Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: (2) Anaheim Ducks vs (7) Detroit Red Wings

We did it.

I use the term "we" because I am that guy. I am a fan who treats the Red Wings like they are a part of who I am and how I live my life. There are fan circles who detract others for using the royal "we" in reference to the team they support. My blog isn't affiliated with the Detroit Red Wings organization in any way. I've never met a player who plays for them. But I belong to a very large community online and offline that identifies with what the team represents and how they play the game. I've met a lot of great people who feel the same way about the Red Wings. This season, more than others, has brought our community together as the Red Wings struggled harder than they ever have to continue their playoff streak.

And they did it.

Twenty-two consecutive playoffs. It's an impressive feat, although nowhere near the record. For those curious, the longest postseason streak belongs to the Boston Bruins, who made it 29 seasons in a row before missing. Former Central Division rivals Chicago Blackhawks (28) and Saint Louis Blues (25) also have longer streaks, but during those streaks, neither team was capable of capturing the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings have been able to score six Stanley Cup finals appearances, four of which turned into championships.

The relief of continuing the streak has provided time for insight on the regular season and how to grade this team. I will be posting the second of the promised "The Good, Bad, and the Ugly" upon completion, but in the meantime, let's get to brass tacks and talk about the playoff series that begins on Tuesday evening.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The 2013 Detroit Red Wings Regular Season Finale

Worst. Shop. Ever.

In 1966, Italian director Sergio Leone directed the Spaghetti western classic "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", or if you're feeling snobbish, "Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo". The iconic film, starring Clint Eastwood, is about three gunfighters battling for a secret fortune amidst the United States Civil War. It is the third and final entry into the iconic "Dollars Trilogy" that stars Eastwood. If you have never seen it, you should check it out. I'm sure it's on Netflix, OnDemand, or cable somewhere.

I mention "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" because I can think of no better term, phrase, or movie title to compare to the 2013 Detroit Red Wings season. Thursday night's 5-2 triumph over the Nashville Predators was the feel-good moment of the regular season. They looked like the Red Wings of old; the ones who could find themselves playoff bound for a 22nd consecutive year. Sadly, the entire season has not been this joyous. There's been injuries, overtime losses, and did I mention injuries? I don't even remember what Darren Helm looks like. Tomorrow, I will be running a full post on my review of the regular season. Meanwhile, we have a game to discuss.

We have reached the final game of the regular season, and the team's fate in its own hands. The showdown Saturday night in Dallas is (surprise) the most important of the season. A win means the playoffs; a loss means having to rely on Minnesota and/or Columbus losing in order to squeeze into the playoffs. The team will finish in 7th or 8th place, meaning Detroit will either face longtime rivals Chicago or the despised Anaheim Ducks. I remember the last time the 2nd seeded Red Wings were toppled by the 7th seed Ducks. The shoe would appear to be on the other foot this time around...and it happens to be ten years since the shocking series sweep.

The Red Wings find themselves crawling into the playoffs. A question I have asked myself several times the past month is whether continuing the streak is worth limping into the playoffs just to get bounced by Chicago or Anaheim. The painful, obvious, irrefutable truth for me is HELL YES. The *only* thing that matters is that your team makes it into the playoffs. The 2011-2012 Los Angeles Kings shattered the illusion that the 8th seed can't get the job done. They went 16-4 and absolutely dominated the playoffs in a way that I can't recall anyone else doing. Can the 2013 Detroit Red Wings do the same?

Tonight is going to be a big game. If Johan Franzen keeps playing like his playoff alter-ego, Jimmy Howard remains a rock in goal, and special teams capitalizes on mistakes, winning is going to be a hell of a lot easier. There's no time to be nervous, no time to hesitate. Win and we're in. Lose, and Columbus and Minnesota almost deserve to go over. I would rather cut my eyeballs out than watch another Minnesota/Anaheim series.

Tomorrow I will continue the "Good, Bad, Ugly" theme with a second piece about what parts of the 2013 regular season Detroit Red Wings I thought were good, bad, and ugly. Until then, GO WINGS GO.

Don't Stop Believing'.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Frkwatch Update: Playoff Overtime Winner Edition!

It's been a roller-coaster month for Detroit Red Wings fans. Better men/women/blogger robots have already dissected the struggle to reach the playoffs. If you want a gander at those posts, go over to Winging it in Motown or The Malik Report. For now, I defer to the major leagues while yours truly spends his time establishing himself as the authority on a single Red Wing (prospect) player. Someday, we'll all look back on this blog together fondly of how we watched a true legend rise from a little metropolis known as Halifax.

So while the big boys keep sucking, the Red Wings prospects across the CHL and even the AHL continue to make the future bright for Hockeytown. Xavier Ouellet and Marty Frk are still kicking around in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's playoff semifinals, and the news is pretty good, mostly. Ouellet drew an assist in the Blainville-Broisbiand Armada's 2-1 loss to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in Game Two. Before I continue, can you believe these names? I kid you not, these are REAL teams in the QMJHL. They both have significant meaning for the areas they represent, but to an outsider these are about as bizarre and confusing as any European team name. I'm still not sure what a Chicoutimi Saguenéen is even after Googling it.

Anyway, the Armada are down 2-0 to the Drakkar after two 2-1 losses. Unfortunate for Ouellet, but while one Red Wings prospect falls, another rises. Marty Frk continues to tear it up in the playoffs, scoring the overtime winner in a 5-4 Game Two matchup between the Halifax Mooseheads and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Here's a clip of the overtime winner, care of the Mooseheads' YouTube page:

Here's another angle of the winner:

That's 10,000 Haligonians cheering on the victory. As you can see, Frk pots the biggest goal of his life thus far. The Mooseheads are up 2-0 against the Huskies in the best-of-seven series and could very well have a stranglehold on the series by week's end. Let's have a quick peak at the top scorers in the QMJHL playoffs so far:

Nice copy/paste job from the Q League page, eh?

As you can see, Frk has twenty points in ten games. He's fourth on his team in scoring, but unlike his linemates who precede him on the top scoring list, Frk also has 20 PIMs. This should come as no surprise to those of you who have been following Frkwatch since the season's beginning. Frk likes to get his hands dirty. I like that.

Not much else is to be said of Frk and the Moose aside from the likeliness that they will compete for the President's Cup very soon. All due respect for Rouyn-Noranda, the Moose are built to win championships. Next season will see most of the top players move on, but in the moment this team looks poised to become the Q's best team and a Memorial Cup lock. Catch you all next time.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Trade Deadline Thoughts

Well, the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline has passed, and the Detroit Red Wings made no trades at the last minute to bolster the forwards, defense, or goaltending of their team. That sound you year is half the hockey world slamming down the panic button for the soon-to-be-Dead-Things.

Hold on a minute, geniuses.

If you'd like a rather complete explanation as to why the Detroit Red Wings did little to improve the team, here's The Malik Report with a litany of quotes, tweets, and some comments from a host of people who cover the Red Wings on a daily basis. This should satisfy your need to know why nothing was done, or at least give you a modicum of sanity while you tear your hair out over Detroit missing out on overpaying for Jay Bouwmeester.

Most Red Wings fans (I hope) have accepted the reality that the Detroit Red Wings are rebuilding. Management are doing everything they can to keep the team competitive enough to continue making the playoffs and keep the Western Conference annoyed that a playoff slot is going to be taken up by those bastards in the red and white. At this point, it's all anyone can do not to despise the Red Wings and their success. Let's face it, the Red Wings are that guy in the office you can't stand to be around because he has the nice car, the nice apartment, the better cell phone, and that poisonous smile that you just want to sucker punch at lunch time while he eats from his expensive Tupperware containers. If you're not a fan, you're tired of hearing about them and their success and their banners and their late round draft picks who keep taking the damn puck away from you. You're tired of it all, and you want this team buried in the standings.

But they just won't die. They aren't dead yet, and it kills you to know they are rebuilding on the fly and won't go down without snagging one more chance at the Stanley Cup. For those of us grounded in reality in Motown (the figurative one that the global fan community belongs to), we get it. We knew a season like this was coming. We knew a trade deadline would loom and there would be a market the Red Wings couldn't get anything done in because it was time to stop trading away youngsters and draft picks. 2013 was the year Ken Holland said "ain't nobody got time for that". (Note: he didn't say that. But we were all thinking it.)

Deadline Day 2013 was a perplexing array of trades that, on paper, would be wholeheartedly rejected by fan communities. If you want a(n in)comprehensive look at what it means to play "Dumbass Trade Roulette", check out Twitter or HFBoards' trade section, where nothing matters but your top five prospects and first round draft picks. Seriously, don't go there because you will hurt yourself tripping over the lopsided proposals. If you must, go with the understanding that it's all trolling and jokingly bad trade proposals. Otherwise your head will be spinning and you'll be vomiting up pea soup faster than you can say "Filppula for a 2nd round pick and a prospect".

Detroit didn't really participate in the deadline, unless you count missing out on JayBouw and sending Kent Huskins to a place that needed him far more than Detroit. I honestly wish him well and hope he finds a place in Philly. Last time we sent a player their it worked out well. Right, Ville Leino? I do love what you've done in Buffalo. Snark aside for a moment, Ken Holland didn't indulge the bizarre trade market this year in order to spare the prospects from doom elsewhere and preserve the draft picks the team desperately needs to refresh its roster. How many times can we re-sign Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson to contract and deny our gems like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist a chance to shine? I guess we'll find out in July.

A quick glance at Detroit's injured players, we see it includes the third-line center and penalty killing machine Darren Helm, the above mentioned Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson (more than one injury this season), Kyle Quincey, and now Henrik Zetterberg, although thankfully the captain is not going to miss a lot of time.

Well, that list includes, in a pessimistic analysis, two thirds of the third line, a second line RW, and our theoretical second pairing defenseman. We did just get Carlo Colaiacovo back, so when Quincey returns there's the second pairing finally back in one piece. Within a couple of weeks, Detroit will have its depth scoring back from its veteran wingers and hopefully special teams will see a boost from the speedy Helm.

So, did Detroit need to do anything at the deadline?

Nope. So we didn't panic and throw away our future for the sake of acquiring players that would cost a fortune in salary. I guess you should give Ken Holland an "F" for that effort.

If you thought the Red Wings would do something like throw a pupu platter of picks and prospects for Pominville or let a team grab a gob of our greenhorns for Gaborik, you can't see the forest for the trees here in Detroit. I'd lend you my glasses, but they're both dirty and unsuitable for people who lack depth perception. Pun entirely intended.

Now, I won't go far as to suggest a certain Patriarch of the Puck is barking up the wrong tree, because I adore him, but to consider an idle Detroit who are supposedly a "win-now team" the only true failure among a class of 30 teams is folly. To punish a team desperate for a rebuild who chose not to buy up pieces in a patchwork job is folly. Detroit can no longer afford to give their young stars the boot to other teams looking to sell assets because they've done it for too long. The magical spring of Datsyuks and Zetterbergs has run dry. There's plenty of great prospects in the system, despite the tired trope of Red Wings fans over-hyping their future players, and there's no reason to toss aside a plan for a rebuild just to continue a playoff streak that is neither the longest in NHL history nor relevant in the modern age of hockey. 21 seasons is playoffs is impressive. Four Stanley Cups is impressive. Remaining competitive is impressive. You know what's more impressive? Bouncing back from a bad season immediately to rise back up the standings. I'm looking at you, Montreal.

Detroit's recovery begins now that they have secured their own 2013 first round draft pick. Here's hoping it can be used to draft someone with offensive firepower, or perhaps that top pairing defenseman we pine for. Really, one could argue the recovery began symbolically by landing college free agent Danny DeKeyser. It's still exciting that the kid chose the Red Wings when 29 other teams were competing.

As a final thought to Deadline Day, I'd like to adress the most frustrating element of the last two weeks: the status of Valtteri Filppula. Many fans, myself included, have questioned whether Filppula will return to the Red Wings next season. You can sniff around the internet to see that there's been all sorts of quotes about how that's not the focus of Filppula or management right now, but reality is he is looking for a two million dollar per season pay increase. As I pondered this week on Twitter, what has Filppula done since his last contract to warrant a pay hike like that? He had a fantastic 2011-2012, scoring over sixty points for the first time. Jubilation all around Motown. This season, Filppula has looked well defensively, but his offense is paltry, netting six goals and thirteen points in 29 games. As a reference point, six Red Wings have more goals than the Finnish playmaker, including now-top line superstar Justin Abdelkader (maybe a little sarcasm there). It hasn't been a good year for Filppula to show he's worth the 5 million a year, long term deal he's looking for. What should Ken Holland do?

Some suggested we trade Filppula today to get maximum value for him before he walks for nothing. In theory, that's an excellent idea. Today proved to be a bizarre deadline where great players were sent to strange places for curiously diluted packages. All due respect for the players traded for the Gaboriks and Pominvilles, I'm still scratching my scalp. In the end, Holland didn't pull the trigger and that can give us some insight into the Filppula situation. Perhaps he wasn't moved because he's never going anywhere. There could be a plan to keep him. Or it's a gesture of hope that he will resign for a more reasonable amount of money. Or Ken Holland just couldn't get value for him. We'll never know because it makes no sense for Holland to let on that he shopped a guy we kind of want to re-sign.

As another deadline day passes and all the major sports networks pack up their big sets and the poor bastards who had to spend 14 hours covering this dull affair get some rest from their mobile phones, take solace in the fact that the Detroit Red Wings are no worse than they were yesterday. In fact, if you think about it, they're better than they were a week ago. And in two weeks when all of our players aren't beaten up with injures, they'll be better than they are now.

I can live with that.