Thursday, September 3, 2009

Red Wings Roundtable: Day 4

It's Day 4 of the Red Wings Roundtable discussion. Or should I more appropriately say the Dynasty’s Discussion. I'll be honest, Bingo Bango seems ever so slightly out of place amongst the talent blogger's compiled here today, but shhh I don't want to point it out to them, so on with the question.


Alright, well as a Wings fan I’ve already been called a pompous, condescending, no it all, d-bag, by just a few people. So despite the fact that this next sentence may cause the Wings haters to feel as though they were right, too bad, they can suck it. We know the Wings are dripping with talent from goal, to the blue line, to the Swedish and Russian hammer they lay on other teams night after night. We’ve watched Franzen have a breakout season, Filppula consistently grow as a player, and well whenever I think of the name Helm, I immediate get tingles from what is affectionately and simply known as "the kill.” With that being said, who’s going to have the most ‘influential’ season this year? It doesn’t have to be a breakout season as there are already many bona fide stars on the team. But instead whose play will consistently be the difference? Will Kronwall finally find a balance between being a punishingly physical player and an important scorer? Will we finally discuss Filppula’s game more than his silky, golden locks? Will Jason Williams cries and feelings of deep internal torture inflicted solely by Babcock be enough to motivate the team to another Stanley Cup Final? Ahhh the choices.


The Chief from Abel to Yzerman

This answer may be too obvious, but I think Hank Zetterberg is going to have a year for the ages. We know he was disappointed in his offensive production last season and hopefully losing Game 7 at home has turned him into some sort of emotional train wreck. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't bring home a Hart, Selke, Olympic MVP (do they even have those?), Conn Smythe and Cup #12. I believe he's that motivated.


Chris from MoTown Wings

For me, the answer is simple: Lidstrafalskronstuarlebdericsson-Lilja. Last year, it was all about the goal scoring for the Wings. With a solid chunk of those points relocating themselves during the offseason, it puts a renewed focus on defensive execution. Yes, the new additions would make a compelling choice here. So would Hank, who is looking to up his game this season. Leino should be playing for his spot every night of the season. But in the end, it comes down to the defense for me.

Pick any of them: Rafalski is a stalwart on D, but can he stay healthy for the entire season? Kronwall's the big hitter, but can he find the ability to flip the switch between lockdown defenseman and goal scoring threat on a nightly basis? Stuart is a gamer, but made some critical mistakes in that Game 7 loss in the Finals. Lebda's name has been floating around the trade block all off-season, so will he be able to elevate his game every night? Ericsson hasn't played a full NHL season yet. Is there enough Excedrin in the world to get Lilja on the ice?

So when it comes down to it, I'll single out Lidstrom. He's the captain of this team, but more importantly he needs to be the captain of the defense this year. He has to set the example that night in and night out, the Wings D-men are going to lock you down with their defensive play, and can bury you with their offensive prowess as well. Add to the mix the fact that Osgood struggled through the regular season last year, and his backup this season is the Jimmy Howard Experiment, and it adds that much more pressure to the shoulders of the blue-liners. Complacency has no room on this team this year, and that mindset starts with the example Lidstrom is setting.


Kris from Snipe Snipe, Dangle Dangle

There are definitely a lot of choices. I expect Franzen and Datsyuk to put up big numbers, but I think the current and future captains are going to be the difference makers. Lidstrom had a bit of an off-season last year by his lofty standards, and the team’s overall defense didn’t look good most of the year. I don’t agree with the people who say that he’s too old and I fully expect him to regain his form this year. Despite what the Norris Trophy voters and naysayers think, he’s still the best defenseman in the world. And his steady presence on the blue line will prove to be invaluable once again.

Up front, I think Zetterberg is going to be the biggest difference maker (I know, I’m making really radical choices, right?). I expect him to increase his offensive output to some extent, but his two-way play will be the most influential. Pretty much everyone agrees that the Wings need to recommit themselves to team defense after last season was plagued by costly defensive zone turnovers, and Zetterberg’s play and leadership are going to be key.


Kyle from Babcock’s Death Stare

Filppula is the first name that comes to my mind. People talk about how big of a loss Hossa is, but they don't really realize if Hossa never signed in the first place, Filppula would have seen a lot more minutes. He barely played any powerplay and he rarely saw second line minutes even though most of the league considers him to be a good second line center. I think he elevated his game in the playoffs to a level where he can be a much more productive playmaker. He gives Detroit a nice option in that he can take the second line if the twins are together. If they're split, with Hossa, Samuelsson, and Hudler gone, Filppula is probably a pretty good option to move over to the wing. He's a versatile player and those types of players succeed for Detroit.

I expect Kronwall and Stuart will step up as both are entering the 29-34 age range that most people consider peaks for defensemen. They are probably more fit to handle big minutes than last season so Lidstrom can be as fresh as possible for the playoffs. But if you're looking for a dark horse to inspire this team, I'd look at Todd Bertuzzi. Many have their own opinion of him, but the guy by all accounts is very well-liked in the locker room. Holland made a mention of this when he was signed. He's got all kinds of talent and now he's in a system where he'll be held more accountable than his past few NHL stops. He's getting up there in years and I think he just wants to win. He doesn't have much to gain with a 30 goal, 60 point season because people will hold his incident over his head and some teams will write him off automatically. His reputation is ruined, justifiably so I suppose, but I think a Stanley Cup would bring him some personal peace that not many players will be able to understand. He's going to want it.


Christy from Winging It In Motown

Tough question! Last year, we saw Marian Hossa step up during the regular season and score the big goals when we needed them. His loss along with Hudler and Samuelsson creates a huge void in our offensive scoring. I expect Ville Leino to rise to the challenge, but my vote would be Johan Franzen to consistently be the difference-maker. Why? He hasn’t spent a full season healthy. If he can maintain his offensive firepower that he has had in the past two playoffs and stay healthy, he’ll be a great help to fill in that scoring gap


Animal Drew from Nightmare on Helm Street

Chris Osgood is going to have the most influential season this year. Last regular season was just one giant brain fart for this guy. His save percentage was below .900 and it seems as if he couldn’t NOT let in 3 goals per game. This was one year removed from sharing the Jennings Trophy with Hasek and posting 2.09 GAA and a .914 save percentage. It all went to hell in 2008-2009. I heard that his wife left him, which would have a psychological impact on anyone (we all know that goalies are fragile creatures). Bringing in Conklin may have actually hurt his confidence, since we all (myself included at times) would scream for Conks to be the starter every time Ozzie faltered…again, probably not good for the psyche. Whatever was holding him back from playing like we knew he could, he certainly shed that burden when it came time for the play-offs. He looked like a man possessed. He silenced all critics right out of the gate and never looked back. Ozzie was probably one of the more visibly upset members of the Detroit Red Wings when the final buzzer sounded in game 7. I believe he’ll bring that post-season focus throughout 2009-2010. No way that Ozzie doesn’t improve on his .887 save percentage and 3.09 GAA from last season. And if even if it’s only a slight improvement, at least we know now that when he says he’ll be ready for the play-offs, by god, he means it.


Tyler from The Triple Deke

Nick Lidstrom. Other than maybe Chris Osgood, nobody controls the fate of a Red Wings team as much as Nick does. It's such an awful feeling when he's not in the lineup, and I am absolutely dreading the day that he retires. If I could somehow give five years of my life to extend his career .... well I probably would've used that on Yzerman already. But I'd definitely give five years of Corey Perry's life.


Rob from The Production Line

The Villain. Ville Leino. It has to be him. There are only a handful of guys on this team who I would consider breakout candidates. Most of our Wings...at this point in their careers...are either known commodities (Norris, Hank, Drapes) or they already "broke out" in recent years (Helm, Flipper). Of the new acquisitions, I think Eaves has a chance to go Charlie Buckets on us...to translate early career hopes into mid-career production...but you have to wonder how much run he'll get in Detroit thanks to the latter pickups, Bertuzzi and J-Williams. I would also argue that Cleary has yet to peak. I think he has more than he's shown consistently and part of me thinks this is the year that shines through. I continue to think that he plays to the level of the line he's on...he's a grinder on the 3's and a scoring threat on the 2's.

But back to Leino, I think he's at the right intersection of UNKNOWN COMMODITY and BEEN IN THE FAMILY LONG ENOUGH. He's not some pup who just came across the pond, doesn't know the North American game and dismisses backchecking. He's got the table stakes...the basic tools...to be a system guy...and I think he has a lot higher ceiling than we've seen so far. Anyone reading about hockey this far ahead of the season knows his history in Finland. Kid was a monster over there and one of the things we'll be tracking at TPL all year is how he stacks up against that year's other big import, Fabian Brunnstrom. I expect big things. I liked what little I saw in the playoffs and I loved how opportunistic he was in the regular season. My gut says he eclipses Scuttles numbers from last year. That, to me, would qualify as a "breakout."


Matt from On The Wings

It's not very original, maybe, but I see the Wings' big offensive guns having breakout years. While I expect the Wings' to be more defensively conscientious than they were last year, I paradoxically see Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Franzen being unleashed a bit more. The Eurotwins are fully capable of putting up big, scoring race-type numbers. This year they'll have some serious motivation to tear it up offensively following Game 7. I can easily see Datsyuk playing with a chip on his shoulder, and Hank will be looking to make up for what you could consider a slower year. As for Franzen, armed with that new contract, he should know his role better than ever: in the offensive zone, it's put the puck in the net. It may be more realistic to expect more from guys that haven't done a lot yet, like Kronwall or Filppula, but I'm holding out for even bigger years than usual from the big guns. If Pavel is angry, Hank is determined and Johan gets addicted the to taste of being a bull in a china shop, they'll be the ones consistently making the difference this season.


George from Snapshots

My answer: I think that your candidates in Niklas Kronwall and Valtteri Filppula are spot-on--because they have to be.

This might sound repetitious to those of you who've heard me say it umpteen times on Ye Olde Blog, but I believe that Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula, Niklas Kronwall, and Brad Stuart are the "Pressured Five."

Ken Holland's already stated that his expectations for Jason Williams (15-20 goals and some PP point work), Todd Bertuzzi (15 goals and some tempered nastiness), and Patrick Eaves (10+ goals and a year's worth of consistency-finding) are realistically placed, but the Red Wings essentially lost a second line's worth of scoring, and have compensated by building a third line's worth of forwards (and Ville Leino) who can help bridge the Hudler-Hossa-Kopecky-Samuelsson-stein's departure, as well as a top-four defenseman in the making in Jonathan Ericsson, who will probably play on the third pairing for the moment.

But the Wings' ridiculous depth up front allowed Franzen, Filppula, and Cleary to vacillate from second-line production to third-line supporting roles as their streakiness and injuries warranted, and until Andreas Lilja got hurt and Brett Lebda firmly took a step back down the stretch, the Wings had four guys who could play in the top four. If the Big Red Machine springs any leaks, it's gonna spring 'em in its first wave of secondary scoring, defensemen included.

Let's start on the blueline and move forward. First and foremost, Brad Stuart...Has to stay healthy. Last year, he got the crap beat out of him by a bizarre back-busting injury in Phoenix and actually didn't play like a defenseman you never, ever have to worry about taking care of business in his own end until the playoffs began.

Stuart's the only defenseman to effectively fill Bob Rouse's "glue guy" skates since Rouse himself, effectively providing the a rock-solidly simple defensive game that's much harder to play than we can possibly imagine, he simply likes to hit people and smear them along the boards to make 'em remember that they'll leave the ice sore when he's playing against them, and he's actually got the puck-moving chops of a top-pair, offensive defenseman--he's just more comfortable in a supporting role. When Stuart is playing effectively, it seems like there aren't any gaps when Kronwall makes a high-risk rush or puts himself out of position to make a big hit, and when he's off...we start noticing that Kronwall's all over the frickin' place, and is incredibly hard to play alongside without looking like you're skating in circles because Kronwall's desire to channel chaos theory in his play evokes Pavel Datsyuk at times. Brad Stuart must stay healthy and stay utterly invisible, save the times that he plays on the right point in the power play, where he needs to actually show a little bit of offensive panache. Doing all those things well at the same time, all the time, is a tremendously tough order to fill.

As suggested, Niklas Kronwall does play a sometimes-chaotic, high-risk game when he's at his speedily-skating best, jumping into rushes and sometimes beating the forwards to the front of the net while issuing three-line outlet passes and ripping slinkily low point shots on the power play, all while leaving defensive holes behind him before getting back to help Stuart out, and he absolutely has to maintain his 50-point scoring pace because he is officially the secondary scoring the Wings have on the blueline...

But he seemed to forget how to hit people while doing all that offensive stuff last year, especially because he put the same kind of, "I've got to play exactly like I did in the playoffs" pressure on himself that Chris Osgood did, when the fact of the matter is that he just needed to get off his own back and let himself play.It's understandable that when you take a step forward on one front, you're going to take a step back on another, but especially with Lilja gone to start the season, Kronwall needs to provide some snarl back there, even if we're talking about Stuart-style smear in your own zone instead of focusing on those highlight-reel open ice hits (though those would be nice, too). He's got to make puck-moving and hard-hitting styles come together seamlessly, and that's tremendously difficult to do, but Kronwall can do it--if he lets himself just relax and embrace his chaotic mishmash like Pavel does.I think that Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary inhabit the same place in terms of having to ramp up their game-to-game consistency over the upcoming season. Why is it that Cleary's nearly a point-per-game guy in the playoffs, but can't seem to put up more than 20 goals and 40 points, no matter how hard he tries, during the regular season? And why is the guy who scores like there's no tomorrow from March onward so visibly sleepy at times in December? The answer's simple--it's really hard to keep up that playoff-style intensity, and when you tend to get banged up because going to the front of the net is a physically painful thing to do, it's understandable that you might take a shortcut or a shift where you're happy to stay on the perimeter, but their struggles to stay determined to grind their way through ornery opposing defenders and those games in the middle of the season when the mental and physical grind of playing professional hockey catches up to you...The team followed suit, really.

Cleary and Franzen are the kinds of players whose play really sets the tone and example for their supporting cast. Cleary has to make every attempt to stifle that Wings-wide tendency to peel off at the blueline and wait for his linemates after achieving possession and control of the puck in the offensive zone, he's got to not be content to play on the perimeter with the puck and hope that someone else will hop into the net-front hole that he's supposed to occupy, and he's got to get to the front of the net and stay there more consistently. When he leads the rush or chases down pucks, he's got to lead the forecheck, not be content to play a supporting role. In this league, the difference between a 40-point-producer and a 50-point player is a million bucks a year and three or four minutes of ice time, and he needs to take advantage of every opportunity to firmly establish himself as a go-to guy.

Franzen simply lacks intensity and focus some nights. He doesn't need to be told what to do, where to go, or how to do it, but he's gotta play like the kid who got held back for a year on the playground--you know, the guy who was always just so damn big and strong that he just barreled you over and made you look silly trying to stop him. Franzen needs to understand that Mike Babcock's not very happy with the channeling of Brendan Shanahan and Ted Lindsay's, "He's sleepwalking through this one, so don't bang him and wake him up," and if the Mule wants to be counted among the elite power forwards of the game, much less fulfill his teammates,' coaches,' and his own expectations for what he can become on a night-by-night basis, he's gotta find a way to be grumpy and belligerent every night.

Finally, Filppula is simply the fulcrum. He's proven to be a defensively solid center with speed to burn, good playmaking skills, solid faceoff abilities, a sneaky shot, and the kind of high-speed "hockey sense" that enables him to anticipate plays and make them himself at the same pace his skating sets, but he doesn't put all those tools together on a nightly basis. Regardless of whether he ever matches the 20-goal, 50-assist, 70-point "NHL potential" mark he set during his lockout season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, he's got to do more than just heed Babcock and his teammates' pleas that he take more shots. He's gotta start putting himself together and find the same night-to-night levels of competitiveness, concentration, and drive that separate both Filppula and his linemates from "good complimentary players" status and being the "go-to-guys" that their team, for once, really desperately needs them to be. If Fil can put up fifteen goals and fifty points this season, that would be fantastic, and if he can do that while peeling himself off the perimeter, that would be absolutely fantastic.


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My answer, well I expect Datsyuk to have an unbelievable year. Obviously he was great last season, but he was, shall we say less than pleased with his injury and the seasons outcome. I expect Datsyuk to be looking to prove something. He won't need to say anything, not that we would be able to understand him anyway, but the trail of tears and broken dreams left by his opponents will say enough.

But overall, I expect a resurgence of defensive responsibility. Specifically I expect to see Kronwall have an important year. Coming off a somewhat odd, pressure filled season, I firmly believe Stella will get his groove back.

Oh screw it. It's hard to say who really will have the most influential season. With the defense and offense the Wings have I can't even answer my own question. I'll just be cocky and say the Wings will have the most influential season all the way to number 12.


Tomorrow, head over to Snipe Snipe, Dangle Dangle for Day 5.

5 comments:

  1. Bah, word order fail in my last sentence. I suck.

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  2. I wonder when George is publishing his novel...good grief does that guy make us all look bad.

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  3. I really wish George wouldn't half-ass this shit. It's embarrassing.

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