Can the Red Wings survive?
Can Brendan Smith help fill the vast void left by the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom? (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
Can the Red Wings survive?
Why hello there. This is my second-to-last mailbag before a two-week vacation. But not to worry, THN’s mailbag never stops working. My colleagues will step in and answer your questions in my stead. Now, on to this week’s batch of queries:
Adam, as a long time Red Wings fan – mainly because of Nicklas Lidström and Steve Yzerman, but also due to grinders such as Kirk Maltby, Tomas Holmström and Kris Draper – I'm wondering about Detroit’s chances of rebuilding on the fly.
In the system there is some intriguing names (Frk, Järnkrok, Jurco, Tatar, Nyquist and Pulkkinen), but the defense worries me. What will happen to that unit? Right now it's only Niklas Kronwall that I'm happy to see as a top four D-man. Kyle Quincey and Jonathan Ericsson are at best No. 4 D-man and Ian White played awful in Detroit’s own end when trying to push for late game heroics against Nashville during the playoffs.
I do believe that the defense corps can keep Detroit’s playoff streak alive for one season more, but the likes of Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith are unproven and they don’t have the reputation to fill the void of Brad Stuart. (The void of Lidström could not even be filled with Ryan Suter, so let's not go there.) Now to my question: do the Red Wings have some future D-gems like the ones I argue they have on offense?
Johan Lundevall, Solna, Sweden
Part of the problem I see here is that Wings fans may measure any and all newcomers against Lidstrom, which is the absolute worst thing they could do. They have solid North American prospects in the system such as Ryan Sproul of the OHL and Xavier Ouellet, and Europeans such as Alexei Marchenko and Mattias Backman, but remember, Lidstrom was a low-drafted prospect when he entered the NHL in 1991 – and as Ken Holland recently told me, he didn’t raise his game to its eventual Hall of Fame levels until fellow Detroit defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov’s tragic accident in 1997.
In other words, even one of the game’s all-time greats had to take more than half a decade to fully develop. Patience has to be there for a new generation.
That said, there’s little doubt a Wings’ blueline with no comparable replacements for Lidstrom and Stuart is significantly less imposing. Barring an acquisition such as Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester (who isn’t a savior by any stretch), they’re in a state where I think they’ll have to battle all season for a low playoff berth.
Now, everybody has been waiting for Detroit to eventually have a disappointing season and miss the playoffs for two decades. It hasn’t happened, but I could see a scenario similar to what the New Jersey Devils went through in 2010-11: one bad season, followed by a bounce-back year and a deep playoff run. If any team can replicate that sequence, it’s the Wings.
Hi Adam, I'm a bit surprised you didn't include the Penguins as losers in your recent top 10. They lost Jordan Staal to get a good third-line defense-minded center and future assets, traded Zbynek Michalek, a reliable defenseman, for future assets and missed on solid wingers Ray Whitney, Jaromir Jagr and P-A Parenteau.
It looked like they had prepared themselves to make a pitch for Zach Parise and/or Ryan Suter, but missed on both. Now what? This team looks to me like it's not as good as last year's squad, though Crosby is healthy. What do you think?
Thomas Vidal-Lessard, Cookshire-Eaton, Que.
I actually thought the Pens did a solid job, especially considering the tough spot they were put in when it became clear Staal wasn’t going to re-sign a contract extension. Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero was never going to get equal value for his third-best forward, but he got a very good complementary piece in Brandon Sutter, a top-10 draft pick and a decent prospect.
Yes, they traded Michalek, who never really fit in after signing a big-bucks UFA deal. But did you see the way that defense corps faltered against Philadelphia? They needed to make some changes there. And there’s no requirement for them to spend all their free agent money just because familiar stars are on the market. Shero has more than $10 million in available salary cap space, giving him the flexibility to make changes during the year. Other GMs (including San Jose’s Doug Wilson) take a similar approach.
Pittsburgh didn’t have a great summer (which is why they weren’t on my winners list), but compared to other teams, they didn’t soil the sheets, either.
Hi Adam! How goes it? While the Minnesota Wild may have won the courtship of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, what cost will this have to the team in the long term? Many big contracts with term and salary have proved to be detrimental to teams in the present (cough – Vincent Lecavalier, Roberto Luongo, Alex Ovechkin, Dany Heatley – cough). While these players may still contribute to their respective teams, the value per dollar is not there. Also, how well will Parise and Suter contribute offensively when they don't have Ilya Kovalchuk and Shea Weber to play off of? Thanks,
Nick Stoyan, Toronto
It goes, it goes. I think it’s far too early to imagine what (if any) problematic effects the Wild’s two marquee signings will have on the franchise. As my colleague Ken Campbell wrote, there are worse players to give 13-year contracts to than Suter and Parise, both of whom are regarded as hardworking, smart players who won’t grow complacent because their bank accounts are on the verge of bursting. Just about any NHL team would have given the duo similar money and term, so criticizing Minnesota at this stage is folly.
Their on-ice adjustments may not go perfectly smoothly, but Suter and Parise aren’t exactly playing with a group of minor bantam teenagers. Mikko Koivu will likely center Parise on the first line, while Suter will comprise half of the No. 1 defensive pairing, perhaps with Tom Gilbert. Thanks to Minnesota’s up-tempo system, they’ll both be much freer to work on the offensive side of the game than they were in Nashville or New Jersey. Give them some time before you start supposing they won’t work out.
Adam, goalie Interference is getting to be ridiculous. I saw several "penalties" called on a player who got hit/pushed into the goalie last season. It should be a penalty on the defenseman who hits the player into the goalie - not the other way around.
I saw it happen in games that didn't involve the Flyers so there's no bias in the question - although Scott Hartnell got called for at least four of these penalties during the season in which he wasn't at fault. Why do refs call the "result" and not the action that caused the result?
Anthony Querin, Narberth, Pa.
You’re not alone – more than a few NHL goalies feel they deserve more protection. Unfortunately, the referees’ decisions follow the same pattern the league has established in regard to supplementary discipline for any serious incident – result always overshadows intent. And as we all know, the NHL often errs on the side of giving players the benefit of the doubt.
The problem with identifying intent is that, unless the player carries a cartoon thought bubble over his head saying “I intended to do this”, they’ll always have plausible deniability. Effective leadership in overall player safety demands that NHL brass not take players at their word and send a message that, even in a fast-moving game, actions speak louder than any after-the-fact statements. But the league’s history suggests that organizational backbone to do so simply isn’t there.