A question: if you had to make a fantasy dodgeball team made up of athletes from across every discipline, who would you pick? Which sports would you select from? Welcome to the brand new, hyper competitive world of fantasy dodgeball. Now line up against the gym wall and let’s pick squads.
Let’s say it’s a five person crew you are building. Who is your top draft pick? The player to anchor your unit. My first guess is to say LeBron James. Safe choice. Big, strong, natural leader, a history of handling balls. Seems like a good fit. But that begs the question: what are we looking for in a dodgeball player? You want athletes with good lateral movement, great hand-eye coordination and some affinity for balls or projectiles.
The NFL is an interesting place to pull a talent from for the new pro dodgeball league. But what position to choose? Classic logic would say quarterback. Someone with a strong arm and good feet. Maybe Cam Newton type. But what about thinking defensively and taking an NFL safety or corner. Someone to cover the back end and catch thrown or deflected shots. Someone like Richard Sherman. Great instincts, reaction time and hair. Perfect fit.
So we have our leader and our back end covered, Now, we need some shooters. Serena Williams comes to mind. Super powerful, great footwork and that work ethic would make her killer on the wing. And for those of you concerned, no racket-no problem. Williams is a mega athlete who can probably do anything. Above all, it’s her court presence that will be the biggest asset moving forward.
From the ice, I’d like to call up Dylan Larkin from the Detroit Red Wings. Larky is the star of tomorrow and maybe one of the fastest kids on skates today. Every championship team needs that scrappy little guy who just won’t quit. Well that’s Dylan. Don’t let his size fool you. His heart and skill are as big as a mountain. Plus, in a game where getting hit gets you eliminated, being small isn’t the worst thing.
On to the world of baseball. Once again, classic logic may lean you towards a flamethrower pitcher but remember, dodgeball is a fluid game. All players must be moving and dodging or it’s game over. This critical emphasis on mobility takes me from pitcher to infield. We want someone with a cannon of an arm but the athleticism to keep up. Say hello to Manny Machado. His arm and glove are some of the best in the bigs. Plus he’s got the strength and speed to deliver some haymakers of his own.
That’s my team: LeBron James, Richard Sherman, Serena Williams, Dylan Larkin and Manny Machado. Not bad for a first time General Manager of a made up league. Leave your fantasy dodgeball roster ideas in the comments below. And to keep it fun, only one player from each sport. Please and thank you. Now, let the rubber fly!
Say what you will about General Manager Kenneth Mark Holland, but the man will do things. Inaction has never been a criticism of a Detroit Red Wings front office that was once feared and revered by NHL general managers and players alike. There was a time when, with a fell swoop, the likes of Brett Hull, Chris Chelios, Brian Rafalski, and Marian Hossa would join the already-legendary Wings locker room. These days, Hockeytown’s faithful are happy when that activity just turns out to be neutral, scarred by (among other ill-fated transactions) a Stephen Weiss debacle that remains one of the great disasters in the history of Red Wings free agency.
Dealt a poor hand at this summer’s outset when my father, Pavel Datsyuk, announced his retirement, King Kenny sat upon his Westeros-style carbon fiber and aluminum stick throne and somehow maneuvered an escape from the awful cap recapture penalty that would have sapped millions of dollars in flexibility. He showed the world he still had some juju by way of that draft-day deal in which he traded back a few spots in the draft for an extra pick and the right not to have an empty cap-hit on the books. Not bad, but for some reason Wings fans used this as a springboard to prime themselves for a gilded entrance into “The Stamkos Race,” as if there wasn’t an enormous problem in the back end to address first.
Quickly missing out on one of the game’s elite players is forgivable considering nobody else got a sniff, either. The door was closed before Holland could get a foot in. However, the velocity with which it slammed shut begs the important question of why any “star” would want to join a team without a best defender in the first place. Having the space without the structure will never appeal to the mega-stars; ask Kevin Durant about that one.
Niklas Kronwall Is Not A First-Pairing NHL Defenseman
It’s somewhat surprising that the once-vaunted Red Wings defense has actually put up great numbers over the past few years. Since 2014, the Wings have the lowest defensive zone start percentage in the NHL, indicating that the puck just isn’t near the Wings’ goal all that much. Similarly, the Wings rank 9th in overall goals against in that span. That’s pretty solid!
Last year, however, the deeply ineffective power-play, with its affinity for allowing short-handed goals, shone light through a key crack in the wall: Niklas Kronwall is simply no longer equipped to be more than a second-pairing defender. His personal numbers are awful. He was minus-21 last year, and hasn’t had a plus-season since 2011. He scored 26 points in 64 games, looked sluggish and more than a step behind, and almost never deployed the once-beloved bone-crushing hits that used to be a trademark. The advanced numbers are astonishingly bad:
Kronwall has become a possession liability on a team that has dominated possession numbers in the NHL for years. His Corsi For%, a metric that aims to measure a player’s impact upon how many shots are directed towards the opponent’s net, has fallen dramatically for four years, to the point that Kronner’s numbers were net-negative last year. He’s not effective on the power play, and it could be argued that the yearly wear-and-tear of being asked to embody the twin-archetypes of the Red Wings Ideal Defenseman has taken its toll. He never possessed the composed offensive genius of Nicklas Lidstrom, nor the terrifying physical presence of Vladimir Konstantinov.
The Wings Don’t Have A Best Defenseman
Detroit is a long ways away from the time when its defense was a certainty. Arguably the greatest modern defenseman there ever was, Lidstrom’s soothing, angelic aura guaranteed stability even when he wasn’t on the ice. The Red Wings have never hurt for talent, but I was surprised while scanning rosters from the Red Wings dominant era from ‘97-09 to find that the defense wasn’t actually all that impressive in 2002, Scotty Bowman’s final, Stanley Cup-winning year:
Despite that core’s limitations (it probably didn’t hurt to have Dominik Hasek between the pipes), the presence of competent puck-moving defensemen to complement Lidstrom’s perfection, with Chelios’ experience and Dandenault’s speed, served as an invaluable way to ensure that there was talent on more than one line to get the puck out of the zone and into productive areas. This stood out even more so in other championship years:
1997-98: Lidstrom, Larry Murphy, Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov 2002: Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Matthieu Dandenault 2009: Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Kronwall, DEREK MEECH*
*May not have served an important role in any way
One thing that we know for sure is that The God Lidstrom is not lacing up those skates again. Looking to the Red Wings current roster, just a bit past the heinous bog vapors of Kronwall and frequent line-mate Jonathan Ericsson, Brendan Smith actually posts some very good Corsi numbers, and has been a fan favorite for his grit, bravery, and willingness to not try and fight Zdeno Chara and embarrass us all. His improved ability to forcefully carry the puck out of the zone, and the reduction of his abysmal turnover habit, might make him a neat fit for that 1-B defender role, which is a sign of hope on a roster stocked with capable but flawed 2nd and 3rd-liners like Mike Green, Danny Dekeyser, and Alexey Marchenko. But there’s nothing to indicate that anyone on the Red Wings as they are currently composed can fulfill the role of a number-one defenseman.
The market remains foggy as to what it will take to get that rare, competent first-pairing defender. Showing a bit more swag, Holland made it clear that he wouldn’t be fleeced for teenage star Dylan Larkin in trade discussions with the St. Louis Blues for standout Kevin Shattenkirk, as was the case when Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli recently traded 24 year-old human bullet Taylor Hall for pretty okay guy Adam Larsson. At this point, if they want a real lead defender, Wings fans might have to steel themselves for an “anyone but Larkin” package and count on saying goodbye to a favorite like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, a youngster like Anthony Mantha or Andreas Athanasiou, or even more.
Stats Courtesy of Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com and hockey-reference.com
An April without the Detroit Red Wings. That’s something that’s pretty hard for me to comprehend. The last time that happened was 1990 and I was four years old. For almost my entire life, the Red Wings have had a presence in the postseason of the NHL. 24 years in a row they have had a shot to win the Stanley Cup. Whether as President’s Cup winning favorites or the last team in, they’ve always been in the conversation come April.
The Wings currently sit one point ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wildcard spot. When the two teams met last Tuesday, the Red Wings defense got off to an abysmal start where they allowed 23 shots against their 3 in the opening period. The team wound up losing the game 4-3 because they were never able to recover from that first period and get a much needed win. The Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league and briefly overtook the Wings for that 2nd wild spot before that win against the Blue Jackets yesterday. The Wings are going to need some very strong performances to close out the season if they hope to make the playoffs from the 25th straight year, and keep the longest current postseason streak in all of sports alive.
Now all of that is in jeopardy and I’m not sure what to do. So let’s explore why the Wings are in the predicament they’re in.
Defense and Goaltending
When you allow as many shots as the Red Wings did in the first period of that Flyers game, it becomes obvious that the defense is a big problem area for the team. It’s been that way for a while now. Actually, it’s been a problem ever since Nicklas Lidstrom left back in 2012. The team hasn’t had a stud defender since and the good players that they do have haven’t been able to get the job done. With the team’s most experienced defensemen, Niklas Kronwall, sidelined for 1-3 weeks with a knee sprain, they really need the other guys to step their game up or there is a very big chance that they will not be in the playoffs.
Mrazek can’t continue to let himself be caught out of position.
The defense also isn’t being propped up by the goaltending like it was in earlier parts of the season. There are times when the goaltending looks down right amazing, especially when you consider how many shots are getting thrown at the net. But Petr Mrazek has been looking pretty shaky as of late and Jimmy Howard, who the team is paying $5.3 million for each of the next three seasons, looks like a shadow of what he once was. From what I have seen this season, Jimmy Howard has no business being in the net and should only be looked at to give Mrazek rest. So that means Mrazek had better find some of that early season magic that he displayed if the Red Wings have any hope maintaining their shaky hold on a playoff spot.
Put the puck in the net
The defense shouldn’t get all of the blame for the state of the team because the offense has been anything but prolific. Despite having a stable of young stars and some aged but crafty veterans, they have not been able to get the puck in the net nearly as often as necessary to stay competitive. The Wings are 24th in the league in goals per game, with 2.5. That is not good enough. They need Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to turn it up a notch and help the young guys out. But more than anything, they need to score some goals. Some way. Any way.
The Red Wings are going to need more than just Larkin to make it to the playoffs.
I’m not going to lie, from what I’ve seen recently, the Detroit Red Wings will not be making the playoffs. They just look too flat all around, despite the dazzling play of Dylan Larkin and other youngsters like Andreas Athanasiou, Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. The future is bright and I’m really hoping that they can hold it together long enough to make it 25 straight playoff appearances. Then who knows what’s possible. Anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but first they’ve got to make it to the dance. And I’m not as sure about that happening as I was a month ago.
This past Sunday, the 2016 NHL All-Star game was played in Nashville, TN and it might have been the most memorable NHL All-Star game in recent history. This was made possible by one man, John Scott.
For those of you that have been living under a rock the past month or so, John Scott, the 6′ 8″ 260lbs enforcer with only 5 career goals, was voted into the All-Star Game via fan vote. This was thanks to an online campaign with the aim of exploiting the voting system. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know who John Scott was before this whole thing started. I barely knew that he briefly played for the Rangers. When it was announced that Scott would captain the Pacific Division team, it was received with mixed opinions. Personally, I was genuinely happy for the guy. I thought it would add an interesting dynamic to the usually dismal All-Star Game.
Then the reports came out that Scott had been traded to the Montreal Canadiens and subsequently sent down to their AHL affiliate, the St. John’s Ice Caps in a multi-player deal that seemed to be orchestrated by the league themselves. This was all supposedly in an attempt to keep Scott out of the All-Star Game after he refused to bow out on his own.
The #habs sent John Scott to AHL St. John's and aren't likely to recall him. That would make him ineligible for the NHL all-star game.
Well after this, I was 100% for John Scott and his participation in the All-Star Game…and so was the rest of twitter. Within a few hours #FreeJohnScott was trending and people were demanding he be allowed to play.
Eventually, the NHL was tired of being the bad guy and did the right thing. They announced on January 19th, that John Scott would captain the Pacific Division team in the ASG, citing “a determination to maintain the status quo for the All-Star weekend in order to preserve all parties’ pre-existing expectations, including Scott’s desire to participate.”
The night started off with Dylan Larkin, the 19 year-old Detroit rookie, breaking the fastest lap record in 13.172 seconds.
Then came the breakaway challenge, which P.K. Subban won for this Jaromir Jagr impersonation.
And who can forget Brent Burn’s Chewbacca impersonation.
The Eastern Conference team ending up dominating the Skills Competition and won 29-12.
The All-Star Game opened up with Atlantic vs. Metropolitan in the new 3v3 format. The Atlantic pulled away with a 4-3 win over the Metropolitan. Dylan Larkin notched a team-leading three points, and was the only multi-point player for his team.
Next up was Central vs. Pacific. James Neal opened up the scoring for the Central. Then the unthinkable happened…JOHN SCOTT SCORED A GOAL.
His celly might have been the highlight of my night (and everyone else’s). Then in the second half, John Freaking Scott decides he wants to score AGAIN on a breakaway.
The Pacific went on to defeat the Central on a score of 9-6.
The final matchup of this new tournament-style All-Star Game pitted Pacific against Atlantic for all the marbles. No scoring in the first half courtesy of some excellent goaltending by Jonathan Quick and Roberto Luongo. Scoring opened up in the second with a goal by Corey Perry, which proved to be the game winner. Pacific Division wins it 1-0.
And that’s not even the best part…
Thanks to yet another online campaign that was supported by multiple official NHL team twitter accounts, John Scott was voted MVP of the All-Star Game.
I mean how can you not be happy for this guy? He was really the highlight of the entire event. His All-Star Jersey sold out in 30 minutes. The St. Johns Ice Caps even changed their twitter name to “St. JohnScott Ice Caps.” His All-Star helmet is currently being displayed at the Hockey HOF. It’s just an incredible story.
Scott has, more than anything, proven to be someone the NHL should be proud of having in its family. The way he carried himself throughout the weekend was truly amazing. And seeing how everyone enjoyed it, from the fans, to his family, to the fellow players, makes it almost unthinkable that the NHL initially considered his presence a bad idea.
This has always been a chance for the league to show a little more life and personality, and that’s exactly what Scott brought to the table. We may never have an All-Star Game exactly like this again, even if 3-on-3 is here to stay (I hate to admit it but it was pretty awesome even though it wasn’t a gongshow like I expected), but man, this was special.
P.S. Read this article Scott wrote for The Player’s Tribune.
I’m here to talk about the next big thing in Hockeytown and his name is Dylan Larkin. By now, the rest of the NHL has taken note of the talented rookie, but many of us Red Wings fans have been on the hype train since very early this season. This kid optimizes the term “local boy makes good.” That should be the front page headline on the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News when this young man inevitably becomes the one wearing that coveted ‘C’ on his jersey in the coming years.
This story is just too good for it not to happen. I’m not sure many casual fans in Detroit were familiar with the 19 year old Larkin when he became the first teenager to play in a Red Wings uniform in 15 years. Fans in the Motor City are well aware of him now and he is the first rookie All Star for the Red Wings since Steve Yzerman. That’s pretty good company for a kid from Waterford, Michigan who grew up rooting for the team and probably dreamed of one day donning that red and white uniform. Well his dream is now a reality and he has grabbed the bull by the balls, so to speak, and is making the most of this opportunity.
Celebrating with the boys after setting up Danny DeKeyser for the game-winning goal in overtime against the Coyotes.
He is currently tied for first on the team in points (30) and goals (14), and tied for second in assists (16). This is a team with the likes of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk still playing on it. Not to mention he has a plus-minus of 22, which is far ahead of the number two player on the team (Datsyuk with 9) and good for third in the entire NHL. He also has 4 game winning goals which leads the Red Wings and all rookies in the league. Dylan Larkin can do it all and in my opinion has been the Wings most valuable player this year. That’s why he is the only Red Wings in the All Star Game. While he may not be able to catch up to Artemi Panarin for in points (43) and assists (27), I still think his goals and plus-minus make him a strong candidate to win the Calder Trophy.
Some people think there are other players on the team that deserve to be named Captain before Larkin, and I respect that but I think this makes too much sense. In such short time he has already become so valuable to the team and that value will only increase as he develops as a player. Henrik Zetterberg’s contract runs until 2o21 but most people believe that with the wear and tear his body has endured throughout the years that he will likely retire before the end of that contract. When that fateful day finally comes and our Swedish Prince hangs the skates up for good, I think it is Dylan Larkin who should be handed the torch to lead his team into it’s next era of greatness.
The look of a captain, the eye of the tiger.
He has received heaps of praise from coaches and fellow players alike for his natural athletic talent, as well as his desire to improve every day and be the best player he can. He’s got speed and grace. He can handle the puck, pass it, and shoot it as well as anyone on the team right now. He can play all over the ice and if he continues to develop at this rate, he could be one of the best players in the league by the time he is old enough to have a legal drink at a bar in the States.
Barring any major injury or other career derailing incident, Dylan Larkin is the future for the Detroit Red Wings. The team is on the verge of a major roster shift as its aging stars continue to decline and eventually retire or leave the team. Dylan Larkin should be the centerpiece of the new Red Wings as their Captain and lead them to the playoffs for another 24 years.