Month: January 2015

If the Detroit Red Wings had a Skills Competition

Pavel Datsyuk

Photo by Spokeo

Though no Detroit Red Wings player will be a part of it, the NHL All-Stars will be participating in the All-Star Skills Competition this weekend in Columbus. Among the events are competitions for fastest skater, fastest slap shot, most accurate shot, and best at breakaways. Looking at this from a different and probably more entertaining perspective, I wonder which Red Wings would participate in each event if the team had its own skills competition.

Teams used to hold these kind of events for fans in the past, but have since allowed players not invited to the NHL events to take the time off and rest up for the stretch run. Red Wings like Tomas Tatar and Petr Mrazek have already found sun and warm weather for the week break. If those two and the rest of the team were still in town, who would participate in what event? Who would win? Well, we thought about it and need your opinion regarding the participants and winners.

Fastest Slapshot

Who has the fastest clapper on the team? There is no clear answer like Alex Ovechkin in DC or Zdeno Chara in Boston. The Red Wings boast a few players with hard shots, but none that could break a goalie’s hand. Who gets your vote? The winner receives the Reed Larson Award for hardest shot.

Niklas Kronwall – Known for blasting shots from the point on the power play, Kronwall probably takes a clapper more than anyone on the team. He tries to be more accurate that powerful with his shot like the great Nick Lidstrom.

Jonathan Ericsson – “Big Rig” can really bring it from the blue line, but does not wind up for the cannon shot very often. He has rifled some big shots in the past though.

Teemu Pulkkinen – You can’t be compared to Brett Hull unless you have a heavy shot. Teemu’s go-to is his cannon that we are all hoping he’ll get to shoot a lot of in the show soon.

Danny DeKeyser – Another blueliner who favors the smart play over the big wind up, DeKeyser would be another participant in the hardest shot competition. Does he trump the field?

Most Accurate Shot

Guys like Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov come to mind when thinking of Red Wings who can pick a corner. Who from today’s team would win the competition though? There is an abundance of talent here, but we picked the top four for consideration. The winner receives the Sergei Fedorov Award for Shooting Excellence.

Pavel Datsyuk – Obvious participant. Magical in general for snipage.

Johan Franzen – Though he goes through dry spells, Franzen can snipe. He can go bar down on most goalies in the league when his confidence is riding high.

Tomas Tatar – Could he be the next best pure goal-scorer for the Red Wings? His team-leading 21 goals don’t lie. He could reach 40 goals this season if he keeps making goalies look bad.

Henrik Zetterberg – Most of Z’s goals are not fancy snipes, but accurately and strategically placed shots to where the goalie is not covering. Could that translate to hitting all four targets at each corner of the net?

Fastest Skater

Which Red Wings player has the best wheels? We cannot go into bars to determine that, but we can quantify who can skate around the rink the fastest. Speed is another talent the Wings have collectively, but here are the top four. Winner receives the Kris Draper Hustle Award.

Darren Helm – Like Datsyuk when it comes to sniping, Helm is an obvious candidate for fastest skater.

Luke Glendening – He would probably have Mike Babcock‘s vote. Hustle is key here.

Brendan Smith – When given a lane and an opportunity, Brendan Smith can really fly. As a defenseman, you wouldn’t normally consider him for a fastest skater competition, but he deserves the chance.

Justin Abdelkader – Just another Red Wings player who can move in a fast manner. Abdelkader could definitely keep pace with the other competitors.

Breakaway Survival Challenge

For the sake of changing things up from the norm, this competition would be to see which Red Wings player would be the last man standing in a breakaway contest. To ensure that all four are not stopped on the first try, imagine Jimmy Howard is in net for the event. This winner receives the Steve Yzerman Award.

Pavel Datsyuk – We haven’t seen as many Datsyukian Dekes lately, but Pav can still dangle with the best. He is currently the active leader for shootout goals.

Gustav Nyquist – He’s the next man up after Datsyuk in the shootout and has converted on a few attempts this season. Could he outlast the Premier of Danglestan?

Tomas Tatar – Typically number three in the shootout lineup, Tatar can also snipe goalies when it comes to shootouts.

Tomas Jurco – He was highly-touted in juniors for his dangles and we have seen flashes of that over the past season and a half. Jurco is a wild card here with the skills and not much shootout experience.

Slowest Skater

Just for funsies. Which player on the Red Wings would take the longest doing a lap around the Joe? Could one of the goalies beat them? These players can have cinder blocks in their skates at times. Johan Franzen is not an option here because he can skate fast…when he wants. I won’t elaborate on why they are slow to prevent hurt feelings. Just vote for who you think needs turbo boosters to reach normal speed. I’m not sure this warrants an award, but winner get the Andreas Lilja Cement Shoes Award.

Vote! See, voting can be fun when it doesn’t involve politics or prom king or queen! Vote!

Red Wings’ McCollum Notches Bittersweet First Win

Tom McCollum

Photo by Mark Newman/Grand Rapids Griffins

Though Tom McCollum‘s entrance to the game against his hometown Buffalo Sabres came at a 3-0 disadvantage, the Red Wing’s fourth string goalie got his first NHL win on Sunday night.

Many anticipated last night’s game to be a “trap game” following a dominating performance against a high-powered Nashville Predators team on Saturday night. The lowly Buffalo Sabres did not seem to pose a threat to the Red Wings on paper. That’s why games are played though.

After allowing three goals on his first seven shots, Petr Mrazek was given the hook in favor of McCollum. No one was playing well at this point, so the move to yank Mrazek was more of a coaching strategy, rather than a nod to Mrazek’s poor play. The Red Wings responded with five unanswered goals en route to a 6-4 victory.

McCollum was not tested very much after entering the game. He only faced eight shots and allowed one goal on a Tyler Ennis turnaround shot. For the former 2008 first round draft pick, his first NHL win could not come soon enough and against a better team, though better would not be used to describe the talent of the team.

Tom McCollum grew up in the suburbs of Buffalo and rooted for the Sabres growing up. He watched Dominik Hasek redefine “dominance” while in Buffalo and then another great tender in Ryan Miller for a brief time until he was drafted in 2008. It was fitting that McCollum’s first NHL win came against the team he grew up cheering for. It was also fitting the way that the win was achieved.

Redemption at the Joe

Last night’s victory serves as a solid metaphor for McCollum’s career after he was drafted by Detroit. It started out a flaming pile of garbage, though unlike his career, McCollum was not in net for the down period. After a decent enough end to the first period, things started to pick up and order was restored. The Red Wings fought back and evened the game, like how Tom fought to preserve his standing with the Grand Rapids Griffins after Petr Mrazek jumped him in the depth chart and the Red Wings signed Jared Coreau out of Northern Michigan for organizational depth.

The next act was to assert dominance and come out on top. McCollum mirrored that in Grand Rapids following the team’s Calder Cup championship in 2013. Though he was not always the starting goalie, McCollum have posted solid numbers in a season and a half since. After Mrazek was promoted to the Red Wings following Jonas Gustavsson‘s shoulder injury, Tom McCollum took over as the starter in Grand Rapids and did not falter. He posted ten wins and a 2.33 goals against average in the AHL before joining the big league team.

Goaltenders have always been known to battle. Tom McCollum certainly did last night to keep pace with his career revitalization. It remains to be seen when and where McCollum will have a more permanent NHL job, but he can only keep battling until then to prove he belongs.

Red Wings’ Tender Groins

photo 1 It’s pretty unfortunate that Jimmy Howard will be out for the foreseeable. It’s also pretty unfortunate that it could have been avoided too.

I was at the Verizon Center the night of the Red Wings’ stinker of a game against the Capitals. I also enjoy walking into the Caps’ arena and seeing their 1997-98 Eastern Conference Championship banner hanging from the rafters. I may have been a kid then, but I distinctly remember Sergei FedorovSteve Yzerman, and Doug Brown scoring clutch goals for the Red Wings. Kris Draper had an important goal too.

But back to Howard.

We all saw Jimmy go behind the net to play the puck after the Caps dumped it in. Kyle Quincey and Danny DeKeyser came back, but neither were in a position to beat Caps’ forward Troy Brouwer to the puck. DeKeyser yelled, “Play it! Play it!” for Howard to rim the puck around the boards. I could hear him all the way from my seat, so surely Howard heard him from 25 feet away. He panicked and left the puck blindly, thinking Quincey was coming through to take it. A few seconds later, the puck was in the net and Howard was agonizing in pain. Now, he’s out through the All-Star break, at the very least.

He was named to the All-Star team earlier that day.

What’s Next

photo 2With Howard on the shelf, it’s Petr Mrazek‘s time to shine. Mrazek, 22, is the Red Wings’ top goaltending prospect and will get an early look at being the team’s starting goalie for the next few weeks. The Monster, Jonas Gustavsson, is not ready to play after sustaining a separated shoulder against the Rangers a few months ago.

Mrazek has the mental makeup to be an NHL starter and the talent to make it happen. I’ve been an advocate of that since I saw him play in the 2010 World Junior Tournament. He reminds me of a young Dominik Hasek with his aggressive style of play. He’s got a long way before getting to Dom’s level though.

The Red Wings have Buffalo up next, followed by St. Louis and Nashville. Buffalo, again, and Minnesota round out the schedule before the All-Star break. While the schedule is skewed toward the lighter side with Minnesota and Buffalo, the other two opponents are top teams in the NHL and will truly test Mrazek’s NHL-readiness. Niklas Kronwall and company will need to be on their game for the next five games in front of “Petr Griffin”. Tom McCollum will serve as Mrazek’s backup, but probably won’t see the ice unless something horrible happens.

Let’s see what future starter Petr Mrazek has in store for the Wings as the current starting goalie.

New Years Resolutions for the Detroit Red Wings

First off, happy weekend to everyone ready to enjoy a couple more days off. Cheers to another year of great Detroit Red Wings hockey and another season added to the Wings’ glorious playoff streak.

If you go to your local gym, you’ll likely see a lot of New Years resolutions in action. While those may only last a month or less, let’s hope the Detroit Red Wings stick to their resolutions. And by their resolutions, I mean the resolutions I am giving them.

For the New Year, the Red Wings should, and hopefully will, focus on five resolutions that will make them a better team — like how going to the gym will make me a better person. Five is a fair number because Nicklas Lidstrom is a fair person. In no particular order, here we go:

1. Wake Up the Hibernating Johan Franzen

Johan Franzen

Photo courtesy of Julian H. Gonzalez

Obvious, right? Right. Capable of being a 30-goal scorer for the Red Wings with his blistering shot, Johan Franzen only has seven goals to his name at the halfway point. He is always on the cusp of going on a hot streak. However, Franzen is currently enduring a shivering cold streak. How cold? Think north of the wall on Game of Thrones. If Franzen can put the biscuit in the basket in consecutive games, I am confident that will jump-start his game and be the goal-scoring power forward the Red Wings have been hoping for this season.

2. Add More Sandpaper to the Lineup

A healthy Stephen Weiss will help achieve this goal, but he alone is not enough. Weiss and Justin Abdelkader are primarily the only forwards that add grit to the lineup. Look back to the last game against Boston. The Bruins’ tough defense would not allow the Red Wings’ team finesse to get going in the offensive zone. While Detroit’s finesse game is what makes them a great team, they need to add more sandpaper and grit to the lineup if they are going to advance in the playoffs. Whether that comes from some soul searching or from another player being added to the lineup, the Wings need some toughness.

3. Let the Kids Play

Those not helping the grit department, the Red Wings could benefit from giving prospects like Teemu Pulkkinen and Anthony Mantha a game or two with the big league squad. Though their impact may be minimal at first, it certainly helps their development to skate along with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Niklas Kronwall. It certainly helped guys like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, and Riley Sheahan play a game or two before they fully ripened. This brief experience teaches them that while they may be dominating the minor leagues, the NHL is a whole different world and that further development and training is necessary for success.

4. Insert Xavier Ouellet into the Lineup Permanently

As the only defenseman to be recalled from Grand Rapids this season, Xavier Ouellet is quickly making a case that not only does he belong in the NHL, but in Detroit’s top six defensemen as well. It is apparent that he has leapfrogged Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff in the depth chart. No transactions allowing Ouellet to occupy that spot have been made yet because neither Kindl or Lashoff have played poorly enough to garner one. Xavier Ouellet is better than the two, but neither Kindl or Lashoff have been good enough to warrant a fair return on the trading block or bad enough to force an action by Ken Holland. My thought is this: dress the best 20 guys in the organization for a complete, balanced team. Ouellet cracks the top 20.

5. Don’t Throw Away Prospects

For the love of God, do not repeat the Calle Jarnkrok-for-David Legwand trade. It is true that the Red Wings have an abundance of solid prospects within the organization. They have depth at forward and on defense in the prospect pipeline and are looking for a top defenseman for the big league squad, but the Wings cannot squander a good prospect for minimal, short-term impact. Make the right deals leading up to the trade deadline. As parents often say (too late) to their children, “Don’t make poor choices!”

Stick to the plan, Red Wings! Don’t be the fatty in May who hasn’t been to the gym since early January!