It’s the final installment of our pre-season Red Wings Blogger Roundtable, and the train has pulled up to the Nightmare on Helm Street station. My question was probably the most simplistic of all. I wanted to pose a simple question that might have complex and numerous answers and let my fellow bloggers extrapolate to their hearts’ content. Well as usual, I was not disappointed. Here it is: the final question:
What is the biggest motivation for the team this year? Is it getting back at Hossa for jumping ship to our biggest rival? Proving that they lost the Cup to an inferior team? Coming sooo close to ultimate victory last season only to see it ripped away on home ice? Making their mark as the One True Dynasty in the league? Or is it broken down into individual driving forces like Bertuzzi and Williams with something to prove? Or something else?
Winging it in Motown:
I think the biggest motivation will be the fact that they were 60 minutes from a consecutive Stanley Cup and let it slip away. At home. I believe it will be the driving force for the team (how could it not be?) – to redeem themselves and prove the pundits wrong who foresee the fall of the Wings as Chicago and St. Louis rise up in the Central. Even if the Wings don't return to the SCF once again, I believe they have already established themselves as a modern dynasty so I don't think that it would be their motivation. A win would certainly cement that status, but I don't think that's what the guys will look to for motivation.
The Triple Deke:
There can't be anything more motivating than watching Sidney Crosby get handed the Stanley Cup on your home ice. Nothing else comes close, in my mind. You rarely see these guys get upset, but you could tell how devastating the loss was, both on the ice and in their post game comments. I don't think the Hossa thing is that big of a deal to them, honestly -- at least not in comparison to losing.
For the ultimate motivation, though, Babcock could do what they did in "Major League" and have a Karen Newman cutout in the locker room. Just an idea.
Snipe Snipe, Dangle Dangle:
I don’t see getting back at Hossa as a big motivator. I think it was pretty clear all along that he was temporary help. It was a fairly amicable departure and even I can’t begrudge his decision to take that kind of contract. The “individual driving forces” will probably play a role. I don’t think that Williams and Bertuzzi are the only two Wings who feel like they have something to prove. Eaves has to know that this is the last best chance he’ll get to make it in the NHL. Ozzie wants to rebound from his less than stellar regular season last year, and Maltby and Draper will want to show that they can still contribute. Helm and Ericsson should be looking to prove that they’re not just playoff flukes and can play big minutes all season long, Leino will also want to establish himself. And you have to imagine that Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Franzen would like to prove that the team they’ve committed to long-term isn’t facing its demise (and they’re also probably tired of being called “old” when Datsyuk, the oldest of the three is only 31). I also like to think that the sting of losing Game 7 on home ice is something that’s going to stay with the team for a while. In my opinion, this will be the single biggest driving force for the team this year. I hope that the feeling of coming this close to the Cup and losing has been haunting them all summer and will continue to do so during the season. And as much as I’d like to stop talking about the Handshake Incident, as George pointed out over at Snapshots, maybe carrying that grudge with them isn’t the worst thing for the Wings.
Babcock’s Death Stare:
I think the biggest factor will be that they came so close last year. There were a lot of "what ifs" that really floated through the air throughout the offseason in the minds of the fans, and you've got to believe it weight in on the players as well. What if there was actually a break in between the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals? What if Pavel Datsyuk could have played one game earlier? What if Kronwall hit the crossbar a quarter inch lower? Was if Lidstrom was a step faster at the buzzer? The bottom line is this team had two chances to win the Cup and one was on home ice with myself in attendance. They did not play their best hockey for a full 60 minutes and that's inexcusable. You could see it in the player's faces that winning last year didn't make losing this year any easier. Then the team runs into it's first real salary cap troubles since it was installed and now everyone thinks this is their demise. Meanwhile, the fans look at the roster, the players look around the locker room.. and you laugh, basically. This team is still crazy talented, and they know it. I really think this team is going to come out guns blazing.
I think there are going to be many factors but I believe the main motivator is going to be the disappointment of losing the cup on home ice and once and for all proving that the next great sports dynasty is here. And yes I realize how pompous and elitist that sounds. With players like Ozzie, Lidstrom, Datsyuk, and Zetterberg, you could literally see the heartbreak on their faces when Crosby and his team of minions won the Wing’s cup at the Joe. If that’s not a true motivator than my world really will be turned upside down and Pierre McGuire is actually 6’7’’ with a full head of hair built like Arnold back in his Mr. Universe days. The players have now experienced the thrill and elation of a cup win, and the following year the despair and sadness of losing in game 7 of the finals. You can be sure they want that high back. You can be sure they’ve read the stories of the end of the Red Wings era. You can be sure they have every intention of giving the proverbial middle finger to all those who’ve counted them out. Oh yeah, they’re ready.
Abel to Yzerman:
The biggest motivation for this team is to right the wrong of last June. The very thought of losing to that team, that captain, that goalie..it has to haunt them. What an opportunity wasted. Yes, injuries played a role. And the officiating was disgusting. But you can't escape the bottom line: they lost to an inferior team and they essentially forfeited their legitimate claim to a dyanasty in the minds of many. Not us, but many others. I believe we're going to see a Wing team with a keen focus, a singular focus. Last season Mike Babcock let them coast a bit from time to time because they were the reigning Cup champs, and he was treading lightly due to the hangover myth. That's not his style. This year suits him much better. Anytime any player thinks twice about bitching, Uncle Mike only needs to bring up what they let happen to them last year. Motivation is simple this season, prove to the hockey world that there is only one elite team in the NHL and that's the Detroit Red Wings. Don't let up for a second in the regular season. Lay waste to whoever Gary puts in front of us on the Western side of the bracket, then take it to Boston in the Final while Rosby and his one-trick ponies watch from the sidelines where they belong.
Well, let’s start with the lack of that big shiny cup in a trophy case at Joe Louis Arena. There’s no better motivation in sports than coming so close to winning a championship, only to fall just short. We’ve already heard Niklas Kronwall say how much it has bothered him this entire summer that they didn’t win the Cup last year. I’d imagine the same feelings hold true for most of the guys who were on the team last season too.
I think we’ll also see the Wings play with a bit of a chip on their shoulder as well. All we and they have heard throughout this off-season is that they can’t make up for all of the lost scoring/won’t win their division/aren’t the power in the NHL waters anymore. At some point, no matter how strong your “we don’t listen to the media” PR skills are, you get tired of hearing those claims. I can all but guarantee that they know damn well what everyone is saying about them and are just using that material to load the “in your face” cannon. Personally, I would love to see an angry Wings team come roaring out of the gate this year. I’m tired of the regular season being downplayed so much that even the coaching staff stops pushing at points because “the playoffs are what matter.” The Wings need to push themselves every night in order to keep the younger guys maturing and to give the new guys as many minutes as possible to gel with their teammates and earn their respect.
The Production Line:
We need to set one thing straight right off the bat - We're not Vancouver fans. We're not sitting here waiting for the next big signing to take us over the top. We're not Calgary fans either ...thinking that maybe this is the year we're going to strike gold...get lucky...catch lightning in a can.ride the Kipper to the Cup.
We're Wings fans. And as Wings fans, our hope is that we won't have to crawl back into a dark, cold room after getting booted from the playoffs during the second round. We expect every year that we'll be in contention. We assume that come the Finals, we'll be sitting in a bar...in a game seven...starring down a guy wearing the colors of the opposite team...and wondering if our brother can take out the other three guys surrounding him before you can lay one solid whack on his jawline.
Or maybe that's just me.
I assume the Wings themselves have the same expectations and motivation I do - the belief that they belong in those sacred Final moments. They're not motivated by having gotten close and lost. They're not riled by free agents gone to division rivals. They're motivated by THE CHANCE. THE WINDOW. The opportunity to come into a family that expects a win...that assumes we'll be in the hunt...that girds its loins for the playoff push. That assumes that every year...every postseason...they'll have a chance to get their name etched on the most sacred piece of metal known in modern sport.
Screw the rest of it. They're Wings.
On the Wings:
I'm going with option 4. I think the Wings will use losing at home in Game 7 as a major general motivating factor. Individual players will have their own reasons to be motivated this season independent of the general team reasons, but I think the pain of losing at home like that will be big. I see a guy like Datsyuk looking to make up for the frustration that his injury caused him, Zetterberg looking to make amends for a somewhat disappointing season, Lidstrom looking to cement his legacy not just as a defenseman but as a leader. I see a guy like Brad Stuart stepping it up after a poor finish to the playoffs Chris Osgood will obviously have plenty to motivate himself, so there should be little problem there. Filppula's sure to be pumped about the opportunity he has to make us forget about Hossa. Leino's going to be motivated to do whatever it takes to be in the NHL. Guys like Williams and Bertuzzi, too, will have their reasons to go all out. The Wings will definitely not be short of motivation this year, from both a team perspective and on an individual basis. Will it all be enough? I think so. .
The Red Wings' motivations for continuing to perform at an elite level in the regular season and return to the Stanley Cup Finals next June include, but are not limited to, the following reasons:
--To remain kings of the Central Division's hill, charges from Chicago, St. Louis, and Columbus included (silly, brash Chicago rabbits, old age and treachery tricks foil yer kiddie corps). The Hawks and Blues will push the Wings at times, but predictions of the Wings finishing fourth or fifth in the Western Conference (I'm looking at you, The Hockey News) are greatly exaggerated;
--To disprove those who believe that losing Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky, Mikael Samuelsson, and Ty Conklin to free agency and Jiri Hudler to Dynamo Moscow's big-money poaching will equal a big step back are simply misinformed, especially if the Wings play honestly competent defensive hockey this season;
--To allow Nicklas Lidstrom to issue the polite, Swedish version of a "STFU" to the people who suggest that Lidstrom has reached his expiration date and is no longer a perennial candidate for the Norris Trophy;
--To give Chris Osgood the opportunity to redeem himself as a goaltender who can indeed win 25-30 games in 55-60 appearances and not give up squeakers during the regular season, especially as Jimmy Howard's on a very short leash;
--Yes, Virginia (and everybody else), to remind Marian Hossa that jumping ship to the next big thing doesn't always parlay itself into a playoff pay-off;
--Most certainly, to wrest the Stanley Cup back from the Pittsburgh Penguins after arguably suffering the most humiliating/humbling loss in recent franchise history, and you'd better believe that "the handshake incident" will serve as part of that motivation;
--To afford Darren Helm, Ville Leino, Jonathan Ericsson, and Jimmy Howard the opportunity to prove that they're ready for prime time, and to give Todd Bertuzzi, Jason Williams, and Patrick Eaves shots at some career redemption thanks to the safety and security of defined roles with lower-than-usual expectations;--To at least force their way into occasional mentions on Detroit's Lions talk, I mean sports talk radio stations and in the columns of the big sports guns who follow NBC's belief that hockey isn't worth following until after January 1st;
--To push the usual pre-season favorites in the Sharks and Canucks and the supposed "best blueline in the NHL" in the Calgary Flames into earning their way past a not-so-inconsistent-this-time-around team;
--Because "the Stanley Cup hangover" no longer serves as an excuse for not concentrating, showing up every night, or doing the pain-in-the-butt, detail-oriented, and sometimes painful "little things" that separate a very good team with holes from an elite team whose attention to defensive detail and suppression of artistic offensive tendencies allow them to bully their way through the regular season and stand up to playoff pushing and shoving, being the NHL's "oldest" and "smallest" team included;
--Because the pressure's on Niklas Kronwall's got to find a way to balance his thunderous hits and 50-point production, Valtteri Filppula to become more than simply a third-line center who can put up 40 points but plays inconsistently, Johan Franzen needs to prove that he can channel his inner grump and push people around on the playground before March, Dan Cleary's gotta push his way into 50-point territory, Brad Stuart can regain his form as a rock-solid defenseman with a little offensive panache, and because Brett Lebda, Kirk Maltby, and Tomas Holmstrom need to rebound, big time, from inconsistent and injury-marred seasons;
--To continue to allow Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Lidstrom, Rafalski, et. al. to make Mickey Redmond giggle as he says, "Hoo boy, another highlight reel goal" and the rest of the league's defensemen to shake off a combination of embarrassment and painful contortions from being twisted and turned into pylons;
--To crank up their Cup-in-Olympic-year percentage to 75% instead of dropping it to 50% (the Wings bucked estimations of Olympic year grind-down by winning the Cup in 1998 and 2002, but we all know what happened in 2006);
--And because Mike Babcock, Paul MacLean, and Brad McCrimmon have something to prove themselves as Babcock heads into his fifth season as Detroit's bench boss. There's a new wrinkle or three in that man's perfectly-coiffed head, and I think that MacLean and McCrimmon will both sort their roles as the men in charge of the Wings' offense and defense, respectively, and shore up the Wings' special teams play. The penalty-killing unit needs some structural changes as the Wings' general defensive posture allowed players to drive through the slot and turn lateral passes from the boards near the goal line into easy scoring chances, and the PP was far too porous defensively, so the quiet pair have their work cut out for them.