Well, Kenny went out yesterday and signed that veteran 6th defenseman we've been talking about, and damn if he didn't shock us all when the player that he picked up turned out to be Ruslan Salei. There was a lot of chatter on A2Y and on Twitter about what he can bring to the team, but I think for $750K, it's a good deal. He's one of the tougher SOBs out there, and brings that physicality to the ice every night. He's got a propensity for taking stupid penalties at inopportune times, but my gut tells me that under Babcock, that won't happen as often or else he'll find himself watching more than playing.
The big news of the day was the Kovalchuk issue, with the arbitrator ruling in favour of the NHL and voiding the contract on the basis that it was not legal under the CBA. Now, let's be clear here that Kovy's contract was indeed a farce; if ever there was a contract signed that was designed to significantly lower his cap hit (and ultimately circumvent the cap), it was this one. However, the thing that bothers me is that the language in the CBA is so vague, that the NHL really can pick and choose which contracts to look at and which ones to say are fine. Now, this type of contract is rare in the NHL, so it's not like we are dealing with a half or even a quarter of the players being affected. But, this is going to affect the players going forward, because with this ruling, the NHL now has a trump card in their pocket when dealing with these types of contracts. The arbitrator has essentially set a precedent for the type of contract that is not legal, and it will be interesting to see what Kovy signs for now, and who he signs with. The other potentially disturbing thought is that the NHL has admitted they may go back and review previous contracts. Personally, I don't see how they can do this, as they have already signed off on these contracts being good, especially Hossa's, because they already went through the whole questioning process last year when he signed it. I'm not concerned that other contracts are going to be rescinded. I'm also not pressing the panic button when it comes to the potential labour strife that this could cause; I'd like to see how future contracts are handled before I start to worry about that. Plus, there are other issues that are going to cause problems (revenue sharing, escrow, etc) before this does. The optimist in me says that they will work everything out; the pessimist in me tells the optimist to get my head out of my ass.
On to happier topics. We move further into our top-10 this morning with another lifer at #9.
Pertinent Stats: 879 GP, 214 G, 255 A, 469 P, +43, 102 PPG
Stanley Cups: 4 - 1997, 1998, 2002, 2008
Ah, Homer. I think if you were to look up the definition of "effective but not pretty", his picture would be right beside it. He was drafted 257th overall by the Wings in 1994, and like every other player in the last 20 years, he didn't crack the lineup for a couple of years, starting with the 1996-97 season. Over the course of his first 6 seasons, Homer wasn't racking up huge point totals, but he was showing himself to be an effective PP guy, registering 28 of his 61 goals on the PP during that time. However, in the last 7 seasons, his goal totals have gone up, scoring at least 20 in 5 of those 7 seasons, with his career high of 30 coming in 2006-07. Coincidentally, that happened to be the first year that he played full time with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, and it was pretty obvious that Mike Babcock discovered he had a winning combination on his hands.
While Holmstrom has never been a big-time point producer in the regular season, his style of play is perfectly suited for the playoffs. In his 102 playoff games with the Red Wings, he has amassed 42 goals and 46 assists, playing at an almost-a-point-per-game pace. Along the way he has helped the Wings win 4 Stanley Cups, with his best playoff performance coming in 1998 when he totaled 19 points in 22 games. As I was writing this, I was trying to remember or come up with a definitive Homer "moment"; a lot of the other players have scored a goal or made a play that stood up on its own. I'll admit that I had trouble with Homer, with the best I can come up with being the pass he made to Larionov to score the winner in triple OT in 2002. But I think this best sums up Homer's contributions to the team: he's never been at the forefront or been the star, but without him the Wings wouldn't have succeeded to the extent they do.
Homer has 2 main skills: his ability to completely mangle English to the point that you think he's speaking a made-up language; and his presence in front of the net. When I spoke of Dino earlier in this series, I mentioned that I believe that he paved the way for Holmstrom to be an effective member of the team. Homer is not a particularly good skater, and isn't great handling the puck. However, what he can do is park himself in front of the crease, get in the goalie's way, and create havoc for the other team's defense. This is especially true on the power play, because by setting up in front of the net, he draws a defenseman to him, which opens up room for the skill guys (Datsyuk, Zetterberg) to move and create offense. One skill that is understated on Homer is his hand-eye coordination: I can't think of another player who can tip in pucks from anywhere on the ice with as much regularity as he can. He has become so adept at his job, the space in front of the net is now affectionately known as "Homer's Office".
As you would expect, Homer's style of play has not made him many friends around the league. There are those who believe that he is nothing but a no-talent pest who picks up garbarge goals. To them I say: someone's gotta score them. Look, when I played, I scored more than my fair share of goals that were off rebounds or deflections in front of the net. You know what? They are worth just as many goals as the beautiful end-to-end rushes or spectacular dekes. And on the scoresheet the next day, it doesn't say how the goal was scored, just who scored it. I'll admit that Homer does play to get under the skin of his opponents; but that's his job, and he is very good at it. There are others who believe that what Homer does is illegal, and these people say that he should be called for goalie intereference on every single play. The rub for us is that while there are times he gets away with some borderline play, there have been other times where a goal has been called back that shouldn't have, solely due to his reputation. The most blatant one I can think of off the top of my head is the no-goal in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final in 2008 against the Stars. Like any pest in the NHL, Homer's reputation sometimes works against him, and God Forbid that we Red Wing fans complain about it, because then we just get accused of whining or being conspiracy theorists. But, it is what it is, and Homer's never complained in the media about the way he has been treated, and the Red Wings obviously understand that with the good he brings, sometimes a call will go against him.
Tomas Holmstrom has never been the most talented player on the team, nor has he ever been a "star". However, he works extremely hard, and is the best in the NHL at what he does, which is to get in a goalie's face and prevent him (legally) from doing his job. While the rest of the league seems to universally loathe him, he's a fan favourite here in Detroit, and after the extension he signed this summer, goalies will have 2 more years to stare at that giant ass while they try to stop shots from the likes of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lidstrom. While Homer's importance is understated in the regular season, the playoffs are what it's all about, and he has consistently stepped up his game and contributed when he was needed most. For 13 years he has been making life miserable for the Red Wings' opponents, and we love him for it. That's why he gets the #9 spot on the list of Greatest Red Wings of My Time.