Red Wings sign Andrej Nestrasil

Another quick note on this Memorial Day (and thank you to our servicemen and women): Two days before the deadline, the Red Wings have signed their third round draft pick from the 2009 Draft, Andrej Nestrasil. Per CapGeek, the three-year, two-way, entry-level deal is similar to that of Adam Almqvist, but the cap hit is a bit lower at $585,000. Of course, that’s an NHL figure, and one would assume he’s a little ways off from that.

Of the Wings seven picks in that Draft, only Nick Jensen has yet to be signed — and the deadline for him isn’t until 2014 (he’s a collegiate player). The others (Landon Ferraro, Tomas Tatar, Gleason Fournier, Mitchell Callahan, and Almqvist) are all working their way through the system — and many should be in Grand Rapids this upcoming season.

Looking ahead, there are only two players whose rights with the Red Wings will expire if they’re not signed, but their deadlines are August and not June. Bryan Rufenach and Nick Oslund are both long shots to earn contracts, but keep an eye on it.

Pro/No :: Joey MacDonald

It’s Monday, so you know what that means — it’s Winging it in Motown‘s turn to host the newest Pro/No profile. Fresh off the heels of a (remarkably tabulated) Chris Osgood vote, it’s time to take a look at the other free agent goaltender that spent some time in the Wings’ net this season: Joey MacDonald.

As a reminder, every Monday and Thursday, WIIM and TPL will feature another free agent-to-be, and present the voting form. When all of the free agents have been covered, we’ll each have a big post dissecting the results and sharing the breakdowns of yes’s…no’s…and unsure’s.

SO — WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, HEAD TO WINGING IT IN MOTOWN TO READ ALL ABOUT JOEY MAC SUBMIT YOUR VOTES!

Red Wings sign Adam Almqvist

*UPDATE: 12:35pm*
The signing has been confirmed, per the Detroit Red Wings official press release. 

Quick note this morning: it appears that the Detroit Red Wings have signed their 7th round pick from the 2009 Draft, defenseman Adam Almqvist. The 20-year-old blueliner has been playing in Sweden for HV-71, where he helped to bring a championship home in 2010. Per Capgeek, he has signed a three-year, two-way, entry-level deal worth $585,000 this upcoming season and $595,000 for each of the next two (NHL cap hit of $591,667). All figures are based on an NHL salary, which — of course — is unlikely at this point. If he decides to come to North America, he’ll likely play in Grand Rapids, where he’s slated to earn $55k, $60k, and $65k until 2014.

Stay tuned to @georgemalik on Twitter or The Malik Report, because I’m sure George will have Swedish confirmation of the young man’s plans before anyone else on the planet.

Pass/Fail: Jakub Kindl

The traditional method of ranking individual player performance is usually some sort of “report card” or “A+” grading system. Not here. You see, we like to keep things simple at TPL. You either made the grade or you didn’t. No grey area. Black and white. This is “Pass/Fail.”


Statistically Speaking
[table id=19 /]

The Good
Following three games as a call-up in 2009-10, Jakub Kindl was a full-time member of the Detroit Red Wings for the first time in 2010-11. His rookie season saw him get into 48 games, and begin to acclimate himself to the pace of NHL hockey. It’s always the Red Wings way to have their rookies sit most of the season in the press box, getting solid minutes in practice and absorbing the culture of the locker room — and that’s precisely what Kindl did, and did so happily. But, by the end of the season, he found himself in a battle for one of the playoff roster spots (more on that later). I’m just one man, but by the end of the season, I truly thought he was one of the six best we had on the blueline.

The Bad
With Jonathan Ericsson getting hurt in game number one this season, Kindl was forced into active duty right out of the gate, and he struggled to get his footing a little bit. He looked every bit a rookie in some of those games, and with good cause: he was, after all, a rookie. Other rookie mistakes include taking panic penalties, when someone has gotten by you and you’re not sure you can catch them — there really is no other excuse for being ninth on the team in penalty minutes, despite playing in just over half of the team’s games (he led the team in healthy scratches, enjoying the press box 25 times in the regular season, and an additional 11 times in the playoffs). His offense left a bit to be desired, as well. Not that he’s expected to be a Brian Rafalski-type blueliner, racking up points and scoring goals from the point. But, based on his production with the Griffins, it’s fair to assume that the Red Wings were hoping for more than four points from the de-facto 7th defenseman. In fact, in eight games in Grand Rapids on a conditioning stint, he gobbled up 5 points: one more than he did with 40 more games on the big club.

Extra Credit
For all his rookie faults, he showed brilliant flashes that proved why he was a first round draft pick. His upside is huge, and he’s coming around. By the end of the season, he looked absolutely poised to take over one of the top six’s spots, and was rumored to be in a battle for the last post-season slot with Ruslan Salei. At the time, I thought Salei deserved to play, but that Kindl should have had Ericsson’s spot on the blueline. With Salei likely playing his way out of an extension in the post-season and Rafalski’s retirement, Kindl looks to be an everyday player next season, and I’m really excited to see what he can do with 70+ games.

Grades
Disch: Incomplete
PetrellaPass
Hollis: Fail

The Reasoning
Disch: I can’t reasonably give him a pass. Just haven’t seen enough. If the job was to be invisible…to not completely shit the bed….fine, pass. But I remain unconvinced that he’s anything more than just a small upgrade over the Rig.
Petrella: He may have started off a bit rough but by the end of the season, I firmly believed he was one of the more reliable defense-first guys we had on the blueline.
Hollis: For a guy who is supposed to be a lock for the third pairing this coming season, I’m unimpressed. Yes, it was more about getting his feet wet, but a line of 2-2-4 and -6 for a guy who is supposed to be NHL ready is concerning. 36 PIM in 48 games also makes me wonder if the game is still too fast for him. He looked better toward the end of the year, but his D skills still need work and his effort this year just didn’t meet my expectations.

Final TPL Grade
SPLIT DECISION

Up Next: Henrik Zetterberg

Past Reports:
5/26 :: Darren Helm
5/24 :: Niklas Kronwall
5/23 :: Valtteri Filppula

Pass/Fail: Darren Helm

The traditional method of ranking individual player performance is usually some sort of “report card” or “A+” grading system. Not here. You see, we like to keep things simple at TPL. You either made the grade or you didn’t. No grey area. Black and white. This is “Pass/Fail.”

Statistically Speaking
[table id=20 /]

The Good
Where do you even start with this kid? He played in every game for the Wings this year. He was top 20 in the league in shorthanded goals. He has speed for days. And he’s only 24 years old. For Darren Helm, this season couldn’t have gone much better on an individual level, as his improvement continued for yet another season. There’s no doubting his speed, and watching him wind up and take off gets the heart racing every single time it happens. 32 points and a +9 regular season rating from a 3rd/4th line center is something that any team in this league would love to have, and one can only wish that Helm’s work ethic would magically seep into the pores of every guy in the lineup. He was a nasty forechecker all season long, did the dirty work that a mucker is supposed to do, and flashed his brilliance on numerous occasions. He’s turned the dump and chase off the half-boards into a science and it paid off not only for him, but the guys on his line as well. The Draper-Helm-Eaves line was a pleasant surprise throughout the entire year, and Helm reaped the benefits as he scored a career high 12 goals. He’s quietly turning into one heck of a playmaker and the future remains so, so bright for this kid.

The Bad
Sadly, for all the good in his game, poor #43 still can’t seem to finish on the breakaway. It’s been a problem for him ever since he made the big club, and every time he gets stoned, I half expect him to wind up and smash his stick along the boards. He’s the Luis Mendoza of this club: Mendoza couldn’t stop in D2: The Mighty Ducks, and Helm just can’t finish when he’s all alone on net. It’s almost comical at this point, but it is a real issue and he’s trying to work it out. Apparently, Helm (by his own admission) was playing “too fast” this year. He said he was working on slowing his game down a bit, but that sounds more like a mental crutch than an actual problem. He just needs to relax and work on adding a move or two to get goaltenders to bite, and I’ll bet the puck will start finding the twine more often. He’s also got some work to do on the penalty kill, as he has a tendency to wander out too far on the point and leave the back pass open. That’s something that will come with time and experience, but if Helm really is looking to slow his game down a bit, his patience and positioning on the PK is a good place to start.

Extra Credit
The picture says it all. Anyone who can pull off Todd Bertuzzi for Halloween gets major bonus points.

Grades
Disch: Pass
Petrella: Pass
Hollis: Pass

The Reasoning
Disch: If the man had a scoring touch he’d be on every shit-eating reebok ad in the country. Just not the man’s game, and I’m fine with that. Does everything else you ask of a hockey player except put the puck in the net on a clean breakaway. Never pictured him as more than a great fourth line guy leading into this season. Assume a lot of people, like me, are rethinking that position if they’d previously held it.
Petrella: The man can do everything. Except score on breakaways. But he is so damn good…and only getting better.
Hollis: He’s just such a weapon on the ice and one can only imagine that he’s going to get better. His work ethic is second-to-none and that should never be taken for granted.

Final TPL Grade
PASS (Duh.)

Past Reports
5/24 :: Niklas Kronwall
5/23 :: Valtteri Filppula

Up Next: Jakub Kindl

Pro/No :: Chris Osgood

THE VITALS
Chris Osgood, goaltender, #30
38-years-old (11/26/72)
5’10” :: 175 lbs
17 NHL seasons (14 with Detroit)
From Peace River, Alberta

STATISTICS
Regular Season — 11 games played, 5-3-2 record, 2.77 GAA, .903 sv%
Playoffs — Did Not Play

CONTRACT SITUATION
Chris Osgood was drafted by the Red Wings in 1991, in the third round. In the years that followed, he’s gotten into 744 regular season games and 129 post-season games, and — as one of the “good old boys,” — has been on several Cup-winning teams. Following a strong 2007-08 season, Osgood was signed to a three-year, $4.25M deal (with actual salaries declining each season). He carried with him a cap hit of $1,416,667.

As of July 1st, he will be an unrestricted free agent.

DEPTH SITAUTION
Ozzie has fallen on tough luck in the injury department most recently — but prior to that, he had lost his starting job to Jimmy Howard.

In 2007-08, Dominik Hasek was the Red Wings starter, but after a poor showing in the first two games of the playoffs, Chris Osgood stepped in and helped carry the Red Wings to their fourth Cup win in 12 years.

The following year, Osgood was named the starter — with newly acquired Ty Conklin signed to back him up — and struggled mightily all season. Conklin outplayed Osgood, but joined the St. Louis Blues in the off-season, opening up a roster spot for starter-in-waiting Jimmy Howard.

Howard has played very well in his short career, relegating Chris Osgood to a backup role. Osgood wasn’t too fond of that idea in 2009-10, but embraced his role as a mentor in 2010-11. He was playing pretty well, when his season ended thanks to a groin tear, followed by hernia surgery, in January. Following several attempts to get back on the ice and return to his backup role, Mike Babcock decide that Joey MacDonald was the more reliable backup for the post-season.

CASE FOR OSGOOD
1) You don’t get 400 wins and three Stanley Cups by accident.
2) Assuming he’s healthy, you may not be able to find a better backup for the money (which is sure to decrease).
3) He’s a hell of a guy in the locker room and everyone loves him.

CASE AGAINST OSGOOD
1) It’s been several years since he was consistently reliable for long stretches of time.
2) They may have been reasonable, but his attitude toward Mike Babcock — and his handcuffing of the Red Wings roster — are problematic.
3) By goaltending standards, he’s not terribly old, but he’s had a tough time with injuries lately. Made-of-glass laughing stock of the league Rick DiPietro played in twice as many games as Chris Osgood this past season.

WHAT HE’S SAYING
It’s clear to anyone that pays attention that Chris Osgood wants to continue playing. The fire for the game is there, but he admits that there’s more to it than just “desire.” Clearly, the injuries and his rehabilitation, along with the prospect of spending more time with his young family, are going to influence his decision to seek an extension with the Red Wings. At locker clean-out, Osgood told Ted Kulfan that he “still wants to play — but it goes beyond that.” He is supposed to inform Ken Holland of his intentions in the coming weeks.

SALARY RANGE
If Osgood should continue to play, he’ll likely need to take a pay cut from his $1.4M cap hit (and $1.1M actual salary from this season). Like we mentioned above, finding a reliable backup goaltender for under $1M in this League is tricky — and if he can drop into the lineup in the $800k range, Ken Holland might be inclined to give him another shot.

POTENTIAL REPLACEMENTS
Internal :: Joey MacDonald played very well stepping into the backup role, but he’s not signed for next season, either.
External :: Backup goaltenders that are slated to be on the market as of July 1st include Jose Theodore, Brian Boucher, Johan Hedberg, Mike Smith, and — ironically — Ty Conklin.

WHAT DO YOU THINK
THANK YOU FOR YOUR VOTES! THEY’RE BEING TABULATED NOW, AND WINGING IT IN MOTOWN AND THE PRODUCTION LINE WILL HAVE RESULTS AFTER WE CYCLE THROUGH ALL OF THE CANDIDATES!

Photo Credit: Dave Sandford, Getty Images

The Importance of Brian Rafalski

In just about an hour, Brian Rafalski will walk up to a podium in the Olympia Club, sit down next to Ken Holland and cease to do the thing he has done since he was a young boy growing up in Dearborn, Michigan. Sure, he’ll probably strap on the skates again at some point, whether it’s teaching kids how to play or just goofing around with the guys, but for all intents and purposes Brian Rafalski will cease to be a hockey player today. Yes, his departure leaves a void on the blue line for a team that has an entire assortment of issues in the defensive department, but let’s be fair here for just a second. Rafalski is getting up there. His professional career spans 16 years in Europe and the NHL, and the man’s injuries read like a list of ailments you would expect to see from an 80 year-old construction worker at a retirement home. Back problems. Knee problems. ACL? Optional.

For a guy who probably hasn’t been 100% healthy since he first stepped into Joe Louis Arena, this move away from the game makes all the sense in the world. One more year would probably mean an entire offseason of rehab just to get up to speed for the regular season, followed by another 90+ game grind on a body that is giving way more rapidly every year. Personally, I don’t blame Rafalski for walking away. It had to be extra deflating for him to see a guy like Mike Modano work so hard to give it one more run, just to watch a freak accident effectively end a career. Combine that with the fact that Rafalski has probably felt for some time that his game wasn’t where he wanted it to be anymore, and his departure from the NHL is a slam dunk decision…on paper. It’s a testament to Rafalski’s gamesmanship and love of hockey that he went back and forth on this choice, but at the end of the day he really didn’t do much to hide the fact that this was it. His comments about Lidstrom pondering retirement and how he could understand if King Lidas walked away. His full cleanout of his locker. Rafalski’s known for quite some time, and that’s the way it should be in instances like this. Anyone who watched this Wings team from Game 1 through Game 93 saw the decline in Rafalski’s play. It was gradual, sure, but it was there. No matter how many great breakout passes he made, the turnovers were undeniable. Every time he went to the corner for a puck and somebody lined him up was a moment you wondered if hewould ever pick himself up off the ice. Most of the time, he did. That’s the mark of a warrior, and there’s no mistaking that Brian Rafalski was just that. But grit and determination only take you so far before the body says “no more.”

The marks that Brian Rafalski leaves on the game of hockey are undeniable. Four Stanley Cups, two Olympic silver medals and a likely spot in the American Hockey Hall of Fame (I doubt he’ll make it to Toronto.) Rafalski helped pave the way for small, undersized, puck moving defensemen in the NHL and his professionalism is bar none. I’m thankful that I got to witness him play hockey for his hometown team and I will most definitely miss watching him on the ice. So I say my thank yous alongside numerous other Red Wings fans and I wish Brian the best in all of his future endeavors. Your time here was appreciated and your contributions were top-notch. I sincerely hope this isn’t the last we see of you at Joe Louis Arena, whether it be with the organization or with your crew as you take in a game.

Despite all of the successes and contributions that Rafalski has already made with the Red Wings, his greatest contribution may not yet be fully understood. In fact, it may not be understood for some time. But in ten years, when I’m sitting in a bar somewhere having one too many beers and that random guy brings up Brian Rafalski and everything he did for the Wings, I guarantee you I won’t falter when I offer up mine: “He was the first domino.”

For those of you who are stuck somewhere between “Huh?” and “This guy’s an idiot”, let me officially welcome you to the blog. The rest of you out there already know where I’m coming from because I’ve been an advocate for new blood for some time now. Ever since last year, I’ve had this nagging feeling that the chatter about the Wings being “too old” and “too slow” may have some small level of credibility. No, I don’t really think they are too old or slow to win a championship, but it always got me to thinking about the Wings organization as a whole and how those kids down in Grand Rapids ever expected to find their way to the show with 35 and up “cyborgs” staying in the league. Sure, we all know Nick Lidstrom will one day hang it up and we know that Homer can’t be Homer until he’s 60 years old, but it always seemed like the current Wings roster would just hold out until #5 decided that he was done with hockey and wanted to go be perfect at something else before they decided to hang it up. Follow the captain, no? Yes, I hear those of you who are saying “What about Kirk Maltby???” and yes, he technically did start the retirement parade this year, but his exit was more of a warning shot across the bow for those who felt this Wings team could keep hanging on to aging stars. Rafalski is a blast straight to the hull.

It’s inevitable that this thing will come to an end at some point. Within the next year it’s very likely that the Wings will lose Lidstrom, Draper, Osgood, Holmstrom and maybe even Todd Bertuzzi to retirement. Combine that with Rafalski’s departure and Modano’s cup-of-coffee stay with the team, and that’s a pretty big hole  in the ship. There will, of course, be money spent on a free agent or two, and that’s to be expected. But starting this summer, the real fun begins. Those kids in Grand Rapids who have been waiting their turn are now going to be putting in extra hours every single day because there’s a spot to be had in the lineup. If the Red Wings are Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory then Brian Rafalski is the Golden Ticket. And while the Wings already have one Charlie Bucket, you better believe that somebody else is going to dig deep to try and earn a spot on this club. Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl are licking their chops and that’s exactly what this team needs right now. Too often we complain about the Wings just going through the motions and now that same group of guys will have to experience an offseason and training camp where there’s 5-10 kids bringing it every single shift because they want what this group already has. That’s what they call a breath of fresh air. That’s what they call a new perspective.

Will it work out in the end? Hopefully. Yes, there will be plenty of bumps in the road as veterans are replaced by kids, but that’s the circle of life, folks. The kids will make mistakes and we’ll curse them up and down, but let’s not forget that every single guy on this roster was once a kid who made mistakes. All they wanted was a chance, and when they got their chance, they made the most of it. That same player could be waiting in the wings at this very moment. I’m done with the complacency. I’m tired of the “too old” discussion. I want to see the young guys get their shot and I want to see it sooner than later. Does that mean that I want to see Nick hang ’em up? Hell no. He’s one of the guys who is so talented that his age doesn’t cost him that step that it does guys like Rafalski and his captaincy is needed now more than ever. Because the change is coming and it’s coming quickly. It’s felt stagnant for some time now, yet Brian Rafalski just threw open the windows and said “Let’s shake this shit up a bit” and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.

So thank you Brian Rafalski. Thank you for your contributions to the Wings, to Detroit, to the USA and to hockey in general. But let me add an extra special thank you for rocking the boat and making waves. It’s about time.

Pass/Fail: Niklas Kronwall

The traditional method of ranking individual player performance is usually some sort of “report card” or “A+” grading system. Not here. You see, we like to keep things simple at TPL. You either made the grade or you didn’t. No grey area. Black and white. This is “Pass/Fail.”

Statistically Speaking
[table id=18 /]

The Good
As far as NHL defensemen go, Niklas Kronwall’s season was pretty solid. A second pairing guy, Kronwall spent plenty of time on the ice, averaging almost 29 shifts per game and failing to hit the 20 minute mark in TOI only a handful of times during the regular season. Durability wasn’t as issue for the 30 year old defenseman, missing only five regular season games and playing in all 11 playoff contests. His ice time skyrocketed in the postseason as the Wings opted to rest Lidstrom a bit more, yet Kronwall never missed a beat. In terms of production, Kronwall’s 37 points left him one spot outside of the top 30 point producing defensemen in the league, and his production was the second best output of his career (51 points in ’08-’09). That said, his 11 regular season goals this year was a career best, almost doubling his second-best output in ’08-’09 (6 goals). On the back end, Kronwall’s play showed an increased level of responsibility, focusing more on fundamentals and positioning and less on the big hit and offensive production. Given all of his time on the ice, +5 ratings for both the regular season and playoffs are nothing to scoff at.

The Bad
All in all, it was a very solid season for a guy who the Wings were hoping would make a case for a top-line billing. That said, Kronwall did have a number of defensive lapses throughout the year, resulting in unfavorable comparisons to the Niklas Kronwall of yesteryear. For some reason, his mistakes just seemed to be worse than the rest of corps (save Salei and Ericsson). When he was out of position, he was out of position badly. When he got beat, he got beat badly. The odds favor a Franzen-esque mental lapse over an 82 game season since the skill level was there for Kronwall to compete and play well every night. While his game felt more consistent throughout the course of the season, there’s still work to be done in terms of putting it together over 60 minutes on a nightly basis.Kronwall also had a tendency to wander on the PK a bit, often stretching his zone and chasing the play when he should have stayed home in front of the crease. It proved costly a number of times, and an increased emphasis on PK responsibility should be on the docket this offseason.

Extra Credit
It’s almost impossible to state just how important Kronwall’s regular season to postseason leap in overall play was. He found the extra gear on the blueline while also picking his spots perfectly when laying his patented bone-rattling hits. He about knocked Dany Heatley’s noggin’ into the third row at JLA, bringing the crowd to life at a time when doom and gloom littered the walkways.  His ability to jump into the play and be an offensive threat was perfectly timed and executed on multiple occasions. And, of course, his ascension into the defensive TOI leader during the playoffs was absolutely flawless, paving the way for what should be a lock on the top pairing this coming season.

Grades
Disch: Abstain
Petrella: Pass
Hollis: Pass

The Reasoning
Disch: Abstain
Petrella: Really tempted to go FAIL based on regular season defensive lapses, but proved in the playoffs that maybe he IS the future of the blueline, after all.
Hollis: I’ve never made any bones about the fact that Kronwall’s responsibility on the ice makes me nervous, but this year was a pleasant surprise and I’m almost completely off the ledge with him now. If he can carry this into next season – and mix in some of that playoff explosiveness – he’ll finally be the defenseman that the Red Wings have been hoping he would turn into.

Final TPL Grade
PASS

Up Next: Darren Helm.