To Everything: Turn, Turn, Turn

Photo by David Guralnick, The Detroit News

I try not to be an alarmist.

I’ve written this post three separate times. It started off impassioned and blame-ridden. It became resigned and demoralizing. And I decided that none of that was going to do any good right now. It’s important to note right off of the top that I love this team more than anything. And nothing will change that, ever. They provide us with endless entertainment, joy, frustration, and admiration. The very last thing I want is to come off like I’m not grateful for the countless seasons of gratifying hockey, and the opportunities that I’ve been afforded by a world-class sports organization. Four Stanley Cups (in my lifetime), six Finals appearances, twenty-one straight playoff appearances, and twenty-three consecutive home wins don’t happen by accident, and there’s no denying we’re as spoiled as any sporting community on the planet. And I used to live in New York. After a stop in Chicago.

That said, there’s an undeniable, unpleasant truth that needs to be aired today. It won’t feel nice to read. And I don’t expect to make any new friends with the assertion, and that’s okay. But if there are going to be two thousand posts written in the coming days about how the team “doesn’t need a major shake-up” or “only tweaks are needed to get to the top,” I’ll happily act as the foil to that argument. With one that makes sense.

This team was not built to compete for a championship. And, making matters worse, next year’s team won’t be either.

I know, for a fact, that Ken Holland and his team of masterminds will always seek to improve this team, regardless of their finish. It’s impossible not to admire the Red Wings’ ability to constantly churn out quality NHL players. There simply is not a better run organization in all of sports, and it’s important not to lose sight of that. And if you were to ditch Mike Babcock… who do you replace him with? He is one of the best minds that exists in this sport and he’s not going anywhere. Nor should he.

However, if I have a criticism of team management, it’s the stubbornness with which the roster and lineup are designed. We always know who will be on the roster before training camp even opens… which doesn’t allow for the kind of competition that forces players to bring their best every single shift. Not only that, it doesn’t provide for any sort of legitimate roster turnover. Turnover, by the way, is a good thing for a team that hasn’t gone deep into the playoffs for three years sporting the same roster.

Of the fifteen forwards currently on the roster, THIRTEEN are under contract for next season (or are restricted free agents that you know will be brought back at all costs). Though management will look to upgrade — chasing notable free agents like New Jersey’s Zach Parise for a new scoring punch — I’m left with two questions:

Is this current crop of forwards next season’s crop of forwards?

And…

Is anyone alright with that?

In general, loyalty to your veterans and requiring prospects to pay their dues is an unbelievable mantra. It’s been proven to be beneficial to these very Red Wings for decades. It didn’t matter that Gustav Nyquist (and Chris Conner, for that matter) were overqualified for the Grand Rapids Griffins and may have been better suited for the Detroit Red Wings than some others who made the team: that’s not the Red Wings Way.

Trading players who have contributed in the past… or should be expected to be relied upon in the future is not the Red Wings Way.

Playing a rookie in a top six role, despite his clear ability to do so is not the Red Wings Way. He’ll be expected to contribute for three minutes a night on the fourth line, which — with his abilities and skill set — is not a fit. To any rule, there are exceptions. Some people don’t fit the mold you’ve made out of the Mattias Ritolas and Cory Emmertons and Mark Mowerses and Josh Langfelds.

I hate to be the one to say it, but: Is the Red Wings Way working at this moment? Is this stubborn philosophy so valuable that other philosophies aren’t valid? The Red Wings Way sure as hell isn’t getting bounced by the San Jose Sharks (twice) and Nashville Predators — two teams that didn’t even exist when the playoff streak began.

It’s been several years since the team underwent any sort of legitimate turnover. We’ve seen guys like Kris Draper and Chris Chelios and Kirk Maltby say goodbye… and players like Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull and Kyle Calder wear out their welcome before too long. But when was the last time there was a change of scenery that made a significant difference in the day-to-day goings-on of the Detroit Red Wings? Besides Marian Hossa, who everyone and their mother knew was going to be a one-year experiment except for the idiots who boo him at the Joe, the highest player on the depth chart to be moved off of this roster in the last five years was Mikael Samuelsson — arguably the sixth of the top six. For a modern-day comparison, the Jiri Hudler of his time (Hudler, by the way, was 7th on that team).

Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary, Drew Miller, Cory Emmerton, Jan Mursak, Patrick Eaves, and Gustav Nyquist are all under contract for next season; and Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader are restricted free agents who will be brought back because that’s how RFAs work.

The only two forwards on the roster who are not signed for next season (and are unrestricted) are Tomas Holmstrom — who may consider retirement — and Jiri Hudler — who may search out a pay day from another team. If either of those guys are re-signed by the Wings… then what? We go into 2012-13 with the exact same roster as the one that failed to get the job done this year. And the one before. And the one before that.

Something’s gotta be done. And something big.

We’re going to read a lot about those aforementioned tweaks. It’s all bullshit. Tweaks are what the Canucks might have needed when they fell one game short last year. And maybe what the Wings needed in ’09 when they fell one bounce short. The 2012 Red Wings? They’re not even close. They need a hell of a lot more than tweaks. Not an explosion, mind you. But something.

If the Wings are able to wrangle a big-time name like Parise (but, to be clear, would he want to leave the Devils for a Red Wings team that lost in the first round?), I’m certain they’ll make room for him. But at who’s expense? Lower tier guys are often the ones who exit this system (Mattias Ritola, Ville Leino, Jason Williams, Tomas Kopecky)… but that doesn’t help when you refuse to shake up your top lines anyway.

Moving out Cory Emmerton and Jan Mursak (who’s never gotten a chance) to make room for Zach Parise doesn’t make sense. But the fix isn’t all that easy:

1. Pavel Datsyuk — legitimately one of the best players in the world, he’s not going anywhere.
2. Henrik Zetterberg — all heart and a natural born leader who has been groomed to be the captain of this team since the Yzerman days.
3. Johan Franzen — an invisible object that’s being paid until the year that V for Vendetta takes place, making him immovable.
4. Todd Bertuzzi — just signed on for two additional years of no-trade, 35+ hockey.
5. Valtteri Filppula — finally had the offensive breakthrough everyone’s been waiting for and a quietly dominant piece of this puzzle.
6. Dan Cleary — all grit and determination when he’s healthy, and the Wings won’t ditch a player returning from injury.
7. Patrick Eaves — see above. In fact, the NHLPA won’t ALLOW the Wings to ditch a player who ended the season on IR.
8. Drew Miller — has more than earned his place on the bottom six of this team.
9. Darren Helm — the living embodiment of the city of Detroit, it’s blue-collar work ethic, and the two-way hockey the Wings are famous for.
10. Justin Abdelkader — a homegrown hero whose contributions can’t be ignored.
11. Cory Emmerton — the fourth line center who was firmly entrenched in his position and centers are hard to find/keep.
12. Jan Mursak — legitimately one of the fastest skaters in the game.
13. Gustav Nyquist — arguably the most exciting prospect to come through this organization in a decade.

And all of a sudden, we’re in the same boat as Ken Holland’s in each summer.

So now what?

Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Bertuzzi, and Cleary aren’t going anywhere. Franzen probably isn’t going anywhere. Helm and Abdelkader aren’t going anywhere without a fight. Eaves and Miller can’t BOTH be moved, but may make one another redundant. Nyquist is (still) too good for the AHL.

Bouncing Cory Emmerton an Jan Mursak seem like the easiest fix… but what does it fix? The other 85% of the forward ranks remain intact. Arguably the 85% that matters and that play the games.

Things can’t stay the same if you expect a different outcome. Losing early for a third straight year won’t sit well with ownership or management. All of those gentlemen expect even more than we do, as fans.

The blueline, it would seem, is headed toward a major change. Nicklas Lidstrom has been non-committal (at best) about his future and may think that 42 is when he’d like to hang them up, particularly following the only major injury he’s ever faced. Brad Stuart’s probably already redecorating his California home. Kyle Quincey is a restricted free agent whom many fans are already hoping finds a new place to play.

Ian White, who has looked human without the aid of playing with Lidstrom, is signed for another year. Kronwall has re-signed for another seven. Kindl and Ericsson have a year and two, respectively. Brendan Smith is probably ready for the big leagues.

So there’s going to be some movement there. But losing Lidstrom and Stuart aren’t positive improvements. There’s no replacing one of those gentlemen… and probably not the other given this upcoming crap-fest of a free agent class. And no, Ryan Suter doesn’t want to play for the team that he beat in the first round.

A fourth year with the same roster won’t be the charm. For the first time in a long while, we’re going to have to be prepared to say goodbye… to abandon the “Red Wings Way” for a better way: one that works in the modern-day NHL. One that the other 29 teams aren’t up on, having adopted for themselves, and learned to exploit time and time again. Someone’s feelings are going to get hurt, and we’re all going to be better off for it.

Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to hear in September that the 23 best players in camp will make the Detroit Red Wings

Maybe we’ll find that they actually mean it this time and no one will feel entitled to their spot.

Maybe we’ll have a player bypass the “usual” ways to make this team and prove he’s an exception to the rule.

Maybe we’ll have to deal with life after Lidstrom.

Maybe we’ll find that free agents don’t necessarily want to play in Detroit like they used to.

Maybe we’ll be forced into making a trade or two to improve this team.

A lot of maybes. Which is scary. It’s been a long time since we’ve had to acknowledge some of the facts above… and we’ve never had to acknowledge all of them at the same time. There may be some question marks heading into this off-season, but there are a few guarantees, as well.

This team will be good again. Mr. Ilitch won’t accept anything less than the crown jewel of the National Hockey League.

This team will continue to be run by the very best in the business and they’re not unaware of any of the above. They’ve been thinking it longer than we have.

This team will be beloved by the most passionate and community-driven fan base in the league. And we’ll continue to inspire and influence the fan bases of the league.

This team will right the wrongs, fix what’s broken, and mend what’s torn.

This team will do what it has to do.

This team will rise again. We’re all hoping it’s sooner rather than later.

Is 2012-13 going to be the year that we celebrate with a parade down Woodward? I certainly hope so. But if things don’t change, it won’t be. There’s gotta be some changes made for the first time in several years.

And not tweaks.

9 thoughts on “To Everything: Turn, Turn, Turn”

  1. Wonderfully written post. Can’t agree more that (a) we have been spoiled as fans and really can’t complain about our situation; (b) if nothing is done to the Top 6 forwards of this team, we’ll be nothing more than a team built for the first round or two of the playoffs. I love the Euro Twins, but neither of them are dependable elite goal scorers. Our “system” creates a lot of puck possession and shots year after year, but systems don’t score goals – goal scorers do. Lots of uncertainty heading into next year.

  2. Awesome take.  That Bertuzzi contract looks even more ridiculous than when he initially signed it.  Its a mistake.  I actually fully expect Holland to shop Fil the summer.  I really like Fil but he is the only legitimate piece that can be moved.  Unless Holland gets lucky and the new CBA allows some sort of amnesty clause, and then its so long Franzen.  I was actually a little disappointed that they entered this year with the same team when everyone else looked like they made improvements.  I am worried about Parise and Suter as well.  Hard to believe they want to join a team that looks like it could be in for a rebuild, but the wings will have the money.

    Son, when you participate in sporting events, it’s not whether you win or lose: it’s how drunk you get.

  3. The Red Wings have an organizational problem with their roles and perhaps the same nice way that Detroit treats their players (which is supposed to send a message to free agents that it’s a great organization for whom to play) may be getting in the way of them fixing it. Detroit has far too many middle-six forwards. I don’t want a goon squad out there, but I want lines that know what they’re supposed to do. 2 scoring lines, 1 energy line, 1 checking line. At times this season, it felt like all four lines were kind of a beige mess.

    I like Todd Bertuzzi on a checking line role, I really do. But I’m done pretending that he’s a top-six “big-bodied” forward, especially with the reputation (and legitimate calls) against him. If Bert can consistently put together offense from the third line while those guys go out there primarily to lean on the other team and tire them out, then power to him, but the plan to have the most guys in the league with double-digit goals while at the same time lacking a guy who puts in 30 is not working.

    There’s like, 12 other paragraphs I want to write about this. Bottom line is that the Wings are probably going to have to part ways with guys they like and guys that work hard to bring in guys who get more results.  I’m a fan of every single person who puts on the Winged Wheel sweater (no, seriously), but I’m a much bigger fan of the logo on the front than the name on the back. The business is winning hockey games.

  4. Perfectly said. I feel now the way I did after 2006: this team needs to get hungry again. 

    There’s a ton of “good” talent on this team, particularly at forward, but who is going to be the offensive leader when Datsyuk and Zetterberg inevitably begin their decline? I don’t believe that player is in the system yet, and if he is (Nyquist, Jarnkrok, Pulkkinen) then the team won’t allow him to showcase what he can do because he hasn’t played 4 years in Grand Rapids yet. 

    I have a lot of faith in Ken Holland, Mike Babcock, Jim Nill and the rest of the Wings’ braintrust, but this offseason is going to go a long way to prove that they’re still the best in the league. 

  5. I totally agree we need some bigger changes and not just tweaks. But with the above listed problems of what can/can’t be done, what do you want to see done? Is that a topic of a future post? Not like a if I could have anything I wanted, but what do you feasibly think the best thing the Wings could do to get better for next season?

  6. The worst part of the “adjustments” we’ll have to make to be competitive is that a few minor tweaks each season here and there could have totally prevented us from having to make such drastic moves. It’s like spring cleaning, had we done “preventative” and routine tweaks and changes, we wouldn’t be in a position where the only way to get better is to make some bigger moves.

  7. If Brian Campbell could be moved, Franzen could be moved. Yes, Campbell was moved for nothing but 1) his contract is 150% more expensive than Franzen’s and 2) he sucks. Franzen is inconsistant and his deal is crazy long (until he’s 40) but Campbell’s lasts four more years (until he’s 36). Franzen’s lasts 7 more years (yikes) but the actual payout tapers down to $1m. For a cheap team like Florida, they might actually like that. The cap hit is 3-4 times the actual cost so Florida can hit the salary floor without having to pay it.

    I really think Detroit could get something for Franzen if they package him with someone like Cleary and Mursak. Cleary is obviously worn down and despite scoring 26 goals last season, he’s not worth almost $3m a year, especially when he’s going to turn 34 next season and he’s a UFA after next year meaning he can walk for nothing. If I’m Detroit I package them and add Mursak (who I like but he doesn’t seem to be Wings quality and he isn’t better than Eaves).
    Detroit needs to let Nyquist and Tatar get top 9 playing time. Between them they scored 46 goals in Grand Rapids this year. They’re ready for playing time. Moving Cleary, Franzen and Mursak would give Tatar and Nyquist a spot to play in Detroit next year, clear north of $7m, replace a 33 year old and a 34 year old with a 22 year old and a 23 year old, and would probably also get Detroit either a top 4 defender or a top 6 forward in return. 

     

    1.  While I don’t think it’s impossible to move Franzen, there’s a bit of context which makes the Campbell move easier.  For one, Brian Campbell was moved to the team with the GM that originally signed him to that contract (after Tallon was fired in Chicago, he moved on to Florida). There’s been some speculation about a few wink/nudge deals between those two teams where Tallon tried to help the Hawks out of a mess he helped created while also helping the Panthers out of a problem of their own: the salary floor.

      The Campbell deal and it’s $7.1M cap hit basically solved their salary floor issues in one fell swoop.  The thing about that deal is that Campbell is on a $7.1M cap hit for every year because he’s on a $7.1M salary every year. In the next 4 years of Johan Franzen’s deal, he’ll be paid $20.25M and only count for $15.8M against the cap.  This is bad math for a bottom-of-the-payscale team which can’t afford to bring on salaries that are bigger than cap hits.

      I agree that I don’t think it will be impossible to move Franzen, but I’m not sure it will be likely.

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