Friday, August 6, 2010

The Greatest Red Wings of MY Time - #11

I saw Inception last night, and let me tell you: it was freaking amazing. I'm not a movie critic, so I won't get into my evalution of it too much. Let me just say that after seeing it once, it is now one of my top-5 movies of all time. Awesome.

Not much else is going on in Red Wing Nation today. I did get a nice text message from the Red Wings telling me that Modano was on a plane headed towards Detroit. While I am happy we signed him, I don't need minute-by-minute updates on his whereabouts. I'm looking forward to seeing the press conference and watching him don the Winged Wheel. He has said he's going to wear #90, the first Red Wing to do so in their history. Personally, I'm just glad the whole saga is finally over, and once Abby is signed, we can start to think about training camp, lines, and how the Wings will do this season (I smell division championship, but we'll talk more about that later).

We continue our series today of the Greatest Red Wings of My Time, and #11 marks the first time that a true lifer has made the list (Draper technically is not, even though he feels like one).

Johan Franzen

Pertinent Stats: 319 GP, 93 G, 71 A, 164 P, +58
Awards: None
Stanley Cups: 1 - 2008

The best part about getting into the guys that have been with the Wings for their entire careers is that I no longer have to go to the sites and "add" up their stats for their tenure on the team. Franzen was drafted by the Wings in 2004 in the 3rd round, but in true Red Wing-fashion, didn't crack the lineup until 2005-06 after the lockout. He didn't put up great numbers, and to be honest, I don't remember much about him in his rookie year. However, one notable thing did occur that season: Steve Yzerman called him "The Mule" because of his work ethic and his ability to "carry the load", and the nickname has stuck ever since. Unlike the current set of Wings, Franzen's nickname has nothing to do with his actual name.

Franzen's career with the Wings is still a work in progress, but there's no question that he has made his mark on this franchise. In 2007, he scored the series-winning goal in double OT against the Flames. That series win was vitally important for the Wings, because it was the first playoff season without Yzerman, and I think advancing gave the team the confidence that they could be successful without The Captain. While Franzen did not score with any regularity in that playoff year, besides Homer's OT goal in Game 4 against the Sharks, that was easily the most important goal of that playoff season.

They were unable to get past the Ducks that season, and in 2007-08 Franzen seemed to be destined to just plod along, contributing his 10-15 goals a year. Then Holmstrom went down with an injury, and Franzen was promoted to the top line with Datsyuk and Zetterberg. The streak that he went on after that was unlike anything I've ever seen. He scored 15 goals in the last 16 regular season games, and helped the Wings cruise to yet another President's Trophy. For the second straight season he scored an OT goal, giving the Wings a win in Game 5 against the Predators after they had blown a 2-0 series lead and a 1-0 lead with less than a minute left in the game. The Wings won the series and it was off to a series against the hated Avalanche. I think in boxscores of the future, that series should read like this:

Franzen: 4 - Avalanche: 0

I have never seen anyone dominate a series like he did. He scored 9 goals in 4 games in that series. That was a Red Wing record, breaking Howe's record of 8 - that he scored in 7 games. He had 2 hat tricks in that series, and scored a goal in every game. To put it in perspective: he scored as many goals as the Avs did. Ridiculous. By the end of that playoff season, he ended up tying the Red Wing record for goals in a post-season with Henrik Zetterberg at 13.

In 2008-09, he racked up career totals in goals, assists and points. For the second straight year he also had over 10 goals in the playoffs, of which 4 were GWG. That's the thing about Franzen that gets me: of his 35 career playoff goals, 11 of them are game winners, including 2 in OT. In the regular season, he's got 21 GWG out of his 93 goals. Overall, combining his regular season and playoff stats, exactly 25% of his goals have won a game for the Red Wings. If "Mule" ever falls out of style, I suggest we rename Franzen "Mr Clutch". Unfortunately, Franzen suffered a torn ACL in the third game of the year last (fucking dirty Blackhawk assholes), and he only played in 27 games. However, he racked up 21 points, and once again had a really good post-season, scoring 18 points in 12 games. Nothing would top his 4 goals in Game 4 against the Sharks, including 3 in less than 3 and a half minutes. It just wasn't enough to get them past the Sharks, though.

The thing about Franzen for me is that despite his relative inexperience, he is a major force for the current Red Wings. On any other team he would be on the top line, but when you've got a line like Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Holmstrom, guys like Franzen get "relegated" to second line duty. He has seen time on the first line when Zetterberg and Datsyuk are split up, but when push comes to shove they get put back together. I would argue that he is the best pure goal-scorer on the Wings at the moment, and his injury was easily the biggest blow to the team last year. Having lost Hossa, Samuelsson, Hudler and.....Kopecky in the offseason, not having Franzen's 30 goals in the lineup really hurt the team. So did the rest of the injuries, but that's another story altogether. But it's not just the goal scoring; his defense is strong, and he is not afraid to throw his body around and mix it up. He's not a little guy (6'3", 222 lbs), but unlike some other players *cough*Bertuzzi*cough, he uses his size as part of his game. To go with that size are some really soft hands; witness the goal in 2008 against the Penguins in Game 3. Ultimately, Franzen gets on this list because his accomplishments are a little fresher in my mind, so he seems "better". He also gets on here at this spot due to potential more than anyone else. In my mind, what separates Franzen from guys earlier on this list is that he was instrumental in bringing a Stanley Cup to Detroit; I seriously considered him for the Conn Smythe in 2008. He's the whole package: big, strong, skilled, and most importantly, smart. Had I made this list a few years from now, he would probably crack the Top-10. Instead, he's going to fall just outside of it at #11 of the Greatest Red Wings of My Time. And as a little bonus, I leave you with my favourite Johan Franzen moment. It's not much, but it's a moment that will make Mule a fan-favourite forever:

Fuck you Kane.


  1. Love The Mule. Glad you mentioned his OT winner against the Flames. That was my first lasting memory of Franzen. My god, he was a man possessed in the '08 playoffs. That Avs series was something we'll probably never see again from a player. Honestly, I'm expecting 50 goals from Mule this year. First Wing to win the Rocket Richard trophy sounds good to me.

  2. God, wouldn't that be something? We haven't seen a Wing score 50 in a long time. I'd love for someone other than Pavel Datsyuk or Nicklas Lidstrom to win an NHL award. Maybe Howard for Vezina?

  3. Graham-

    Glad I didn't ruin the movie for you! Reading all the Panther's blogs would've been torture even if they only have what....3?

    Franzen is a complete beast and I know were all expecting a very productive and healthy season for this man. It's not unrealistic to hope for a 30-40 goal season. Its such a rare thing to have a great set of hands along with that sniping ability. Thank god he's a lifer and Kenny saw that early on in his crystal ball.