Pass/Fail: Cory Emmerton

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=29 /]

The Good
Pretty hard to grade a guy on just two games played, but that’s why they pay us the big bucks. First, Emmerton scored in his NHL debut. Second, he scored in his NHL debut after driving like a madman to get to Joe Louis Arena in time for an afternoon game against the Blackhawks. He also (technically) finished THIRD in the league in shooting percentage at a whopping 33.3%, so doubters can suck on that. His game made the coaches take notice and he’ll be challenging for a spot in the lineup this year.

The Bad
He only scored on 1 of his 3 shots, so there’s room for improvement there. Despite scoring in his first NHL game, his team lost.

Extra Credit
He came on The Pipeline this year. Also, did we mention he scored in his first NHL game?

Grades
Disch: PASS
Petrella: PASS
Hollis: PASS

The Reasoning
Disch: Kid scores in his first game and he’s in the conversation to move up to the big club: PASS.  Not sure what else we really expected out of him.
Petrella: Homey scored in his first NHL game, filling in during a rash of injuries. If that’s not a PASS, I don’t know what is.
Hollis: He scored in his first game. Also, he has nice eyebrows. Pass.

Final TPL Grade
PASS

Up Next: Jan Mursak

Past Reports:
6/17 :: Justin Abdelkader (FAIL)
6/9 :: Jiri Hudler (FAIL)
6/8 :: Todd Bertuzzi (PASS)
6/7 :: Brian Rafalski (PASS)
6/7 :: Pavel Datsyuk (PASS)
6/6 :: Brad Stuart (PASS)
6/4 :: Henrik Zetterberg (PASS)
5/27 :: Jakub Kindl (SPLIT)
5/26 :: Darren Helm (PASS)
5/24 :: Niklas Kronwall (PASS)
5/23 :: Valtteri Filppula (PASS)

2011 Mock Draft

IT’S ALMOST NHL DRAFT DAY!

As I’m sure you’ve been able to gauge over the last few weeks, I’m a bit of a Draft nerd. I was honored to be there last year, and in covering the draft for WIIM, I was able to interview the Red Wings picks. This year, I’ll be watching for the twentieth straight year. I hope that the Previews (Part I, II, and III) were helpful in getting a tiny tiny tiny bit of information on some of the kids that will be finding new homes in the big leagues.

It’s nearly impossible to get a mock draft totally right, because there are so many moving parts: draft-day trades, interviews that the public (and even insiders) aren’t privy to, and if one team goes off-the-board (I’m looking at you, New York Rangers), everyone’s draft list is jumbled. But I’ve done one anyway… and I’d like to share it with you two days before the most glorious of non-Stanley Cup-winning June days.

Just a reminder, for the third year in a row, we’ll be hosting a Live Chat right here at TPL — complete with your favorite Red Wings bloggers and personalities from all over. Feel free to join us, it’s sure to be a hell of a good time!

1. Edmonton Oilers — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C
Seems like a no-brainer at this point. He’s the top talent available in the Draft and has said he’d enjoy playing in Edmonton and with Taylor Hall. That’s a hell of a one-two punch when they’re in their primes together.

If I’m picking for the Oilers, I’d do my best to make a strong push for Adam Larsson, the top defenseman available in the Draft. They picked the best offensive talent a year ago (Hall), and the last time they used a first round pick to take a defenseman was (get ready for this…) 1996. And he ended up only playing in five NHL games. A good friend of mine named Casey (@lotionman13) brought up a good point, though: can you imagine the revolt if a Canadian team picked a NON-Canadian with that top pick? Touche.
OTHER POTENTIALS: Adam Larsson, but not really.

2. Colorado Avalanche — Gabriel Landeskog, W
Even with Larsson available, all signs point to the Avalanche picking Landeskog. Apparently, the front office is gaga over the kid and think he can drop onto their top line immediately in 2011-12.
OTHER POTENTIALS: Adam Larsson, Jonathan Huberdeau

3. Florida Panthers — Jonathan Huberdeau, C
This is where the Draft will start to get interesting, I think. If the Panthers aren’t in love with Huberdeau (and they should be, to be clear), and they have their eye on someone else — they could very easily trade this pick to a team that is batshit insane for Huberdeau or Larsson or Couturier. The Panthers have a ton of centers, but the smart pick (assuming they keep it) is Huberdeau.
OTHER POTENTIALS: Adam Larsson, Sean Couturier

4. New Jersey Devils — Adam Larsson, D
The Devils couldn’t be luckier getting a long-term defensive stalwart at number 4, thanks to moving up five slots after winning the lottery. I can’t see Larsson slipping further than four.
OTHER POTENTIALS: Sean Couturier, Dougie Hamilton

5. New York Islanders — Ryan Strome, C
It might be sexy to take a defensemen here, but the Islanders have several promising blueliners developing, and considerably fewer offensive threats.
OTHER POTENTIALS: Sean Couturier, Dougie Hamilton, Nathan Beaulieau

6. Ottawa Senators — Sean Couturier, C
The Sens get a great player at six, a kid that’s slipped a bit but was once considered the top prospect available in this Draft.
OTHER POTENTIALS: Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Strome

7. Winnipeg — Dougie Hamilton, D
This might be the first spot where “best available” comes into play, since they need everything. Hamilton is the best defenseman available who isn’t named “Adam Larsson,” and they could do a hell of a lot worse.
OTHER POTENTIALS: Nathan Beaulieu, Mika Zibanejad

8. Columbus Blue Jackets — Ryan Murphy, D
Pretty balanced set of prospects means that the Jackets are also in the “best available” mindset, and have their pick of some talented kids.
OTHER POTENTIALS: Nathan Beaulieu, Mika Zibanejad

9. Boston Bruins (from Toronto) — Nathan Beaulieu, D
Stealing Seguin and another blue chipper from Toronto seems like highway robbery.
OTHER POTENTIALS: Mika Zibanejad, Duncan Siemens

10. Minnesota Wild — Mika Zibanejad, C
I dare you to tell me you can’t see “ZIBANEJAD” on the back of a Minnesota Wild jersey.
OTHER POTENTIALS: Sven Baertschi, Duncan Siemens

11. Colorado Avalanche (from St. Louis) — Jamieson Oleksiak, D
12. Carolina Hurricanes — Sven Baertschi, LW
13. Calgary Flames — Joel Armia, W
14. Dallas Stars — Mark McNeill, C
15. New York Rangers — Brandon Saad, W
16. Buffalo Sabres — Zach Phillips, C
17. Montreal Canadiens — Tyler Biggs, W
18. Chicago Blackhawks — Ty Rattie, W
19. Edmonton Oilers (from Los Angeles) — Duncan Siemens, D
20. Phoenix Coyotes — Matthew Puempel, C
21. Anaheim Ducks — Nicklas Jensen, F
22. Pittsburgh Penguins — Joe Morrow, D
23. Ottawa Senators (from Nashville) — Oscar Klefbom, D

24. Detroit Red Wings — Jonas Brodin, D
After picking a non-defensemen with their first pick in each of the last three Drafts (following an incredible run of something like 827 straight Drafts picking a blueliner first), it’s likely going to be a D-man this time around. With Brendan Smith potentially graduating to the big club, as well as Brian Rafalski’s retiring coupled with Nicklas Lidstrom’s impending retirement, it’s time to start stacking up talent to take over the rear six in the coming years. After Smith, the Wings have very little by way of defensive prospects (with Adam Almqvist, Brian Lashoff, and Ben Marshall likely leading that department). Even if Brodin is taken by #24, there will be a good one on the board.
OTHER POTENTIALS: Jamieson Oleksiak, Joe Morrow, Oscar Klefbom, David Musil, Connor Murphy
IF THEY GO NON-DEFENSE: Matt Puempel, Nicklas Jensen, Tomas Jurco, Vladislav Namestnikov, Rickard Rakell, Alexander Khokhlachev

25. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Philadelphia) — Boone Jenner, C
26. Washington Capitals — Tomas Jurco, RW
27. Tampa Bay Lightning — Jonathan Miller, C
28. San Jose Sharks — Mark Scheifele, C
29. Vancouver Canucks — Connor Murphy, D
30. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Boston) — Scotty Mayfield, D

Other guys who might sneak into the first round
Vladislav Namestnikov, C
David Musil, D
John Gibson, G
Alexander Khokhlachev, F
Dmitrij Jaskin, RW
Victor Rask, C
Rocco Grimaldi, C
Rickard Rakell, C

Additional Potential Second Rounders
CENTERS: Nick Shore, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Cousins (potential Wings pick at 55)
WINGERS: Phillip Danault, Brett Ritchie, Shane Prince, Seth Ambroz, Mario Lucia, Lucas Lessio, Stefan Noesen, Max Friberg, Matthew Nieto, Nikita Kucherov
DEFENSEMEN: Stuart Pearcy, Ryan Sproul, Joel Edmundson, Xavier Ouellet, Scott Harrington, Adam Clendening
GOALTENDERS: Samu Perhonen, Chris Gibson

Potential Third Rounders
CENTERS: Michael St. Croix, Steven Fogarty, Colin Jacobs, Markus Granlund, Joseph Labate, Johan Sundstrom, Ryan Tesink, Gregory Hofmann, William Karlsson
WINGERS: Miikka Salomaki, Austen Brassard, Adam Lowry, Logan Shaw, Maxim Shalunov, Travis Ewanyk, Scott Oke, Michael Mersch
DEFENSEMEN: Robbie Russo, Brennan Serville, Michael Reilly, Rasmus Bengtsson, Dillon Simpson, Zachary Yuen, Andrei Pedan, Tyler Wotherspoon, Andy Welinski
GOALTENDERS: David Honzik, Maxime Lagace, Jordan Binnington, Magnus Hellberg (keep your eye on the goaltenders with an uncertain Red Wings future in goal… these guys are all quasi-interchangable and the Wings might make a move at 85).

2011 NHL Draft Prospects — Part III

Well here we are… a few days away from the 2011 Draft, and we’re finally getting into some guys that the Red Wings have a real shot at when they saunter up to the podium with the 24th selection.

We’ve already covered twenty of the top prospects for the big event, and it’s fair to say that the vast majority of them haven’t been on the Wings’ radar since they’re likely to go in the top half of the proceedings. But, like they always do, Detroit’s brass will find a wonderful player to add to their cupboard and hopefully you’ll know a handful of things about him thanks to these little lists.

In the last twenty NHL Drafts, the top Red Wings selection has grown into an NHL player 14 times (likely to be 17 when Riley Sheahan, Landon Ferraro, and Brendan Smith make the jump). That’s an incredible feat given the earliest they’ve picked in that time is 10 (Lapointe) and 19 (Kindl). The three that didn’t make it? Igor Grigorenko (picked 62nd), Jari Tolsa (120th), and Curtis Bowen (22nd in 1992).

Stay tuned later this week for our Mock Draft.

Before we get to the final ten prospects, here’s a look back at the first twenty:

PART I and PART II RECAP
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
2. Adam Larsson
3. Gabriel Landeskog
4. Sean Couturier
5. Ryan Strome
6. Ryan Murphy
7. Jonathan Huberdeau
8. Dougie Hamilton
9. Brandon Saad
10. Tyler Biggs
11. Mika Zibanejad
12. Joel Armia
13. Duncan Siemens
14. Sven Baertschi
15. Nathan Beaulieu
16. Jamieson Oleksiak
17. Ty Rattie
18. Daniel Catenacci
19. Vladislav Namestnikov
20. Mark McNeill

21. Matthew Puempel, LW, Peterborough Petes (OHL), 6-0, 190
Noted as “one of the premiere scorers of the bunch” who may be the victim of playing on a poor Peterborough team, Matt Puempel is — by all accounts — one of the more talented kids available in the draft, and will make a name for himself in the NHL with his shot strength and quick release. He’s not a two-way guy, with his defensive skill listed as “poor,” so he may not be on the Wings radar, but he’s a dynamic kid and someone’s going to get a good one.

22. Oscar Klefbom, D, Farjestads BK (SEL), 6-3, 210
Headlined as “The Other Big Swedish Defenseman,” Klefbom is a swift skater — even though he’s a large body — and is a defense-first kind of guy. He has good puck skills, so he’ll probably learn how to contribute to the offense, but it’s not a part of his natural game just yet. Scouts compare him to (waiiiiit for it….) JONATHAN ERICSSON! Gasp. Do Not. Want. 

23. Boone Jenner, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL), 6-1, 193
PROBABLY wins the third round of the prospects previews’ best name game, though he’ll get some competition a few slots down with the deigo. Jenner sounds like a tough sumbitch, that coaches and teammates love, but fans of opposite teams absolutely despise. By some accounts, he’s a top ten pick, but that’s going to be tough in this draft class, but it’s not a stretch to say that he’s a very safe first round pick.

24. Connor Murphy, D, USNTDP, 6-3, 185
Committed to play at the University of Miami, so whoever selects him will have a long time to sit and watch as he develops (think Riley Sheahan). He’s coming off of an injury, so this past season was a bit of a wash following a strong Hlinka Tournament. You remember his dad, Gord Murphy, who played for the Bruins, Flyers, Thrashers, and Panthers, where he’s currently an assistant coach.

25. Rocco Grimaldi, C, USNTDP, 5-6, 160
Another collegiate commitment, this time to North Dakota. He’s obviously a small kid, so it wouldn’t be terribly shocking to see him slide another few slots into the second round. Nevertheless, he’s — and I quote — “the most skilled forward in the Draft.” He’s incredibly fast (obviously), great hockey IQ, and excellent vision, so someone will probably take a flier on him late in the first, or early in the second, and hope he turns into Marty St. Louis or Danny Briere. Maybe Edmonton or Boston — both of whom have two first rounders and/or early second rounders.

26. Joseph Morrow, D, Portland Winterhawks (WHL), 6-0, 197
Good size, good puck mover, good skater. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? So why is he near the bottom of the first round? Well, apparently he has some issues in his own zone and needs some work getting his shot off quicker, even though that shot ends up being pretty nifty. He sounds like a great power play point guy, and he has the bloodlines (a brother and father who played in the NHL), so he may be another safe bet.

27. Jonas Brodin, D, Farjestads BK (SEL), 6-1, 169
As a Wings fan, this is the guy I have my eye on for the Wings to snatch up at #24. Beautiful skater, physical, great hockey sense, excellent mobility, outlet passing, incredible composure… he’s the full package and is in the Wings wheelhouse. The reasons he’d drop this low will sound familiar: he has to work on his strength, and he’ll need to continue developing an offensive prowess to be an impact NHL defenseman. He’s been compared to Ryan Suter, and that ain’t bad.

28. David Musil, D, Vancouver Giants (WHL), 6-3, 191
Son of Frank Musil… nephew of Bobby Holik… raised in Canada… plays for the Czech international teams. But, and this may surprise you, he doesn’t play an overly physical game, despite being related to those two and having excellent size for a teenager. He’s one of the better defense-only guys in the bunch, but there are some red flags including refusing to play for a team that drafted him in the CHL Draft.

29. Tomas Jurco, RW, Saint John SeaDogs (QMJHL), 6-2, 193
Compared to Erik Christiensen, and Pavel Datsyuk-on-Jurco’s-Best-Day, the young Slovakian has good size, excellent passing ability, and nasty stickhandling. The downside is that he’s not particularly willing to play the checking role — he doesn’t backcheck or forecheck well, and has yet to embrace that energy line role he’ll likely have to play at some point along the road to the NHL — or within it.

30. Scott Mayfield, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL), 6-4, 200
For the third time on this preview, we meet another kid that’s committed to a collegiate program — this time at Denver. He isn’t projected to be a puck-moving defenseman, instead contributing to offense, and solidly backchecking.

And there you have it… thirty guys to keep an eye on. If we’re lucky, the Wings somehow found their way to two of them… maybe by trading down, a la 2009. If you’re looking for a goaltender, you’ll notice that one didn’t pop up in the first thirty. John Gibson is the top tender available, but I’d be surprised if he went in the first round.

Photo Credit: Ian Goodall Photography

Pass/Fail: Justin Abdelkader

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=27 /]

The Good
Abdelkader’s bread and butter is his physical game and ruthless forecheck, and he had it on exhibit for most of the regular season this year. For a guy playing in his first full NHL season, Abdelkader didn’t seem overwhelmed by the speed of the game, although that’s likely a direct result of his regular appearances in the lineup over the past two seasons. He finished the season with a team best +15 rating, and he also led the team in (surprise!) hits. He’s one of the only Wings regularly willing to drop the gloves, and his physical presence was an important component for the team this year.

The Bad
Let’s just get it out of the way now: Abdelkader took way too many dumb penalties in the San Jose series and it proved costly for the Wings. His stick control leaves plenty to be desired, and he got his stick blade up far too often, usually catching someone in the face and ending up in the box. His game lacked consistency, although many will point to the aforementioned fact that this was his first full NHL season as a reason for his erratic play. He’s a young guy and full of energy, but Abdelkader would do well to take a page out of Darren Helm’s book and slow himself down. Production wise, Abdelkader failed to hit 20 points. Some will say that was to be expected given his role, while others will say that he’s a better player and should have put up more points.

Extra Credit
Tough to find somewhere to add credit. Just hearing his name conjures up memories of the terrible San Jose penalties. That said, his big hits and rough-and-tumble play sure are fun to watch.

Grades
Disch: FAIL
Petrella: FAIL
Hollis: PASS

The Reasoning
Disch: Fail. And its fail because after this season I’m resetting my expectations for Gator. I had these lofty visions of him turning into a poor man’s Getzlaf. Right now I’d be ecstatic if he rounded out as a rich man’s late-career Maltby. Hurts to say that. I think the heart is there, but he did some dumb things this post-season that you hope a guy who’s been with the team more than a few months…more than one playoff run…doesn’t do.
Petrella: I love me some Gator, but if we’re weighing these guys against our expectations of them, poor Mr. Abdelkader fell just short. He was able to chip in some great points, but his ill-timed penalties and unfortunate off-sides and other transgressions put him the Fail pile for now.
Hollis: He only gets a pass from me quite simply because I’ve never expected him to score the points and be the offensive threat that quite a few folks perceive him to be. When he sticks to being a physical, fourth line presence, he’s great. But when he tries to do too much, it’s very apparent. I just don’t see him ever being a 20 goal scorer or 50 point guy, so within those parameters it’s hard to fail him. Those dumb penalties brought me close, but for the kind of player he is, I’ll give him the nod.

Final TPL Grade
FAIL

Up Next: Cory Emmerton

Past Reports:
6/9 :: Jiri Hudler (FAIL)
6/8 :: Todd Bertuzzi (PASS)
6/7 :: Brian Rafalski (PASS)
6/7 :: Pavel Datsyuk (PASS)
6/6 :: Brad Stuart (PASS)
6/4 :: Henrik Zetterberg (PASS)
5/27 :: Jakub Kindl (SPLIT)
5/26 :: Darren Helm (PASS)
5/24 :: Niklas Kronwall (PASS)
5/23 :: Valtteri Filppula (PASS)

Roster quick hits

Congratulations to the Boston Bruins on their Stanley Cup victory last night. We’re officially in the off-season and The Production Line is looking forward to a roster shuffle, not to mention the upcoming NHL Draft and some coaching changes. Super quick bullet points to catch up:

  • Assistant Coach Paul MacLean has been named the head coach of the Ottawa Senators, meaning that the Red Wings will have to replace both assistant coaches to head coach Mike Babcock. Lots of names have been tossed around, including Windsor native and former Blue Jackets assistant Bob Boughner, Canadian Junior Coach Dave Cameron, and former Dallas Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock — my favorites are former Minnesota Wild head coach Todd Richards and former Plymouth Whalers and Florida Panthers head coach Pete DeBoer.
  • Joey MacDonald will not sign a two-way deal, and will head to Russia if he doesn’t get an NHL-only deal.
  • In the same article, we learn that it’s unlikely Chris Osgood and Kris Draper will return as players.
  • A bit of rumor-mongering, but apparently Jaromir Jagr’s agent has contacted the Red Wings to see if they’d be interested in his client’s services.

As of right now, the Red Wings have $41,892,044 committed to twelve forwards (including Mursak and Emmerton), three defenseman, and one goaltender. They’ll have somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million to spend on the following:

  • A backup goaltender.
  • Nicklas Lidstrom, should he choose to return.
  • Three other defensemen: Jonathan Ericsson is an unrestricted free agent who could return, and Brendan Smith will be given every opportunity to make the club.
  • Two more forwards, likely to be Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller.

Pro/No :: Nicklas Lidstrom

Welcome to another round of the joint TPL-WIIM series of pro/no profiles, giving you all the details you need to make an educated opinion about each of the upcoming free agents. At the bottom of the entry, you’ll find a voting form — please feel free to leave additional thoughts in the comments either here or at Winging it in Motown!

THE VITALS
Nicklas Lidstrom, defenseman, #5
41-years-old (4/28/70)
6’2 :: 185 lbs
19 NHL seasons (all with Detroit)
From Vasteras, Sweden

STATISTICS
Regular Season — 82 games, 16 goals, 46 assists, 20 penalty minutes, -2, 23:28 minutes played per game.
Playoffs — 11 games, 4 goals, 4 assists, 4 penalty minutes, +8, 21:49 minutes played per game.

CONTRACT SITUATION
Nicklas Lidstrom is in one-year contract territory from now on, even though Ken Holland was comfortable signing him to a two-year deal this past summer. Given his age, he has decided that he’ll be going year-to-year to decide if he wants to continue playing, and we’re at a similar crossroads as a year ago. Taking a modest paycut (the four years prior, he averaged a salary north of $7.5M) to a number just above Brian Rafalski’s $6M (Lidstrom netted $6.2M for his 2010-11 efforts).

Last year, we didn’t have to wait terribly long for Lidstrom’s decision — he agreed to a one-year pact on June 1st. Here we are on June 16th, and we’re told he’ll have a decision for the Red Wings by next week’s Awards ceremony.

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

DEPTH SITAUTION
Depth was not a situation for the Wings’ top defenseman — he was one of only two players to play in all 82 regular season games — and repeated the feat in the post-season (the other was Darren Helm). His minutes may have decreased slightly, but he still logged over 21 minutes in the playoffs, and 23 and a half in the regular season.

In fact, of all 891 skaters to suit up in the NHL this season, only 27 played more minutes per game — and only seven of those played in all 82 games.

One would expect Lidstrom’s minutes to continue sliding down should he choose to return — it’s only natural. But he’ll remain the top shutdown threat and one of the best all-around blueliners in the game, if not the best.

CASE FOR LIDSTROM
1) He’s still one of the best in the game. He’s nominated for the Norris Trophy again, and is expected to walk away with the award… again. You don’t just call it a career when you’re that effective.
2) Brian Rafalski’s sudden retirement means that the team will need to rely on all of the veteran defenseman they can, and that includes long-time leader Lidas.
3) No one in the organization presents the kind of mentoring that Nick Lidstrom can. If Brendan Smith — or some other young defenseman — is going to make the jump to the big leagues, there’s no one on Earth they’d rather have show them the ropes than Lidstrom.

CASE AGAINST LIDSTROM
1) Frankly, his age works against him. If the Wings are hoping for a transitional year (and, by all accounts, they are), some of the veteran guys are going to have to step aside and let some fresh blood in.
2) For the first time in his career, Nicklas Lidstrom was a minus player in the regular season.
3) Uh… saving cash on the cap?

WHAT HE’S SAYING
For his part, he’s not saying much. He’s bucked anyone that’s asked about his future plans, and has only told Ken Holland that he’ll have a decision in place before the free agency period opens. Coach Mike Babcock is “100% confident” that he’ll return for some of the same reasons we’ve listed above: he’s just too good to stop now.

SALARY RANGE
Last season, he took a paycut, but still remained the team’s top paid defenseman. Only Pavel Datsyuk and his $6.7M cap hit rated higher than Nick Lidstrom’s $6.2M. If anything, Lidstrom earned a raise with his stellar play, but he knows the situation: the less he takes, the more the team can afford to pay other players to plug some holes. Nevertheless, if forced to guess, I’d say he’s come in somewhere around $7M for the 2011-12 season.

POTENTIAL REPLACEMENTS
Internal :: There’s no one that can replace a player of Nicklas Lidstrom’s calibre anywhere in the world, but with guys like Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith hopefully ready to start logging real minutes — coupled with Niklas Kronwall’s coming out party in the post-season, we may be set up for a nice transitional period on the blueline.
External :: Other top defensemen that are not yet signed for 2011-12 include Ed Jovanovski, Andrei Markov, and Tomas Kaberle.

WHAT DO YOU THINK
Thank you for your votes! We’re tabulating now and will have a recap post in the coming weeks!

Photo Credit: Paul Sancya, AP Photo

MacLean, McCrimmon Departures Come At the Right Time

It’s not often that change is viewed as a positive, especially when that change comes to an organization as successful as the Detroit Red Wings. Sure, the Wings have seen all kinds of change over the last 20 years, from players to coaches to general managers. In professional sports, change is a constant and no organization is immune to it. The 2010-2011 NHL season will come to an end tonight in Vancouver, yet the Red Wings already find themselves in the midst of a number of changes on a number of the aforementioned fronts. Brian Rafalski announced an end to his Hall of Fame career only a few weeks ago. Chris Osgood and Kris Draper, staples of the organization for many, many years find themselves facing the very real possibility that their hockey playing careers in Detroit may have come to an end. Nicklas Lidstrom continues to mull over the thought of playing one more year at an age where most guys are more focused on chasing their kids around the living room rather than chasing another Stanley Cup.

So it may come as a surprise to some that two of the most important changes for the Red Wings this year will be the departure of Mike Babcock’s assistant bench bosses: Paul MacLean and Brad McCrimmon. In today’s NHL, it’s easy to forget about the guys on the bench who don’t garner the spotlight and the microphone at the podium, but there’s an appreciation and understanding around Detroit of just how important the assistant coaches and support staff are to the success of the team. When Scotty Bowman was helming the Wings, nobody ever doubted the competence and importance of Barry Smith and Dave Lewis. Had one of them not been on the bench, many a fan would have noticed something out of the ordinary. Sure, Lewis’ stint as the Wings head coach didn’t quite pan out, but that’s the reality of coaching: some guys are directors and others excel at handling a defined task.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Wings found themselves in a similar situation. Fresh off of winning the ’08 Stanley Cup, trusted Babcock assistant Todd McLellan departed to take the helm in San Jose, paving the way for McCrimmon to find his way to the bench. Now instead of one coach heading out, the Wings watch two assistants depart to take the reigns with another club. For McCrimmon, it’s overseas to Russia to lead Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL. MacLean will head over a border as well, up to Ottawa to helm the Senators. Each takes with them a wealth of experience gleaned from their time with the Red Wings and Babcock. But each also takes a piece of the Wings that needed to be changed.

As the season wore on this year, McCrimmon quickly became the whipping boy for the stagnant production from the Wings power play and the reduced effectiveness of the penalty kill. A defensive specialist, McCrimmon also found himself in the line of fire when it came to the underachieving Jonathan Ericsson, with many wondering whether Ericsson’s talent or McCrimmon’s coaching was to blame. Despite the criticism, McCrimmon did bring a wealth of NHL playing experience to the blue liners and the guys seemed to relate to him, labeling him a “player’s coach,” a seemingly stark contrast to the ever-grumpy Mike Babcock. Still, there was a sense among many that McCrimmon just didn’t…”fit.” In an organization that prides itself on professionalism and hard work, McCrimmon’s demeanor seemed to clash with the rest of the staff. It’s easy to envision the rest of the staff reviewing game film and studying strategy on flights between cities. Not saying McCrimmon didn’t do that, but he seemed more likely to crack a beer and a few jokes than dive head first into a laptop to study defensive rotations. Fair or not, there’s a reason fans and media started giving McCrimmon the wary eye, and the terms of his exit lend credence to the idea that the Wings front office saw something similar.

On the other side of the coin is Paul MacLean. He’s been with Babcock since their days in Anaheim and he’s paid his dues while younger and more attractive coaches found their way to the NHL benches. He’s been rumored for a number of jobs over the past two years, both times considered a top contender to take over the bench of the Columbus Blue Jackets. When this season ended and MacLean had no new contract, the rumblings began in earnest that he may follow the lead of McCrimmon and find a head job somewhere other than Detroit. His golden ticket comes in the form of the Ottawa Senators, and MacLean’s steady hand will be counted on to calm the turmoil in Canada’s capital. Although untested as an NHL bench boss, MacLean deserves his shot and the Wings brass knows that. But they also know that MacLean’s presence is another reminder of a Wings organization that has struggled to get past the second round of the playoffs the last two seasons, so change comes with the silver lining of a fresh start for both parties; MacLean fulfilling the dream of being an NHL coach and the Wings freshening up the furnishings in a solid and dependable house.

Now comes the interesting part. The Wings have an opportunity to set the stage for the future of the organization for the foreseeable future, all while retaining their head man and one of the most respected head coaches in the league. The Wings have the luxury of following a trend of bringing in younger coaches with a track record of success at various levels while keeping the steady hand on the wheel of the most respected franchise in the NHL. We’ve already heard names like Ken Hitchcock and Todd Richards being thrown around, but it’s hard to envision Hitchcock stepping back professionally and becoming an assistant on a day-to-day basis. And while Richards may seem like an attractive option as a former NHL head man, there was nothing overly inspiring with his coaching style in Minnesota that makes him a “must-have” for the Wings. Instead, the Wings should continue to look at guys who have found success in the lower levels of professional hockey, namely Bob Boughner and Peter DeBoer. Both have ties to the Detroit/Windsor area. Both have NHL experience as either head men or assistant coaches. Both have won Memorial Cups in the last 10 years and know how to bring along young talent, something that the Wings will need more than ever as older players hang up the skates and newer faces make the transition to the league. DeBoer would likely jump at the chance to join the Wings. Boughner may take a little more work, but it sounds like Holland, Babcock and Co. are already greasing the skids to get the Boogieman behind the bench.

At the end of the day, the Wings need this change. They need the infusion of new thinking and strategy and they need guys who know how to relate to the young kids. They need a healthy blend of one coach looking to make a splash with a major organization and another with a chip on his shoulder, looking to prove his worth in a league that deemed him “not good enough” to be the head man for a faltering and flopping franchise. They need a pair of guys that have the ideas and ability to get Babcock out of his comfort zone and potentially past his protege in San Jose; the one who has eliminated the Wings the past two seasons and owned them during the regular season. Most importantly, however, the Wings need a pair of guys that can motivate and challenge a group of players that have all the talent in the world but the penchant to shut things down and coast at the most inopportune times. Whether it’s DeBoer, Boughner, Richards or even Dave Cameron, rest assured that the Wings will make the decision that they feel is the best for the entire organization.

In the meantime, we’ll wait for Lidstrom to decide, wait for free agents to be signed and wait for the puck to drop on a new season in Detroit. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a second to embrace the good times, stew (once more) about the bad times and wish both Brad McCrimmon and Paul MacLean the best in their new endeavors. They were an integral part of this organization and that can never be disputed.

That said, it’s time.

Photo courtesy of David Guralnick/Detroit News

Pro/No :: Ruslan Salei

It’s Monday Tuesday, 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 an intriguing Kris Draper vote, it’s time to take a look at the unrestricted free agent that isn’t named Nicklas Lidstrom or Jonathan Ericsson: Ruslan Salei.

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 RUSTY SALEI SUBMIT YOUR VOTES!

Pro/No :: Kris Draper

Welcome to another round of the joint TPL-WIIM series of pro/no profiles, giving you all the details you need to make an educated opinion about each of the upcoming free agents. At the bottom of the entry, you’ll find a voting form — please feel free to leave additional thoughts in the comments either here or at Winging it in Motown!

THE VITALS
Kris Draper, center, #33
40-years-old (5/24/71)
5’11 :: 185 lbs
17 NHL seasons (16 with Detroit)
From Toronto

STATISTICS
Regular Season — 47 games, 6 goals, 5 assists, 12 penalty minutes, +1, 10:26 minutes per game.
Playoffs — 8 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 2 penalty minutes, +2, 9:19 minutes per game.

CONTRACT SITUATION
Kris Draper just played the final year of a three-year pact worth $4.75 million. The actual dollar salaries decreased each season, culminating with a $1,250,000 payday this past year. The cap hit, however, was an average of the three seasons, meaning he counted for $1,583,333 against the $59.4M salary cap. Nearly everyone thought that this number was too high for an aging role-player who was not a regular in the lineup for the last year. Since coming over from the Winnipeg Jets (for a dollar, I’m contractually obligated to remind you), he’s never entered free agency unsure that he’ll be a Red Wing the following October. We’ve come to that point now.

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

DEPTH SITAUTION
Draper missed the first 23 games of the season with a groin injury. Upon his return, on December 4th, he immediately entered a rotation with Drew Miller, Jiri Hudler, and occasionally Patrick Eaves. Even with another veteran center going down with an injury (Mike Modano), he couldn’t crack the permanent lineup until Pavel Datsyuk broke his hand in late December.

From December 23rd until the final game in February, Kris Draper played in thirty straight games — mostly on the fourth line and taking late-game faceoffs. With Modano and Datsyuk set to return, Kris Draper returned to a healthy scratch rotation (even with Patrick Eaves missing time with a leg injury).

In all, Draper played just over half of the Red Wings’ games, but did find himself in the lineup for 8 of the 11 post-season games.

CASE FOR DRAPER
1) There’s no question he’s still a reliable NHLer, and one of the best faceoff men in the game.
2) There aren’t many four-time Cup winners out there, and if he does make it to free agency, there will be a ton of teams interested in adding him to their locker room, a la Mark Recchi.
3) Earlier in the season, each of the Red Wings was asked who the biggest gym rat on the team was — and everyone that wasn’t Kris Draper said, “Kris Draper.” He’s in unbelievable shape and rivals Chris Chelios in cyborgness.

CASE AGAINST DRAPER
1) In short, his age is working against him. With all of the positives in Draper’s game, he is still 40-years-old and you may be able to find a younger, cheaper option either internally or on the market.
2) He doesn’t deserve to be a healthy scratch every other night — the man is a Hockeytown legend, and a Grind Line original. He knows his place, and I’m sure that’s a bit painful for him.
3) He’s never been a big scorer, and you shouldn’t expect him to be now — but is it unfair to want more than six goals from a fourth line center on the Red Wings?

WHAT HE’S SAYING
Just yesterday, the Detroit News caught up with Draper (as he was working out with the Lions, naturally) and asked his thoughts. He said that he knows he can still play, feels as good as he has in years, and just needs Ken Holland to believe in him. Drapes said that he should know within a week or two if he’ll be returning, but he absolutely hopes to be a member of the Red Wings as training camp rolls around — but not on a two-way contract like his buddy Kirk Maltby took last year. He has no interest in potentially being sent down to the Griffs.

SALARY RANGE
If he were to be re-signed by the Red Wings, it’s a certainty that he’d have to take a pretty severe cut in the wallet. He could maybe get a few bucks more on the open market, but it’s not about that with Draper — and he made it clear that while he still wants to play, he’d be willing to listen to other opportunities within the organization, as well as opportunities to play elsewhere.

POTENTIAL REPLACEMENTS
Internal :: Though they won’t be taking his place on the roster, since they’re already on it, guys like Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, and Patrick Eaves are poised to take over that grinder/leadership role.
External :: Upcoming free agents that make under a million dollars and bring a Draper-like swagger with them include Raffi Torres, Scott Nichol, and Craig Conroy. But this is one situation that can’t be “replaced,” and will only see a shift in personnel from the inside.

WHAT DO YOU THINK
Thank you for your votes! They are now being tabulated and we’ll have a recap post later in the summer with all of the results!

Photo Credit: Dave Reginek, Getty Images

Pass/Fail: Jiri Hudler

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
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The Good
We’ll get to the nitty gritty in a minute, but the fact is that his return from the KHL provided the Wings to be a deeper team in the offensive ranks, and — whether you agree or not — he’s a proven NHL-calibre player, able to spark an offensive situation or two. Despite not being an everyday player when everyone was healthy, Hudler was sixth on the team in assists (27 – two fewer than Todd Bertuzzi), and eighth in shooting percentage among players that took 100 shots (9.5%). Unlike the aforementioned Bertuzzi, Hudler rarely played with the top six or with elite talent, but when he did get the opportunity to play alongside Pavel Datsyuk in February, he exploded for four goals and a bevy of assists. But, wait, I thought he was useless?

The Bad
Well, he kind of was. Outside of that little microcosm, he had an extremely disappointing season. Can any of that be blamed on with whom he was playing and how many minutes he logged? Maybe — but that’s on him to force Coach Babcock’s hand to give himself a better opportunity. He didn’t really take the bull by the horns, and that’s especially problematic because of the expectations Red Wings fans had for him after he burned a hole in the KHL stat sheet. He wasn’t a reliable player, hold for a few weeks in the middle of the season, and he never took it upon himself to be a star. Perhaps the biggest statistical clue of how weak a season we experienced from Scuttles is his -7, tied for the worst on the team (cough, with Todd Bertuzzi, cough). Once we were in the playoffs, he maintained his place in the lineup, despite being one of the lesser offense-producers (only Abdelkader, Miller, and Draper had fewer points-per-game).

Extra Credit
It’s difficult to categorize Jiri Hudler’s season because on one hand, our own expectations may be to blame — however, he proved, in 2008-09, that he was capable of chipping in 57 points and doing it without playing with the premiere talent. When looked at under a season-to-season comparative microscope, he was an absolute fail — despite some glimmers of goodness mentioned above. Expectations + paycheck x failed opportunities = inadequacy.

Grades
Disch: Abstinence is the only truly safe way to go…
Petrella: FAIL
Hollis: FAIL

The Reasoning
Disch: We were completely underwhelmed all season with him…remember the discussion on 60? This is a money thing. If Gator puts up shitty numbers, I don’t care…plus Gator plays monster defense and can wear down blueliners on the forecheck. Scuttles got paid “arizona dollars” (Jerry Maguire, whatsup) and put up jack shit.
Petrella: The drop off was startling, and while I don’t think he should be anywhere near the top six, his production improving in that situation proves how much playing with good players can skew your numbers.
Hollis: For a guy making as much as he is, more is expected on the scoresheet. He was largely invisible until he got on a line with Datsyuk, but for all the money he is being paid, his output was sorry at best.

Final TPL Grade
FAIL

Up Next: Justin Abdelkader

Past Reports:
6/8 :: Todd Bertuzzi (PASS)
6/7 :: Brian Rafalski (PASS)
6/7 :: Pavel Datsyuk (PASS)
6/6 :: Brad Stuart (PASS)
6/4 :: Henrik Zetterberg (PASS)
5/27 :: Jakub Kindl (SPLIT)
5/26 :: Darren Helm (PASS)
5/24 :: Niklas Kronwall (PASS)
5/23 :: Valtteri Filppula (PASS)

Photo Credit: Christian Peterson, Getty Images