The Red Wings have closed out the regular season with a record of 4-3-1, which of course doesn’t mean much, but it’s the best way I could think of to start this blog.
The Wings roster was rounded out this past week with the signing of Fabian Brunnstrom and Cory Emmerton to their respective posts, filling the holes that were left from Kris Draper and Mike Modano. I watched these two play and I’m quite excited about Brunnstrom’s potential. Particularly in the 4-3 loss to the Blackhawks on September 28. This guy looks real capable of reading the play offensively, and getting to the open zone. He’s got a real grasp of my favorite rules for young players (courtesy of Eddie Olczyk), “Head up, stick down, go to the net…and good things will happen.” It’s certainly true in the Swede’s case.
While not quite as outstanding in his peformances, Cory Emmerton proved a solid center and definitely someone the wings can “invest” in and grow into a franchise player. The young Canadian had decent performance in the face-off circle and is showing good speed playing on the fourth line with Drew Miller.
Another hot button issue is the suspension to Brendan Smith for the head shot he gave to Ben Smith (also in the 9/28 Hawks game). Smith was suspended for the remainder of the preseason and 5 NHL games. The fun part is that Smith has been sent down to Grand Rapids…in the AHL. His suspension will take effect whenever it is that he gets called up to the Big Leagues, which is kind of interesting. Especially if it takes 2 years for that. The sticking point for lot of people is not so much the suspension itself (it was clearly a head shot, and Brendan Shanahan is clearly getting out in front of this early by cracking down) but Brendan Smith’s new tag of “repeat offender.” This kid’s barely coming out of the AHL and already he’s got a rap sheet with the NHL cops. Let’s say in two years’ time, Smith is signed onto the NHL roster (and serves his five games) and somewhere down the line, lays another head shot. By Shanny’s rules, he’ll serve an extra harsh sentence simply because he’s a repeat offender, despite the potential for a completely clean slate in the interim.
Personally, I like the idea of punishing repeat offender’s with a bit more than others, but I think that tag should be removed after a certain period of time. Accidents do happen, and they happen to good guys as well as the goons, and head hits can certainly be accidental. I think the League should institute some kind of amnesty policy whereupon, some predetermined period without incident is rewarded with a return to good standing.
So after all that, where do the Wings stand? I think the Wings still have as much power and ability as they ever did. While Brian Rafalski is irreplaceable (common knowledge) Kenny Holland has made an admirable choice in bringing in Ian White. White’s a young, hard hitting defenseman with a great shot from the point. He’ll definitely be an asset to the Wings’ power play. Mike Commodore too, has shown that he can throw his weight around, and keep the puck moving.
The swing point is going to be the European forwards. Johan Franzen, Valteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler. These guys all had sub-par performances last year. By some accounts, had these guys been on their projected games last year, would have added another 40 goals and 60 assists. Hudler’s heading into a contract year and he’ll have to pull out all the stops if he wants to prove that he can continue to play for the Red and White. Holland will have no problem letting him and his $2.875 million dollar contract go, and bringing in another young scorer. Franzen and Filppula are a bit more established within the organization, which means mush is expected of them. There’s been talk of Filppula being on the trade block as well, so he will have to pick up his game as well. I believe Filppula should stay. He’s very familiar with the style of play and I think the Wings would be sore to see him go. I’m not sure you can replace him that easily. The numbers may be better, but the Finn naturally “meshes” with the club.
How about the situation in net? Every Detroiter’s favorite goat. I’ve got nothing bad to say about Jimmy Howard. I do agree with everyone that he’s not a superstar-all-the-way-Hall-of-Fame-next-year goalie. But he’s good…real good. And remember, the successful goalie lets in fewer shots than the other team’s goalie. That’s it…the lowest common denominator. Howard excels at that, and he’s also proved that when the forwards are having an off night, he steps up his game. The addition of Ty Conklin in the backup position will pay dividends as well. Conklin is a career backup goalie, but will have no problem starting in at least 20-25 games this season, giving Howard some much needed rest. Having served in the Winged Wheel before, he’s very familiar with the style of play and can read the puck well. In hindsight, the mutterings late last season about the addition of Evgeni Nabokov would probably been detrimental to the goaltending situation. Nabokov is a great goalie, and would definitely challenge Howard for the top spot, a spot that Jimmy has just settled in to. The two of them battling for what each of them thinks is rightfully theirs would probably blow up in their faces. With Conklin, there’s a definite hierarchy, and everyone knows it.
The Red Wings have all the chance in the world to bring the Stanley Cup back to Hockeytown. They have the ingredients in all areas to excel. Will they? Probably not. As good as they are and as skilled as they are, bringing in younger, quicker talent, other teams out there are just as hungry. It’s almost a question or probability…coin tosses, really. The Red Wings are just not the clear front-runner. They’ll need to stay healthy and they’ll need contributions from everyone. Several of the Wings sort of “took the year off” last season. Vacation’s over…back to work.