Thursday, July 31, 2008

Red Wings in Cap Trouble....Awesome!

So…in signing Valtteri Filppula to a five year contract worth a total of $15 million, the Detroit Red Wings find themselves coming dangerously close to being in salary cap trouble. Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for ‘opportunity’ as they do for ‘crisis’? Well as luck would have it (and by luck, I mean the genius of GM Ken Holland), The Wings can use their current cap situation to their absolute advantage. How? They can do this by clearing up some cap space via shipping out a couple of not-so-fan favorites in order to make room for some of their younger, up and coming stars.
Andrea Lilja is someone that most Wings fans have been groaning about for years. The veteran defenseman can be steady at times on the blue line, but has since become infamous for making glaring mistakes at the worst possible time. Let us go back to 2006-2007 NHL Western Conference Finals in which the Wings saw themselves in overtime against an Anaheim team that would go on to win the cup. “Lilja carries the puck out from behind the net in his own zone. Oh, the puck gets away from Lilja, he stumbles and falls down. The puck goes right to Teemu Selanne who walks in all alone, puts a move on Hasek to the backhand, shoots and scores!”
Now, I personally have always defended Lilja despite all of his failings (which include a baffling insistency of making cross-ice passes in front of his own net). I would always tell his critics that this man would be a top four or five defenseman on 75% of the other teams in the league. Well, there is little that would make me happier than to be proven right in this case. Lilja was re-signed early in this offseason, true. It is not the usual practice of Ken Holland to re-sign a player and then turn right around and deal him elsewhere, true. On the contrary, Holland noted that the re-signing of Lilja, which came before the re-signing of hard hitting d-man Brad Stewart, was in fact an “insurance” move by the Red Wings front office. Now that Stewart is locked up and the cap ceiling is growing nearer, it may be time to exercise this insurance policy.
Let us asses the D situation in Detroit; #1 Nicklas Lidstrom (LOCK), #2 Brian Rafalski (LOCK), #3 Nicklas Kronwall (LOCK), #4 Brad Stewart (LOCK), and then there is the ageless Chris Chelios and a campaign of young studs that include Jonathon Ericsson, Brett Lebda, Derek Meech, and Kyle Quincey that could all fill in the spots of #5-9. So…who needs Lilja? Certainly Detroit could consider him to be obsolete. I would suspect that the top trade candidates who would put some value on Lilja’s service would be the Los Angeles Kings, who have nothing but room under the cap and a overly young defensive core that could use a veteran D-man like Lilja, and the Tampa Bay Lightning who just might ice a team of all forwards and goalies at the rate they're signing. I hold no ill-will towards Andreas Lilja, but I believe the time has come to let him go.
That brings us to my second trade candidate: Mr. Mikael Samuelsson, the man who never saw a shot he didn’t like. Sammy is the less likely of my trade proposals, but there are definitely reasons that he could and should be dealt to another team. Of course, moving Sammy would free up some of that valuable cap space after the Filppula deal first and foremost. He is also in the last year of his contract and would be almost impossible to re-sign given the fact that Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen will also need to negotiate new contracts, and Z and the Mule will have priority. Oh and who was that guy the Wings signed from Pittsburgh? No, not the goalie with the great save percentage, the one who scores all those goals? Oh that’s right, if Wings fans want to dare to dream about keeping those red Marian Hossa jerseys, some sacrifices must be made.
Looking past the monetary situation and at more towards the player himself…like Lilja, Samuelsson can be an extremely frustrating person to watch play the game of hockey. This man takes so many (poor quality, high quantity) shots that it is not uncommon to hear Wings fans yell out in disgust every time he touches the puck in the offensive zone. He perpetually has a horrid shot percentage, flirting around 200 shots the past 3 seasons and scoring 20 goals only once therein…hmm. However, other teams across the NHL universe may see value in him largely due in part to his two goal game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the national spectacle that was this year’s Stanley Cup Finals. Those that paid attention to the Wings outside of the this year’s Cup Finals may have actually noticed Sammy’s prowess while in his defensive zone, though his performance was probably overshadowed by Detroit’s pair of Selke nominees; Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
Now let’s look at the offensive situation for the Red Wings. Line 1: Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Tomas Holmstrom (LOCK), Line 2: Marian Hossa, Valtteri Filppula, and Johan Franzen (Probably), Line 3: Daniel Cleary, Kris Draper, and Juri Hudler (Possibly), and then Line 4 will have cagey veterans Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty, and Aaron Downey fighting with youngsters Tomas Kopecky, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Mattias Ritola, and Darren Haydar to earn those last few spots that feature little time on the ice during games. So…do the Wings need Samuelsson? I say, no. Teams that might look to move some picks to Detroit in exchange for the big forward are probably teams that are looking to fire more pucks toward the net. Again, the LA Kings have more than enough cap room to make a deal for Sammy, so do the Phoenix Coyotes or the Florida Panthers. The Nashville Predators may express some interest as they are looking for someone to quarterback their dismal power play (and Samuelsson has experience of playing the point in such situations).
All of these points that I have tried to get across are my attempt to paint a picture of how the Detroit Red Wings can use their current cap predicament to actually add value to their team in the long run. Getting rid of aging, mediocre players while they still have value and they have demand in the market, and at the same time making room to help budding young talent to reach its potential sounds like a pretty good strategy to me. Moves such as the ones I have offered for your consideration will help lay the foundation for long-term success in the one and only Hockey Town. Again these are simply my opinions, and I humbly present them to you.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

NHL blogger asking wrong questions

The National Hockey League, in my opinion, should be applauded for not putting up with a player who is considered to be a prima donna, who had a mediocre (at best) season, who lost his starting job yet demanded more than he was worth. Instead, the league is being scrutinized by some…and why? I’ll get to that soon enough, but first let me try and paint the picture…
Say there is a player, one who has been suspended for slashing a player in the face. This player shows up late for numerous practices. When he doesn’t get the starting nod in net, he pouts visibly on the side. Not only that, but he fights with his teammates, and has had a few of the all too familiar “traffic incidents”. Does that sound like someone you would like on your team? These are all personality and judgment characteristics that have earned this player a one-way ticket to Russia. Did I mention that he was black? Does it matter? Absolutely not.
The NHL has had a long and proud tradition of not tolerating cancerous individual behavior. When off-ice issues become too much for a team to handle (Todd Bertuzzi, Danny Heatley, Theo Fleury), players are run out of town. Bertuzzi hasn’t been the same since his incident which lead to him being kicked out of Vancouver. His point totals have plunged and as such, he has accepted a lesser role and thus less money. Heatley left the United States in a trade that sent him to Ottawa where he has still been successful but has since stayed out of any major trouble. Fleury was run right out of the league altogether and was playing in a professional team in Ireland. Did I mention all of these players were white? Does it matter? Absolutely not!
The NHL has always earned my respect for its strict behavioral policy, the unwritten one that reads “Miscreants Not Welcome.” This whole shape up or ship out mentality has largely kept the NHL from many of the highly publicized problems that the NFL and NBA always seem to be facing. Is it because the NFL and NBA have more black athletes? No. Is it because the league (policy makers, disciplinarians, GM’s, coaches, and fans) has had a tradition of tolerance for bad behavior? Absolutely.
Rules and policies should transcend race and should also transcend celebrity status. An NHL goalie, two seasons removed from backstopping a team (that was extremely offensive oriented) to the conference championship, should be held to the same standard as the minor league backup goalie struggling to get ice time. Just as the starting quarterback should be held to the same standard as the 4th or 5th string wide receiver fighting for this spot on the roster, or the big shot point guard and his rookie teammate, etc. To let one player behave in such a way that would cost the job of a lower profiled player acting the exact same way is an extremely slippery slope, and will lead to bigger trouble as time goes on. The NFL has taken a few good steps forward in their disciplinary actions and I commend them for that.
So, going back to our original story of this mediocre goalie with a bad attitude who takes a job (a multi-million dollar job) over in Russia instead of taking less money as a backup somewhere else…why even bring up the issue of racism? Because some small-time blogger wants to use the sensitive issue of racism as a lightning rod in order to get him national attention. Did he have to go and open up Pandora’s Box regardless if it was warranted (and it wasn’t)? No, he did not. Are we all going to have to deal with now? Unfortunately, yes. In an age where any idiot (myself included) can blog his opinion to the masses of internet junkies, it is our responsibility to keep in check those that make potentially dangerous and harmful accusations just as it is the NHL’s duty to not tolerate behavior that could be potentially damaging to a sport that is still trying to win back the masses