Monday, January 28, 2013

Frkwatch Update, PK Subban in Detroit, and Blaming Jimmy Howard

Imagine this fellow in a Red Wings uniform. Photo courtesy of "Keith and Alyssa" via Wikipedia.


It's been a while since I talked about Detroit Red Wings prospect Marty Frk, so today I thought I would give a brief but insightful update on how the Czech forward is doing with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. Currently, the Mooseheads sit unopposed as top team in the QMJHL with an astounding 39-5-2 record. As a team, they are number one in goals, number one in fewest goals against, number two in PP% (28.4%), number eight in PK% (79.4%), and have nine players averaging a point per game pace. Safe to say that they are pretty dominant. They are so dominant that they sit atop the CHL rankings as Canada's top junior level team.

So where does Marty Frk picture in to this? Frk is still playing on the top line of the Mooseheads and is benefiting mightily by playing with potential top five draft picks Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. Frk's numbers are pretty good at this point in the season, considering the slow start he had due to indifference, frustration, and a nagging leg injury. As of today Frk is 38th in the league in scoring with 18 goals, 32 assists, and 50 points in 35 games. What's more impressive is that he's performed so well in the midst of an early surgery as well as missing time for the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, where he notched four points on a fairly weak Czech team. His +/- is up at +16, much better than the start of the season. He's also reduced his number of stupid penalties but still has 60 PIMs in 35 games.

There isn't much else to report on with Frk, except that it's interesting to see the Red Wings struggle early on in the shortened 2013 season from his perspective. Players like Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are moving up the depth chart by necessity, which seems to indicated the Wings want to get their young talent into the NHL lineup as soon as possible. So far, Damien Brunner has been a successful experiment, which bodes poorly for Nyquist (for now) and even worse for Tatar. I have to imagine for Frk, who is signed to a three year entry level deal with the team, he's pleased to see the young forwards in front of him have their chance in Detroit, or potentially see them dealt for some kind of help on the blueline. I don't think Frk is going to be seeing a Red Wings lineup anytime soon, but he could get a sniff in a year or two if the same perfect storm of events happens in January for Detroit in 2014. Still, he's got to pay his dues.


Virtually every Red Wings blogger has expressed some disdain over the current lineup's defense corps. Even the mighty Nick Kronwall looks pedestrian, and patchwork replacements like Kent Huskins aren't going to change the game quite like the Rafalskis and Lidstroms of the good ol' days. I've already said my piece about what the Red Wings should do, and of course the best possible solution to the defensive woes of Hockeytown is signing or trading for current Montreal no-shower PK Subban. I'll defer to the outstanding analysis of JJ from Winging it in Motown, although the conversation should really be geared towards a trade rather than an offer sheet. The prospect of sacrificing four 1st round draft picks is more than just mortgaging for the future, it's putting all the chips on the current prospects and players in the system to be better than any potential picks for a long, long period of time. Realistically, Ken Holland won't be able to drag PK out of Montreal without blowing the mind-holes of upper management. Is there anyone on the Red Wings who can do that?

Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Filppula, Nick Kronwall, and Jimmy Howard are probably the only untouchables. That doesn't leave a lot of value on the table for Montreal to choose from. It'd take at least Franzen, a top prospect, a decent defenseman, and a draft pick coming back to equal PK's potential. This isn't just the typical HFBoards attempt at using NHL 13 to make good trade deals, or an overestimation of the quality of Detroit's trade bait. Reality is that a player like PK is going to come at a hefty price. Regardless of what Montreal want, it is worth paying. I would even go so far as to say that Filppula could be thrown out there as a potential body moving out the door, especially with his unrestricted free agency looming. Yes, the team has invested a lot in Filppula being the next Zetterberg-like leader on the team, but they did the same for Martin Lapointe during the Yzerman days and he was let go at one point.

I won't bother to postulate a real trade or how to measure PK Subban's value in this context. I'll keep it short and sweet: if we want this kid in Detroit, we are going to have to pay a very steep price. That price may not even help to bring the Red Wings success in 2013, but it will be worth it if Detroit can bring in an elite defenseman to help. You just can't lose three top four defensemen in three years and expect to maintain the same quality of play.

For what it's worth, I'm curious as to what Montreal Canadiens fans have to say on giving up PK Subban. What kind of offers would it take, within reason, to acquire his services?

Editor's Update: According to multiple sources, PK Subban will remain a Canadien for the next two seasons, provided he is not traded. It was nice to think about Ken Holland living up to the hype he generates as a top GM, but no dice on Subban. Curious to see what (non)moves will be made if the Red Wings defense continues to struggle.

Whatever the payment is for this guy, pay it.


It isn't Jimmy's fault, so stop blaming him, ragamuffins! Photo courtesy of "LAX" via Wikipedia.

Five games into the season and all the Red Wing fans are asking themselves and each other who is to blame for the 2-2-1 start. While this start has us still within a point of 5th place, we're only a point up on 11th. Is five games even enough to start judging the path of an entire season?

The biggest concern is obviously defense, although the offense sure looked bad more than once so far in 2013. There isn't a lot of time to iron out the kinks on offense so the sooner Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and now Brunner can get it together and start filling the net, the happier everyone will be. Still, one can only ramble about defensive lapses and offense that is anemic before questioning....goaltending?


Jimmy didn't look great against St. Louis in the first game of the season. Credit to Tarasenkov, he make it all look easy. Jimmy's numbers so far aren't great, with a sv% below .900 and a GAA of 3.14, you'd swear that Jimmy was doing his best impression of Steve Mason. Division snarkiness aside, is Jimmy Howard a problem in Detroit?


It's already headache-inducing to think that five starts against some quality opponents is enough to judge a player, especially one who has 110 wins in his first three seasons. He's at the very least the best starting goaltender in the division considering more than last season, and he's an All-Star caliber player who consistently bails out ragamuffins like Kyle Quincey and Jakub Kindl from having a plus minus in the triple digits.

Great save by Jimmy in the loss against the Stars. Coulda' been 3-0 there. 

Long story short, stop blaming Jimmy Howard on the losses. He's not Hasek out there right now but it's a pretty big learning curve going from relying on Nick Lidstrom to seeing Jakub Kindl as the last line of defense. Yes I know, they aren't in the same spot on the depth chart but my point is that everyone is rusty early in the season. Detroit might not be able to afford a slow start, but it is what it is. Still plenty of time to fight into a playoff spot.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Do the Red Wings Need Help?

After watching most of Detroit's first game of the season against St. Louis on Saturday night, it occurred to myself (and 99.9% of the fans) that the Red Wings were outmatched by St. Louis' physical style of hockey. David Backes was a force on the ice and that young Russian Vladimir Tarasenko made Jimmy Howard look like a beer league acquisition. It was a brutal game to watch if you're a Red Wings fan, and Blues fans across the world rejoiced with glee over their big home opener win.

I don't blame them. It's a big win, especially against a division rival who has taken them to school almost routinely since the 1990s. That isn't talk of the "glory days", it's just a fact that the Red Wings were kings of their domain in the Central Division for a long time.

And now they are not.

It's time for the storied franchise to knuckle up and accept that they are no longer going to cruise to division titles. If anything, it's been apparent since 2010 that Detroit's time in the sun is in jeopardy of ending. Chicago has been a fine team for a few seasons now, with envious defense corps and hard working forwards like Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews. There will be no haughty retorts about not having the chance to draft high in the first round here. The fact is that Detroit hasn't had a lot of luck in the first round in recent years, when they have drafted.

It's alright, though. We have one of the best general managers in the NHL. And a coach who goes perpetually unnoticed by Jack Adams voters. If anyone near the Red Wings franchise has any right to a chip on their shoulders these days, it's Mike Babcock.

After watching last night's shellacking, it's going to be up to these two men to right the ship. If you ask me, the pieces are there to field a competitive team. For the most part. I won't lie to anyone, this Detroit team is hurting after losing its number one and number three defensemen. No team can delude their fans or the rest of the hockey world into thinking everything is okay with a legend-of-legends type player riding off into the sunset. Especially not Nick Lidstrom, who, were he not robbed of a locked out season, could have easily snagged an eighth Norris Trophy. Brad Stuart is no slouch himself, and his prowess is clearly missed on defense. And believe me, no one forgets that Brian Rafalski retired the year before.

So rather than dwell on the past, what is there for Ken Holland and Mike Babcock to do?

The short answer is virtually nothing. Every single player who touched the ice Saturday is embarrassed at how poorly the team performed. They will not allow something like that to become a regular occurrence on the ice. I can imagine right now just how thirsty Jimmy Howard is to get back on the ice and compete. And win. He's learned a lot from guys like Joey MacDonald, Ty Conklin, and of course, Chris Osgood. if there's anyone from the team in the last fifteen years who knows what it takes to find ways to win, it's Ozzie.

The long answer, which is a whole other blog post, is Detroit needs to pick up a bona fide number one or two defenseman to pair with Nick Kronwall. For the most part, I believe hockey pundits will agree Kronwall is a great (if not elite?) defenseman who has the ability to make game changing hits. That's phenomenal. Given that Lidstrom was the kind of player who didn't hit and had incredible hockey sense that ignited scoring opportunities, I think Kronwall is miscast as the next "Lidstrom", if such a thing exists. Detroit needs an intelligent, scoring, dynamic defenseman who can spark plays, agitate the opposition, and turn a game on its ass when the team needs a goal or needs to keep the puck out of the net.

And that man is sitting in Montreal waiting for a contract.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Who Will Fit on the Detroit Red Wings' Fourth Line?

Now that the National Hockey League is back, it's time to get down to business here at the Wizard of Osgood. The Detroit Red Wings are back to training, and with training camp comes a litany of questions that should be answered before the puck drops. What will the line combinations be? What will the defensive pairings be? Are the players ready? Who is injured? Some of these questions are tackled in Episode 31 of Winging it in Motown Radio, featuring yours truly making some wildly silly proposals about sending Johan Franzen out of town while he still has value. It might have been the sugar from the hot chocolate talking, but I think there's a valid point to offloading Franzen somewhere in exchange for a solid top tier defenseman, especially considering the number of forwards Detroit currently has signed. With that said, I fully acknowledge that it isn't a good idea to just deal Franzen for the sake of getting rid of that albatross of a contract. Especially not knowing how good Damien Brunner is going to be lining up with Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Perhaps this is a preview of what is to come:


I doubt many NHL teams will exhibit defense as poorly as EHC Biel does in this game, but that kind of chemistry is leaving a certain "puck patriarch" analyst intrigued.

The question on my mind last night and today is the situation with the Detroit Red Wings' fourth line. As it stands now, it appears that the top three lines are going to look like this:




Those three lines are as good as any iteration of the same nine or ten forwards Detroit has fielded since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009. Brunner is obviously a question mark as no one has ever seen him compete in an NHL environment before. Brunner isn't big but he's a skilled forward who was among the elite talents in European hockey leagues. It's another one of those Ville Leino/Fabian Brunnstrom experiments that could go either way. Obviously, the previous two didn't work out in Detroit, but the offense survived and chugged along with the usual top 10 in goals scored. The Bertuzzi/Helm/Cleary combination is as strong as any third line the NHL and Helm is still improving as a third line checking center. Bertuzzi has proven time and time again that despite previous transgressions, he still has what it takes to play and he still has great hands. Dan Cleary had a great season in 2010-11 with 26 goals, but played injured the next year and barely finished with 33 points before being invisible in the playoffs against Nashville. He will want to bounce back with a solid effort in the shortened season, knowing he is on the final year of a 2.8 million dollar contract that any number of young Red Wings prospects could be deserving of in the next couple of seasons.

So that brings us to the fourth line. And boy, what a log-jam of talented players there are. In no particular order you have Justin Abdelkader, Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller, Cory Emmerton, Jan Mursak, Jordan Tootoo, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, and possibly Mike Knuble. That's nine guys competing for three positions. I'll make the obvious known now to get it out of the way: Justin Abdelkader will be the fourth line center, with Jordan Tootoo pissing everyone in the world off at right wing. That leaves seven able-bodied forwards competing for one job. Drew Miller seems like the easy choice at left wing, but where do Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton go if not to Detroit? Nyquist can go back to Grand Rapids on his entry level contract, as can Tomas Tatar, but would Mike Knuble agree to a two-way deal at 40, knowing his career could either be over in the NHL? And what about Patrick Eaves, a player who is beloved by the Red Wings faithful and continues to fight through a bad concussion? There's way too many forwards clogging up the bottom six in Detroit, and the fact is that not everybody is going to be around come January 19th in St. Louis.

The painful reality of this situation is that several players are going to lose their jobs. The time is going to come for the Nyquists, the Tatars, the Ferraros, the Sheahans, the Jurcos, and later the Frks of the Red Wings system. They may have to accept that their time in Grand Rapids is not over. There is already some speculation that Tatar is growing restless in Grand Rapids and Gustav Nyquist is absolutely NHL ready, but the Brunner experiment and the signing of Samuelsson all but squashed the roster slots "Goose" should be filling. When Nyquist and Tatar return to Grand Rapids, that leaves Emmerton, Mursak, Miller, Eaves, and Knuble to compete for the final slot. As much as I've love to see number 17 back on the ice this season, Eaves was just cleared for contact and the season is five days away. Mike Knuble could be the Dallas Drake of 2013, so I am unsure if ruling out his potential veteran presence is wise. Miller played 80 games last season and potted 14 goals and 25 points. Those numbers are good enough to sell him as the top choice for the left wing position. That leaves Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton as the odd men out.

So what happens to them?

The simple solution is to send both of them back to Grand Rapids, which must be frustrating and disappointing to both players. Emmerton played 71 games with Detroit last season, and Mursak 25 games. They both have NHL experience, but neither demonstrated an offensive flair during their time with the team. Both are 24 years old and are too old to be considered "prospects" if there are young players like Thomas Jurco and Marty Frk at 20 and 19. Should they accept the demotion? It may just be time for both to consider other teams that could use their skills. Even if some of the regulars get injured in the regular season (hopefully not), is it satisfying enough to take the scraps from the table? Probably not.

In conclusion, I believe things will play out as follows. Knuble will be offered a two way deal and he will either retire or enjoy the role as depth replacement should a serious injury occur. Patrick Eaves...will most likely miss another NHL season. Sucks to even type that but given the amount of forwards already fighting for a job, there's no reason to rush his return. The kids, Nyquist and Tatar, will remain in Grand Rapids for the season, unless Nyquist somehow proves to Babcock and company that he's better than Drew Miller's best. Drew Miller will be the fourth line left wing, where he will play his ass off for another contract. This leaves Jan Mursak and/or Cory Emmerton en route to a demotion, healthy scratch, or another city.

With Valtteri Filppula, Damien Brunner, Drew Miller, and Dan Cleary all in contract seasons, there's no doubt that there is a fire underneath (and maybe inside?) all of them to compete hard in the shortened season to prove their worth. There are enough forward prospects in the system to replaces all of them over the course of five years. Filppula is going to be a major piece of the future in Detroit, with Brunner being a potential boom or bust. Drew Miller and Dan Cleary have this season to justify another contract. If not, Nyquist and Tatar will get their chances next season on the team. Provided they aren't packaged in some zany deal to get a new number one defensemen.

One final post-edit comment: if you don't already know about Winging it in Motown or the radio show, please go look at their stuff. I am the Padawan to their Red Wing mastery. Thanks to JJ, Jeff, Graham, and Tyler for having my dopey ass on the show again. I love doing it and can't wait to do it again some time.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Reading Wiz: Bob Probert's Story

Bob Probert fighting Darren Langdon. Photo via Wikipedia.

This entry was brought over from my new blog: One Hundred Books in 2013. It's pretty relevent here.

My new blog, The One Hundred Book Challenge, has been met with a small amount of praise from friends and family since my first post, where I discussed Batman: Battle for the Cowl. I'll admit that it was a peculiar way to kickoff a brand new blog, but it was the first book I finished in 2013. I couldn't wait long to jump into post number two, so I picked up a book I received for Christmas in 2011. Most people who know me know I have a passion for ice hockey. If you need any further proof, check out my other (more successful) blog, The Wizard of Osgood, over here. With the National Hockey League recently ending the 2012-13 lockout, I thought it was a good idea to jump back into talking about hockey. I had not posted anything on the blog since December and despite picking away at a little piece on how I felt about the lockout, I didn't know what to post.

As soon as there is hockey to watch, I'll be there to talk about what I see. In the meantime, I read Detroit Red Wing alumni Bob Probert's biography, Tough Guy: My Life on the Edge, written by Probie himself and Kirstie McLellan Day. Day helped Theoren Fleury write his biography a couple of years before and I found his book to be one of the most captivating manuscripts I have ever written. I was hoping Bob Probert's book would continue the positive trend of detailing day-to-day player life. It turned out to be a very different read with a very different result.

To summarize, Bob Probert's biography documents his personal struggle to remain alcohol and drug free during his NHL career straight through to his death in July 2010. His story, compared to Fleury's, is not nearly as dark but sheds light on a different kind of player than Fleury: an enforcer. Probert was one of the most dominant enforcers in NHL history during his career, competing in 238 career fights. His ability to evoke fear into the hearts of opposing players is well known. Here's arguably his best fight, coming against fellow enforcer, Marty McSorley in 1994:

Bob Probert wasn't just a tough guy, though. Probie was also a scorer and had hands that even the most skilled forwards in the NHL wished they had, especially at his size. Check this one out:

Probert was the kind of player every team wanted and every team hated to play against. He could score, he could grind you down, and when the going got tough and Steve Yzerman needed someone to watch his back, Bob Probert stepped up. He was a force at his best with the Red Wings. Unfortunately for Probie, his drug and alcohol related problems limited his true potential as a scorer and a star.

The most striking element of Probert's book was how honest he was about his repeated lapses into substance abuse. I wouldn't say I expected a luxurious cruise through his life and how exciting it was to be an NHL player, but the book largely focuses on his personal life, with hockey providing a background. Some of the key figures in his life, such as Steve Yzerman, Mark "Trees" Laforest, Petr Klima, Sheldon "Mo Melly" Kennedy, and Jim Devellano are all Red Wing alumni and ice hockey personalities who influence or participate in Probert's personal life. Despite hockey being his first passion, Probert's book reads like a confessional of his crimes and misbehavior. It's an unsettling read for those who are unfamiliar with the fast life of a hockey player, especially those who have no understanding of the personal struggles of men with lots of money and deeply seeded personal troubles.

The most disappointing thing about Tough Guy is its' ending. It has none. Probert passed away in 2010, with very little of the book covering his life from 2007 until his passing. His wife helped bring the book to conclusion but there's a considerable gap in his final years. It leaves the reader hoping for a positive ending to the personal journey Probert takes from substance abuse to recovery to relapse to recovery to relapse and possibly a final recovery. There is no satisfaction to the end of this book. There is no happy ending to Bob Probert's story as it is written in Tough Guy. It is a remarkably tragic, disappointing end to a life that can be seen as a cautionary tale to young hockey talent.

With all of the personal tragedy Probert dealt with in life, his passing provided something that may yet be a "happy" ending. In fall of 2010 Probert's family announced they would donate Bob's brain to the Sports Legacy Institute in order to study the effects of concussions on the brains of athletes. The following year, it was discovered that Bob's brain had suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can cause people to show symptoms of dementia, memory loss, depression, or aggression. I know next to nothing about the subject, or Bob Probert's life beyond the pages of Tough Guy, so I believe it is best to leave the postulating to more educated people. What I do know is that Bob Probert cared very deeply for his family once it was created, and in the final pages of his book, he begins to show an understanding for the value of what he had in his family: a reason to live long and stay clean.

In conclusion, similarly to the first book I read, this one has a particular market that would have an interest in its subject. I would not recommend someone with no knowledge of hockey or the lives of professional athletes. This book is better left on the shelf for fans of the game, the Red Wings, Bob Probert, and young players who are on the cusp of hockey greatness. It isn't written particularly well, even for a biography, but it is from the heart, it's honest, and even though it doesn't really have and ending, it's a captivating read that will entertain its reader. My final grade for Book Two of One Hundred Books in 2013 is C.