Thursday, September 2, 2010

Red Wings Blogger Roundtable Part Five...

Hello and welcome to Part Five of the Roundtable. I cleaned up some of the cobwebs that have accumulated over here while I've been slacking this summer in order to play hostess to my esteemed fellow bloggers.

1. Several of the Wings had less-than-stellar seasons last year. Whether they suffered from injuries, failed to meet expectations for offensive production, or took a step back during their first whole season at the NHL level, there are a number of guys who stand to have a rebound season this time around. Who do the Wings need to rebound the most? Who do you think is most likely to step back up to the level of play expected of him? Will that be enough of an impact to fuel the "in house improvement" that the Wings are looking for this season?

Hollis: Considering that the Wings watched their scoring totals drop significantly last season, I'm sure that a case could be made for almost any player on the team, especially Hank of Pavel. That said, I'm going to say Dan Cleary needs to be the guy to REALLY step his game up and earn his paycheck on this team. He's making over $3 million a season, but not necessarily doing a whole lot to support that pay day in terms of putting pucks in nets. Sure, he was suffering through a pretty bad injury last year, which could account for the diminished numbers from him, but I still think he has a decent ways to go to reassure fans that the investment the Wings made in him was a good one. I hope this is the year he shows all of us just how good he can be when he's completely healthy.

Malik: I think that Babcock summed it up best in his "end-of-the-season address": Valtteri Filppula, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall and Dan Cleary need to rebound, big time, Chris Osgood needs to salvage his game and Jiri Hudler must most certainly at least attempt to live up to his salary, never mind Babs' hype.
This really is a make-it-or-break-it season for Filppula. If he's not able to graduate to the 40-to-50-point range working between Franzen and Bertuzzi, he really doesn't justify his $3 million salary, and the Wings may very well cut ties with him if he turns out to be nothing more than a really solid third-line center who can put up 10-15 goals and 35 points on a year-by-year basis. He needs to step up, big time.

Jonathan Ericsson's picture is definitely next to the "sophomore slump" term in the hockey dictionary now, and he has to at least play like a solid #5 defenseman who can move the puck and bang bodies a little harder this year. I wouldn't anticipate a quantum leap in growth, but he needs to reestablish himself this season.

Kronwall needs to return to 50-point territory, pure and simple. When the Wings have Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Kronwall healthy and pumping out elite-defenseman numbers, they've got a top three (never mind a fantastic top four thanks to Brad Stuart's ridiculously solid play) that few teams can keep up with and can play an elite puck-possession game. I think the Wings honestly missed Kronwall when he was out and at less than 100% than they missed any other player with the exception of Zetterberg. Kronwall's really the linchpin here--if he can return to his hard-hitting, hard-shooting, slick-passing form, the Wings' offense and defense alike will return to form. He needs to stay healthy for a full season.

Dan Cleary doesn't necessarily need to put up the kinds of numbers Filppula or Hudler are expected to provide. The Wings need Cleary to come to camp ready to take on the forechecking/net-front-man's role on the third line, stirring up trouble (and pucks) for Modano and Hudler as a sort of poor man's Holmstrom, all while providing a solid presence on the PK as well. 15 goals and 35-45 points would be fantastic but his work ethic and ability muck up pucks, screen goalies, retrieve rebounds and grind it out down low will matter much more than his point totals.

As for Hudler, I think Babcock's proclamation of a 70-point season is probably out of line given his 3rd-line status to start the season, but at the same time, I do think that a return to his previous 20-25 goal and 55-point form could happen easily working with Modano and Cleary. The Wings always had the ability to out-depth teams by dressing a third line when they won Cups, and establishing an offensive presence from the third line equals success.

Chris Osgood simply cannot play as poorly as he did last season for the Wings to succeed. The Wings can't make Jimmy Howard play 60+ games on a year-by-year basis without expecting him to break down and Osgood has to get his game together and provide more than mentorship for Howard--he must support the #1 goaltender and deliver in the winning department.

Tyler: I think it might be Chris Osgood. If I stick with my always-wrong gut feeling of a sophomore slump for Jimmy, he'll be needed way more than he was down the stretch last season, when he all but abandoned charting faceoffs and instead was drawing pictures of himself jumping out of a cake naked with the phrase "#400" written on the icing.

Casey: The Wings need Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to rebound the most. They both had good seasons in 2009-2010 but Datsyuk's was nothing compared to that of the Hart Trophy nomination year previously. Datsyuk can and will rebound and if Zetterberg stays healthy he will have a good season. I think that with those two carrying the load again this year it will allow the others around them to excel without as much pressure so their health and "rebounding" is very important.

Petrella: I think that Johan Franzen needs to rebound the most. And, obviously, it wasn't his "fault" he had a slower than usual season. That injury seemed mighty awful. I think that if he gets clicking right away, he can keep up a torrid pace and -- wait for it -- even lead the team in scoring this season. I think that the re-addition of Jiri Hudler, and to a smaller degree the addition of Mike Modano, will be enough to fuel the improvement on the front lines.

Saler: Osgood's gotta be the guy who needs to rebound the most. The Wings need him to get back to playing competently. I think the way to do that is to get him regular backup work. Given the season he had last year, I don't see bouncing back to be a problem for him, so I'd peg him as the guy most likely to step back up to the expected level. If he does, it'll go a long way in adding to the "in house improvement" the Wings're going for.

A good second choice for guy in need of a rebound year would be Ericsson, who absolutely has to regain some of the ability he showed in the 09 playoffs. He took major steps backward last year and needs to show some progression this season. A veteran partner in the form of Salei should help fix the damage caused by not providing him mentoring partner last year. I hope.

Drew: You asked three questions in your first question (I'm just sayin'). Anyway - who needs to step up and perform this season? Jiri Hudler. He was the one, true departure from the 2008-2009 team that really through Ken Holland for a loop. And he better have worked his little butt off to make sure that he doesn't take a step back from the near 60 point season he had before he bailed for his tax free bucks in Russia. Who's going to step up? I think a healthy Dan Cleary - even playing on the third line - will have his most productive season to date. With a power forward like Dan, a playmaker like Mikey Mo, and a sniper like Hudler...that third line is going to do some damage. I don't know about any "in house improvement" fuel, but let's hope Jonathan Ericsson gets his hands on a canister.

Me: I think the guy with the biggest rebound season has to be Chris Osgood. He’s obviously not the starter, but the Wings need to be able to rely on him to win some games when he relieves Jimmy Howard. Jimmy can’t start every game like he did during the second half of the season last year. At some point, Ozzie is going to have to step in and take care of business. The Wings can’t afford to just surrender wins on nights when Jimmy needs a break.

I think the guy we’re most likely to see a marked improvement from is Dan Cleary. Hopefully he’s gotten his knee issues taken care of during the off-season and with that no longer dragging him down, he’ll return to form. He didn’t do nearly enough to justify his paycheck last season, but I like to imagine that that had a lot to do with his injuries. It stands to reason that if he’s healthy, his play should return to the level that we’ve all come to expect.

I don’t think that one player’s personal improvement is going to do everything. Getting Ozzie and Cleary back on track is a huge step, but so many guys had off-years last season that it has to be an all-around thing. The Wings need Zetterberg and Kronwall and Datsyuk and Franzen and Filppula among others to step up again this season. Even a slight improvement from each of them will be more valuable than adding a pricey free agent.

2. Who do you envision ending up on the Wings' third defensive pairing coming out of training camp? The top two pairings are pretty well established, but Jonathan Ericsson, Derek Meech, Jakub Kindl, Ruslan Salei, and Doug Janik are all slated to battle it out for the last couple of roster spots. Who do you think will end up getting regular playing time? What about Meech's fate? Is he destined to be cheap trade bait before the season starts? Will Ericsson turn things around and show the promise that he did during the '09 playoffs? Are we going to spend the whole season cringing whenever the third pairing hits the ice again?

Hollis: Ideally, the pairings would look something like this:

That said, I understand that the Wings need to break in Jakub Kindl and I do expect him to see his fair share of playing time on the ice. Of course, it looks like he'll obviously be playing with Jonny Ericsson, but I will caution that I'm not so sure that Niklas Kronwall's knee is going to make it through the entire season again this year, so we may see Kindl get pushed up to the second pairing with the reliable Brad Stuart. I think it's important to get as much mileage out of Salei as possible, especially when he's paired up with Ericsson, which should help the young Swede focus on the solid two-way game that he needs to play in order to shake off the demons of a rough sophomore season.

As for Meech: Good luck in the East.

Malik: To me, the third pair has to consist of Ericsson and Salei. No ifs, ands or butts unless Jakub Kindl absolutely dazzles. Doug Janik's best-suited to a depth role as the dependable guy you call up from Grand Rapids when injuries occur and breaking Kindl in as the #7 defenseman seems most sensible at this point.
Meech doesn't have a future with Detroit barring training camp injuries. He wants to play elsewhere and he's given the Wings a versatile presence as a no-frills defenseman and forechecking forward, but he's earned the right to become a regular NHL'er somewhere else.

I do believe that Ericsson will rebound and that Salei, barring back issues, will hold up and provide a slight upgrade over Lilja. Salei's more dependable in his own end, meaner and has spent a good chunk of his career playing as a Brad Stuart-like #4 defenseman who shut down the opposition's top players. He can't block shots like Lilja can but he has better fundamentals.

Tyler: I'm not really worried about the 3rd pairing like a lot of people are. I'm really high on Ruslan Salei. Really, you'd think I shot him directly into my bloodstream. When I think about it, though, maybe I'm just stoked about Ruslan Salei + the contract he got. That was a pretty sweet deal. I'm hoping it completely distracts me from another season of Ericsson falling over himself like a giraffe that was given three Tylenol PM's and told to go wander across the Ambassador Bridge.

Casey: I think the third pairing will be Jonathan Ericsson and Ruslan Salei. I think they're the most established out of any of the others and the most capable of playing those minutes. That being said, I expect that Kindl will get quite a bit of playing time as the 7th defenseman and will definitely get close to 20 games. I think Meech is gone, I don't think he has enough to outplay the others in camp and with his voiced preference to move on if he's not in the top 6 it's pretty solidified. As for Ericsson I think he will turn around from how bad he was last year but I don't think he'll exactly be great either. I think he'll benefit from having a player like Salei alongside of him instead of Lilja/Lebda and that will help him learn and excel as the season goes on.

Petrella: I'm almost positive that Salei and Ericsson will be the third pairing, but wouldn't be shocked at all if Kindl sneaks in there instead of Rig. Ericsson was nothing if not a big steaming pile last season and Kindl has shown flashes of whoa baby. I also foresee a Babcock-like rotation of the three of them, with occasional peppering of Janik and MAYBE even Smith. Whatever the case, I have to think that the third pairing will be improved because Salei is a lateral -- if not positive -- move from Andreas Lilja.

Derek Meech is dunzo. There's no way he cracks the top six, and -- as promised -- he'll be shipped elsewhere for a draft pick. Best of luck to him, kid seems like he's got a decent head on his shoulders and he deserves a shot to play somewhere.

Saler: Ericsson-Salei. I don't know that Kindl's really ready for the NHL and tend to think the Wings would have kept him in the AHL if they had a choice. He had a good year with the Griffins last year, but the adjustment to the NHL will be tough for him. I think he'll rotate with Ericsson 20+ times. I don't think we'll ever see Ericsson-Kindl, unless injuries screw things up.

If it's Ericsson-Salei or Kindl-Salei, I don't think the cringe factor will be there too much. The big problem with last year's pairing was the lack of an actual veteran. Lebda's few years in the NHL didn't make him a mentor to Ericsson, so you had a real problem of an experience vacuum. Pairing an offensive-minded, jumping up D-man with an inexperienced, unsure of himself, effective rookie wasn't a recipe for success (not that there was any other option, really). With Salei covering for whatever young guy's in there, though, the third pairing should be less of a weak point.

I don't think Janik has a chance of making the team.

As for Meech, I'm basically in the camp that suspects he was promised a trade out of the pre-season, after he's had a chance to up his value with a strong camp and couple exhibition games.

Drew: Six questions in the second question? Come on, Kris! How about I start answering your questions with questions? How about that?

Alright, alright - in all seriousness, I see Ruslan Salei either starting on the third pairing with Jonathan Ericsson, or else he'll come in to replace Jakub Kindl should Kindl falter. Either way - those are the two I have playing on that third pairing...Big Rig is a lock. I don't see Derek Meech sticking around. He wants more playing time and he isn't going to get it here. His contract is a total bargain and we should be able to find a trade partner easily enough. One can only hope that Ericsson can turn things around - and I believe he will. He's still young and he just finished his first full season at the NHL level...he'll be fine. I think without Lebda/Meech on the third pairing, there will be a lot less fear (for fans) when the third pairing hits the ice.

Me: The third pairing has to be Ericsson and Salei. Hopefully being paired with Salei will help Ericsson find his game again. Getting Lilja back in the lineup at the end of last season seemed to help matters. As much as we’ll all miss Brett Lebda’s antics, not having him on the ice with Ericsson can only be a good thing. I think Kindl may see some time in the NHL if there are injuries or the Wings want to get him a little more experience, but barring a total disaster from Ericsson, he won’t be up with the Wings much. Meech is gone unless somebody has a major injury in training camp.

3. What's your overall assessment of the Wings' summer so far? Would you consider them to be off-season winners or losers? Do you think they improved, held steady, or got worse (in general and/or in comparison to their competition) with the moves Ken Holland has made this summer? 

Hollis: I think it's easy to see the Wings as winners in this offseason, simply for the fact that they didn't have anything happen that set them back from where they were last year. How can we forget the nightmare that was last offseason, in which Hossa jumped ship, Samuelsson left for more money and Hudler inexplicably left for the KHL. That was a losing offseason. Landing Mike Modano and re-signing all of targeted free agents can be considered nothign short of a complete success, and that's exactly what Ken Holland and company did this year. If last year was bad, this year was an excellent bounce back for the Red Wings front office.

Malik: I would suggest that the Wings have improved themselves as best they could given their salary cap constraints. That's a win in my department. With Hudler coming back and Modano joining the fray the Wings now have three scoring lines, Salei's an upgrade over Lilja, and simply witnessing a return to relative health bodes well for a team held together with duct tape for long stretches of the 2009-2010 season. Obviously the Wings' fate hinges at least partially upon the expected rebound seasons of the above-mentioned players, but a healthy year and more depth equal a solid "win."

Tyler: I'm Prodano, thumbs way-up on Salei, happy with the re-signings and, most of all, excited for the return of Hudler and whatever Euro herpes he's bringing back with him. I'm very content with things right now.

Casey: I think the Red Wings' off-season thus far has been a win. They didn't have much that they could lose via free agency that would damage their future and I think they'll profit by getting Modano and Salei. Jiri Hudler is the best change to last year's roster and he will be a big contributor in my opinion. I think they improved by more or less staying the same. They've done an exceptional job of keeping the roster together through the years and it helps create a continuity and sense of family not many teams have.

Petrella: I feel like the Wings are huge winners this summer -- and are having one of the best off-seasons of any team in the league, let alone the Central Division. Hudler's return, Modano and Salei's arrival -- costing the Wings only Jason Williams, Andreas Lilja and Brett Lebda? No brainer.

Saler: Getting Hudler back makes them winners in my book. And sneaking in a veteran D-man does too. Modano's also a win, on paper at least. But I really feel like the moves matter less than the team remaining healthy somehow and than the top guns playing like it this year. The moves of the summer are secondary to Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Franzen, Lidstrom, and Rafalski, etc. taking the lead and dominating this season.

Drew: Red Wings are winners this off-season. Any time you don't have room for players that were regulars on the team in a previous year - you have improved. We've only lost Lebda and Lilja...oh and Williams too. Those are not big losses by any stretch. Bringing Hudler back, Modano in, and getting Salei to replace Lilja are all positives in my book. I wanted to keep Lilja, for the record, but he wanted to play hardball, so...see ya, Lils. We have great depth now from top to bottom on offense. The mystery 3rd pairing is only a minor concern since they'll be logging the least amount of ice out of anyone. But when your fourth line is Abdelkader, Helm, and Eaves? Yeah, we're doing just fine.

This regular season is going to be a lot more fun than the last one.

Me: I think you have to look at the Wings as off-season winners. They’re returning the same solid core of players and adding Modano, Hudler, and Salei to the mix. Their only departures were Brett Lebda, Jason Williams (Who?), and Andreas Lilja. I’ll take that swap any day. Not only did the Wings improve, but their chief rivals the Hawks took a major step backward with the departure of a lot of their supporting cast. This season should be a lot more fun than the last one. I’m looking forward to plenty of good hockey to accompany the shanahanigans that are sure to ensue.

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