Well, hello world!
I’m finally back in New York, attempting to get back to a normal pace of life after a very successful Operation: Matrimony campaign. I’d like to thank everyone for their very kind comments on Twitter, via e-mail, on Facebook, and even in the comments ’round these parts.
Anywho, it’s our turn to host the jailsexing awesomesauce of the roundtable, and we were honored to be a part of it again after a very entertaining run last summer. We’re coming hot on the heals of posts at Winging it in Motown and Snapshots — and make sure to tune in to the next round by The Triple Deke, who posed possibly the most humorous question I’ve ever had the pleasure of answering. Speaking of Snapshots, congratulations to George Malik, a good friend of ours, who will be jumping over to Kukla’s Korner, first at A2Y and then to an as-yet-unnamed blog. I’m sure he’ll kill it and the rest of the hockey world will know what we’ve known for years: Malik’s the bomb.
The questions I posed to the group — and their well thought-out answers are as follows:
QUESTION THE FIRST!
Second-year players often fall victim to a sophomore slump — and that’s especially true of goaltenders. How likely is it that Jimmy Howard can keep up with the expectations he set from a season ago, and how will the Red Wings fare if he DOES falter slightly?
Matt Saler (On the Wings)
I think there’s a reasonable chance Jimmy takes what’ll be perceived to be a step backwards this year. But I say “perceived” because I think he rose to the occasion, hitting a level above himself last year. This year, we may see more where Jimmy actually is at this point in his career. It may not be bad, but if he’s not winning games the same way he was last year, it wouldn’t be surprising, or the end of the world. Osgood’s likely to be a better backup this year, as he’s always been slated to be the second guy in this year of his contract. Assuming Babcock deals out the starts a little more evenly this year, the Wings should be alright even with Jimmy playing less spectacularly. My wife points out that even if Jimmy doesn’t play as well, the team will hopefully make up the difference this time around.
If they both can’t get it done, say hello to Joey MacDonald. I’m not sure how they’d swing that without an injury, but Joey could likely step in competently if needed.
Tyler Devereaux (The Triple Deke)
It would be too awesome for Jimmy to repeat a rookie season that saw him 5th in the league GAA, 4th in SV%, and 8th in wins. That’s me being pessimistic, or realistic maybe. Is he THAT good already? I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. I figure I’m just playing the odds here. The team can deal with him slipping slightly in the regular season because they now have the offensive depth to make up for it.
Casey Richey (Winging it in Motown)
Like I posted on WIM, Howard’s going to have a tough act to follow because those numbers that he posted were great for anyone–not just a rookie. I think he’ll be able to keep it at about the same level because of the way he progressed during the 2009-10 season. I think he showed that it’s not going to be a fluke year and that he really does have the makings to be a full-time NHL goalie. I would imagine he’s worked on rebound control and the soft goals that he allowed will probably go away over time. If he does falter, the Wings have a lot better team in front of him this year with Hudler and Modano adding some more defensive skills to the forward position (and making the assumption of a non-injury-plagued-season-from-hell). But, I also believe Howard could be setting himself up for an even better year than last year.
Chris Hollis (The Obstructed View)
I don’t think we’ll see too much of a slip up from Jimmah as he heads into his second season, but it is hard to imagine that he’ll be as stellar as he was during the Wings run to the playoffs last season. That said, a lot of his success will be determined by the guys he has playing in front of him. With the Wings looking like they now have three viable scoring lines to go with an aggressive forechecking fourth line, some of the scoring pressure that Howard had to deal with last season may be eased a bit. Along those same lines, the defense will be key to Howard’s success and a healthy blue line may be what makes or breaks Jimmah’s sophomore campaign. The biggest thing Howard will have to overcome though is the mental challenge of not trying to do too much and just playing the game he knows how to play. If he makes the saves that he should make and has a steady presence between the pipes and between the ears, he’ll do just fine this season and so will the Red Wings.
Drew (Nightmare on Helm Street)
If Jimmy Howard is too old to win rookie of the year, then he’s too old to suffer the sophomore slump. Goalies are usually fragile creatures mentally, but the long road that led Jimmy to Detroit certainly toughened him up. The fact that he has Chris Osgood – the league’s toughest goalie, mentally – backing him up certainly helps as well. I fully expect Ozzie to rebound from last year’s stinkfest as well. So we’ll have two internally savvy men between the pipes next year in total support of one another. We’ll be fine.
George James Malik (Snapshots)
I’m not too worried about Howard for two reasons: first and foremost, he’s a 27-year-old sophomore, and second, he has Chris Osgood to mentor him along and Jim Bedard to keep his technical game on the straight and narrow. Howard really started the 2009-2010 season playing a modified style thanks to Bedard, holding his glove and blocker a little higher and not splaying his legs out as much as he did previously while in his stance, and those tweaks paid off in terms of stopping first shots and being prepared to snag rebounds as well, especially as he finally learned how to position himself by conserving momentum and motion instead of charging out every time the puck bounced away. No more over-committing to the first shot or letting dekes beat him (save the shootout, where he’s still shaky), and as a goalie, once you get your technical game finally mastered, your fundamentals carry you, even when your opponents think they’ve got a book on you.
It took Howard about six years for Bedard to take a raw, athletic butterfly goalie and turn him into an incredibly efficient hybrid goaltender, but he’s finally got the position down in a manner that allows him to play efficiently and I really do believe that the combination of Bedard’s tutelage and Osgood’s insistence that Howard take the Dominik Hasek-like empty-headed approach to goaltending, worrying about stopping the next shot and making the next save, not buckling under the weight of expectations and embracing pressure instead of folding under it…
I just think that Howard’s a mature young man, and that places him miles ahead of the Steve masons of the hockey world.
If he falters, I sure hope and pray to the Hockey Gods that Osgood rebounds from his terrible 2009-2010 season (I wonder if he was more seriously injured than he let on) and regains his form. A little work with Bedard couldn’t hurt Osgood, but I do think he’ll get back to being himself this year.
Kris (Snipe Snipe Dangle Dangle)
Goaltending is my biggest concern for the season. I don’t really know what to expect, so I’ve spent the summer avoiding thinking about it. I don’t think Jimmy’s going to crash and burn, but I think it’s giong to be hard to keep up the level of play that he showed during stretches of the regular season last year. I also choose to imagine that Chris Osgood will look better this year than he did last year. He’s had some time to adjust to the backup role and hopefully he’s gotten his head straight. If Jimmy ends up struggling, having a veteran goalie like Ozzie to fall back on is mildly reassuring, but there’s no way of knowing which version of him we’re giong to see this sesaon. I’m sure we’ll be having endless discussions/arguments about this on Twitter and the blogs all season long.
QUESTION THE SECOND!
With the addition of Ruslan Salei to the blueline, it’s fair to say that Jakub Kindl is the de-facto seventh defenseman heading into the season. How many games do you expect Kindl to play, and how important are quality minutes in the upcoming season if he’s to blossom into the blue-chip defenseman the Red Wings hope he is?
How many games Kindl plays depends on Jonathan Ericsson and team health. If Jonny’s lights out, it’ll be hard to get Kindl in, as I can see a Babcockian dependence on Salei developing where the PK is concerned. If the defense has any injuries, Kindl’ll be in however long he’s needed, obviously.
In general, they’ll need him to play 20+ games to make having him here worth it (though it’s not like they have choice, thanks to stupid waiver rules). I hope Chelios can mentor him somehow for when he’s not in the lineup. But that can’t beat on-ice experience. This season’s probably going to be like a redshirt for Jakub.
Blind hunch: Kindl is the 6th defenseman at the start of the playoffs, and Ericsson will be in the Eastern Conference.
I expect Kindl to play about 20 games in all. I tihnk he’ll be called on to fill in during times of injury or times of crappyness from Ericsson/Salei. That being said, I think he could see some time as high as even the second line so that he would get some playing time alongside Kronwall or Stuart. I think, for me, it’s tooe arly to speculate on his playign time and ability at the NHL level. We only saw him in a handful of games so far and the gap between Grand Rapids and Detroit is pretty big.
I’ll say we’ll see Kindl in about 30 games this year, and he’ll average somewhere around 8-10 minutes a game when it is all said and done. Of course, that is all dependent on the overall healthy of his teammates and those numbers could go up if someone goes down with an injury. However, I don’t expect we’ll see him eating up tons of quality minutes at this point, rather, his minutes will be focused around getting him to play the position in accordance to Babcockian system of hockey, as well as learning the responsibilities of being a two-way player. Seeing him out there with Jonathan Ericsson is a bit of a scary prospect, especially if Ericsson is still going to crash the net at ill-advised times, so here’s hoping he gets paired up with Ruslan Salei more often than the Big Rig.
Kindl’s minutes will depend on how the rest of the defense performs this season. I doubt Kindl will beat out Salei for his spot on the third pairing. But if Jonathan Ericsson can’t get his footing, then perhaps Kindl will get thrown into the mix. We had big hopes for Kindl – so it’s a little disturbing to hear that his progression isn’t coming along at the pace we had hoped. I think that pairing a veteran bone-cruncher like Salei with either Kindl or Ericsson will help in their progression. And hopefully the new suit, Chris Chelios, will be able to help them along as well.
I think it’s very fair to suggest that Kindl’s the #7 defenseman, and I believe that the Wings had hoped that they could sign a solid #6 guy so that they could break in Kindl slowly at the NHL level. Kindl wasn’t “champing at the bit” to play in the NHL like the over-ripe Ericsson, sophomore slump excluded, when the Wings brought him up–Kindl’s had flashes of greatness at times, but whether it’s at the NHL or AHL level, he’s played inconsistently and seems to have confidence issues at times. I wouldn’t want to force him to sink or swim and I think the Wings are going about this the right way as Kindl’s solid regular-season performances as an injury replacement last year, in my opinion, were what saved him from the, “Do we waive him to send him down? We’re really not sure if he’s ready” status that Mattias Ritola currently inhabits. Kindl needs some TLC and he needs to get used to the NHL’s pace of play and physicality as Kindl is, for his size, a remarkably un-physical defenseman, and is still quite raw in some aspects of his game. Putting him in the Derek Meech role isn’t an indication that the Wings aren’t sold on the kid–using Kindl as a Derek Meech-style part-time player allows the Wings’ coaches and trainers to get him up to speed, bulk him up a bit, let him practice with the team, get comfortable at the NHL level and get some games in because he’s a player whose inconsistencies belie the fact that he really does have ethe skill set to at least possibly become a very solid second-pair defenseman of the Jiri Fischer-but-not-physical vein. He’s that good in terms of his vision, passing, shooting and potential, but his confidence, brain and body need another season in the AHL, and because the Wings can’t give him that extra season thanks to stupid waivers, they’re going to make sure that he breaks in slowly and surely.
I would guess that he’ll play in 20-30 games as somebody’s gonna get hurt, regrettably, and I would anticipate that Doug Janik and even Brendan Smith might get nods ahead of him as injury replacements on occasion.
Kindl’s playing time is going to depend a lot on injuries and how well the third pairing performs on the ice. Chances are good that we won’t be seeing a whole lot of him this season, but you never can tell. Even if he doesn’t see a lot of minutes, I think practicing with the team and just being around the locker room on a regular basis will help him grow. Prior to the Salei signing, I was a little nervous about the prospect of having Kindl as the sixth defenseman, so having him in reserve where he’s able to learn from guys like Lidstrom and step in if needed seems like a happy medium.
QUESTION THE THIRD
It wouldn’t a question from The Production Line if I didn’t get to poke fun at Todd Bertuzzi. He fell short of twenty goals last season, despite going on a tear through December. He showed some great chemistry with Henrik Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula (but seriously…who wouldn’t?), but Mike Babcock has stated that he’d like to reunite the Eurotwins – at least at the beginning of the season. Will the slightly altered top six mean more offense — or will it take a little bit of time for the new combos to click?
If Bert can’t roll up points, at least, on a line with Franzen, there’s a problem. I wonder, though, if Fil and Bert can feed Johan the puck in the way he’ll need to really rack up the goals. I imagine the Eurotwin reunion won’t last too long for that reason. Getting Franzen going will be a big goal this year, so whatever’s needed to accomplish that will be done. If that’s true, who knows where Bert will fall in the lineup? I’m not expecting big things from him this year.
It will take all of 10 seconds for Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to click and commence with the offensive love-making. That’s “offensive” like the production of goals and such, not “offensive” like Todd Bertuzzi’s toe nail gunk.
I actually think that the new top six will work quite well. Bertuzzi worked well with Franzen in the 7-1 win over San Jose, scoring off a Franzen shot and assisting on 3 of the 4 goals by Franzen. I think Fil and Bert will actually be a good combo for Franzen, who will be the go-to guy for goals on that line. Fil’s an excellent passer and Bertuzzi can make some decent passes every now and then but is always a space eater so I think that’ll clear up the room for Franzen to work. And of course, Hank-Pav-Homer will be a very dominant line and even when they aren’t they’ll be able to shut down the opposing offense.
I think it’s going to take some time for these lines to click into place and really start putting up some points, but the potential is definitely there for it to happen. It’ll be interesting to see how the Zetterberg/Datsyuk/Holmstrom line starts off the season, with my gut telling me it may take some time for them to really start producing points. That said, I’m much more intrigued by the Franzen/Filppula/Bertuzzi line. Personally, I don’t see how this line makes it out of training camp still paired together, especially if Jiri Hudler gets jump started and begins putting pucks into the net. However, he would most likely displace Bert, which would leave the third line with a Bertuzzi/Modano/Cleary setup, which is not exactly encouraging in the offensive end ofthe ice. Who knows though. Maybe Bertuzzi will find that spark playing alongside Filppula and Franzen and this exercise in line making will have been all for naught. Personally, I think we’ll see some mixing and matching of guys for the first few weeks until Babcock finds a setup that works.
I think the new combos are friggin’ sweet. I’ve long said that the best ingredients for offensive production on a line is to have 1.) a passer 2.) a shooter and 3.) a big body/grinder. The “Flying Circus” of Z-Dats-Holmer certainly has all the components. With Franzen being a sniper, Bertuzzi’s propensity for passing (they both have the big body aspect), and Filppula being somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades, I think line two will be pretty explosive. Cleary-Modano-Hudler also have all the ingredients. The great thing about having depth is that if things don’t click after a while, Babbles can shuffle things around and we’ll still have three legitimate scoring lines no matter which way to slice it. Big offensive numbers are on the way for several Red Wings.
I don’t know how long Babs will stick to his written-on-a-napkin lines, but I don’t see Bertuzzi having a problem with playing alongside Franzen and Filppula. I would imagine that Datsyuk and Zetterberg will crank up their scoring to normal levels, and, after an adjustment period (just as you suggest), Franzen and Filppula will click relatively nicely–and I like the fact that Franzen’s presence almost forces Bertuzzi to play the net-front-man’s role as he played most effectively as a player who had to simplify his game, reduce the back-passing, dipsy-doodling and backhand-shot-taking and just get to the front of the net, screen the goalie and bang in rebounds. I actually like Bertuzzi, mind you, and thought that he exceeded expectations by a Manitoba mile because he displayed fantastic commitment to playing sound defense, worked hard every night, but I’m not too worried about him.
I like the idea of reuniting the Eurotwins. Every time they’re on the ice together, the ice seems to tilt in the Wings’ favor. I don’t think it will take any time at all for the top line to click. Being able to reunite the Eurotwins while still having strong centers on the second and third lines gives the Wings a dynamic element that they lacked last season. the second line might take a few games to gel, but I don’t think it’s much of an issue. These are all guys who’ve played together for at least a season.
For the next two minutes, you’re Mike Babcock. Which players make up your two power play units and why?
PP1 :: Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Holmstrom-Lidstrom-Rafalski
– for obvious reasons
PP2 :: Franzen-Filppula-Hudler-Kronwall-Modano
– the second power play’s where Babcock fills his forward on the blueline fetish, so why not Modano? He could probably hold it down, even with a lost step, at least to start the season.
PP3 :: Cleary-Abdelkader-Betuzzi-Lidstrom-Kronwall/Rafalski
– the Wings could really ice three viable PPs, if they split the D this way.
PP1 :: Holmstrom-Datsyuk-Bertuzzi-Lidstrom-Rafalski
– Homer and Bert on the same PP unit? Yeah, why not? It lets Homer stay in his office and lets Bert do the dirty work along the boards.
PP2 :: Franzen-Zetterberg-Filppula-Kronwall-Ericsson
– With the bomb of a shot that Big E has he’s got to crack the power play this year and the forwards are a no-brainer.
PP1 :: Holmstrom-Datsyuk-Franzen-Lidstrom-Rafalski
PP2 :: Zetterberg-Filppula-Bertuzzi-Modano-Kronwall
– Yes, I realize I broke up the Eurotwins on the first power play unit and no that’s not a mistake. The reasoning is simple: that line led the team in special teams point production in both the regular season AND the playoffs. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. As for the second unit, I flirted with the idea of slotting Hudler in instead of Bertuzzi, but I think it’ll be important for Big Bert to be parked in front of opposing goaltenders, which is clearly something we neither want or need to see happen with Hudler. However, if Modano or Filppula prove ineffective on the advantage, expect to see Hudler find his way onto the power play unit.
PP1 :: Holmstrom-Datsyuk-Zetterberg-Lidstrom-Rafalski
PP2 :: Franzen-Filppula-Cleary-Kronwall-Modano
PP1 :: Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Holmstrom-Lidstrom-Rafalski
– Because they’ve produced consistently on the PP since Raffy came to town two years ago.
PP2 :: Franzen-Filppula-Cleary-Kronwall-Stuart
– Cleary’s a little simpler-minded when it comes to forechecking and screening goalies than Bertuzzi and I thought that Stuart was quite honestly fantastic when the Wings had to employ him on the power play. I tihnk that Babs should stick with continuity up front and I just prefer the similar continuity on the back end, even over the temptation to place Mike Modano on the point.
PP1 :: Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Holmstrom-Lidstrom-Rafalski
– You’d be crazy not to.
PP2 :: Franzen-Filppula-Hudler-Kronwall-Modano
– A power forward, a set-up man, and… a short guy who likes hookers. Sounds perfect to me. Kronwall is a lock for the power play with his offensive skills. I went with Modano because I like the idea of a forward manning the point on the power play as long as it isn’t Jason Williams (Who?).