27 June 2011

Playing Boss: The Unrestricteds

We're days away from 01 July, the mark of the start of Free Agency. It's during this period that big roster changes will come to teams across the league, big-name talents will look to make a pay day, and Glenn Sather and Brian Burke will have cashgasms all over low-talent players' faces and chests. Most of the big signings will happen on Friday, and it really marks the last worthwhile thing to happen in any of our lives until October. 

Most years, the Wings are not major players in the free agent market. Our team has so often been directly against the cap that we simply couldn't afford any of the game-changers that come on opening day of the free agent frenzy. We haven't made a 01 July signing since Marian "October - March" Hossa when Hasek's contract came off the cap. 

This year looks to be different, however. The cap has risen to $64m, Rafalski's chunk of change is removed due to his retirement, and we find ourselves with some money to spare. With 17 players under contract, we've got over $16m to play with. Our roster has some needs - a replacement for Brian Rafalski, a backup goaltender, and a top-6 forward. We've also got a few guys who are unrestricted free agents, and Kenny will have to make a decision on who's coming back at what cost. 

So, since the most important test of my life is only a month away, I've decided to spend my time analyzing the situation we find ourselves in before Free Agent Frenzy begins this Friday at noon. Let's start with our own unrestricted free agents, shall we? Presenting:

The Winged Wheel's List of Shit to Do with the Dudes We Had But Might Not Have Soon Depending on how Negotiations Progress, Mutual Interest, and Other Available Options On The Open Market That May Serve as Potential Replacements 

Catchy, eh? Now, some of these decisions have already been made. Contracts have been offered in some cases, or Kenny's indicated that he'll take a wait and see approach with some guys. That being said - I'm largely going to ignore most of that information and tackle this from a "if I were in charge" perspective. I know that's a terrifying proposition, but bear with me. It's not real and this nightmare will be over soon. I promise. Anyway, lets start with a Winged Wheel favorite, shall we?
  • Chris "400 Wins, Bitch" Osgood
To be completely honest, I'm on the fence here. I know that may be surprising considering the buckets full of praise I've showered on The Wizard on this site, but it's true. Before Joey MacDonald decided that he wasn't interested in a two-way deal, I had it settled. To me, considering his play last year, it made tons of sense to sign Joey Mac to a deal and start him off in the AHL, continuing to mentor McCollum. Then sign Ozzie to a deal, no question. With a capable backup in the AHL as insurance in case Ozzie's surgery didn't quite take, there'd be little risk in bringing back the Wizard. 

Now, I'm not so sure. See, the upside with Ozzie could be outstanding. The last couple years, admittedly, haven't been good to Osgood's numbers between the pipes. However, many wings "fans" are quick to forget how lights-out he was in 08 or during the 09 playoffs. There are all kinds of explanations for that kind of decline we saw during the 09 and 10 regular seasons. One could be that after Todd McClellan bailed, we were stuck with Brad McCrimmon (I'm just now realizing how much the Wings love the micks). Since McCrimmon took the bench, our defense has been decidedly un-Wing-like. Shots on goal went way up, and our PK started shitting the bed on a regular basis. Now, we've got vacancies in those coaching spots, and Babs can hopefully fill them with someone who's not terrible at his job.

Another explanation could be that Ozzie was simply falling apart. Just consider his major groin/abdomen/cahooten-valve surgery this year. The Wizard went under the knife just after reaching the summit of #400. That's at least some evidence that Ozzie was hurt, and the pain was keeping him from playing at his full potential. There's where the upside comes in. If the surgery takes, and Ozzie's play returns to 08 form, he is far and away the best option for this team. Not only is he an outstanding mentor for young Jimmy, but he can likely be had for a near-minimum contract. That's some serious value, if all works out right.

But that's kind of the problem. Everything has to work out right. That's a pretty big risk, and as much as I love Ozzie, I'm not sure I want the Wings to undergo that kind of dice rolling. Jimmy needs a backup that can take some time away from him. 63 starts is far too much. And hell, even if Ozzie turns out perfect, Babcock might just decide to be a stubborn dick about it, per usual, and make Howard play all 82 games. 

So... I guess my answer is "shrug." Kenny plans on waiting a bit into free agency to decide if he's going to call Ozzie back, and that sounds like the right move to me. If there aren't any real options, we can always fall back on the tried and true, three-ring, future hall of fame inductee. If someone better can be had cheap - well... I'll be sad to see Ozzie go. On the bright side, hopefully it'll mean all the sooner that he finds himself on the FS-D broadcasts so Murph will finally be out of a damn job.
  • Jonny "As Much Wasted Potential As The Floor of an Adult Theater" Ericsson
Oh, gee. I wonder what Greg's views are on whether Ericsson should remain a Red Wing? 

Yeah - fuck that kid.

Actually, in all honesty, I wouldn't be SUPER pissed if Big E stays. The Braintrust obviously sees some real potential in the kid, and we saw some flashes of what he can actually do during the 09 playoffs. It sure would be annoying to let him walk away, have Brian Burke give him a eighty-billion dollar contract, and suddenly have Ericsson turn his game around. Plus, who knows how much of E's suckitude comes from Brad McCrimmon mindfucking him into mediocrity. 

But the fact remains - Ericsson sucks. He sucks long, and he sucks hard. He's been absolutely terrible on our blue line. Replacing him with a sack full of sand would be an upgrade. Often, the biggest obstacle to our success is that he's got a healthy ACL. Every time he's on the ice, Wings fans everywhere hope that he tomahawks an opponent across the mouth just because it's better to be shorthanded for five minutes than to have him on the ice for 30 seconds. I could go on, but I wouldn't want to exaggerate.

So fine, if E wants to stay for a pittance, I say keep him. If we roll with 8 d-men, he can spend a bunch of time looking pretty in the press box. No harm, no foul. Unfortunately, it sounds like E has been offered a multi-year contract, at around $2m per. If that multi-year is several years, and he actually turns his shit around, maybe it'll be worth it. As it is, it just looks like the Wings are overpaying for a guy based purely on potential and not on results. Unless, of course, Ericsson does the funniest thing in the history of time and pulls a Lilja by turning down the millions of dollars he neither deserves nor is worth. 
  • Ruslan "Graduate of the Marian Hossa School of Playoff Performance" Salei
Here's another decision that's already been made. Rusty wants to go be with his kids in that bullshit state that ought to fall into the damn ocean already. Good for him, its nice to see a guy put family over his career.

Well... at least in Salei's case. Salei signed his one year contract, filled a roster space, and didn't suck 65% of the time. He did his job. Unfortunately, 35% of the time he did suck. And, unfortunately, a good part of that sucking came in the playoffs. He did his job, no hard feelings, but there's no way I'd want him back when there are UFA's to be had, and rookies waiting in the wings. Farewell.
  • Mike "Haley Joel" Modano
Boy howdy, people got pissed at ol' Mikey Mo. Lots of Wings fans have decried the Modano experiment as an utter failure, and seem to blame it a bit on Modano himself. I'm not quite part of that camp. Unfortunately, the dude got in a freak accident just as he was finding his stride, and was never given the chance to get back to playing. It would have been nice for him to be healthy - but whatever. Either way - the one year experiment with Detroit was just that. One year. He's still mulling his future, but he won't be back in Detroit, and that's probably for the best. He's still got a wicked shot, but there's no doubting that he's lost a step or six. Plus, he lost a lot of good will when he started talking about retirement at the beginning of the playoffs. Doesn't exactly show a lot of dedication and heart. So, thanks for the year Mike. I'm sure the jersey sales in Westland and Livonia were enough to make it worth it for you.
  • Kris "Thunder Beard" Draper
Bring him back. Another year, another shot at a fist full of rings. Captain Norris is the Captain... but by most accounts, Draper is the vocal guy in the locker room when shit needs to be said. He's a good mentor for guys like Danger Helm, and when he's on the ice, he makes that fourth line better and faster. He can still take faceoffs, and he plays the PK like a champ. That, and he'll likely play for a pittance. It sounds like he wouldn't complain about the occasional stint in the press box, and he's a Red Wing through and through. Plus, now that the Jets are back in Winnipeg, he can have a bit of a victory lap. One dollar, my ass. 

Draper's presence does good things for Abby and Helm, staples of our team. His return would likely mean the departure of Eaves, Miller, or both, but that's OK. Neither one of those guys has some huge amount of untapped potential that would make their loss irreplaceable. He's cheap and he's still a damn good role player. Plus, I can't imagine the Wings cup celebration without that beautiful ginger forest of a beard. I say bring him back for #12. 
  • Patrick "Holy fuck that's a big ass dog" Eaves
Here, I think we should take a wait and see approach. I'd really like Eaves to be back, and it sounds like he wants to stay in Detroit. He's a great defensive forward, he can hustle, and he's got a good offensive mind here and there. However, we've currently got 17 of a max of 23 roster spots filled. Add to that 2-3 D-men, and a backup, and we've got between 2 and 3 available roster spots for forwards. Jan Mursak and Corey Emmerton are both due to make the big club, and are out of waiver exemptions. That means they'd just be free to a good home if they don't make it full time. Assume one of the two to be a staple in the big club next year. That leaves 1-2 spots open. That could even be zero open spots if Kenny decides to carry 8 D-men, as he very well may. If we sign Eaves and keep him, we either have to let Mursak and Emmerton go, or miss out on the opportunity to sign a top 6 forward. True - we could trade ValFil or Hudler, but I'd expect that if there were much league interest, Happy would have been gone before the draft. 

I know, the above analysis could also apply to Draper. But, for the reasons described above, I'd rather have old man beard than Mr. Eaves any day. Eaves has more-or-less maxed out his potential, and his ability to mentor young kids like Helm, Abby, or even Mursak or Emmerton, is limited compared to Drapes. Also, loyalty is one of those funny intangibles that helps sell our team to free agents, and Draper's earned it if we can afford it. Plus, it'll be that much more hilarious to all the "ha ha the Wings are old" Lamberts of the world, when we win #12 with Drapes.

So, to me, as good as Eaves has been for us, we'd lose too much by retaining him. I say wait and see. Look on the market, see what's available. If there's a free agent to be had with more offensive upside, sign him. If not, maybe give Patty another go round. 

Word is, Eaves has been offered a contract. Hopefully Kenny's got it in his mind to sign him and try and trade him or cut him loose if nothing else shakes out. Sorry Eavesy, we'll miss you and your giant dog.
  • Drew "Salt 'N' Peppa" Miller
As I see it, Miller is a poor man's Eaves. He's good, don't get me wrong. But he's a fourth line role player that is relatively easily replaced. Unless some crazy trade happens where it frees up our roster space, I just don't see any room for Miller. If there is any space at all, it'd come behind both Draper and Eaves. Again, sounds like he's been offered a contract, but I'm really hoping it's for a sign-and-trade. Otherwise, it could signal that for the first time in a long time, Kenny's OK going into the season with a whole heaping load of cap space. While that could be just fine come deadline time... I'm not so thrilled with the idea of a Wings team not doing everything possible to win. I'd like that top 6 forward. Unfortunately, Miller stands in the way. Hopefully his rejuvenation here is enough to convince another team to toss some dollars his way. 

And those are the free agents. I'll likely blow important things off in the near future to discuss some of the UFAs on the market because, well... why not? 

...is it October yet?

23 June 2011

Defending The Defenseman: Detractors of perfection abound

One more to Bobby Orr.

Captain Norris himself, the Perfect Human, took home his 7th Norris Trophy last night at the otherwise absurdly stupid NHL awards. Yes, it was a show that featured Jay Mohr pretending to like hockey and publicly attaching his mouth to gary bettman's turd cutter in what could only have been a desperate play for a continuation of his only gainful source of employment. It featured mind-numbing mispronounciations of the names of NHL legends - Marten Saint Lewis, Nicholas Linstrom, and, yes, Stevie Whyszerman. It featured performances from artists like Dirks Bentley - causing fans to ask "What is exactly bettman's fascination with everything south of the Mason-Dixon" - and the ever-strange and talentless Far East Movement, causing fans to ask, "Who?"

Yes, like anything else the NHL has ever done, the 2011 NHL Awards were handled with gross incompetence with little to no consideration for the desires of its audience. Watching, we all felt very comfortable in the consistency of it all. But despite the circus that was the show itself, one outstanding result sprang forth:
  • Nick Lidstrom was recognized as the most outstanding defenseman in the league.
Whatdya know? The Professional Hockey Writers got it right! Lidstrom pulled down his 7th trophy, bringing him only behind the venerable Bobby Orr for most Norri won.

And almost immediately - assholes across the nation started doing everything they could to diminish the accomplishment.
Lidstrom’s victory smells of name recognition, emphasizing points far too much for a defenseman and a general deficit in defensive stats that don’t require an accounting degree, though.
O'Brien via NBC's Pro Hockey Talk (Surprise! Incompetence at NBC!) 
Or, of course:
Can't argue with Daniel Sedin and Corey Perry splitting the Ted Lindsay and Hart awards. Can't have a beef with Tim Thomas taking the Vezina. Can't disagree with Disco Danny Bylsma taking home the Jack Adams, or Marty St. Louis winning the Lady Byng. Can't get mad over Jeff Skinner walking away with the Calder.

But Nicklas Lidstrom won the Norris, as a result of what I can only imagine was most people's teary-eyed nostalgia. He finished the year a minus-2, but as we all have been told many, many times, plus-minus is a bogus stat (trademark and copyright everyone for whom a player's plus-minus doesn't fit their argument about his good- or badness) and should therefore be discounted.
Ryan "Waaaaaaaaah, Wings Fans are Meanies!" Lambert - via Puck Daddy 
Absurd. Seriously. Just, absurd. It's one thing to think (and be wrong) that another candidate should have edged out Norris Nick for the award. Hell, the votes were damn close. But to actually suggest that it's just unthinkable that a guy like Lidstrom could win the Norris - well... that's just stupid.

Second in the league in points by a defenseman, with sixty-friggin-two. Tops on the team in ice-time, despite being 40 years old. An outlet pass that is not only lethal, but completely enables the team to play it's style of puck-possession hockey. Shutting down the opponents on odd man rushes left and right, often because he was stuck playing next to a guy like Jonny "oh yeah, I play defense now..." Ericsson. Thats right - all that production and all that excellence, often skating next to the most Lebda-esque defensemen since... well, Brett Lebda.

And that's not even the biggest piece of the puzzle:
OK, if you want justification, how about this: Quality of competition. Behind The Net's stats on how tough the talent is on the other side of the ice reveals that Lidstrom (at 0.128) faced better competition this season than any other defenseman in the League with at least 50 games played. It's not even close: Brent Seabrook was second at a 0.117 rating; Weber and Chara don't rank in the top 15.
Wysh @ Puck Daddy, 25 Apr 11 
I mean, I guess I could see how a guy like Lambert could miss that. I'm sure he's too busy making Chris Osgood voodoo dolls to, uh, read the site he contributes to.

For the record, Chara ranks 29th and Weber comes in at 40th on that list. So how about we put away this whole, "Nick Lidstrom only won because he tricked people into thinking he was going to retire," thing. That's not how this works. Lidstrom won because he was the best defenseman in this league. Period.

And hell, while we're at it.

The Norris nod isn't the only thing that has people bitching. This gripe, however, doesn't come from outsiders who don't watch enough of Lidstrom's play to truly understand his dominance. Nay - this comes from those within our own fanbase who seemingly cannot be pleased.

On Monday, 7 Time Norris Winning Nick Lidstrom announced that he'd rejoin the team for another year. Right thinking Wings fans rejoiced. Recognizing that the captain's return likely meant the difference between 20 or 21 consecutive playoff appearances, we breathed a collective sigh of relief and found ourselves oddly aroused. However, for some, happiness is just not an option.

As soon as it was announced that Nick was going to earn the same $6.2m that he had in his last contract, the detractors spoke up. Now, when I say detractors, I'm not using the Webster's Dictionary version of detractors, meaning "those who speak ill of; bellittle." Rather, I'm using a more colloquial definition, that being "dickwad assholes; fuckfaces."

These folks immediately declared that Nick Lidstrom was a selfish asshole, only in it for the money. They cried that he clearly didn't care about the team, and that by demanding so much money he was handicapping our ability to truly contend. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Unfortunately, while there was an abundance of wailing and gnashing, there wasn't much thinking going on.

I can only assume that many of these folks were really hoping that Lidstrom would pull a Stevie and ask for just over a million so we could really contend. Unfortunately, these people didn't realize the cold hard truth of it - he did.

See, following The Captain's lead doesn't mean taking next to damn nothing to play. It means taking significantly less than your value for the benefit of the team. That's exactly what Nick did. Keeping in mind that at the time Stevie took that huge cut, he was coming off of a serious eye injury, had horrible knee problems, and was essentially a third line center. That's not to disparage the man's contributions to the team - he was still MVP because he's Stevie Yzerman, damnit. But, consider that the huge cut wasn't as huge as it is made out to be by some of the whiners.

On the open market, is there anyone who really thinks Lidstrom couldn't have found an $8m contract? Hell, maybe more, coming from a team who wants to sell some seats, bring fans in. I dunno, a new franchise that might be looking for some veteran leadership, cup-winning experience, blue line dominance, and a bit of a gimmicky flare? Maybe some team that's just moved north? Just saying, if he wanted it, Lids could have had at least $8m. Hell, he likely could have gotten that here had he demanded it. That means, in reality, he's taken at least a near $2m pay cut to stick around. That's a lot of coin.

Oh, but what the hell does he need it for? He's made money! He should just play for the minimum because, damnit, if he cared about the team, that's what he'd do!

Nope. First, consider that even as much as a hundred thousand dollars is a fuckton of cheddar. Next, consider that as much as you play pretend, and figure if you were a sports star for your favorite team, you'd take no money just to help them out - you're wrong. These guys put themselves through a grueling 82 game regular season, and a harsh playoffs to boot. They bust their asses during the offseason, sacrifice the ability to see their families most of the year, and risk serious injury night in and night out. All the while, its their efforts that generate ticket sales and ad revenue. To expect the most valuable player on the entire team to just forego getting paid because he's already got money is, absolutely, objectively, stupid. It's selfish. It's ignorant. Period.

It sure is nice, though, to have a guy like Lidstrom who is willing to take significantly less than his value to play. Chara (you know, the guy that didn't win the Norris this year), is going to pull down $8.5m next year. Duncan Keith, last year's Norris winner: $8m. Brent Seabrook, never even nominated: $7m with a $2m bonus. So if you'd really like to stick to your guns with the whole, "what a selfish dick" line:

  • Piss off.
Really. Do it. Get out.

But! Just think of what we could have done if he took an even smaller salary. Shouldn't he want to guarantee a win!?


Here's a challenge: you find me a scenario in which Nick Lidstrom's $6.2 million dollars prevents Kenny from doing absolutely anything reasonable, and I will let you tattoo whatever the hell you want on my forehead. Ready, go.

While we're waiting, how about a quick illustration of why that's really fucking dumb:

Assume one of either Emmerton or Mursak makes the big club. I'm sticking with Mursak. That means the Wings will have 16 spots filled, and - with the cap reaching $64m next year - $16.4m to play with. The team needs a top 4 D-man, a bottom 4 D-man, a backup netminder, a bottom 6 forward, and, ideally, a top 6 forward.

So, how about we go ahead and allocate $8m to find those two blue liners. That should be more than enough, right? Plug in $1.5m for a backup - again, more than enough. And hey, look at that

  • We've still got seven million dollars to sign two forwards. 
Now go ahead and take a look at the upcoming free agents list. The only damn one of them that we wouldn't be able to snag if we really really wanted is Brad Richards. And, considering the dude is going to want a payday and a several year term, we wouldn't be in the market for him anyway.

So, surprise! Lidstrom's contract doesn't hurt the team at all. The man took a pay cut, a massive pay cut, in a monster year featuring a huge rebound from the year prior. His presence will only make this team better, and his contract doesn't even come close to handcuffing the front office.

He's the leader on the ice, on the bench, and in the locker room. He's a mentor for guys like Kindl and possibly this year Smith. His outlet pass facilitates the Red Wings style of play. His shut down defense is on display night in and night out against the other teams' best players - usually all 20 somethings. He embarrasses NHLers left and right and quarterbacks the powerplay like nobody else in the business. He still dominates the back end in terms of point production. He's a workhorse, and though he's 41, his durability is the stuff that makes guys 15 years his junior look like Wilford Brimley on skates. He's second all time in post season games played AND playoff points by a defenseman (first all time in playoff points by a defenseman who didn't play with Wayne Gretzky). He's got 1,108 career points and is a career plus 429. His 7 Norris Trophies makes him second only to Bobby Orr, and there is no question that he has had the greatest career of any NHL blue liner, ever.


So bitch all you want, but the facts are in. You're wrong.

...is it October yet?

20 June 2011

Another Lap: And in the streets, they rejoiced

As opposed to whatever they do in Vancouver, I guess.

Did you hear those angels singing Handel's Messiah? How about those heavenly trumpeters heralding a great triumph? Did you feel the earth shake like it only does when a thousand unicorns simultaneously reach climax?

He's back, bitches.

He gave us a bit of a scare there. True, we all kind of knew deep down inside that our fearless leader still had plenty in the tank and a desire to round out that fist full of rings he's pushing for. But that doesn't mean that we weren't all a bit worried.

OK... maybe "a bit" is putting it lightly. Perhaps some of us were shaken to our very core at the mere thought of what this team would be like without the best defenseman in the league. Perhaps we got a little carried away once or twice. Perhaps one or two of us found ourselves naked on the roof of a police station, brandishing a rusty shiv and chanting in tongues. You know... not to be specific or anything. 

Still, deep down, we knew this had to happen. 20 years of making the playoffs? Doesn't need to stop there now. The legend will return and hot damn this is going to be an interesting summer.

The cap is expected to hit $64 mil for next year. Rafalski's $6m is coming off our roster, and while it'd be near impossible to replace him when he's healthy, he hasn't been. That $6m can go a long damn way. We've got options left and right, and at the helm is the best damn GM in sports. New coaches are coming in - so hopefully that whole player apathy thing fades away and we fix the underperforming clusterfuck that has been our special teams and defense. And the cherry on top is that we'll have the best D-Man in sports and a perfect damn human to lead the team on the ice.

All that adds right up to a giant bucket of hell yeah. I cannot wait to see what Kenny does this summer, and I cannot fucking wait for October.

Lidstrom returns in June 2011. Lord Stanley returns in June 2012. Fucking. Right. Doggy.

...is it October yet?