorry Richard Nedomlel (2010, 6th round, 175th overall), but I am referring to goaltender Petr Mrázek (2011, 5th round, 144th overall) and forward Martin Frk (2012, 2nd round, 49th overall). It isn't often I get excited about prospects who won't see a lick of Red Wings time for a couple seasons, but these two have had a plethora of positive media attention in the past eight months or so, and given that this is the offseason, I may as well indulge my need to share my excitement over these Czech kids. This is a two parter, with Part Two: Frk You coming on Thursday.

Petr Mrázek

The Goods

Petr Mrázek is a 20 year old goaltender who previously belonged to the OHL's Ottawa 67s. During his tenure in Ottawa, Mrázek put up strong numbers, including two consecutive 30 win seasons that also included save percentages above .917. That's pretty good for a league filled with crazy talented kids putting up point per game or better seasons. As the highlight reel suggests, Mrázek THRIVES on competition, emotion, and excitement. If you want an excellent glimpse into Mrázek's personality, The Goalie Guild is all over this one. The Guild gives a pretty outstanding endorsement and please do not hesitate to click on their link and check out the interviews. One thing I found interesting about Justin Goldman's article is the lack of references to a previously dominant Czech goalie who was both explosive and unorthodox in his style.What was his name? Dominik Hašek?

Far be it for me to suggest Mrázek is the next 389 win, six time Vezina and two time Hart winning double Stanley Cup and Olympic gold champion. Reality is that there will never be another Hašek . The comparison is not your average over-the-top-Wings-fandom cheerleading so much as an outlandish attempt at comparing the styles of the goalies. One could argue that the art of tending goal is so varied that it's like comparing Picasso's Guernica to Peter Bruegel's The Triumph of Death. There is a grain of truth in the comparisons, but ultimately it if futile to say one shares much in common with the other. In the case of the paintings, both are pieces of art. Both deal with the tragedy of death in some manner. Both are European painters. I'm sure there's a more postmodern comparison to be dug up but I digress. Mrázek and Hašek can be compared much in the same manner. They're both goalies. They both come from Europe and the same country. They both play a unique style that bucks the trend of their generation.

Most of all, it's that intangible, explosive personality that makes them both entertaining that draws my interest. During Hašek 's years in Detroit, he was still playing at an elite level (for the most part), but his best years were behind him. Despite Father Time beginning his slow but steady shin-whacking of the Dominator,   Hašek  was ever the peppy netminder who bamboozled the NHL's best even on off nights.

For those without sound, that's 40 goal machine, the Slovakian Marián Gáborík getting dumped on his face. Not much else to say there.

Mrázek's big welcome to the spotlight came at the 2012 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, where he won the honour of Best Goaltender of the tournament despite the Czechs finishing 5th and getting dumped in the quarter finals by Russia. When all was said and done, the kid nearly finished off the best team in the tournament in the first round of knockouts by himself. The whole world started asking "who is this guy and why is he dominating" and "how do you say his name" all over the internet. Red Wings fans, atop their ivory towers, snickered at the thought of getting another Hašek from the eleventy-billionth round of a thin draft. Okay, that's the over-the-top-Wing cheerleader in me. I'll dial it back. He's not exactly a reserved kind of guy like Chris Osgood. He might even be the anti-Osgood. Cue the Ryan Lambert material here, if you please. No, Mrázek is not subtle:

Now that I would pay to see every night for 15 years. Eccentric goalies are often very up-and-down in terms of quality (see Bryzgalov, Ilya) and can often put forth some stinky performances (Dominator anyone?) but Mrázek sports something we haven't seen in Detroit in a few seasons. Mrázek plays with a passion for the game on his sleeve and lets that passion erupt in the form of crazy celebrations on the ice. I'm not only cool with that, I cannot wait to see this kid play (and win) in Detroit.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

How Will the Red Wings Look in 2012-13?

It's been a long time since I bothered to write anything on the Detroit Red Wings. A lot has happened since the elimination game in the first round of the playoffs. The retirement of Nick Lidstrom has been widely mourned by Red Wings fans worldwide and better bloggers have paid tribute to Nick's accomplishments. I'm glad I survived the retirement of the best positional defenseman ever to play professional hockey, but it's time to be happy for Nick moving on and it's time for all of us as fans/bloggers to start thinking about the future.

It's true that you can't replace Nick Lidstrom. The hard truth of the situation is that there is no one in the NHL who is anywhere near his level in terms of ability at peak performance level, hockey intelligence, discipline, and general winning attitude. However, there are plenty of elite defenseman who will be more than capable of leading the Detroit Red Wings blueline corps for the future; many of these candidates are currently not signed to a contract with the team. Ken Holland is no spring chicken to reloading talent and adjusting the roster to suit retirements or trades, so there is no cause for alarm when one looks at what Detroit has available on the roster today.

Today I would like to give my two cents on how the Red Wings should look come October 2012-2013. I fully expect to be slammed and/or criticized for my choices, but if I didn't want my opinions heard, I wouldn't be a blogger, would I?

The best way to break down the team changes is to fall back into that comfortable structured article discussing forwards, defense, and goaltending. My intention to look at the team from as wide a scope as possible, so there will be some looks at talent currently resting in the CHL leagues as well as the minor league affiliate of the Red Wings, the Grand Rapids Griffins.


According to Capgeek, The Red Wings have 12 forwards under contract: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Danny Cleary, Darren Helm, Todd Bertuzzi, Patrick Eaves, Gustav Nyquist, Drew Miller, Jan Mursak, and Cory Emmerton. As of today, Justin Abdelkader is a restricted free agent, while Jiri Hudler and Tomas Holmstrom are unrestricted free agents. Top forward prospects currently under some form of contract include Riley Sheahan, Calle Jarnkrok, Teemu Pulkkinen, Joakim Andersson, Landon Ferraro, Tomas Tatar, Andrej Nestrasil, newly drafted Martin Frk, and a host of others who are less likely to crack the lineup anytime soon. RFAs and UFAs in this crop of minor league talent include Fabian Brunnstrom, Andrew Murray, Chris Conner, Chris Minard, and Jamie Johnson. A lot of names being dropped, but those familiar with the Red Wings depth charts and minor league affiliates will know who the top prospects are. If not, go check out Winging it in Motown, The Production Line, the Malik Report, or some place cooler than here. Then come back to me. Please.

The Red Wings forward corps did well with offensive output last season, with 9 forwards scoring 10 or more goals (Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader just missed out on the cut, scoring 9 and 8 respectively). The downside to have a deep amount of scoring threat was that no specific player put up impressive goal scoring numbers individually; Johan Franzen tops the list at 29 goals. With 5 players boasting 50 or more points, the criticism of the Detroit forward corps ultimately lies with preference: do you want your offensive to rest on 1 to 3 big star scorers, or have it spread out over all four lines? With Datsyuk's numbers limited by his 12 missed games and Henrik Zetterberg being increasingly relied upon to shut down the better lines on teams, the Red Wings lack that potent punch that existed with Yzerman, Shanahan, Fedorov, and later the Datsyuk/Zetterberg combination in injury free seasons. Detroit managed the league's 7th best goals-for number this past season, and while it is pure conjecture, a fully healthy 82 game season from Datsyuk almost certainly would have led to the few goals needed for the team to rise into the top four teams, just behind Pittsburgh, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Assuming that Jiri Hudler (more money), Tomas Holmstrom (retirement), Fabian Brunnstrom (not good enough?), and Chris Conner (too many bottom six forwards) all walk on July 1st, Detroit has an opportunity to reload by way of free agency. As has been said in other places, forwards like Riley Sheahan, Teemu Pulkkinen, Joakim Andersson, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, and now Martin Frk are all long-term or longer-term solutions to Red Wings forwards growing long in the tooth. Certainly all of these forwards will be seen at either development camps or even training camp come the fall, but none of them will see a realistic chance at a top 12 forward, unless Tomas Tatar relishes his dark horse role and snags a 4th line spot at the expense of one of Detroit's many bottom six forwards.

Looking at ONLY the internal options of the organization, here is how the lineup could look in 2012-13 if nothing happens in free agency:

Top Six: Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Filppula, Nyquist?
Bottom Six: Cleary, Helm, Bertuzzi, Eaves, Miller, Mursak, Emmerton, Abdekader? and Tatar?

As you can see, there's a considerable log jam in the bottom two lines of the team. Cleary and Bertuzzi have previously seen time in the top six, but for the purposes of this exercise, I am labeling them as bottom six forwards because that is where I believe they will spend the next season, for the most part. Gustav Nyquist is an interesting question mark because while he is young and there is room for him to grow, there is not going to be space in the bottom six for him next season, assuming Ken Holland doesn't unload two or more of the bottom six forwards for whatever reason. Even then, Nyquist should be logging more minutes, whether it is as a top six forward in Detroit or a top six forward in Grand Rapids. Nyquist looked good in the 18 regular season games he played in last season, but only scored one goal. He's a playmaker, and with Filppula and/or Zetterberg there could be some magic on the ice. With that said, Nyquist has one final year on his entry level deal, and that could be burned up in one final year of AHL. The question for management/coaching is now whether Nyquist has anything more to gain from being in the minors. By the numbers, it would appear not, as he clocked in over a point per game in the AHL. Nyquist is an NHL player, no question, but it's now or never for us to find out whether he can cut the mustard on the top lines in Detroit.

Similarly to Nyquist, Tomas Tatar is a question mark for the bottom six forwards. There isn't much room to fit him into the lineup, but he's still an entry level guy who has done well in Grand Rapids the past three seasons. He could find himself back in Grand Rapids, which is unfortunate because he has the skills to play in the NHL, albeit not in the same capacity as Nyquist.

Inevitably, the conversation over how to solidify the top six forward situation must lead to free agency. Cleary and Bertuzzi are good stopgaps who have filled their roles well over the years, but neither has the jam or the skills to be the kind of player the Red Wings need in the top six. There is a strong crop of stars who are becoming unrestricted free agents on July 1st, and there has already been a lot of Red Wings-related discussion. The top few options are as follows:

(Editor's Note: Some good Damian Brunner notes here via SBNation. Apparantly this slipped through my radar so this is a post-editing note to include him in the talks.)

Zach Parise: Every Red Wing blogger has weighed in on Parise coming to Detroit. The reports on Parise's supposed interest in Detroit are extensive, so I will refrain from rehashing the works of better men and women. Parise would be a great fit because he is a bona fide superstar who can put in point per game productivity and would thrive playing alongside talented playmakers like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Filppula. Parise is a top-line kind of player who captained New Jersey in 2011-12 and brings the American star power to an American team. While nobody really cares about him being American, where he was born may or may not weigh in on where he signs. A Minnesota boy born to a Canadian father who also played hockey, there is a good chance that Detroit may be competing with Minnesota, who might just throw a fat contract at Parise just to turn him into a superstar draw in the North Star State. New Jersey is just as much a contender for Parise's services, as it is his first team and he already has seven seasons with the club under his belt. Realistically, Detroit is probably not Parise's number one choice, but he is definitely top three and he will receive plenty of attention from Ken Holland come July 1st.

Alexander Semin: Similar to Parise, there is extensive information available through the Red Wings blogosphere on Semin coming to Detroit, so I will once again sidestep the usual arguments over why we would want Semin on this team. With all the dislike of Semin that's out there among Detroit fans, there's tremendous upside to signing Semin to a solidly long contract. The biggest reason is that Semin appears to be very interested in signing with Detroit, at least out of interest in playing with fellow Russian Pavel Datsyuk. Playing with a playmaker like Datsyuk might be the renaissance that Semin needs to revitalize his scoring touch. In the last two seasons Semin has produced 54 points twice and has been relatively invisible in any kind of clutch or playoff situation. This doesn't bode well for a free agent looking to land a contract, hence the second reason why landing Semin in a solid contract could be good. The offensive upside is better than outgoing Jiri Hudler, who will demand a pay raise. While it remains to be seen what Hudler will do come July 1st, at the very least everyone knows that Semin is interesting in being a Red Wing. The downside to Semin is the obvious fear that Semin will poison the locker room with bad work ethic. This won't fly on a team that defines itself with hard work and perseverance. This could be Semin's chance to go Fedorov or go Radulov. It's a bit of a gamble, but for a paycut down to 4-5 million, it could be doable in tandem with Parise. Imagine that.

Jeff Halpern: In the "out of left field" category, Jeff Halpern is the kind of player who every team desires at some point: a third or fourth line penalty killing, minute gobbling center who has enough offensive upside that you don't balk at putting him in the bottom six and plays with a level of discipline that could rub off on younger players. Halpern has never been a scorer, which is why you have to ask yourself, why, in a situation with almost ten players already competing for six spots, would bring this guy in knowing it's scoring they are looking for? Well, even though he sat out ninteen straight games at one point, Halpern still has ability to work hard and contribute to teams. the bottom six surely cannot be filled with 20 something underachieving forwards, which is why his position as fourth line center opens up the possibility for Detroit to get some value for some of the forwards who are not going to make the team. Certainly, one could argue that trading a bunch of young up-and-comers is foolhardy, but with nearly ten players competing for six slots, it may be inevitable. A package containing some combination of Drew Miller/Jan Mursak/Cory Emmerton/Justin Abdelkader's rights could entice a team to part with an overpaid second line forward in a cap dump, or alternatively provide another team with a reload of young blood (Calgary) in a "it's not a rebuild but it's a rebuild" trade. It's a very complex notion with some potentially foolhardy fallback for Detroit, but if I didn't entertain something out of the blue I think I would get bored just listing the top point producing forwards for Detroit's UFA shopping list. I have always been a Halpern fan and him coming in to Detroit, if only for 2-3 years to solidify the 4th line in time for the new breed to come along, would not be the worst thing possible. It may also force the hand of Ken Holland to dice up the spare parts and try to get some modicum of value for them before they yield no benefits due to free agency.

Petr Sykora: Potentially another "out of left field" choice, Petr Sykora is a 35 year old right wing who has seen better days in the NHL. Never truly a point-per-game superstar or an elite talent, Sykora has offensive upside and previously has played for Stanley Cup Champions. His previous two contracts saw gigantic paycuts, which could mean Sykora is the second or third forward signed by Detroit in response to acquiring Parise or Semin. Sykora could slot in to a top six position and reap the benefits of playing with Filppula and Zetterberg, but there may not be room for him if the organization decides to take a chance on Nyquist (despite playing different positions). Sykora could also be a signing in response to Detroit sending a package to another team that includes one or both of right wingers Cleary and Bertuzzi. It appears most likely he will want to finish his career in New Jersey, so we will file this one under the "not likely, but fun to entertain" category.

Jiri Hudler: Last but certainly not least, Jiri Hudler may be the logical choice to sign to a long term deal simply due to familiarity. Yes, he walked away from the team before in order to explore the KHL. Yes, he has a very disappointing return to the NHL. Yes, he made a nice comeback this season, and reaped the much-sough after comfort of playing with playmakers Filppula and Zetterberg. Is Hudler the answer to solidifying the second line? Logically, Hudler has reached a point in his career where he will garner the most money on the free agent market. He's 28, consistently a 40+ point scorer, and best of all he's not likely to miss time--aside from skipping town for the KHL, Hudler's only missed 17 games since becoming a full time Red Wing. With that said, he's likely reached his potential productivity and is the kind of player who will not settle for anything lower than the second line and the money that follows. In my opinion, Hudler would do better in a place like Minnesota or Montreal where he will have a fresh start, a decent money offer, and get plenty of PP time. His loyalty to Detroit is questionable, which is justified. Hudler resigning is certainly a possibility, but is it desirable?

The Red Wings have a shade over $24 million dollars to spend, according to Capgeek. It is entirely possible, however unlikely, that the Red Wings could wind up signing no forwards simply because they were outbid. With that said, I believe that Detroit's lineup will include at least one of the five potential free agents I looked at. (Editor's note: Shane Doan's more recent public expression of interest in testing the free agent waters makes him a viable candidate for Detroit to acquire, perhaps moreso than Halpern and Sykora.)


Most Red Wings fans, bloggers, and analysts will say, rightfully so, that Detroit's defense corps took two brutal hits thus far in the offseason in the form of Nick Lidstrom retiring and Brad Stuart leaving town. Both of these exits were predictable come March, but the sting of losing two top-four blueliners doesn't go away with foresight. As of today, per Capgeek, Detroit has five defensemen signed through 2012-13: Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Ian White, Jakub Kindl, and Brendan Smith. Kyle Quincey, who was acquired before the trade deadline from Colorado/Tampa Bay, is a restricted free agent. Top prospects in the system include Xavier Oulette, Ryan Sproul, Adam Almqvist, and Brian Lashoff. RFAs in the minors include Travid Ehrhardt and Logan Pyett, and UFAs in the minors include Garnet Exelby and Doug Janik. Check out the previously mentioned links for more information.

Similarly to the forward situation, Detroit has roster positions and cap space to go buck wild on July 1st and look for some top tier talent. The difference between the forwards and the defense situation is that is is paramount to the future success of the franchise that Detroit acquire an elite, Norris caliber defenseman to supplement the loss of the legendary Lidstrom. As has been said ad nauseum across all strands of media, Lidstrom is irreplaceable, but the notion of building a defense corps around a young stud defenseman is enough to supplant the wild concerns that Detroit will topple without their go-to hero on the blueline. There are plenty of solid choices to be made in the free agency pool, but before we peek at the pool of potential paragons, let's discuss promotion from within and what's on the roster sheet.

It's time for Brendan Smith. Yes, the blue chip prospect many Red Wings fans have been excited for is about to embark on his first full NHL season in Detroit. This is not a prediction or a plea but a fact based on desperation and desire. Nik Kronwall is more than capable of being a top four defenseman anywhere in the league, if not top two, so all shouldbe comfortable leaving the D in the hands of the man who hits people so hard his name is now a verb i.e. Kronwalling or to be Kronwalled. After Kronwall, Ian White is a capable top-four defenseman who has been the most subtle of renaissance projects. White benefited greatly from playing with a future Hockey Hall of Fame alumni, but the time has come to see what White is made of as the lead in a pair. His 32 points this past season were nothing to sneeze at, and while some could say the replacement of Brian Rafalski was a downgrade, White is young enough to continue to grow and old enough that he may find himself agreeing to a long term deal with Detroit next season when he becomes a free agent. After being dumped by three teams after Toronto decided he wasn't good enough (because that's never happened before, Larry Murphy), White has found a home in Motown. So, where do Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, and Brendan Smith fit in? I ask myself that question often. The confidence in Ericsson is certainly there from management, otherwise he would not have been offered the $3.25 million dollar deal he was given last season. Ericsson produces a variety of different emotions by fans and bloggers, namely his obsession with taking untimely penalties and his disappointing production on offense. Still, to his credit, Ericsson cut his penalties nearly in half in 2011-12 compared to the previous season, so there is still hope that he will round out into a reliable everyday player. Jakub Kindl has given bloggers fits over his growing pains, but he has yet to post a full NHL season as a Red Wing. In 55 games last season he put up one goal and 13 points, which isn't exciting, but he's a average enough player that he can fill the number 6 or 7 role in a pinch. Brendan Smith, on the other hand, is exciting and tantalizing. In 14 games last season, he had a goal and 7 points. He has been touted for years as being Detroit's top defense prospect, maybe the best overall in the system. It's impossible to predict how he will do as a leading man in what will be his rookie season, but hopes are high. Kyle Quincey as an RFA seems a lock to be resigned simply out of need as well as the obvious point that he was acquired at the expensive of a first round draft pick. After all, why would Ken Holland go out of his way like he did to snag Quincey unless he was returning to the fold as a long term solution to Brad Stuart leaving? Finally, Ryan Sproul and Xavier Oulette are next in line to receive the Brendan Smith development, so unless they magically explode with more talent and strength than they have shown most recently, there is no chance either will make the team this season.

Free agency is going to be a war to acquire the top defenseman available. Obviously, Ryan Suter is the man every fan on every team wants to sign, but will he be Detroit bound? Here's a look at the top three defensemen Detroit should pursue via free agency:

Ryan Suter: Let's address this one quickly. Ryan Suter is the best available defenseman. He is young, talented, and has the potential to be the guy Detroit builds their blueline around, along with Kronwall and Smith. He will not come cheap and the competition is fierce to acquire his services. He could be a 50 point guy on the back end. He could be everything Detroit needs right now to fill the hole Nick Lidstrom left. Unfortunately, every team in the league is after him. It has been said/guessed/speculated/perceived that Suter wants to stay in the Western Conference, which strikes out half of the league from contention. Assuming this is true, as well as the desire to win Stanley Cups, one would assume the team with the best track record in the last fifteen years would be a contender for his services. It's a precarious situation for Detroit, but every dollar they have to spend on Suter will be worth it. I'm not sure what else there is to say about Suter aside from the obvious fact that he's the best guy available and Detroit wants him. July 1st could be a big day for the Red Wings if they can sign this superstar.

Matt Carle: While nowhere near as coveted as Suter, Carle is a good defenseman who boasts a bevy of playoff experience and point scoring. But is he resigning in Philadelphia? It's difficult to say, but the acquisition of Brayden Schenn's brother Luke from Toronto recently seems to suggest the team would like a cheaper option than Carle. Still, if the Red Wings can't land Suter, Carle is 27 and could be a viable second place option. He may command a larger salary than he is worth, but most defensemen will in the 2012 UFA frenzy.

Pavel Kubina: I wish I could say I was pulling everyone's leg with this choice, but the fact is that the defense pool becomes pretty shallow after Suter, Wideman (who is now signed in Calgary), and Carle. Kubina used to be a fairly reliable 40 point defenseman who has played on some pretty awful Toronto and Tampa Bay teams throughout his career. Winning the Stanley Cup in 2004 almost feels like an anomoly for Kubina, who somehow managed 50 PIMs in 22 playoff games that season. While he may not be the guy responsible for winning it all, Kubina could be a steady 3-4 defenseman who finishes his career (he's 35) in Detroit helping to bolster the skills of Ericsson, Kindl, Smith, and later Sproul and Oulette. His signing would seem to imply that guys like Kronwall and White will be the 1-2 punch moving forward, while Ericsson, Kindl, and Smith can work to figure out who gets second pairing. This would be a "we couldn't sign anyone else" kind of deal, but a nightmare like signing Kubina might be just enough encouragement for the younger defenseman to improve fast, or watch Detroit sink in the standings.


Jimmy Howard proved last season that he is absolutely the elite level goaltender we had always hoped he would be. His numbers, which you can find anywhere on any stats page (like here!) are rock solid and at a top-10 level even with a major injury. There is no fear in Detroit about who the man moving forward is going to be. However, a competent backup seems to be a difficult question for Detroit to answer. Last season, Ty Conklin began the season with a shutout and finished with such abysmal starts that he was sent down to Grand Rapids. He never complained like a good little soldier, but that gap forced Joey MacDonald into playing like a man possessed while Jimmy Howard recovered from injury. The result was something unexpected: MacDonald played outstanding, put up great numbers, then got injured himself. The back spasms kept him out of work since April 20th and heading into the new season it's unknown whether Joey will return. Currently in the system are goalie prospects Thomas McCollum, Jordan Pearce, and Patr Mrazek. Mrazek is the strongest of the three at this moment and McCollum's stock can't plummet much lower after a couple of mediocre seasons in the AHL and ECHL. Conklin is the only UFA goaltender in the system.

So what does Detroit do, knowing Joey MacDonald is not a surefire bet to return? He's on year two of a deal where the second year is one-way, which means he can't go to the minors without being waived. If management decides that he is unfit for the role or they would just like to improve, here are three options that might serve Detroit better should something ever happen to Jimmy Howard:

Scott Clemmensen: Clemmensen is 34 years old and wouldn't command a salary much higher than 1-2 million per season, if that, so he is in both the age range and the salary range to be a good consideration for backup. After bouncing around the NHL and AHL in New Jersey's system for a while, Clemmensen took over Martin Brodeur's job upon major injury back in 2008-09 and performed well beyond expectations, picking up 25 wins in 40 games. He won a solid contract from Florida the following year, and has been maintaining himself as an adequate backup on an average team. There's something charming about Clemmensen's career trajectory in a fashion similar to Conklin when he first came to Detroit. He has bounced around between a few teams, never had much stability in any job until very recently, but has proven there is potential to serve a team well in dire straits. That could be what Detroit needs to ease a 70 game workload off of Howard.

Al Montoya: Touted many years ago, Montoya has suffered from other goaltenders usurping what initially appeared to be his role. After winning gold in 2004 with the American team at the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, he waited patiently for his turn with the New York Rangers, playing well in the AHL. Then Henrik Lundqvist happened. Montoya was deemed expendable and was shipped to Phoenix. Then Ilya Bryzgalov emerged as a top tier goaltender. By 2011, Montoya was again shipped out, this time to the New York Islanders, where he seemingly found a place among the goalie graveyard that was the 2010-11 New York Islanders. He performed poorly after a one year contract with the Isles, and now faces free agency, where his career could very well end. Montoya should be appealing to Detroit for a couple of reasons. First, that he is a renaissance project. Second, the talent is there. Montoya has never truly received a proper opportunity to shine as anything but a backup goaltender on a very poor Islander team. Why not sign him? There isn't much to lose with potentially Joey MacDonald there to pick up the pieces. Montoya is just 27 years old, and imagine what kind of advice Jimmy Howard or Chris Osgood could offer to a guy like Montoya?


This off-season is going to be Detroit's most interesting and most difficult in years. There is a large sense of despair and loss after the team was defeated handily at the hands of the Nashville Predators. Losing Lidstrom and Stuart was the extra sting. Ken Holland has proven himself time and time again as a genius GM, and hopes are high that Detroit can sign some big time stars rather than spare parts. If Detroit can land some permutation of Zach Parise/Alex Semin and Ryan Suter/Matt Carle, that despair could quickly be replaced by a sense of hope and optimism that there is success after Lidstrom.

To the viewers of this wall of text, what are your thoughts on the Red Wings' pursuit of free agents?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Open Letter to Wings (and other) Fans on the Eve of Game 5

It's been a long season for fans of the Detroit Red Wings.

Of all of the seasons that I have been a fan of this franchise, this one feels a little different for a few reasons. This season may in fact mark the end of Nick Lidstrom's career, a fact that every Red Wings fan and blogger has denied or avoided at some point. It will likely mark the end of Tomas Holmstrom's career. It may mark the beginning of some dramatic roster overhaul, depending on how aggressive Ken Holland is come July. As a fanbase, we have all experienced nearly every emotional extreme at some point; the agony of losing streaks, the joy of celebrating an NHL record, the pain of losing playoff games, the honour of marking statistical achievements of our players. It has been an exhausting season for everyone. This season, more than ever, has it felt as though the fanbase has become disjointed and at times openly hostile towards one another. It is understandable, of course. With so many extremes and the increasingly digital awareness of all hockey fans, there is enough vitriol to fuel 30 fanbases.

This isn't a eulogy. Nor is it an inspirational speech for the fans to "hold the line" as our team faces the daunting task of competing against a very hungry, very worthy Nashville Predators team. This isn't an acknowledgement that "our time has passed" nor is it a fluff piece about how the Red Wings will continue to be the cream of the crop in the NHL. Everything you, the readers of this piece, need to form an opinion about this franchise is readily available to you on a dozen other websites. It's in the statistics. It's in the records. It's in the rafters. It's in the Joe Louis Arena. It's written on blogs (both friendly and rival), in newspapers, in books, and in magazines.

Today I want to write an open letter to my fellow Red Wings fans, but also address a concern of mine.

I love everything about this team, regardless of what happens tomorrow. I love the players, the fanbase, the passion, the past, the present, the future, and every single moment I spend watching this team. This is the first full season where I have had the chance to enjoy the digital interactions of fans across the world. I have the tremendous honour (a word I don't feel brings enough justice to how I feel) of being a part of a blogging community that does outstanding work. I got to be on a podcast, for which I am ever grateful of the opportunity (Thanks Winging it in Motown, thanks JJ). I have found about 100 people who are willing to follow me on Twitter. I found friends who share my distaste of NHL officiating. It has been a season to remember.

After this season, though, I feel like I have discovered something as strongly negative as all of the positives I have discovered. I found that the digital rivalries that exist (even within a fanbase) produce so much bile, so much hate, that it borders on irrational hate-mongering for the sake of irrational hate-mongering. It's one thing to be angry about a loss, about someone criticizing your favourite players, about losing to a rival team in the playoffs. It's another to debase oneself over a game by engaging in some of the most utterly shocking and violent hate speech imaginable. This isn't exclusive to Red Wings fans, or any fanbase. I've had run ins with all sorts, and I will admit readily to engaging in snark-talk. That doesn't mean I don't find it disappointing. What happened to the idea of friendly rivalries?

At the end of the day, the good certainly outweighs the bad. I would never ask anyone to "ease up" on their hastily-tweeted snark, only that maybe it's time for everyone to take a step back and remember that we're all fans of the same game. Bob MacKenzie tweeted some very potent words that have stuck with me since he posted them. You can find them here and here. The 2012 playoffs have produced a lot of really outrageous garbage out of people who I believe would have otherwise not said these things. Because there is next to no accountability in the digital age, we can say horrendous things without worrying about consequences. It has deformed us. It has stripped us all of manners at times.

Regardless of what color jersey you put on, regardless of who is acting like an irreverent jackass online, we all deserve respect and we all should be showing more tact than we do.

It's been a long season for Red Wings fans. I don't want to see them lose tomorrow, but I'm prepared to watch them play for the last time this season. I hope that on the eve of Game 5, fans of all teams think about the things they've said and done, and can realize that this is a game we're watching, and we're all fans. Sportsmanship is important. Let's not lose that sense of sportsmanship.

Go Wings Go.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Jimmy Howard vs. Pekka Rinne

Well, we're here. It's playoff time and everyone is buzzing about whose going to step up to the plate and deliver a legendary performance and who is going to go home the loser. The Detroit Red Wings play the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference's tightest matchup. As much as I'd like to go on a tirade about legacies, streaks, and Detroit's recent success against Nashville in the playoffs, I'm taking off my Red Wings cap to put on my goaltending analysis cap.

In the red corner, there's Detroit Red Wings starting goaltender, Jimmy Howard. In the blue corner, Nashville Predators' starting goaltender Pekka Rinne. Is there a better matchup among first round goaltenders? I think not. Without any further peacocking, it's time to see how these two stack up against one another.

Here. We. Go.


Jimmy Howard: Detroit's goaltending saviour had a phenomenal regular season, sporting top ten numbers in wins, save percentage, goals against average, and shutouts. As good as that is for Jimmy after a mediocre sophomore campaign, the better news was he did all of this in a season where he went down twice with injuries. Perhaps that is looking through rose coloured glasses, but since coming back from injury he looks like the same guy who stole a LOT of wins in the first half of the season. The injuries are a black mark on the season, but not enough to steal away the credit earned as Jimmy flirted with the idea of smashing Martin Brodeur's NHL record for wins (48).

Pekka Rinne: Nashville has always had a lot of luck with their goaltenders. Are they a product of their defensive system? I disagree with the notion, and Pekka Rinne is the perfect way to explain why. The guy is a straight up DYNAMO in goal. He led the league in wins, saves, shots against, and games played. He's a workhorse, and a damn good one. Since becoming the Predator's starter his workload has constantly increased over four seasons, and he's only gotten better. The idea of a fresh Pekka Rinne in the playoffs is as intimidating as just about any goaltender in the NHL. He is to be respected. He should be nominated for the Vezina, but will likely be overlooked in favor of some random guy in New York. Henrik something or other. Pfft.

Jimmy Howard's 2011-2012 Record: 35-17-4, 2.13 GAA, .920 SV%, 6 SO
Pekka Rinne's 2011-2012 Record: 43-18-8, 2.39 GAA, .923 SV%, 5 SO

Advantage: Pekka Rinne. Jimmy Howard's season is difficult to fully gage as he went down with an injury near the end. Twice. It's hard to say whether he would have kept pace or not. Even though Jimmy walks away with a better goals-against-average and more shutouts, Rinne had a Vezina season.


Jimmy Howard: The Wings have gone down twice in a row to the San Jose Sharks in recent seasons, both of which had Jimmy Howard in goal. All due respect to the Sharks for dumping the Red Wings twice in a row, Jimmy wasn't the reason they lost and his numbers defend this point. In two playoff seasons, Howard has a respectable-but-not-yet-impressive 21-11 record with a bloated 2.63 GAA and a surprising .919 SV%. Having enjoyed watching Jimmy play the last two playoffs I can say that he is the least concern in this series. He will do his job and at times steal the show.

Pekka Rinne: In the two seasons Pekka Rinne has led the Nashville Predators into the playoffs, they went home empty handed once and in the most recent season popped their playoff series cherry, beating the stingy Anaheim Ducks 4-2. Rinne has been pedestrian, sporting an 8-10 record with a 2.60 GAA and a .908 SV%. Those are way down from the Pekka Rinne standard that dominated the regular season. One could argue that too much of a burden is placed on Rinne to dominate games that tend to be tighter, more defensive, and light on goal scoring. I don't think Rinne completely evades criticism, as .908 is a good save percentage number but NOT if you're going to win it all. Goalies, more than anyone, need to be sharp and stingy. Pekka Rinne can do it, but clearly he has yet to perform at maximum ability.

Jimmy Howard's Playoff Record: 12-11, 2.63 GAA, .919 SV%, 1 SO
Pekka Rinne's Playoff Record: 8-10, 2.60 GAA, .908 SV%, 0 S)

Advantage: Jimmy Howard. Jimmy help bring Detroit to within five minutes of overcoming San Jose's 3-0 series lead. Jimmy has taken over playoff series and won them. Pekka Rinne, despite providing the Vancouver Canucks with a nail biting series, hasn't reached the level he should be at in the postseason. Neither have world-beating records, but the numbers show Jimmy has been better.


There isn't much else to analyze, so I'll cut straight to the heart of the matter. Having watched both goaltenders play in the regular season and playoffs the past two seasons, it's clear who the better goaltender is. Pekka Rinne has been on the outskirts of Vezina talk for some time now and if he doesn't get the nomination, maybe even the win, this season, there's something wrong. He is a great goaltender. He stymies opponents every time he's on the ice. He takes advantage of a defensive system built on playing stingy hockey with no holes. Where there are holes, Pekka Rinne plugs the leaks. He has an immaculate gift for winning those one goal affairs. It's something that gets ignored come trophy season. On the other hand, Jimmy Howard has stepped into a role that has seen legends like Terry Sawchuck, Roger Crozier, Dominik Hasek, Mike Vernon, and of course Chris Osgood, dominate the position. The difference between all of these goaltenders (exception being Crozier, who was with the Wings in tougher times) and Jimmy Howard is that they all stood behind teams that had an endless parade of Hall-of-Fame forwards and defensemen who consistently shellshocked other teams into submission. This iteration of the Detroit Red Wings that boasts the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nick Lidstrom, are not the 2002 Red Wings. No, this is a team that needs great goaltending to succeed. All due respect to Osgood, who didn't shock the world into thinking he was great until his final two playoff seasons, Jimmy could become the better of the two, and may already be there. Rather than have the Fedorovs and Datsyuks take over the game, it's now Jimmy leading the charge. It's a refreshing change. Is Jimmy Howard a great goaltender? Not yet. He is on the step before the top step in the staircase of goaltending greatness. Pekka Rinne is a half step ahead.

Rolling into Nashville on Wednesday night is going to be the biggest challenge the Detroit Red Wings have faced in the first round of the playoffs in a long time. I have much respect for our division rivals, even though the constant use of the term "SCUM" to describe the players and fanbase is enough to turn me away from reading their websites. This series is THE one to watch in round one. If not for the fantastic rivalry that is growing, then it is for the outstanding goaltending dual about to happen. It's going to be a seven game slugfest decided by overtime and one goal games. Hopefully, by series' end, Detroit will be walking away the victor, but I have no illusions of grandeur that it will be easy.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Wiz Biz: Grading the Detroit Red Wings

After fighting off a very, very bad flu/illness that left me bedridden for nearly two weeks, I'm back. That might sound like a sore excuse for letting the blog go idle, but hey, it was also Christmas, and I was lucky enough to be afforded a real opportunity in the world of professional writing. Don't get me wrong, I love writing on my blog, but I don't get paid for it.

Now that I'm back and the Detroit Red Wings are now exactly halfway through the 2011-2012 NHL season, it seems like an apt time to grade the team from top to bottom. Before getting started I'd like to put out the caveat that I am not a professional analyst and I'm just writing this out of my love for the team, yadda yadda, and I'm going to do my best to be objective. The postmodernist inside of me says that is impossible, but whenever my academic side tries to show itself in these posts I just hit the delete key to make it go away.

Here we go!

Forwards: A-
Detroit's forwards are not the best in the NHL, but they are definitely within the top five. I say that knowing Detroit is currently 4th in the NHL in goals scored and currently boasts five forwards with ten or more goals. Not bad. Even more impressive is their plus/minus record, with just one forward (Fabian Brunnstrom) in the negatives.

Perhaps the biggest story of the season so far is the solid play of Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, and Jiri Hudler. The trio represents three of our top five scorers and all of them are on pace for 50 or more points. Franzen, at one point, had a legitimate chance at 40 goals but has cooled off in a major way, leading the team with just 16 goals. Filppula has emerged as not only a scoring threat but a versatile playmaker who is just as entertaining to watch as Detroit's more prominent All-Stars, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Oh yeah, we have those guys too. Datsyuk remains a perennial All-Star who should be in line for some trophies near the end of the year and Zetterberg is cruising along with 32 points after struggling offensively in the earlier half of the season.

Discipline is hardly an issue among forwards as Detroit is the league's second least penalized team (behind the Phoenix Coyotes) and our leading PIM gathering forward is Todd Bertuzzi. Of the games I have witnessed it appears that he draws stupid penalties from time to time, but it's not something to complain about.

Overall, Detroit's forwards deserve an A for their scoring prowess and defensive-minded play, but a couple of the forwards have been mildly disappointing with their production. Hopefully, the second half bears more fruit for Tomas Holmstrom and Danny Cleary, who remain solid players regardless of scoring slumps.

Defense: A
As good as Detroit's forwards are, the defense is even better. Nick Lidstrom is still the measuring stick for all defensemen in the NHL and will likely remain so even after he retires from active duty. Their scoring production is right where it should be. Defensively, the Red Wings have given up the 6th least goals in the NHL, and the individual plus/minus of each regular defenseman is in the positives (excluding prospect Brendan Smith, who is -1 in three games).

As Lidstrom's career winds down, there needs to be a successor as the number one defenseman for Detroit. The logical choice is Niklas Kronwall, who has now reached the age of 30 and is in the prime of his career. A very hard hitting Kronwall, who just signed a seven year contract back on Halloween, is a great choice to be the go-to leader on the blueline. His offensive abilities are not as prominent as Lidstrom, but then again there are few defensemen who can compare. For now, Detroit can be satisfied with Lidstrom, Ian White, Kronwall, and Brad Stuart as their top four. There is a possibility that Brad Stuart may not resign with Detroit, as he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. However, Brendan Smith is an NHL ready defenseman in Detroit's AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, and with some shuffling should be in Detroit's lineup with regularity beginning next season. Combined with Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, and veteran journeyman Mike Commodore, Detroit's blueline depth is very impressive. The long term issue of resigning Lidstrom and Stuart doesn't have an impact on how I grade them today, but it's definitely something to be mindful of in the future.

Goaltending: A-
Depending on who you ask, Jimmy Howard is having a phenomenal season that is Vezina Trophy worthy. Thus far Howard leads the league in wins and is top ten in every goaltending category. For Howard, this year marks a true turning point in his professional career. After racking up 37 wins in both of his first two seasons, he is on pace to be very close to tying or surpassing Martin Brodeur's NHL record of 48 wins in a season by a goaltender. It is likely that backup Ty Conklin will see more than the six starts he saw in the first half of the season, but the second half success Detroit needs to secure another division title will be on the back of Jimmy Howard. He's already proven he can handle the pressure of the regular season, and his numbers are up from last year. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Howard's season is that up until December 13th, he only lost five games. During that chunk of the season he won four in a row three times, including a seven game run in late November. Since then he's 6-4 and has seen his numbers take a hit, but it's only a matter of time before this "slump" is curbed.

To conclude, the Detroit Red Wings have earned themselves an A- for the first part of the season. Perhaps it is overcritical of me to give them anything less than an "A" considering they are once again on top of the NHL, but giving an "A" would mean there is no room for improvement. To be frank, their road record is dismal for a division leader. As it stands the Wings have an 11-12 record on the road, which needs to improve if they want to remain the toast of the town. In addition, their penalty kill is still not very good, sitting at 81.2%, good for 23rd in the league. These two issues warrant the A- instead of the solid "A".

Finally, for your viewing pleasure, a video of Johan Franzen punching Steve Montador in the face: