After Steve Yzerman’s first draft as Detroit’s General Manager, you started to hear a theme. All of this year’s picks had “high compete levels”. Starting with Moritz Seider at 6th overall, Yzerman and company put their signatures on this team’s future.
This feels oddly Babcockian in nature, as that is still the drum he beats in Toronto. On a Maple Leafs team with an embarrassment of talent, he still wants guys to “earn it” and will play his worker bees far more than preferable to fans and media alike. In Detroit, Babcock loved the grinders. So do the fans. Kris Draper can still demolish guys at the gym. The “grind line” is still beloved, and appears in various commercials and events. A bit of the NHL version of Comicon, these guys are royalty in Detroit.
The Red Wings have chronicled Givani Smith https://www.nhl.com/news/c-308485606
An intense player in the AHL, but not filling up the net. In 64 games last year he had 6 goals and 7 assists. It’s a fascinating read in journal form, especially when you look at the other names on the list. As i would expect, Luke Glendening is noted as always being at the gym. He’s a go to for young guys to work out with. Darren Helm as well. The distinct voice of Kurt Russel as Herb Brooks seems to ring out, “you don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone”.
This is not a slam. Grinders and penalty killers have to outwork everyone on the team and do it with about 8 minutes of ice time. There is value in a depth player who embraces and tries to thrive in that role. Glendening takes a lot of flack, but he has a career faceoff percentage of 53.9% and was 58% in 2018. Most of his face offs are defensive zone so those are pretty important numbers. He does his job thanklessly and gets off the ice. Love that kid.
The surprise in all of this is Dylan Larkin. As a rookie he was told to workout with Glendening. Luke immediately said, “there’s nothing i can teach this guy”. Larkin’s short tenure has seen him take guys under his wing and lead the way. This is new. Datsyuk was an all world center, but he was a bit of a loner. Larkin has guys staying with him and seems to be involved in all the conditioning and summer training. He is intense. He’s Detroit’s best and brightest and he’s in the trenches.
Herb Brooks would be correct in reminding Detroit’s rebuilding team that they don’t have enough pure and raw talent to make it work. Especially not in a division with Toronto and Tampa Bay. But in a takeaway from the days of Babcock, “hard work is a talent too”. He loved saying stuff like that. Anthony Mantha worked hard on his skating and it shows. He needs to be tougher to find his shots. Larkin and Athanasiou are fast, really fast. But, the team needs them to make everyone else better. Breakaways are fun to watch, but they only take 5 seconds. Both of those guys hit 30 goals and it felt like “the right way”. Rasmussen, Bertuzzi, Svechnikov, Veleno, Cholowski, McIsaac are all exciting names for us. They need to work. Svech needs a healthy season. This team needs to get better in a division that could embarrass them night in and night out.
I don’t like our new reality, but I’ve come to accept it. We are surrounded by teams that we need to outwork and out compete and many nights that won’t be enough. However, wins are going to mean a lot more. This team can bond while battling. If I could play Patrice Bergeron on a loop for our centers I would. He makes everyone better. And, he makes everyone battle.
I like our new culture. Guys hang around the city and work. A throwback to the days of Micheal Keaton and the movie “gung ho”. That feeling that you’ve got a hard hat and sparks are flying everywhere while you try to turn steel into something useable. (Yes, cars used to be made of steel. They weren’t safe but it was way more fun to ram into snow banks). I believe we’ve found our new leadership and have some stability. We just need them to be the right balance of confident and angry to get a team out of it.