Monday, August 30, 2010

Know Thy Enemy - A Season Preview Series

Welcome back everybody. Some big changes have occurred in the Wings' blogosphere, and if you're not aware of them, shame on you.

First, Kyle over at Babcock's Death Stare got an internship with the Grand Rapids Griffins, and he has decided that between work there and school, he won't have time to devote to his blog, so he's shutting it down for the season. I only recently discovered Kyle, but his work was incredible, especially his knowledge of the prospects. That familiarity will serve him well in his new gig, and we wish him well in his endeavours with the Baby Wings (not sure if anyone calls them that or not, but I'm going to).

Next, there are a few new additions to some of the Wing blogs out there. Drew and Chris over at Nightmare on Helm Street have added Sullyosis, a Wing fan who lives out in the desert of Arizona. He's going to be doing a weekly article on Saturdays, but that may expand, and he's going to be talking about a wide variety of topics. Head on over and say hello and welcome him.

Finally, the big news occurred over at The Production Line, where they got some fancy new digs and welcomed a new member, Chris Hollis, formerly of Motown Wings. Chris is one of the best writers out there, and his addition makes a very good blog even better. They are going to be churning out some great stuff this season (as will everyone else), and I am really looking forward to being around for the whole year.

So it appears that all of the big Wing blogs have multiple writers (multiple good writers, I should add). I get it. I really do. So, since I have an overwhelming desire to fit in and be part of the "in" crowd, I guess I need to get a co-writer. Who's it going to be? Hell if I know. Like I said, I just need to fit in. I guess you'll need to stay tuned.

We're going to move forward today, as it's preview season. Rather than focus on the Wings right now, I thought it might be a little fun to scope out the opposition. Normally when I am watching NHL Preview shows, I fast forward until the panel gets to the Wings, and after enduring the inevitable "the Wings are getting old" and "this is the year the Wings come down to Earth" comments, I turn it off, not bothering to worry myself about the rest of the league. However, for some reason, this year is different. There are many different teams who can say they have a legitimate shot at winning their conference, and even more teams who believe they are bona fide playoff teams, and as the Flyers and Canadiens showed us last year, all you have to do is get in and you've got a shot at making some noise. So, 30 teams, 1 goal. We'll get to the Wings later, but let's start with a division rival. A few notes first: I looked at their roster as of the date of the writing, so if there are subsequent moves, I will have to update the post. I am going to use the TSN Off-season game plan as the bulk of my research, because they really detailed what each team needed to do, but I will use other sources such as blogs and team websites for additional information. Obviously, I will be more familiar with some teams over others, but I figured if I can understand each of the teams the Wings will be playing this year, it will be that much more meaningful when the Wings beat them all and end up on top. Let's get this ball rolling.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Additions:
Ethan Moreau; Nikita Filatov
Departures: Nathan Paetsch

A year after making the playoffs for the first time in their history, the Blue Jackets promptly came crashing back to Earth in 2009-10, finishing 14th in the Western Conference and once again falling to dead last in the Central Division. Some might have thought that would mean the BJs would clean house, but they are staying the course with their youth movement. The off-season did not see a lot of changes in Columbus, with only 1 player of note leaving (Nathan Paetsch, who only played 10 games last year), and 2 players coming in. Let's take a look at the Jackets.

Offense - The Blue Jackets' offense revolves around Rick Nash, my current favourite non-Red Wing player in the NHL. Seriously, I have a bit of a man-crush on him, and it's not just because he and I are from the same hometown. He can do it all; he can score one of the prettiest goals you'll ever see, or he could just use his big frame to barrel to the net and score an ugly goal, then beat you up after for complaining about its lack of beauty. Beyond that, the BJs are going to have to get some contributions from guys that really underachieved last season. Guys like Derek Dorsett and Derrick Broussard are going to be expected to pick up the load, as they both had extremely disappointing 2009-10 seasons. The BJs will also be looking for RJ Umberger and Antoine Vermette to follow up decent years last year with comparable or better numbers this year. The BJs brought in Ethan Moreau from the Oilers, who had really fallen apart after being a catalyst in the 2006 upset of the Wings. He's being brought in to try and jumpstart his career and add a little veteran presence to a forward corps whose oldest player is 34. However, the big move for the Jackets this season was bringing back Nikita Filatov. Filatov is a bit of an enigma, but he is known to have some great offensive talent. However, last year he fell into disfavour with Ken Hitchcock, and only played 13 games for the BJs before bolting the team to play in the KHL. There's no question that he's got the talent to play in the NHL, but it still remains to be seen whether he has the desire to learn the nuances of the game to keep his job. His return should bolster an offense that scored only 214 goals last season, 21st in the NHL. Ultimately, the Jackets need someone other than Nash to provide consistent offense, because without a legitimate secondary scoring presence, other teams can just key on the first line.

Defense - Absolutely nothing changed on defense for the Blue Jackets from last season, minus the departure of little-used Nathan Paetsch. The Jackets are led on defense by Mike Commodore and Rusty Klesla, but are looking for big things from Anton Stralman and Fedor Tyutin this season. The BJs' defense is pretty no-name and non-descript, and truthfully, I didn't see much there. However, they have one player with one of the great unintentionally-sounding dirty names in Grant Clitsome, and together with Marc Methot they form a pair of 25 year old defensemen that the Jackets are hoping can step up. Team defense was definitely an issue, as they finished 24th in the NHL in goals against. Much like the forwards, this is a young group, and this should be another year of development for the young d-men. The checking line is led by none other than Red Wing nemesis Sammy Pahlsson. He provides a legitimate third line center/penalty killing presence that has been missed since Manny Malhotra left the Jackets. Antoine Vermette is another center known to be at least capable defensively, and Rick Nash has shown that he is willing to help out in his own end. Overall, the Jackets look to be better with regards to their overall team defense.

Goaltending - Steve Mason really hit the wall last year, with all of his numbers falling from his Calder-trophy winning season of 2008-09. Mason will be looking to rebound from last year's sophomore slump, and for Red Wing fans, his fall last season might cause one or two of you to really examine Jimmy Howard and his performance this season. However, unlike Howard, Mason did not have a lot of help in front of him last year, and some of his numbers can be explained by the inexperience and lack of talent that was playing defense. This year is going to be crucial for Mason's development, as it will really show whether his stellar rookie season was a fluke (Jim Carey) or whether he is the real deal. Personally, I think that with the stability of the team remaining strong in front of him and a summer to analyze his issues, he will bounce back and have a very good year. His backup is Mathieu Garon, a very capable goalie who can step in when needed, but who can also assume a starter role for a short period of time to give Mason some rest.

Coaching - The BJs fired Ken Hitchcock midway through the season last year, and his interim replacement, Claude Noel, was not brought back. Instead, the BJs looked to the AHL and hired Scott Arniel, the former coach of the Manitoba Moose. I will be honest in that I know nothing about him, but a quick glance at his resume indicates that he was a very successful coach down there, with a winning percentage of .617 in 4 years as coach of the Moose. I don't know what his coaching style is or what type of guy he will be, but from what I've been able to gather he stresses team-defense and hard work (although really, who doesn't besides Bruce Boudreau?), 2 things that can make a young team successful. From reviewing the BJ blogs, there's an excitement surrounding Arniel's hiring, but I wonder whether that's due to the guy they hired or just the general good feelings of having someone new take the reins.

Player to Watch: This is Steve Mason's bounce back year, and if he can even get close to the form he showed in his rookie season, the BJs could be a pest in the Central Division. I think we all saw in 2008-09 how he was able to almost single-handedly carry the Jackets to the playoffs, where they ran into the juggernaut Wings in the first round. If he can figure out what went wrong last year and turn things around, the Jackets will be a tough team to play this year.

Player with Something to Prove: Nikita Filatov must show that he has put his past issues behind him and that he's ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to succeed at the NHL level. There's no questioning his talent, but the work ethic and commitment to all facets of the game need to be there. From what I've read about Arniel, he believes in some of the same core values as Hitchcock, so if Filatov doesn't show that he's going to buy in to the team's philosophy, then this could be another rough year. However, if he shows up ready to play, he can really help a team that has very few legitimate offensive superstars.

Why They Can Win the Division: You're joking, right? Wait, you're not? Ok. I guess if every single player on the other 4 teams in the Central all sustain season-ending injuries, the Blue Jackets might have a shot at the Division title. Otherwise, I'm not banking on it.

Why They Won't Win the Division: The Red Wings. The Blackhawks. The Predators. There is not enough talent to compete with the top teams in the division, which is quickly becoming one of the strongest divisions in the NHL. I liken the Blue Jackets to the Blue Jays - they have realized that they are going to constantly be competing with one of the top teams in the league (the Wings) and that to potentially catch them they must develop from within, slowly. They are still years away from competing at this level.

My Prediction: I'm not going to do records or anything like that, but I will give my general impression of the team. The Blue Jackets took a tremendous step backwards last season after finally making the playoffs. Their biggest off-season move was hiring a new coach, and combined with the return of Nikita Filatov, the Blue Jackets will be looking to start fresh this season and put last year behind them. Personally, I just don't see a real ton of talent on this team outside of Nash, Filatov and Mason, and while I think they will be more competitive and a tougher team to play against this season, I don't think that's going to equate to much of a jump in the standings overall. There's been improvement, but not enough for this team to make the playoffs. The Blue Jackets are unfortunately going to spend another year being taken advantage of by the top teams in the division and the conference. However, I do think the Jackets are headed in the right direction, so this year should be about staying the course with their youth and ensuring their key guys are gaining experience and confidence.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Red Wings Release Schedule

A day or two ago, the Red Wings released their 2010-11 regular season schedule, and like everyone else I immediately looked it over so I could figure out when I absolutely needed to watch the game (unfortunately real-life dictates things so that I can't see them play every night). So with that, I present, in order, the 10 games I am looking forward to the most this season:

1. March 11 - vs Minnesota Wild - H2H2. Enough said.

2. October 9 - at Chicago Blackhaws - We're all aware of the firesale that occurred in the Windy City this year. What no one knows is how good this team is actually going to be now that half of the players are gone. I think this game sets the tone for the season, as the Wings can really make a statement that they are determined to take back the division crown after being usurped last year. The fact that it's the banner-raising ceremony for the Hawks will certainly add to the atmosphere, as the Wings will be looking to spoil the party while the Hawks will want to prove last year was no fluke. I expect a great game, and although it will the 2nd game of a back-to-back set for the Wings, it's so early in the season I am hoping that fatigue won't be much of a factor, if at all. And let's be honest with ourselves: did anyone really believe that the Hawks wouldn't raise the banner with the Wings in the building?

3. April 10 - at Chicago Blackhawks - 2 Hawks games in the first 3 I'm looking forward to? Absolutely, but this one is because I am planning on attending with a number of fans in the Chicago area and beyond. I think the plan is to take over a small section of the UC and really let all 12,000 Hawk fans there know that we enjoyed their attempt at staying with us all season, but the Wings are division champs (having clinched in late-March) and the Hawks are just trying to stay in the playoff race. My ultimate hope is that this game is meaningless for the Wings but is crucial to the Hawks, and the Wings are able to deal the Hawks' hopes a blow.

4. January 18 - at Pittsburgh Penguins - Even though they didn't get a chance to three-peat their Stanley Cup Finals rematch, the game at the Joe last year went a long way to continuing the burgeoning rivalry that exists between these two teams. I think it's extremely clear that there is no love lost between the Wings and Pens, as Henrik Zetterberg really seems to get under Sidney Crosby's skin. Add to that simmering dislike the fact that they are both going to be contenders again, and this could be yet another Stanley Cup Finals-preview. Personally, I'm hoping that Jimmy gets a chance to show Crosby up close his new goaltending equipment - especially his catching glove.

5. October 8 - vs Anaheim Ducks - I know it's weird that Opening Night is #5 on the list, and I'm certainly excited for this game because it marks the beginning of the season and the start of the quest for Number 12. However, the Ducks are a shell of the team they used to be, and most of the key guys that we hated from a few years ago (both Niedermayers, Pronger, Giguere) are gone. However, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are still around, so it's not like the rivalry is completely dead. It just doesn't feel the same. This game is going to be awesome because it's a chance for the Wings to get started on the right foot; Opening Night in the past has not been kind to them, but I just love the idea of them being potentially undefeated at some point after the season has begun.

6. November 30 - at San Jose Sharks - Revenge time, bitches. That's all this game is about for me. I know that winning a regular season game in December does not make up for losing a playoff series in May; but it still feels pretty damn good. Like the first game against the Hawks, this is a statement game for the Wings; it's a chance for them to show a potential contender in the West that they are back and ready to claim their throne atop the conference. I can't wait to see Nittymaki's face when he realizes what he is facing when he gets to the playoffs. The Wings will get the Sharks less than a week later at the Joe, so they can really do a number to the Sharks' psyche early in the season.

7. October 14 - at Dallas Stars - Mike Modano's return to Dallas. While the game itself doesn't present that great a matchup, as a hockey fan, I am interested to see how Stars fans respond to Modano coming back in a Red Wings sweater. I think it's going to be positive, given that it was not his choice to leave the team, but rather the team's decision not to bring him back for another year. I think it's going to be a very emotional game for Modano, and I believe it will be good for him to get this out of the way early in the season so that he doesn't have to worry about it going forward. I can only imagine what's going through his mind considering he's going back to the place where he spent the majority of his career (and the only franchise he's ever known). I'm going on record early predicting that this is his first multi-point game as a Red Wing.

8. December 31 - vs New York Islanders - I again picked a game that I don't really care about from a matchup perspective, but the NYE game is always fun. I've never been to one, and that won't change this year; but we usually have a small get-together to celebrate, and before people come over or we leave to go out, I watch the game. Without doing any research I think the Wings have been fairly successful in these games, which means that I'm usually ending my year on a positive note and beginning the new year on an upswing.

9. March 16 - vs Washington Capitals - Another potential Stanley Cup Finals preview. The Capitals are one of the most exciting teams in the NHL because their offense-first approach is just really fun to watch. Ovechkin, love him or hate him, is dynamic, and last year the Wings did a really good job containing him in the 2 games they faced him last year, including holding him to no shots in one of the games. Even though the Caps were the NHL's best regular season team last year, the Wings won the first matchup with them and would have won the second one had it not been for some brilliant goaltending by Theodore. This should be a really exciting game to watch, especially if you're a fan of offensive hockey.

10. March 26 - vs Toronto Maple Leafs - This one's personal. I hate the Leafs. They rank very closely behind the Hawks, Ducks and Avs on my list, and that stems solely from the fact that I have had to endure their idiot fans for my entire life. Wings-Leafs games in the past would always involve a lot of heated trash talk from me to my friends and vice versa, and inevitably someone's feelings would get hurt. There was nothing better than seeing the Wings beat the Leafs, and then watching every single local sportscaster deliver the highlights with the same sad-sack face for the rest of the night. Plus, the next day I would strut around wherever I was with a jersey or shirt on, rubbing it in the faces of every single Leaf fan I encountered. Was it mature? Hell no, and believe me when I say that I got as good as I gave. The Wings have had some real problems with the Leafs lately, losing to them in 2 important games in the last 2 years (the banner raising game in 2009 and the Hall of Fame Game last year). I don't just want the Wings to beat the Leafs: I want the Leafs humiliated. If I were the coach, I would purposefully run up the score, and would probably be sobbing while my players did it, all the while yelling at unseen faces from my past who had given me a hard time.

Those are the games I'm most looking forward to. How about you? Any on here that you think will be great? Are there any that you're waiting to see that didn't make my list? Could I ask any more questions? Let me know.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Aftermath

Yes, yes, I know I took a couple of days off: sue me. Some bloggers have taken the entire month off (although they are awesome writers and I miss seeing their daily takes on the Wings). However, I wanted to wrap up the series that I just finished and talk a bit about guys that came close to making the list and address some of the comments that were left on the last post. If you're like me, then you are really wondering what this Abdelkader-Hudler-Delvecchio thing is over at TPL. 2 more days and then we can see what the fuss has all been about. Any guesses?

Before we get into that, some great news yesterday came down the pipe with the re-signing of Justin Abdelkader to a 2 year, $1.57M contract. For those of you that live in Detroit, please let me know if Kenny Holland ever gives a course on how to sign contracts. Part of my professional life involves negotiating, and I would kill to learn how he gets these guys to sign these contracts. Think about what he did this summer:
  • He re-signed every single FA he said he was going to, even if we didn't want them all back (Bertuzzi)
  • He got Mike Modano to sign for $1.25M to play on the third line.
  • He got Tomas Holmstrom - the best net presence player in the NHL - to take a pay cut
  • He got the best defenseman in the NHL today to take a pay cut. Not just any pay cut - a 17% pay cut. Would you take 17% less money in your job, no matter how much you loved it? Me either.
Basically, the man is a negotiating genius. I don't know what he does. Maybe he has incriminating photos of some of them; maybe he hypnotizes them; maybe he is the world's most boring speaker and guys sign just so they can get out of the room. Either way, I don't care how he does it, because he is damn effective. This is a great signing for the team, because he is slated to get some decent minutes on the 4th line. It also means that the Wings are 2 guys over the 23-man roster limit. It was nice seeing you, Derek Meech. At forward, it gets a little tricky. The smart money seems to be on Mattias Ritola getting placed on waivers in the hopes that he clears and gets sent down to Grand Rapids; me, I think the forward that gets released/cut/sent down will be decided after training camp. If Ritola has a good camp, I could see him making the team.

I want to thank everyone for the nice comments about the site, both on here, on Twitter and via email. I can say that I had a ton of fun doing each post, with some being more enjoyable than others. I loved going on to Youtube to find one specific video only to spend an hour there just watching all the great moments. It was a nice way for me to spend a summer re-living the glory days, especially after a disappointing end to this latest season.

I wanted to talk about the list. I'm hoping that the top-6 were no-brainers, and I understand that some of you still hold a grudge against Fedorov. As wingsluver4ever pointed out in the comments, I focused exclusively on players. Had I included coaches and management, I would have had an extremely hard time placing the Illitches, Kenny Holland, Jimmy D, Jim Nill, Scotty Bowman and Hakan Andersson on the list; would they go above guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg? What about Jacques Demers and Bryan Murray, 2 coaches who were able to make the Wings great in the regular season but could not translate that to playoff success? I just couldn't reconcile their place on the list because their contributions were different from the players. Perhaps I will do another list, although to try and come up with 19 off-ice people will be pretty tough. We'll save that for next year.

I didn't receive a lot of criticism in the guys that made the list. However, one player was mentioned more than anyone: Darren McCarty. Truthfully, he was #20. He scored the prettiest Stanley Cup-winning goal I have ever seen; his hat trick against Colorado was a nice way to deal with a hangover (that's an interesting story - ask me if you want to hear it); and his beat-down of Clau....de.....Le..... (nope, can't type his full name) coupled with scoring the OT winner on March 26 made him an instant fan favourite. Unfortunately, his contributions were too scattered, and he left the team for a time. He did not have great numbers overall, an I just couldn't justify putting him ahead of some of the other players that I got to see, even though I recognize that he was a big part of all of the Cup-winning teams.

Now, on to the comments. I was going to do this in the post itself, but to address everyone would just take too long in one giant comment.

Brandon - thank you for the kind words. While I never did get to meet him, there's still a chance - even if that means cornering him in a men's room at O'Hare.

dorfarm - your story really resonated with me. I could probably have written your story and just substituted "Gordie Howe" for "Steve Yzerman". Thankfully we were able to escape the evil clutches of the Maple Leafs and their fans. As one of the few Wing fans that endured the entire Dead Wings era of the '70s and '80s, I can only imagine how sweet it was for you to experience winning Stanley Cups again.

wingsluver4ever - again, thanks for the kind words. I agree that the Illitches have been and will continue to be instrumental in the Wings' success, and had they been on the list, they would have come in around #3. Like you said, I was only listing players.

Norm - I've read a couple of Yzerman books, and I can't get enough of the man. I think because he's such a private person, our curiosity just expands. That would make a great job: traveling the country talking to Wing fans about their favourite Stevie moment or memory. The different stories that would come out from fans young and old would be really interesting.

Crater - Like I've said before, the Wings have been as important to me as most of the people in my life outside of my family and closest friends. These guys were my heroes growing up and I still continue to look up to them.

Smitty - Awesome story. I am supremely jealous of any person who has had the pleasure of meeting him, even if it was fleeting. Given what I've heard about him and cars, he may very well remember that. I'm a history guy (as you might have guessed) so any time I can talk to someone who saw games at the Olympia and got to see Howe, Abel, Lindsay and Delvecchio play, I consider that a real treat. You seem to have been destined to meet and marry your wife, both for the birthday and for the fact that she yells at idiot Blues fans. I enjoyed all of the personal stories you told. I hope you enjoyed the same.


Well, that's it. We are less than 30 days from training camp, and the start of the season will soon be upon us. We're going to start with some previews soon, both for the team and for the league. Here's a hint: I think the Wings are going to do well this year.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Greatest Red Wings of MY Time - #1

Look, let's be completely honest with each other; we all knew who #1 was going to be. So instead of some drawn out introduction, let's just get to it. The Greatest Red Wing of My Time.

Steve Yzerman

Pertinent Stats: 1514 GP, 692 G, 1063 A, 1755 P, +202
Awards: Lester Pearson Award - 1989; Selke Trophy - 2000; Conn Smythe - 1998; Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy - 2003; Lester Patrick Trophy (for contributions to hockey in the US) - 2006
Stanley Cups: 4- 1997, 1998, 2002, 2008 (as an executive)

Was there ever a doubt?

I was going to do what I did with everyone else: trace his career and then talk about what he meant to the team. But so many people have done that in the past few months, especially after he took the Lightning job. Plus, let's face facts: we all know the Steve Yzerman story.

It's extremely ironic to me that the man that was the most important on-ice reason for the turnaround of the franchise wasn't even the Wings' first choice when he was drafted. The Wings wanted American-born Pat LaFontaine, but the Islanders swooped in and picked him up, so the Wings had to settle for Yzerman. He had a fantastic rookie season, and (surprise, surprise) he finished second in Calder voting to Tom Barrasso. He bounced back to be the offensive superstar for the Wings in the '80s, but after repeated regular season success followed by playoff failures, he transformed his game to become one of the best defensive forwards in the league, ultimately leading the Wings to 3 Stanley Cups. But I'm not here to rehash his career; I'm here to talk about what Yzerman was to me.

Like many people around my age, especially those of us that never lived in Detroit or Michigan, Yzerman was THE reason why I became a Red Wing fan. My Steve Yzerman story began in 1986 when I saw him play for the first time. I was 8 years old, and I was mesmerized. As a young lad in Toronto, I was bombarded with Maple Leaf fans and coverage; in hockey school, most of the guys I was with said that they were the player on the Leafs that corresponded with their uniform number. I got #24, which was Dan Daoust (and if anyone remembers Dan Daoust, you know that's not that big a deal). As I say in my "About" section, I never felt a real connection to the Leafs or any of their players. However, when I saw Yzerman, I knew that this was someone I wanted to know more about. So, over the next 2 years, I followed him; I would check the boxscores to see if he had any goals or assists in the previous night's game; I would read The Hockey News and any other magazine I could get my hands on for news about him. That season saw the Leafs play the Wings in the 2nd round of the playoffs, and it was my first time seeing Yzerman play on a regular basis. And after 2 years of doing this, I started to learn about the other players and the team in general, and realized they were pretty darn good, so in 1988 I officially declared myself a Red Wing fan.

I have so many memories of Yzerman, especially as a young kid. When I was 12 years old the Wings were playing the Leafs on HNIC, and Stevie scored the first 3 goals of the game in the first period. In what is my favourite saying by an announcer, Bob Cole enthusiastically announced the score as being "3-0 Yzerman!" Back in those days, we didn't have TSN or Sportsnet, so the only time I could see him play was when it was against the Leafs, which was pretty good because the Wings usually won. Once the playoffs would start I would get more coverage, but it was never enough. The worst year was 1993, when the Wings lost to the Leafs in the first round. 1994 wasn't much better because the Wings once again lost in the first round, this time to the Sharks. It was during that summer that the unheard-of happened; there was talk of trading Yzerman, and the big rumour was to Ottawa, who were absolutely horrid at the time. It's funny to think about now, but there was a very good chance that Yzerman was not going to be a Wing forever. Thank God the trade never materialized, because I don't think that I could have become a Senators fan; although since they are the Leafs' biggest rivals, I'm probably a pseudo-Sens fan anyway.

God, just writing this is bringing all sorts of good memories back; the run in ’95 that, while it didn’t end the way I wanted it to, was still a lot of fun. The double OT goal in 1996 against the Blues. That game was a roller-coaster of emotions; at one point I was literally in the fetal position on the floor, and when Yzerman scored, I jumped so high that I nearly hit my head on the ceiling. I then did my “Yzerman Dance” – I ran up and down the hallway screaming “Stevie! Stevie!” at the top of my lungs. When I watched a game, I would hoot and holler when the Wings scored, but I would go absolutely insane if Yzerman was the one who got the goal. Winning the Cup in ’98 and immediately turning and placing it in Konstantinov’s lap, touching off the greatest Stanley Cup celebration ever. I remember every single shift of his in 2002, from the Olympics on, especially in the playoffs when he had to use his stick to just stand up. Every time he went down, I (like I’m sure a lot of you) winced as I watched him get up. After that season he had knee surgery, and the stories that were circulated were that this was a surgery normally reserved for the elderly. Mortal men would have had their careers ended by it; Yzerman played 16 games the next season. I cringed when he was struck in the face with a puck in 2004 against the Flames, especially after seeing the pictures in the following days showing just how bloodied and bruised the eye was. I was afraid that the injury, combined with the upcoming labor stoppage, might have ended his career. Thankfully he came back for one more year in 2005-06, but it was just not to be. I found out about Stevie’s retirement in a very unusual way: I was watching Around the Horn on ESPN, and Jay Mariotti “won” that day. If you’re not familiar with the show, they have 4 national sportswriters talking about anything and everything in sports, although hockey is rarely discussed. The “winner” is judged by the host, and he gets 30 seconds at the end of the show to talk about whatever he wanted. Mariotti used his time to talk about how classy and great Yzerman was, and ended it by stating that he had announced his retirement. I immediately hopped online and read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I choked up as I watched his retirement press conference, and when he stood up and walked out of the room, I realized that a big chapter of my life had just closed. It was really tough to deal with, knowing that my hero would no longer be doing what I had come to love about him the most: making the Red Wings a great team.

However, any memory I had of Yzerman that I considered to be the best is trumped by the night he picked up the Stanley Cup and took it for the solo lap around the Joe. I cried that night, and some of that were tears of relief because no more would I have to hear shit like “Yzerman is a choker” or that he “couldn’t win the big one”. Every negative thing that I had to endure as a Wing fan in enemy territory was wiped away in one second. But what I remember from that celebration was something that might have been missed by a lot of people. Being Canadian, I only had access to CBC to watch the games. 1997 were the days before Don Cherry completely lost his mind, and I wanted to see how he would react to the Wings being in the Finals and ultimately winning. Unfortunately, this was around the time that his wife passed away, so he was not on any of the broadcasts. The reason for his absence was not given, but after the Wings had won and were giving on-ice interviews, Ron Maclean got a hold of Yzerman and was talking to him. Once the interview was over, Stevie looked at Ron and said that he wanted Don Cherry to know that he was thinking of him and his prayers were with him. This man had just reached the pinnacle of his professional career, a place that only a select few men have ever been to, and he has the presence of mind to give his sympathy to Don Cherry on the loss of his wife.

And that’s why Yzerman was amazing. Besides my father, this was the man I looked up to the most. I wanted to be like him on the ice as a player; I always fancied myself as the quiet, hard-working type, although I didn’t have nearly the amount of talent that he did. But I also wanted to be like him off the ice. To this day, I have never heard a negative story about Yzerman. I’ve never met him in person (as evidenced by the fact I have never peed myself in public), but if I did, I would expect him to be gracious, soft-spoken and….nice, just like he appears to be. Maybe I’m na├»ve about that, but I don’t care. The man not only took the Red Wings to great heights on the ice, but he represented the Wings with class, grace and dignity off of it. When he was named as the GM for the Canadian Olympic team, I wanted him to succeed with every fiber of my being, because I knew that non-Wing fans would not appreciate him if they lost. When Canada won gold, I didn’t care about the players; I only cared about Yzerman being known forever as the architect of the team that won a gold medal on home ice.

I always used to joke that I had a non-sexual crush on Stevie. I would be ok with going out with him and talking, maybe even with a little hand-holding; but that’s as far as it would go. My sister used to tell me that he was “cute”, and more than once I told her that I didn’t care, and deep down I didn’t, but the fact that women found him attractive only added to his awesomeness.

Stevie’s importance for me went well beyond just being a great hockey player. As a kid, I wasn’t the most out-going person, and I had few really close friends that I could count on; I guess you could say I was a bit of a loner. Yzerman, and the Wings, were one of the first real “connections” I ever made to something beyond my family. When they disappointed me, I would be hurt, but I had pledged my undying loyalty to them, and it was all due to Stevie. I defended them against anyone who dared to question their greatness, and took particular offense if anyone derided Yzerman in particular. Even now, 22 years later, that connection is as strong as it ever was, and might even be getting stronger thanks to my connection to all of you. You see, for most of my life, I was the only Red Wing fan I knew: I didn’t have anyone to share my experiences with. When they won, I laughed and cheered alone; when they lost, I would wallow in my depression for days with no outlet except my friends (who usually laughed) or my parents (who told me to get over it). I yelled at refs, trash-talked opponents and celebrated victories, and when I used to see all the fans at the Joe cheering, I felt like I was there with them.

There’s no questioning Yzerman’s place in the history of his team: only Gordie Howe had as great an impact on the franchise as Stevie did. Yzerman ranks second in every single offensive statistic in team history except assists (in which he is first), and owns almost every single-season offensive record for the team as well. In 1988-89 he became one of three players to score 150 points in one year (talk about a good year to hop on the bandwagon, eh?) He is third in games played, and holds the unbreakable record of being the longest serving captain of 1 team (19 consecutive years). He was the face of the franchise for his entire career, and his retirement left a gaping hole in the team and in our hearts. He played the game the right way: with style and grace, but with a competitive edge. He was never a dirty player, and was universally respected by his peers. That respect carried over to off the ice as well, where he was known as a gentleman and team player. He was not just an amazing Red Wing, but one of the greatest players of all time. He could easily have stayed an offensive superstar and racked up other-wordly numbers; instead he chose to develop every facet of his game so he could make the team better. It's no fluke that half of the players in the NHL today (including bitch Crosby and Toews) consider Yzerman to be their hero growing up; they obviously have some taste. I could go on and on, but this is long enough as it is, and I’ve got to wrap it up sometime. Stevie Y, Stevie Wonder, The Captain; whatever you want to call him, Steve Yzerman was and always will be the Greatest Red Wing of My Time.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Greatest Red Wings of MY Time - #2

Well, we are down to the top 2, and if you're like me, then there should be absolutely no doubt who is going to fill these final spots. So, without further ado, let's get to #2.

Nicklas Lidstrom

Pertinent Stats: 1412 GP, 237 G, 809 A, 1046 P, +431
Awards: Norris Trophy (6) - 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008; Conn Smythe - 2002
Stanley Cups: 4 - 1997, 1998, 2002, 2008

Nicklas Lidstrom is not merely the best defenseman I have ever seen play for the Red Wings; he is the best defenseman I have ever seen play, and no one is a close second.

Lidstrom was yet another pickup in the 1989 draft, and to illustrate how great that draft was for the Wings, consider that 3 of them made it to this illustrious list, 2 are guaranteed Hall of Famers, and Konstantinov was headed there before his accident. What's scary for me is that every single team in the NHL had a shot at Lidstrom before the Wings got him; in fact, every single team passed on him twice. It's a fair bet that had scouts back then known how good Lidstrom was, he would not have lasted to the 53rd pick.

Lidstrom broke into the NHL in 1991-92 and was an immediate success, scoring 60 points as a defenseman while playing important minutes. He finished second in the Calder voting to some guy named Pavel Bure that year (yet another example of a Red Wing finishing 2nd in voting but going on to have a better career than the guy who won; bodes well for Jimmy Howard if you ask me). Over the early part of his career, Lidstrom could be counted on for 10-20 goals and 40-50 points. However, given that the Wings had Paul Coffey for 4 of those years, Lidstrom was not counted on to be the primary offensive threat on the blue line. This allowed him to do what he has done for his entire career: develop into the complete defenseman he is today. I would talk more about his career, but we've all seen what he has done and how he has mattered to the team. Plus, read Malik's Mt Puckmore piece; that pretty much echoes what I feel about him. What I want to do today is talk about my own impressions of the man, and how I feel he has benefitted the team.

Lidstrom's career has been marked by absolute consistency more than anything else. In a full 82 game season, his lowest point total was 38, and his highest is 80; he has scored between 7 and 20 goals; he has never had more than 50 PIM in any single season. I wish I could talk about him being flashy or bring up those "make you hold your breath" moments, but those are so few and far between with him. The only thing I can really say is that he does it all, and he does it better than anyone else, and has done so for his entire career. He's the type of defenseman that you want out on the ice in all situations: down a goal late in the game trying to tie it up; up a goal late in the game trying to preserve a victory; on the power play or killing a penalty; against the other team's top line or against a specific player. And the best part about it is that as long as he is on the ice, I feel a sense of comfort and relief knowing that he will not make a mistake that will hurt the team. He may not always make the best play, and he can occasionally get beat, but those instances are so few and far between that I'm more shocked than angry that he might have caused a goal against.

What says a lot about Lidstrom is that as far back as his 3rd and 4th seasons, Lidstrom was the anchor of the defense. On a team that was as star-studded and full of experience as the Wings were, for a young defenseman to come in and take control of the defense through his play and not due to his reputation or his outspokenness was impressive. And his play has been the same throughout his career; steady. The only other word or phrase that I can think of that would describe him would be "rock solid". He has maintained this level of play due to his style of play; he's not the biggest nor the toughest defenseman in the league, but there's no one smarter than he is. He has never been the type to throw his body around or try and make a big hit; but I imagine there is absolutely very little chance you are going to cause him to be out of position. His on-ice intelligence is what has separated him from the rest of the defensemen in the NHL and has allowed him to stay as good as he is at an age when many defensemen are starting to break down.

There are so many stats that illustrate his greatness: the 1000 points scored in a time of the NHL's history where defensive schemes were more complex and effective (the trap); most games played by any player born in Europe; most games played by a defenseman with only 1 team; first European-born defenseman to score 1000 points; to say that he was a trailblazer for European-born players would be an understatement. However, the stat that always gets me is the fact that he has never been a minus player; not once in his entire career has he been on the ice for more goals against than goals for. This is not due to his offensive prowess making up for his defensive deficiencies (Mike Green); as noted earlier, Lidstrom has spent almost his entire career being matched up against his opponent's best players. It's this stat that in my opinion shows just how good Lidstrom really is, especially when you consider the many great players that he has been facing. The other remarkable stat about Lidstrom is his durability: in an age with bigger, stronger players and relaxed rules making defenseman more targeted, he has missed 28 out of a possible 1,440 regular season games, and 1 was due to a ridiculous suspension for not attending the pre-All-Star Game festivities in 2009.

Even noting his steady play, there have been some impressive moments in his career. One of the goals that I will always remember is the one he scored on Ron Hextall in Game 4 in 1997; a harmless looking shot that gave the Wings the lead and really settled them down in that game. The other goal that I remember is the long shot on Dan Cloutier in Game 3 in 2002 against Vancouver; pure luck or planned shot? I'm going to say it was planned, just because he is that awesome. But like I said earlier, those moments are few and far between. What I remember most about him is his lifting of the Conn Smythe in 2002, the first time a European-born player had done that; any one of his six Norris Trophies; being presented with the "C" after Stevie retired. But the image that I have in my head whenever I think of Lidstrom is the one from 2008 when he was lifting that beautiful silver trophy over his head. For me, it was so amazing to see that because it cemented his status as the greatest defenseman of his time, and maybe ever (I'm not going to get in to that debate, because it's just too much). More importantly, from a Wing perspective, it showed how much of a leader he was in that he was able to get the Wings to a Cup when all of the mainstays from the previous winners had left. After Yzerman retired and Shanahan left as a free agent, Lidstrom remained on the team as both a link to the glory days and the leader of the future. When the Wings won the Cup that year, it showed me that regardless of who is on the team, the Wings will always do what they can to contend; I've seen other franchises fall into mediocrity after a player of Yzerman's talent and importance retires or moves on. In a sense, I feel that Lidstrom retiring will be harder on the franchise than Yzerman was, although I can't pinpoint why that is.
I feel like I have so much more to say about Lidstrom but not enough time or space to say it in. I can't begin to describe just how freaking amazing he has been time and again throughout his entire career. Like I said at the beginning of this post, he's the best defenseman I've ever seen, Red Wing or otherwise. Whenever I watch him play, I just sit back and count my blessings that I was fortunate enough to have witnessed the entire career of one of the greatest defensemen in the history of the NHL, and that he spent that career playing for the team that I love. There's only one player that I feel was better and meant more to me than Lidstrom (any guesses on who that might be?), and if I do this list in 10 years, Lidstrom's spot won't change. There was never any question that when I made this list, Nicklas Lidstrom was going to be the second Greatest Red Wing of My Time.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Greatest Red Wings of MY Time - #3

Welcome back to the series, which is quickly making its way to #1. Since there is absolutely nothing else happening in the NHL or with the Wings, let's get right to it and discuss #3. However, before we do that, a correction from yesterday: when I initially did the post, I stated that Shanny was the last "lifer" to be on the list. Well, as you'll see in a second, that was just plain wrong, as there was one more to come. I just wanted to apologize for the error yesterday.

Sergei Fedorov

Pertinent Stats: 908 GP, 400 G, 554 A, 954 P, +276
Awards: 1994 - Hart Trophy, Selke Trophy, Lester Pearson Award; 1996 - Selke Trophy
Stanley Cups: 3 - 1997, 1998, 2002

So, as you can see, I had another non-lifer on the list. I guess I just choose to block out his post-Wings career because it didn't really amount to much. For whatever the reason, when I made the post yesterday, I considered Fedorov to be a lifelong Red Wing.

Fedorov was part of the epic 1989 draft that produced Lidstrom and Konstantinov. That he was picked in the 4th round shows how little the rest of the NHL believed in him, including the Wings. However, when he made his debut in 1990-91, it was pretty obvious the Wings had a special player on their hands, as he scored 79 points in 77 games as a rookie, losing the Calder to Ed Belfour. During his tenure with the Wings, he was probably the best pure-offensive talent they had, but his 1994 season was amazing by anyone's standards. That year he scored 56 goals and 64 assists, and won the Selke as the league's best defensive forward. He also added a Pearson as the MVP as chosen by the NHLPA and the Hart as the league MVP. Ironically, he did all this in a year that the Wings were upset by the Sharks in the first round of the playoffs, a series in which Fedorov scored exactly 1 goal in 7 games.

As the '90s progressed, Fedorov got better. The man was a machine that could do anything on the ice. Be the #1 scorer on the team? Check. Play against the other team's top line and shut them down? Check. Play as a defenseman when the team was short on blueliners? Check. Not only could he do all of these things, but he did them all well. For a good portion of the 1990s, Fedorov was seen as one of the best players in the NHL, and with good reason. There were some epic games and plays during his career: I'll never forget the game against the Capitals in 1996-97 when he scored all 5 goals, including the OT winner, in a 5-4 Wing victory. When the Wings won the Cup in 1996-97, Fedorov was outstanding in the playoffs, totalling 20 points in 20 games. It's weird to think about now, but this was at a time when the stereotype surrounding Russian players was that they were soft and could not handle the rigours of a long playoff run. Fedorov was the leader of the "Russian Five" and helped put the notion that Russian players could not win in the NHL to rest once and for all.

However, his relationship with the team (and the fans) took a sour turn at the start of the next year when he held out from the team. He signed a huge offer sheet from the Hurricances which the Wings matched, and he was back in the lineup in time to help the Wings win their second straight Cup. Over the next few seasons, his point production dipped a little as he started to deal with injuries, but it should be noted that every single year that Fedorov played a full season, he scored at least 25 goals for the Wings.

After the Wings were eliminated by the Ducks in 2003, Fedorov became an unrestricted free agent, but the Wings offered him a 5 year/$50M deal and a 4 year/$40M deal to try and keep him on the team. In a move that shocked the team and fans, he signed a 5 year deal in Anaheim for $40M, less than what the Wings offered. The move was a slap in the face to the fans of Detroit, and he was booed mercilessly every time he touched the puck at the Joe. To me, this shows the loyal nature of Wing fans; hurt them and they will never forgive you. Contrast Fedorov leaving to Shanahan leaving; Wing fans still love Shanny and understood it was just time for he and the team to part ways. But with Fedorov, the nucleus was still intact for another run or two.

I've stated in the past the Todd Bertuzzi is easily the most polarizing player on the team today. However, before Bertuzzi came along, that title would easily have belonged to Sergei, but for vastly different reasons. We all loved Fedorov's talent and abilities, but his demeanour and attitude towards the team soured us. With players like Yzerman and Lidstrom on the team, guys that would do anything to make the Wings successful (like take paycuts), Fedorov's behaviour was seen as very selfish. After 1997-98, a lot of fans were peeved at him for holding out; however, all was forgiven when he was skating around the ice with the Cup in his hands. Once he left for Anaheim, it was a whole other ballgame: he was deserting the team, and he was going to the team that had just knocked out the Wings. I said earlier that I considered him to be a "lifer"; however, his actions show that he was just looking out for himself.

Regardless of the way he left the Wings or the holdout, no one can deny that the man had an incredible amount of talent. To this day, he remains the only player to win the Hart and Selke in the same season, and unless Datysuk wins a Hart someday, that's not going to change. He was the third-highest scorer in the postseason in the 1990s. He transformed the image of the Russian player, showing that they want to win as badly as North American players do and can handle a long playoff run. For the majority of the 1990s, he was their best player, and together with Yzerman formed a 1-2 punch at center that was unmatched by most of the league. He could pair up with Larry Murphy and form an effective defensive duo, and he could rush end-to-end and score one of the prettiest goals you would ever see. I know we all love Datsyuk, but in my humble opinion, Fedorov was even better, especially in his prime. Where Ciccarelli formed the mold for a guy like Holmstrom to be an effective player on the team, Fedorov did the same for Datsyuk.

As I made this list, I thought of what was going to determine a guy's place on the list. His abilities were obviously going to be considered, but so was his place on the team; if he left, how did he leave? I struggled with Fedorov being up this high initially, for the same reasons that a lot of Wing fans still resent him today. However, I had to look past all that and recognize that his skills were second to none on the team during the 1990s (Yzerman was close, but I don't think he could do what Fedorov did on the ice on a consistent basis). If Yzerman was the heart and Bowman was the brain of the team, Fedorov was the hands and legs. I have no doubts that without his contributions, the Wings would not have had the success they did, and I challenge anyone to prove me wrong on that. Love him or hate him, there's no denying that in terms of his abilities on the ice, he was a superstar. He is still the only Red Wing I've ever seen win the Hart, and more than once I saw him will the team to victory. I may not have liked the way he departed the team, but there's no question that Sergei Fedorov #3 on the list of the Greatest Red Wings of My Time.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Greatest Red Wings of MY Time - #4

For anyone that hasn't seen it, George Malik's contribution to Yahoo's Mount Puckmore series is up, and as we've come to expect from George, this did not disappoint. The 4 names listed were:

Gordie Howe
Ted Lindsay
Steve Yzerman
Nicklas Lidstrom

I can't disagree with any of those choices, because that was my final 4 when I was discussing it with some of the other bloggers. As usual, George has represented the Red Wings fanbase well, and if there were ever some sort of United Nations of Bloggers, I would recommend that George be the ambassador for the Wings.

We turn our attention back to our series, and today we present the next-to-last of the non-lifers on the list. #4 of the Greatest Red Wings of My Time.

Brendan Shanahan

Pertinent Stats: 716 GP, 309 G, 324 A, 633 P, +144, 1043 PIM
Awards: King Clancy Memorial Trophy (Humanitarian Efforts) - 2003
Stanley Cups: 3 - 1997, 1998, 2002

Brendan Shanahan was born in Etobicoke, and I only mention that because (a) he was just inducted into the Etobicoke Hall of Fame and (b) I was also born in Etobicoke. In case you were wondering, Etobicoke (the "-ke" is silent, BTW) used to be its own municipality, but was absorbed into the City of Toronto in the mid-'90s. Just a little Canadian history for you. It's also a bit of a joke with Drew from NOHS. Moving on.

Shanny had already forged himself a good career with the Devils, Blues and Whalers when he requested a trade from Hartford. The Wings, realizing they needed a legitimate power forward, immediately put together a package that included Paul Coffey, Keith Primeau and a 1st round draft pick to obtain him. Right from the start, Shanahan fit in with the team and became an instant fan favourite. He scored 46 goals in his first season with the Wings, but his greatest moment for me from that season was his flying takedown of Roy on March 26. This act solidified his place as a true member of the Red Wings and not some gun-for-hire brought in to score goals *cough*Hossa*cough*. In the playoffs that season, Shanny was amazing, scoring 9 goals and 17 points as the Wings captured their first Cup in 42 years. Along the way, he scored the series-clinching goal against the Ducks, and he added a couple of big goals in the Finals (the insurance marker in Game 2 and the shot-from-behind-the-net in Game 3). The next season was a bit of an off year for him, but the Wings were able to repeat as champs.

Over the course of his Red Wing career, Shanahan became on of the team's most consistent scorers. In 9 seasons, he never scored less than 25 goals, and he hit the 40-goal mark 3 times. He also exhibited a mean streak, as evidenced by his 1000+ PIM in 9 seasons. In 2001-2002, he returned to playoff form, racking up 19 points in 23 games as the Wings won their 3rd Cup in 6 years. Shanny was the one who potted the empty-netter that season, ensuring the Wings would be victorious. Unfortunately, he would be unable to replicate his playoff scoring over the next 3 postseasons, tallying only 10 points in 22 playoff games. His inability to score was one of the main reasons why the Wings were not successful in the playoffs, and after the 2005-06 season, he and the team parted ways as the Wings were ready to move forward with a different nucleus.

In terms of my lifetime, Shanahan is without question the best power forward the Wings have had. He could score and he could hit; his hands were soft enough that he could score a pretty goal, or he could turn them into fists and pummel an opponent. Essentially, he was what Keith Primeau should have been when the Wings drafted him. I've always found it ironic that the Wings had to get the player they wanted all along by trading the very guy they had drafted to fill that role. That Shanahan was not only a better scorer than Primeau was but also tougher says a lot about how good Shanny was, because Primeau turned out to be a pretty decent hockey player.

While Shanahan never had any real postseason success to speak of prior to the trade, his presence on the team seemed to legitimize the Wings in a way that no outsider could. They were suddenly tougher, but with a lot of skill to go with that toughness. He also gave the Wings a bonafide scorer to give them 2 real offensive lines that could match anyone in the league. Having Shanahan on the team allowed Yzerman to concentrate more on his defensive play and not worry about having to pick up the slack offensively. He just seemed to be the kind of guy whose game was suited for the playoffs. That he was able to contribute immediately and win a Cup in that first season speaks volumes to how important he really was to the team.

For me, Shanahan represents the "Golden Age" of the Wings in my lifetime. As an integral part of the '97 team, he will always hold a special place in my heart, because that was my favourite year to be a Wing fan. There was always something different about them winning the first one, especially after having to watch them fail again and again and again prior that. But it wasn't just what he did in the playoffs that made him special to me; he was the Wings' best goal scorer for 9 years, but he was also one of their toughest player. He was the prototypical "power forward", and without him I don't know how successful the Wings would have been. The trade for him put the Wings on a level they had never previously been on, and allowed them to become the dominant franchise they are today. When he left, it signalled the end of an era, as he (with Yzerman) were the last of the "Old Guard" of forwards to still be on the team. Unlike other free agents that leave, Shanny was not ridiculed or thought less of because he left; instead, we recognized him for what he did for the team and wished him well in his future endeavours. He is on record as saying that if (come on, we all know it is "when") he enters the Hall of Fame, he will do so as a Red Wing; if that doesn't speak volumes about what his time in Detroit meant to him, I don't know what would. So today we celebrate Brendan Shanahan, the best power forward I've ever seen, and the 4th Greatest Red Wing of My Time.

*Thanks to Anonymous who pointed out there is still one more non-lifer to come. A big mistake on my part.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Greatest Red Wings of MY Time - #5

Before we get in to today's post, some congratulations are in order. We have received word that George Malik has joined Kukla's Korner as another blogger. If you're not familiar with George, shame on you; long before I discovered all of the different Wing blogs, I was reading George for updates on MLive.com. He will be a welcome addition to KK, and we look forward to his frequent posts about everything that's happening in the Red Wing universe.

Having said that, man am I getting tired of the lack of news. What is a blogger to do? It's too early for season previews, and I just don't care where Tomas Kaberle ends up, as long as it is somewhere where they have eyebrow tweezers on sale for cheap. Luckily for me, I am continuing my series, and this week will mark numbers 5 through 1. I'm going to bet there will be absolutely no surprises this week, but it will be fun to talk about them anyway. So let's start with #5.

Henrik Zetterberg

Pertinent Stats: 506 GP, 206 G, 269 A, 475 P, +131
Awards: Conn Smythe - 2008
Stanley Cups: 1 - 2008

I really considered doing a "5A" and "5B" for Datsyuk and Zetterberg, because they are so close together in terms of their abilities and achievements. However, I put Hank at #5 because I think he's done just a tiny bit more than Datsyuk. He's also my current favourite player on the team, so that helps as well.

Zetterberg was yet another of the late-round draft picks that turned into a superstar. In his case, he was picked 210th overall in 1999 in what was deemed to be a throwaway pick. He joined the team in 2002-03 as a rookie the year after the Wings won the Cup, and enjoyed immediate success. He tallied 22 goals and 44 points that year, impressive totals for a rookie, but had the Calder stolen from him by Barret Jackman (as an aside, what is it with impressive Wing rookies losing the Calder? Yzerman to Barrasso; Zetterberg to Jackman and Howard to Myers? Seems to be a bit of a conspiracy if you ask me). The next season saw him miss time due to a broken leg, but after the lockout Zetterberg seemed poised to make the jump to become one of the leaders of the team. Since the lockout, he and Datsyuk have been the go-to guys in terms of scoring, and together form one of the most dynamic and dangerous lines in hockey.

There is no question in mine or anyone else's mind that Zetterberg is the next captain of the Red Wings. A lot of people thought he might get named after Stevie retired, but I think Hank was still a little young, and he needed time to grow into his role. However, once Lidstrom does end up hanging up the skates, I don't think it will be long before there's a press conference announcing the passing on of the "C" to Zetterberg. Really, who else on the team would be a good fit for captain? The only other person I could think of would be Datsyuk, but it seems to me that Zetterberg is more of a "leader" of the team than Dats is; perhaps that is due to Pavel's quiet nature or the fact he is not as media friendly as Hank is; either way, Zetterberg as captain seems right and natural, and I think he'll be a good ambassador and representative of the franchise, as every captain has been in the past.

Where Zetterberg is slightly ahead of Datsyuk is in his playoff performances. In 2005-06, through the tears, it was obvious to me that Hank was probably the best forward on the ice for the Wings that year, racking up 6 goals in 6 games and being the only Wing that could score with any regularity. Since then, he's been a better-than-a-point-per-game player for the Wings, including 15 points in 12 games last year. However, by far his best performance was in 2007-8 when he racked up 27 points in 22 games, including the Cup-winning goal off Fleury's butt in Game 6. His point totals combined with his strong two-way play got him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. However, his defining moment wasn't any of his goals or assists; it was the excellent work he did on the 5-on-3 in Game 4 with the Wings clinging to a one-goal lead. That kill was the turning point of the series, as it kept the Pens from tying the game (and possibly the series) headed back to the Joe for Game 5. Want to relive that shift? I know I did:



Like Datsyuk, Zetterberg is known throughout the league for his two-way play. I've often told people that Hank and Pavel are essentially the same player, but Pavel is just a little "flashier" in terms of the things he can do. But I've asked myself the question of who is more "important" to the team between the two of them and my brain keeps telling me that it is Zetterberg. I just feel that if the team lost Datsyuk for an extended period of time, the Wings would be in deep trouble, but if they lost Zetterberg for the same amount of time, it would be even worse. Am I wrong in thinking that? I still believe that Lidstrom is more important to the team than either one, but I just get the sense that the team has a better chance of competing if they have Zetterberg instead of Datsyuk. I look no further than the Finals in 2009: Zetterberg's dominance of Crosby should have led to a repeat championship except for Max F------ Talbot. While he was assigned the duty to cover Crosby and Malkin when possible, he was able to keep them relatively in check while kicking in 3 points. After Game 4, it was quite obvious that he was probably exhausted, yet he never let that on and never complained.

I guess Zetterberg gets this high on the list not only for what he has done in his relatively short career with the Wings, but also for the potential greatness that has yet to occur. I can't think of another player on the Wings right now that seems like he is going to impact the franchise as much as Hank will. I have no doubts that when his career is over, we will speak of him with the same reverence that we do for Yzerman and Lidstrom; as one of the true "greats" of the franchise. He continues to be not only one of the best players on the team, but in the NHL itself. Like I said earlier, he's my current favourite player, so that bumps him up on the list. I love what he brings to the team, and the fact that he is a guy that the Wings can count on to produce in the playoffs. Sure, his wedding photo was a little weird; but any guy who can frustrate The Face of the NHL so much that he does the following is ok in my books.



The 4 guys ahead of him were all amazing, and if I update this in 5 or 10 years, he might end up higher. But for now, he will have to be happy knowing he is #5 on the list of the Greatest Red Wings of My Time.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Greatest Red Wings of MY Time - #6

Wow. Talk about nothing going on today. I guess the NHL, like the rest of us, has decided to take the day off in anticipation of one of the last weekends of the summer. So let's just dive right in to #6 on the list of Greatest Red Wings of My Time.

Pavel Datsyuk

Pertinent Stats: 606 GP, 198 G, 394 A, 592 P, +176
Awards: Lady Byng - 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009; Selke Trophy - 2008, 2009, 2010
Stanley Cups: 2 - 2002, 2008

Instead of talking about Datsyuk, I honestly just considered putting up a bunch of Youtube videos displaying his sick moves. However, that's kind of lazy, so I guess I'll write about why he gets the #6 spot.

Pavel Datsyuk was drafted in the 6th round of the 1998 NHL draft after being passed over the previous 2 years. When the Wings picked him, I'm guessing they didn't realize exactly how good he was, or else they would have picked him earlier. He joined the team in 2001-02 and immediately found some chemistry with Boyd Devereaux and Brett Hull. His rookie year was good but not great, and he chipped in 35 points in the regular season, and 6 in the playoffs, helping the Wings win the Cup. I remember that even then he had some amazing hands, although the flashes of that brilliance were not as prevalent as they are today.

The next year saw the arrival of Henrik Zetterberg, and together with Brett Hull they formed the "Two Kids and an Old Goat" line, which I think is the longest line name in NHL history. It seemed pretty obvious that Datsyuk and Zetterberg had chemistry together, but in the playoffs Datsyuk was a bit of a no-show, resulting in the Wings' exit at the hands of the Ducks (although the rest of the team was just as bad). Over the next few years, Pavel saw his role on the team grow as more veterans left; he moved up to become the predominant passer on the team when Federov left, and after Yzerman and Shanahan moved on, he found himself as one of the leaders on the team. He didn't disappoint, putting up consecutive seasons of 87 points in 2005-06 and 2006-07. However, until the spring of 2006-07, his playoff performance left something to be desired.

It was well-documented going into that postseason that Datsyuk had not scored a goal since being a rookie, a total of 3 playoff seasons. With the rest of the old guard gone, it was up to him and Zetterberg to pick up the team offensively and lead the way. He responded to his role as leader by racking up 8 goals and 16 points in 18 games, losing to the Ducks in the Conference Finals. It seemed like he had rid himself of his playoff demons, and the next year he was even better, scoring 10 goals and adding 13 assists on the Wings' way to the Cup. There was no question that he was one of the main leaders on the team now, and in 2008-09 he racked up 97 points and was nominated for a Hart Trophy. In the playoffs, he missed the first 4 games of the Finals and was unable to get the Wings to a second straight championship. I know I've often wondered whether the Wings would have won had he been healthy. Yes, I understand that argument that they were up 3-2 without him, but I just feel that had he been in the lineup, the burden would have shifted off Zetterberg and they would have been more energetic in Game 6 (and 7, had it come to that). Oh well. He had an off year last year, but I'm not going to dwell on that.

There's not much I can say about Datsyuk that hasn't been said before. The man is easily one of the most offensively-gifted players in the NHL today. Some of the moves he has made in his career have made me stop what I was doing and stare at the TV, mouth open with a handful of nachos halfway to my lips (I like to eat nachos during the game). Yet, for every move that I've seen, he pulls out another one that is better. I wonder where he learns this stuff, and how often he practices it. I'm waiting for him to be on a breakaway, drop the puck back between his legs, sweep kick the puck back up to his stick and then deke the goalie (a move I have made many times alone, but never had the guts to try in a game). I think I would literally pee myself if I ever saw that.

But it's not just the offense. He's also one of the best two-way players in the game, as evidenced by the three straight Selke Trophies he has won as the best defensive forward in hockey. While there are those that argue that he should not have won this past year, my completely biased opinion is that it was well-deserved. I know we tend to think about defensive forwards as the checking line guys and penalty killers, but Datsyuk has taken his role and embraced it at all times when he is on the ice. Countless times we have seen him catch up to a player from behind, steal the puck, and then immediately turn back up ice and create an offensive chance. He's a tireless checker, and can be found behind his own goal line looking for the puck. And, despite his smaller frame, he can throw the body around a little bit. I would imagine that trying to check Datsyuk would be like trying to hit a skinny but solid tree; there's just no way you're going to move it. Of course, you'll have to catch him first.

I'm not sure what else I can say to illustrate just how ridiculously good Datsyuk is. In terms of stickhandling ability, I'd say he's on par with Federov and just ahead of Yzerman (when Stevie was in his prime). His speed is still there even though he's on the wrong side of 30 (he's a few months older than I am). He seems to have an almost endless supply of energy every night. And in an era when defense is stressed and offense is down, he's almost at a point-per-game pace. I shudder to think what Datsyuk would have done in the early 90s or the 80s with the open ice and less clutching and grabbing. He's been a perennial All-Star, a Hart Trophy finalist and a 3-time winner as the best defensive forward in hockey. Not bad for a guy that was available for 2 years as an undrafted player, and then for 5 rounds in the draft he was taken in.

And now, for your enjoyment, let's get to those Youtube videos:




















There are no words to accurately describe just how pretty those are.

The Greatest Red Wings of MY Time - #7

I watched bits and pieces of Game 5 of the 2002 Finals between the Wings and Canes, and I was reminded by just how stacked that team was. The talent on the first 3 lines was enough to score almost at will, and the 4th line had a ton of speed and grit that could shut down anyone. Crazy. I honestly believe that the 2002 Red Wings are probably one of the greatest one-season teams of all time, and certainly the best I have ever seen.

We return to our series, and if you've been paying attention, then you realize that there have been certain players not mentioned so far. I don't think anyone is going to be surprised by 6 of the next 7 players, but I'm curious to see how this next guy is received. Here's #7:

Chris Osgood

Pertinent Stats: 554 GP, W-L-T-OTL/SOL 312-146-46-27, 39 SO, 2.48 GAA, .905 SV%
Awards: William Jennings Award (lowest GAA) - 1996, 2008
Stanley Cups: 3 - 1997, 1998, 2008

Has there ever been a player more derided and unappreciated than Chris Osgood? I swear, the number of non-Red Wing fans that believe that he is one of the luckiest players ever born never ceases to amaze me. Even some Red Wing fans have long maintained that the Wings would be better off without him. But what these fans fail to realize is just how good Ozzie is, and how the Red Wings are lucky to have him.

Osgood was drafted by the Wings in '91 (I still have a hockey card set with all the draft picks from the first few rounds that year, including Lindros and Osgood). If you weren't a fan of the Red Wings back in the late '80s/early '90s, then it's hard to understand just how long the Wings searched for the goalie that would lead them to success. It seemed like Tim Cheveldae was going to be that guy, but....well, it just didn't work out. Osgood came in as a rookie in 1993-94 and played ok. However, when the playoffs started, he was given the starter's job. I guess Scotty figured that no one else was going to get the job done, so why not give the rookie some much-needed experience. Plus, the Wings were playing the Sharks, who were going to get destroyed, right? Boy were they wrong. The Sharks upset the Wings, and the series winning goal was scored after a giveaway by Osgood behind the net. I can still remember him crying in the lockerroom after the game, knowing that his mistake was a big reason why the Wings were not able to get past an overmatched opponent. It wasn't all his fault, though.

The Wings picked up Mike Vernon the next year, and he and Osgood formed a nice 1-2 duo in the nets for the Detroit. In 1996 they combined to post the lowest GAA in the NHL, earning them a split of the Jennings Trophy. Osgood also led the league in wins that year with 39 and was a Vezina finalist, but once again neither he nor Vernon was enough to get the Wings to the Finals. In 1997 he was the backup for the playoffs as Vernon's Conn Smythe-winning goaltending helped carry the Wings to the Cup they had been sorely trying to win. Vernon departed after that season, and Osgood became the #1 guy. He didn't disappoint, leading the Wings to a second straight Stanley Cup.

The Wings were unable to advance past the second round for the next couple of seasons, and the Wings acquired Dominik Hasek in the summer of 2001. Osgood was left unprotected in the waiver draft and was picked up by the Islanders. He split the next 3 seasons between the Islanders and Blues, and helped both secure playoff spots during his stints there, a feat that should be considered Godly considering how garbage both of those teams have been since. In 2005, after the lockout was over, Ozzie came back home to Detroit and served as the backup to Manny Legace. When the Wings re-signed Hasek, Osgood stayed on as backup, but when Hasek was unable to beat the Predators in 2008, Ozzie stepped in as the starter and proceeded to only lose 4 of the next 18 games he played, posting a ridiculous 1.55 GAA and .930 SV%. Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to recapture that level of play consistently, although he was one of the main reasons why the Wings were able to get back to the Finals in 2009, and certainly could not be blamed for the loss to the Penguins.

I picked Osgood for the list because I had to have a goalie, and he's the one who has made the biggest impact on the franchise in my lifetime. I don't think he's the "best" goalie the Wings have had: that honour would likely go to Hasek. But Osgood has been more important to the team given his tenure and the fact that he has backstopped (as the starter) 2 Cup winners. I picked him this high because I feel that he deserves the recognition for his contributions to the team.

Ah yes, the recognition. I would dare someone to show me a player that is universally disrespected by NHL fans as a whole like Osgood has been throughout his career. The argument has always been the same: he's not that good, it's the team in front of him. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that phrase or some variation of it, I would have enough money to buy an Osgood jersey. I have 2 counterarguments to this line of thinking:

First, no goalie in NHL history has not benefitted from having a good team in front of him, specifically a good defense corps. The 3 best goalies I have seen in my lifetime are Brodeur, Roy and Hasek; for anyone to suggest that they won Cups in spite of their teammates instead of because of them is patently absurd. If a goalie could do it on their own, then Hasek would have had 2 Cups with the Sabres long before he became a Red Wing; Brodeur would have more than the 3 he's got, and Roy would have more than 4. While I have no doubts that those guys made their teams better, the reverse is also true: they won Cups because they had good players in front of them. Second, and more specific to the Red Wings, if the team was so good, why haven't more goalies won Cups while they were a Wing? Guys like Curtis Joseph and Manny Legace were good goalies, but neither one of them even got close to winning. Was it their fault? In Legace's case, absolutely it was. But it wasn't Joseph's; he simply ran into a scorching hot opponent in Giguere.

I won't dispute that Osgood has had his fair share of "oops" moments; in 1998, he gave up a long goal in each of the first 3 rounds (Roenick's shot against Phoenix, Macinnis' shot against St Louis and Langenbruner's shot against Dallas). But what non-Wing fans fail to remember is that he followed up those bad goals with stellar games (he pitched a shutout the game after giving up the long OT goal against the Stars). While I don't believe that Osgood has ever been the type of guy that can steal a series, he hasn't had to be on the Wings; he just has to be as good as the other goalie. This is where having a good team in front of him can be a great benefit. However, what Osgood has always done is make the big save at the right time; when the Wings needed a big stop to slow the other team's momentum or keep the Wings in the game, more often than not he was able to make the stop and give the Wings a chance. Not many goalies in the last 20 years for the Wings have been able to do that *cough*Legace*cough*. Yet no one seems to understand this. I just don't think it's fair to heap all the blame for the Wings' failures on Osgood, but then turn around and not give him any credit when they succeed. 2008 is a perfect example of this. Were it not for Ozzie coming in to rescue arguably the best goalie of the last 10 years, the Wings might not survive the first round. Instead, he takes over and the Wings win yet another Cup. Hell, in 2009, had the Wings won Game 7, I believe he'd have a Conn Smythe on his mantle.

Out of all of the goalies I have seen wearing the Red and White, I can't think of a better one the Wings have had than Ozzie. While he struggled last year and in the regular season of 2008-09, his role has now changed. No longer is he the go-to guy the team relies on to get them through a playoff run; he's now the wily veteran who serves as mentor and friend to the goalie of the future, a Mr Jimmy Howard. More than once last year Howard commented on how good Osgood was to have as someone to teach and watch over him during his rookie season. It's clear that Osgood has embraced his role with open arms, as he has done anytime the Wings have asked him to do something. While he spent time with the Islanders and Blues, it's clear that Osgood will always be remembered as a Wing, and a good one at that. I look forward to the day when I can watch his Hall of Fame induction speech and see him drop the puck at the Leaf game that weekend.

I leave you with my favourite Chris Osgood memory. Keep in mind only 2 other goalies in NHL history has done this. A thing of beauty (sorry for the poor quality):




Simply amazing. Let's see Roy do that.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Greatest Red Wings of MY Time - #8

There's not much happening in Red Wing Nation today, nor in the NHL as a whole. The fallout from the Kovalchuk decision is still happening, with columnists and fans all weighing in with their opinions on everything from who he will sign with to how this will affect labour negotiations in the future. But today I want to get right into it, so I present #8 on my list.

Vladimir Konstantinov

Pertinent Stats: 446 GP, 47 G, 128 A, 175 P, +185, 838 PIM
Awards: None
Stanley Cups: 2 - 1997, 1998

I won't lie to you: this one is going to be tough for me, because Vlad was one of my favourite players on the team. There was always something about him that was different from the rest of the Wings. Most of the players were "good" guys who, from time to time, played with varying degrees of an edge. Vlad had no edge. If the Wings were a tool box, Vlad was the sledge hammer. I loved the way he played. There was no real "style" to his game, as he was all about substance, that substance being his bulky frame, which he threw around with impunity.

Konstaninov was selected in the 11th round of the epic 1989 draft (the same draft that yielded Lidstrom, Federov and Drake). He cracked the lineup for the 1991-92 season, and after an impressive rookie year, he was named to the NHL's All-Rookie Team. He was never a particularly gifted scorer, but the Wings got him for his defense, not for his offense. His best season offensively was 96-97, when he tallied 38 points, but only 5 goals. However, his +/- was off the charts, including a ridiculous +60 in 95-96, the highest in the league. This was the year the "Russian Five" was put together, with Vlad playing the part of the muscle on the line. His nicknames were "Vlad the Impaler" and the "Vladinator", and they fit his style of play perfectly. He was easily the most feared hitter on the team, and by '96-97, was being recognized as one of the best open-ice hitters in the entire league.

I loved Vlad. I loved the fact he couldn't really speak English, yet he would hit guys so hard they could forget how to speak it themselves. I loved that he threw one of my favourite hits of all time (the first one, although the second one was pretty awesome as well):




I loved that, despite his physicality, he still had some decent hands. I loved that he was a Norris Trophy candidate before Lidstrom ever was (and that's not a knock on Lidstrom - that just shows how good Konstantinov was, especially considering he wasn't great offensively). I loved that he was one of the toughest pound-for-pound players in the NHL, which completely flew in the face of the stereotype of the soft Russian. I loved that he looked evil and mean, like the bad guy in any Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Mostly, I loved that, together with Lidstrom, they formed the best 1-2 punch of defensemen in the NHL. Think about it: after facing Lidstrom for 30-40 seconds, opponents would then have to face Vlad. The Wings won the Cup in 1997, and Konstantinov played a pivotal role.

Then it all went to shit.

We all know the story: the team is out celebrating and does the responsible thing by hiring limousines for the players. Vlad, Slava Fetisov and Sergei Mnatsakanov get into a limo driven by Richard Gnida, who had no business being behind the wheel of his own car, let alone being responsible for driving other people (but I won't get into that, because to talk about him will result in my fist being driven through my computer screen - I should probably see someone about my rage issues). It's strange to think that getting into a car drastically altered the lives of 2 people, but that's exactly what happened. Gnida lost control of the limo and it struck a tree. Suddenly Vlad's carrier is over, and more importantly, his life is in jeopardy.

I'm sure every Red Wing fan knows where they were when they heard the news about the accident. I was at a pool hall with my friends, sporting my brand new Stanley Cup Champions hat and shirt. What made this particularly awesome is that I was among many bitter Maple Leaf fans; those same fans that had tortured and taunted me over the Wings' many failures in the past 10 years. I finally had my revenge, and boy did I let everyone in that place know that I cheered for a winner. I glanced over at the TV and saw the Sportscenter anchor talking. There was no sound, but they had Vlad's picture up in the corner, and the look on the anchor's face was serious. I got an uneasy feeling, but that was nothing compared to what I felt after the next image popped up on the screen: the mangled limo. Suddenly it all become clear. I only caught a few words and phrases of what the anchor said: limo crash....Vlad seriously hurt....critical. They broke away to commercial, and then I did something.

I cried.

This wasn't the "full-on, sobbing uncontrollably" kind of cry. It was only a few tears, but for me, this was huge. I've cried very few times in the last 15 years: my wedding (there's a joke in there, but I'll save that for another day), the days my daughters were born, and when my grandmother recently passed away. Besides those instances, there were 3 other times, 2 within a week of each other: Vlad's accident and the night they won a week before that. I cried because I knew his career was done; I realized that it was selfish of me to think that, because I was looking at it from the perspective of a Wing fan, knowing that we just lost one of the most important members of the team. But as I learned more about him and his family, I realized that while I will be sad for a while, it will pass and we will all move on, but for Vlad and his family, the struggle back to normalcy was just beginning.

The 1997-98 season could have been the script of a movie: a team overcomes decades of frustration and wins a championship; during the celebration of that championship, a team member is critically injured through no fault of his own; the team dedicates the following season to the player and repeats as champions. There were even the required emotional scenes: the return of Vladdy to the Joe during the Conference Finals against Dallas was one and the presenting of the Cup to him while he was in his wheelchair at center ice, with the entire team gathering around him to celebrate. Remember when I said there were 3 non-family related times I cried? Guess when number 3 happened. The series between the Wings and Caps, overall, was a snoozefest. But that Cup presentation was one of the best I've ever seen, and solidified the fact that these guys were a team, not just a bunch of players trying to win.

I realize that Vlad was a little high on this list, and most of that is just my sentimentality coming through. But what gets lost in the discussion about him was just how damn good he was. From a Red Wing perspective, it's such a shame that his career ended the way it did, because he was just coming into form as a dominant defenseman in the NHL, and I have no doubts he would have helped the Wings win a few more Cups down the line. He could hit with the best of them, and wasn't afraid to drop his gloves and take a guy on, which was impressive considering that he wasn't a big guy himself (5'11", 190 lbs). While I always was impressed by what he brought to the team, he also contributed after the accident, becoming something the team could rally around in their quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. The '98 Wings were the last team to repeat (a trend that will continue this year: suck it Blackhawks), and Vlad's injuries were a large part of that, giving the team a reason (beyond all the obvious ones) to do their best and win it all. As the years have passed, stories have come out that show that Vlad is not all the way back, and probably never will get to the place he was at before the accident. But he has persevered through all the rehab and treatment to get to a point where he can function day to day, and after what happened, that's pretty inspirational. The Wings have not had a player since Vlad that was as tough as he was in terms of hitting: while Kronwall may dish out some big checks, he's not as ferocious as Vlad was. He's easily the best pure hitter I've ever seen in a Red Wing uniform. Maybe this was my heart talking more than my head, but there are not many players I would consider better than Vlad in my lifetime. Therefore, he gets the #8 spot on the Greatest Red Wings of My Time.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Greatest Red Wings of MY Time - #9

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.

Tomas Holmstrom

Pertinent Stats: 879 GP, 214 G, 255 A, 469 P, +43, 102 PPG
Awards: None
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.