End to End Rush – The Pro's are a No-Go

I hope you’ve got HBO…because that’s the only place you’ll see something like this again.

I can already hear the objections to my argument. “B-b-b-but…the 20 best Americans will never play the 20 best Canadians who never play the 20 best Swedes who never play the 20 best Russians!”

And while that may be true, there are a handful of very good reasons to have NHL players abstain from the Olympics after the 2014 Sochi Games.

It’d be unfair to pull the players back now. Alexander Ovechkin has already been named an ambassador for the Games in Russia; and it would be less-than-cool to take the players away from the Sochi committee that have been counting on this kind of competition.

But since we’re over a year away from an announcement regarding the host city for the 2018 Games – and since the NHL’s role in the Olympics has become a hot-button issue lately – it’s a good time for this discussion.

And, hey, just to make it fair…I won’t even mention the injury risk that’s posed by playing high-energy championship-style games. Dominik Hasek took care of that argument in Torino.

Make no mistake, I understand the rationale that fans and viewers of an international hockey event want to see the best players on the planet. That makes total sense – but we already have a chance to see the greatest players on Earth collected in one place. It’s called the National Hockey League.

THE SPIRIT OF THE OLYMPICS
Let’s start with the most obvious reason, shall we? The Olympic Games themselves are built upon the ideal of competition among the best amateur athletes in the world. And while the Olympics have been slowly phasing out amateurism (the only true example of amateurs left in the Games is in the boxing competition), I still hold on to the romantic ideal that there’s something very exciting about seeing “the next wave” on that grand stage.

It’s very true that you may never see another Miracle on Ice – but that’s precisely what made 1980 so special: the long odds of a ragtag collection of kids beating what was correctly considered to be the strongest and most skilled group of players anywhere.

Under no other circumstances would you have known Mike Eruzione’s name.

PROLONGING DEVELOPMENT
For the next couple of minutes, please keep in mind that the NHL will still be the pinnacle of hockey achievement – regardless of your country of origin. Therefore, the best Swedes, Russians, and Finns will still be playing in it. If professionals were removed from the Olympics, it wouldn’t become NHL-level Euros against kids that play in Cedar Rapids, North Dakota, and in the OHL.

With the Olympics restricted to non-NHLers, we’ll have an opportunity to become familiar with the Ovechkins, Zetterbergs, and Crosbys of tomorrow, instead of seeing the same ones we’re graced with every day – just in different jerseys.

I hate to agree with anything the NBA or NFL does, but a small part of me believes they may be onto something delaying draft eligibility. While forcing a year or two of college wouldn’t work exactly the same for hockey (because of the prevalence of European players and those from junior) – and it’s not something I would ever, in a million years suggest – it does introduce an interesting situation.

Would 18- and 19-year old players hold off on pressing forward to the pro ranks if the possibility of representing their country in the Olympics existed?

It’s almost not worth bringing up because so few teenagers actually make the jump to the NHL, but it does raise an interesting conversation – at least internally – for the kids who hope to one day play for their nation.

Evgeni Malkin would have gone pro in 2006-07 no matter what. He was three years removed from an Olympic Games, and asking someone of that magnitude to hold off on going pro for three years is asking a lot.

But would Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf have gone pro the year before – or is there a possibility that could have been enticed to remain in junior leagues knowing that they won’t get the chance to represent their country in the future (at the Olympic level, anyway)?

How about Patrick Kane? Steve Mason? Giving up a year or two of entry-level money for the chance to be an Olympic medalist? What about the non-Calder winners? Zach Bogosian? Josh Bailey? Zach Parise?

Fans of the Red Wings understand the importance of developing prospects slowly, and Holland & Co would have no issue with their players putting off their professional careers while competing against the world’s best amateurs – like a very select few get to do in the World Juniors Championship.

One thing that would definitely need to be changed – given my scenario – is the signing deadlines conundrum. Pro teams only get two years to sign their North American draft picks, and that’s potentially not enough time to have players keep their “amateur” status, depending on the draft year. Perhaps the “professional” tag is designated for those in the NHL only? But that would cause the stir of NHL vs. the KHL vs. other European leagues. Eh…That’s a debate for another day.

NOT EVERYONE PLAYS IN THE OLYMPICS
With the way things are right now, the NHL must cease operations for two weeks in the winter to allow select members to participate in the Games. And while I’m sure everyone that’s selected is beyond honored for the opportunity to play for their flag, there are hundreds of others who come to a jolting standstill in the middle of the season.

I only mildly believe in momentum throughout a season, but something should be said about the dead stop the regular season comes to at one of the more important parts of the season. Can the NHL – which is already teetering on second-class citizenship – afford to void February for the sake of a glorified tournament? Is enough interest in hockey generated by the Olympic Games to make it worth the League’s while?

If you can tell me the exposure is beneficial to the NHL and to hockey as a whole, then – yeah – I would keep the pros in the Olympics. But you can’t.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS…
The best professional athletes belong in the NHL, the NBA, and at Soccer’s World Cup – but not at the Olympics. It was recently brought up, perhaps ironically, that hockey would be better at the Summer Games – as it wouldn’t interrupt the NHL season and the threat of season-ending injury would be less worrisome. As ridiculous as it sounds – hockey wedged between Track & Field and Swimming – it makes a bit more sense than the way things are right now.

Photo Credit: AP

TPL Profiles :: Jimmy Howard

35 Jimmy HOWARD
Goaltender / Ogdensburg, New York
AGE :: 25
SIZE :: 6-0 / 215
ACQUIRED :: 2003 Draft [2 / 64]
CONTRACT :: Enter the second year of a 3-year deal [2011], which has become a one-way contract
CAP HIT :: $716,667
EXPERIENCE :: 2009-10 will be his first full NHL season
LIKELY ROLE :: Backup goaltender

ACCOMPLISHMENTS :: 2002 IIHF U-18 Champion


THREE REASONS TO LOVE HIM ::
1. Exciting home-grown goaltending prospect
2. He’s a big guy who plays even bigger
3. Is semi-famous for coming up the opportune save

ONE REASON TO HATE HIM :: De-facto backup who was unable to piece together a dominating AHL season, despite getting four chances.

RANDOM FACT :: Is the most recent Red Wing to wear #35. The first? Ken Holland. I guess that’s more of a Ken Holland fact. Shut up – he’s still a rookie.

STRENGTHS ::
1. Big body
2. Big-time potential
3. Clutch at all the other levels

WEAKNESSES ::
1. Inconsistency
2. Focus
3. Occasional rebound control

ONE-LINER :: “He keeps us in every game.” – Griffins GM Bob McNamara

HE’S A FAVORITE OF :: Stewie, Peter, Brian, Black bears, late bloomers.

BIO :: Jimmy Howard is accomplished at every level of hockey so far: a veteran of the national program (including a U-18 championsihp), three very impressive seasons of college hockey at Maine (including the aforementioned records), four seasons in the AHL (the first of which saw him join the All-Rookie team).
He saw time in the NHL in three of his four pro seasons – but has yet to impress at the top level. For a guy who has long been the “Future of Wings goaltending,” he’s walking into the jungle with little else besides a flashlight that’s low on batteries. He’ll get tested – and he’ll get tested often, and Wings fans that are notoriously hard on goaltenders. Will he be eaten alive or will he pull a Babcock and become the big game hunter we all hope?

FUTURE :: It’s officially sink or swim time for James. When the Wings told Ty Conklin that they wouldn’t be bringing him back, they were putting a lot of faith in Howard’s ability to be more than a Black Ace. While no one expects him to challenge Osgood for starts, there are grumblings about Jimmy Howard’s ability to even play backup in the League. He’s out of waiver exemption, so if Holland & Co think he’s not playing up to snuff, expect a trade for a goaltender at the deadline.

RELEVANT STATS ::

Photo Credit: Getty Images

TPL Profiles :: Brett Lebda

22 Brett LEBDA
Defenseman / Buffalo Grove, Illinois
AGE :: 27
SIZE :: 5-9 / 195
ACQUIRED :: Signed to a contract after a 2004 Tryout
CONTRACT :: Entering the final year of a 4-year deal [2010]
CAP HIT :: $650,000
DRAFT :: Was not drafted
EXPERIENCE :: 2009-10 will be his 5th NHL season – all with the Red Wings
LIKELY ROLE :: Sixth / seventh defenseman
ACCOMPLISHMENTS :: 2008 Stanley Cup Champion
THREE REASONS TO LOVE HIM ::
1. Very fast skater
2. Not afraid to pinch I the offensive zone, yet still gets back to play D
3. Has shown a willingness to play wing if it keeps him in the lineup

ONE REASON TO HATE HIM :: Participated in the Detroit Sucks chant growing up in the Chicago area. Bastard.

RANDOM FACT :: Scored his first NHL game on opening night in 2005 – the first Red Wing to do that since Greg Johnson twelve years earlier.
STRENGTHS ::
1. Speed
2. Offensive potential
WEAKNESSES ::
1. Small size
2. Lack of physicality

ONE-LINER :: “We’re glad we don’t have to practice in the morning.” – at a stage we like to call “Professor” Lebda

HE’S A FAVORITE OF :: Leprechauns, Speedy Gonzales, Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow, Charlie Weis.

BIO :: One of a handful of Fighting Irish in the NHL, Brett Lebda joins Brian Rafalski on the Wings’ blueline as every day contributors that had gone undrafted. Invited to camp on a free agent tryout, he impressed the brass with his speed and smart play enough to earn himself a contract.

After spending the lockout season in Grand Rapids, Lebda was in the Wings lineup for the first post-lockout game – scoring his first NHL goal in the second period of his first game. He bounced back and forth between Grand Rapids and Detroit, but was soon a regular for the Red Wings.

FUTURE :: As we’ve mentioned before, the Wings plan on moving a defenseman after training camp if Lilja’s healthy enough to play. The popular choice seemed to be Derek Meech, but I’d argue that Lebda is more likely to be traded. He counts a bit more toward the cap (although still not much), he’s more NHL-polished, and he’ll garner a higher return. If he’s not traded in September, it’s a safe bet this will be his final season in red and white, with guys like Ericsson and Kindl gearing up to take over in 2010-11.

RELEVANT STATS ::

Photo Credit: DetroitRedWings.com

TPL Profiles :: Derek Meech

 
14 Derek MEECH
Defenseman / Winnipeg, Manitoba

AGE :: 25
SIZE :: 5-11 / 197
ACQUIRED :: 2002 Draft [7 / 229]
CONTRACT :: Final Year of a 3-year deal [2010]
CAP HIT :: $483,333
EXPERIENCE
:: 2009-10 will be his 3rd NHL season, all with the Red Wings
LIKELY ROLE :: 7th Defenseman

ACCOMPLISHMENTS :: 2001 Memorial Cup Champion, 2008 Stanley Cup Champion

DEFINING MOMENT :: Fair or not, he is viewed by many to be the guy that cost the Red Wings Kyle Quincey.

THREE REASONS TO LOVE HIM ::
1. Willing and able to play both defense and wing
2. Salary is only SLIGHTLY higher than ours at TPL
3. A strong skater that is very efficient with his strides

ONE REASON TO HATE HIM :: Clearly a prodigy, he was able to teach himself how to play the guitar using only the internet. Word?

RANDOM FACT :: He is the only current Red Wing to have a Memorial Cup Championship to go with his Stanley Cup

STRENGTHS ::
1. Hockey sense
2. Underrated breakout pass
3. Very talented skater

WEAKNESSES ::
1. Lack of playing time results in bonehead plays once in a while
2. Size – especially for a defenseman
3. Buried on the depth chart

HE’S A FAVORITE OF ::  Underdog.

BIO :: Meech played five seasons with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, where he was the defensive partner of future NHL All-Star Dion Phaneuf, before joining the Griffins for another three. He was an AHL All-Star during his final season on the farm.

By 2007-08, he had joined the Red Wings full-time, working his way into the lineup as an injury replacement – usually as a defenseman, but occasionally as a forward. Despite not playing in enough games to have his name engraved on the Cup, the Wings successfully petitioned the League to make an exception.

In 2008-09, Meech played in exactly half of the regular season games, and also got into two playoff games.

FUTURE :: The writing may be on the wall for Derek Meech, after GM Ken Holland made it known that he had every intention of trading a defenseman during or after training camp (Andreas Lilja’s health permitting). Despite the departure of Chris Chelios, the emergence of Jonathan Ericsson has kept Derek Meech in healthy scratch territory and he may be on the move. However, thanks to his versatility and incredibly cheap price tag, he may again serve as the team’s seventh defenseman.

RELEVANT STATS ::

 Photo Credit: Dave Guralnick, Detroit News

TPL Profiles :: Kris Draper

 
 33 Kris DRAPER
Center / Toronto, Ontario
AGE :: 38
SIZE :: 5-10 / 178
ACQUIRED :: 1993 Trade with Winnipeg [One dollar]
CONTRACT :: Entering the second season of 3-year “35 and over” deal [2011] featuring a no-trade clause.
CAP HIT :: $1,583,333
DRAFT :: Selected by Winnipeg in the 1989 draft [3 / 62]
EXPERIENCE :: 2009-10 will be his 19th NHL season – and 16th with the Red Wings
LIKELY ROLE :: Fourth line center

ACCOMPLISHMENTS :: 1997 Stanley Cup Champion, 1998 Stanley Cup Champion, 2002 Stanley Cup Champion, 2008 Stanley Cup Champion, 2004 Selke Trophy Winner

DEFINING MOMENT :: Having his face re-arranged by Claude Lemieux

THREE REASONS TO LOVE HIM ::
1. Potentially the most beautiful skater in Red Wings history
2. An example of the value of a dollar
3. Locker-room prankster

ONE REASON TO HATE HIM :: A dookie was blasted into the Cup on his watch…which happened AFTER it was filled with Timbits (you’re welcome, Rob).

RANDOM FACT :: One of only a handful of players to play in the AHL and NHL prior to the OHL. 

STRENGTHS ::
1. Arguable Hall of Famer penalty killer
2. Award-winning defensive prowess
3. Annually one of the best faceoff men in the game
4. Ridiculous speed and precision
5. Captain-like leadership
6. Ability to lighten the mood in the room

WEAKNESSES ::
1. Not the offensive threat he was a few years ago
2. Quasi-reckless style of play can lead to injury
3. Inconsistent scorer

ONE-LINER :: “I got to have my face rearranged to start a rivalry” – Kris Draper

HE’S A FAVORITE OF :: The Flash, pie-lovers, anyone who’s glad someone finally called out Sidney Crosby on his leadership skills.

BIO :: Born in Toronto, Kris Draper was very involved with the Canadian National program – including two goes-around with the World Junior squad. He was drafted in the third round of the 1989 draft by the Winnipeg, but saw very little action with the Jets. In one of the more one-sided trades in NHL history, the Red Wings sent $1 to Winnipeg for the rights to Draper.

1,009 games, a Selke, five World Championship appearances with Team Canada, and four Stanley Cups later, Kris Draper finds himself in elite company – joining only Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman, and Nicklas Lidstrom – as one of the five players to play 1,000 games with the Red Wings.

Draper was named one of the team’s alternate captains in 2006-07, a role he seems born to fill. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more beloved teammate or anyone who bleeds more – well – red. Maybe his blood cells are red and white? …Damn!
FUTURE :: A handful of fans – and, yes, even a few short-sighted reporters – are beginning to question Kris Draper’s role on the team given the emergence of Darren Helm. While his speed may be declining, there’s no denying his abilities in the faceoff circle and the unquestioned leadership he adds to an already-veteran organization. He will be 40 when his current contract expires, and smart money would be on hearing Drapes call it a career, ending one of the more storied Red Wings careers ever.

RELEVANT STATS :: 

Photo Credit: Dave Reginek, NHLI via Getty Images and NHL.com

TPL Profiles :: Kirk Maltby

18 Kirk MALTBY
Left Winger / Guelph, Ontario

AGE :: 36
SIZE :: 6-0 / 185
ACQUIRED :: 1996 Trade with Edmonton [for Daniel McGillis]
CONTRACT :: Final Year of a 3-year deal [2010]
CAP HIT :: $883,333
DRAFT :: Selected by Edmonton in the 1992 draft [3 / 65]
EXPERIENCE :: 2009-10 will be his 16th NHL season – and 13th with the Red Wings
LIKELY ROLE :: Fourth line winger

ACCOMPLISHMENTS :: 1997 Stanley Cup Champion, 1998 Stanley Cup Champion, 2002 Stanley Cup Champion, 2008 Stanley Cup Champion

THREE REASONS TO LOVE HIM ::
1. Relentless penalty killer
2. Agitator capable of drawing dumb penalties
3. One of the five guys to win all four Cups with the Wings

ONE REASON TO HATE HIM :: Having to wait two decades for Landon or Leighton to be the next Red Wing Maltby.

RANDOM FACT :: Of the 264 players selected in the 1992 draft, only Roman Hamrlik has played more NHL games than Kirk Maltby.

STRENGTHS ::
1. Ability to get under opponents’ skin
2. Penalty killing
3. Poise
4. Unbelievably consistent
5. Ups his game in the post-season
WEAKNESSES ::
1. Declining speed
2. Occasional untimely penalty

ONE-LINER :: “When you need that extra hit, he’s there.” – Chris Chelios

HE’S A FAVORITE OF :: Hard-working, underappreciated, smallish guys and gals who were probably told they didn’t have the stuff to be a long-time contributor.

BIO :: After very productive junior career, Kirk Maltby was drafted by the Oilers in the third round of the 1992 draft. After two-plus seasons in Edmonton, he was traded to the Red Wings for defenseman Dan McGillis – who went to a respectable career with the Oilers, Flyers, Sharks, Bruins and Devils.
Few could predict what Maltby would mean to the Red Wings during their dynastic ‘90s and ‘00s. As one of two permanent members of the Grind Line, his dedication to hustle paced the energy and grit that were integral parts of the 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008 Stanley Cup Championships.
Paired with Kris Draper, the two would form one of the greatest penalty killing tandems in recent memory. It’s difficult to remember a shorthanded situation that – at some point during the two minutes – didn’t involve Kirk Maltby. In addition to eating valuable kill time, Maltby can be relied upon to net a goal or 14 (a career-high, attained in 1998, 2003, and 2004). Of his 124 career NHL goals, 20 came shorthanded.

FUTURE :: At 36, Maltby is clearly on the downward side of the mountain, though still a very productive hockey player. His short-handed time-on-ice per game has declined sharply the last few years (as seen below) – probably a result of the emergence of Pavel, Hank, and Mule moreso than Maltby’s play. He’s entering the final year of his contract, and it’s safe to assume that a grinder like Justin Abdelkader or Darren Helm will take his place on the Red Wings in the very near future. If 09-10 is to be Kirk Maltby’s swan song in the Winged Wheel, he deserves 41 home-crowd standing ovations for his 13 full seasons of dedication to the red and white.
RELEVANT STATS ::
Photo Credit: Jamie Squire, Getty Images North America

TPL Profiles :: Darren Helm

43 Darren HELM
Center / St. Andrews, Manitoba

AGE :: 22
SIZE :: 6-0 / 182
ACQUIRED :: 2005 Draft [5th Round / 132nd Overall]
CONTRACT :: Final Year of Entry-Level Deal [2010]
CAP HIT :: $599,444
EXPERIENCE :: 2009-10 will be his first full season in the NHL

LIKELY ROLE :: Third or fourth line center

ACCOMPLISHMENTS :: 2008 Stanley Cup Champion, 2007 World Junior Champion

DEFINING MOMENT :: Western Conference Finals, Game 5, Penalty Kill

THREE REASONS TO LOVE HIM ::
1. Has never taken a shift off
2. Always comes out of the corner with the puck
3. Plays with enough energy to wake up the crowd and his teammates

ONE REASON TO HATE HIM :: Insane jealousy.

RANDOM FACT :: Holds the NHL record for most post-season goals (six) before scoring first regular season goal.

STRENGTHS ::
1. Ungodly speed
2. Great hands
3. Insanely hard worker
4. Strong in the faceoff circle
5. Confident in key situations
6. Wonderful penalty killer
7. Smart two-way player

WEAKNESSES ::
1. Less-than-ideal size
2. Underwhelming shot
3. Injury risk given his size and style

ONE-LINER :: “Every time he’s on the ice, something happens.” — Mike Babcock.

BEST THING EVER WRITTEN ABOUT HIM :: This article from Dirty Games.

HE’S A FAVORITE OF :: Both of us at The Production Line, my boy Clay Hurley, this young looker, those who yearn for the Winnipeg Jets, and anyone else with a pulse.

BIO :: Born in 1987 (Christ, I’m old), about 15 miles northeast of Winnipeg, Helm played in a Junior B league consisting of a handful of teams in Manitoba before eventually finding his way to the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL. Helm was not ranked by CSS going into the 2005 Draft, but the Wings wisely used their fifth round pick to select him. He played two more seasons of Junior – culminating in a Memorial Cup Final appearance and a World Junior Championship under his belt.

In 2007, Helm reported to Grand Rapids, but was called up to Detroit on occasion before finally sticking with the big club throughout the playoffs, adding a Stanley Cup to his young but impressive resume. The following season saw Helm again demoted to the Griffins, although he was clearly one of the twelve best forwards in the organization. His waiver status made him a casualty of the roster crunch and he spent the majority of the season in the AHL. Helm was called up to Detroit three separate times before once again being a regular for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

FUTURE :: There is no question that Darren Helm is in Detroit to stay. As a matter of fact, you can plan on seeing #43 (assuming he keeps that number) in red and white for a long, long time. Darren Helm has all the makings of a folk-hero to the hardworking fans in a blue collar town. Quite frankly, he works his ass off every single shift, goes into the dirty areas, and always seems to come out with more energy than he went in with.

RELEVANT STATS ::

title photo credit: Dave Reginek, NHLI, via Getty Images and The Hockey News.

Deep Thoughts: the 2009-10 Schedule Edition

Paul MacLean still has trouble stowing his mustache.
Yesterday afternoon, the NHL released the schedule for the 2009-10 schedule. I won’t waste valuable space by listing the entire Wings schedule, so feel free to check it out at the Wings official site.

Instead, I thought I’d make a few observations about the idiosyncrasies of the schedule and how they affect the Red Wings always-arduous path to the post-season.

First of all, Kyle from Babcock’s Death Stare brings up a real good point (among many good points): why the hell aren’t the Red Wings/Blues games (being played in Sweden) launching the season the way the European games have in the past? I was under the impression that this was the objective of that little annual stunt. Like all other seasons, the two games are on back-to-back nights, which adds a bit of strain to an already-tumultuous situation.

One of the effects of flying to Stockholm and back is that the Red Wings are going to log 2835 more miles traveling in 09-10 than they did in 08-09. Their 42,000+ miles rank 14th among the 30 teams, which is totally reasonable.

I’m very pleased the New Years Eve game is back – after a one-year hiatus to make way for the Winter Classic. This season, the Red Wings play the Avs before Dick Clark’s spectacular, which would be totally awesome if it was 1996 that was being rung in. The Sakic-less Avalanche don’t pack the same punch as the good ‘ol days, but kudos to the League for trying to add a touch of nostalgia to what is traditionally a very nostalgic evening anyway.

The Wings play 13 sets of back-to-back games, which is actually three fewer than they played last season. While some teams (Columbus) are playing 8 fewer back-to-back sets, other teams (Colorado) are playing 8 more. Teams play between 11 and 19 back-to-back sets this season. The parity is probably partly as a result of the Olympic break taking a chunk of February out of play (although last season, the range was 8 to 20).

There are a couple of home-and-homes on the docket, and the opening series against St. Louis technically counts, though neither is at “home,” so to speak. The final two games before Christmas are a home-and-home with Chicago, followed immediately by the first two games after the holiday with Columbus. In April, the Wings round out their season series with the Jackets the same way.

There are no games between February 13 and March 1 because of the Olympics, but that’s not to say that the Wings won’t be in action: no less than 7 players are locks for their respective national teams, and expect Team Sweden to do well again.

WINGS WINGS TUESDAY! A very exciting, time-tested tradition in the my household, Wings Wings Tuesday combines two very natural loves: hockey and chicken wings. Buffalo Wild Wings (sponsorship opportunity available here, BW-3!) has discounted wings on Tuesday evenings. In 2009-10, there are ten Wings Wings Tuesday dates – 3 of the first 13 games, and 7 after New Years. Those games are as follows:

10/13 at Buffalo
10/27 at Vancouver
11/3 vs Boston
1/12 at NY Islanders
1/19 at Washington
1/26 vs Phoenix
2/2 at San Jose
3/9 vs Calgary
3/30 vs Edmtonton