That’s what a packed house at Joe Louis Arena was screaming as Steve Yzerman walked away from the podium during the closing ceremony for the Detroit Red Wings home for the last 38 years. Yzerman is a hall of famer who wore the winged wheel across his chest for 22 years. His #19 jersey will hang in the rafters of whatever home the Red Wings have from now until eternity, never to be worn by another player on that team. He was the captain for 19 seasons and he’s still known simply as “The Captain.” He is Hockeytown and it’s time for him to come back home and lead the team he loves.
This is a scenario that makes too much sense to not happen. Following his retirement from playing in the NHL in 2006, the Red Wings made Yzerman team vice president. In that position and through his stint running team Canada, he was groomed for the position of general manager. Under Ken Holland, the Red Wings current general manager, he learned the tricks of the trade and was part of another Stanley Cup championship. There was even an attempt to make Yzerman the GM before he eventually departed for Tampa Bay, but Ken Holland declined a promotion that would have made room for Stevie Y in the front office.
In the time since Holland obstructed Yzerman’s path to his rightful place at the helm of the organization, the Captain’s Lightning have won 1 Stanley Cup and the Wings have none. This isn’t to insinuate that Yzerman is necessarily a better GM than Holland, but after some bad contracts and steadily declining performance of the team in recent years, Holland seems to be on his way out after an illustrious career in Detroit. The time is now to get the band back together. Holland has two years left on his contract and Yzerman only has one, that seems like a deal that is more than doable.
There are whispers that perhaps Steve Yzerman and Chris Ilitch, son of former owner Mike Ilitch and the guy currently signing the checks, don’t have the same type of relationship. Mike Ilitch only ever cared about giving the people of Detroit a winner and because of that, he will always be remembered fondly by fans in the Motor City. Rumor has it that his son is much more concerned with the bottom line and is not as willing to spend endless amounts of money just for the chance to win big. With a reputation for being tighter with the money, it’s also said that he is a much more hands-on owner and because of that Stevie Y might want to avoid giving up the good thing he has in Tampa Bay. I call bullshit.
Steve Yzerman and the Detroit Red Wings go together like peanut butter and jelly. He belongs in Detroit where he made a career and turned the Red Wings into a dynasty. He laid the bricks that built Hockeytown and it’s hard for me believe that he hasn’t simply been waiting for his chance to return. The fans in Detroit should be forever grateful to Ken Holland for the teams that he built but it’s becoming clear that he doesn’t have the same success in the salary cap era as he did before it. Holland’s time is ending and that will leave the door open for Stevie to come home, just like the fans want. Chris Ilitch should make sure he doesn’t let this opportunity slip away. His dad sure wouldn’t have.
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
ScoreBoredSports brings you its final 2015-16 NHL Season Preview: the Atlantic Division. Thanks so much for reading, and we hope you’ll keep your brain-port hooked to our internet tube for more hockey coverage throughout the year!
A collection of teams moving in very different directions, the Atlantic Division reads fairly clearly, even through the Red-Wing-tinted glasses I can’t help but to wear. Stanley Cup aspirations persist in hockey notbed Tampa Bay, while rare talent Jack Eichel instantly elevates the expectations in Buffalo. Between Boston’s deceptive re-tool, Toronto’s complete upheaval, and Ottawa’s likely fall to earth, there’s plenty of room for stink potential, too. Oh, and I guess there’s another team in Florida for some reason. I think Jaromir Jagr, inventor of the printing press, plays there?
The Sens might need big things from Anderson this year.
Some food for thought regarding Ottawa’s blazing-hot finish to the regular season: they tied for 5th-highest PDO in the league, a big albatross to wear for such an under-skilled team. Of the team’s 5 players to reach the 20-goal mark, 3 of them shot an unsustainably high percentage last season compared to the league average of about 9%: Mike Hoffman (27g, 13.4%), Mark Stone (26g, 16.6%) and Mika Zibanejad (20g, 13.3%). They also received the miraculous surprise of a bouncing baby goal keeper, sizzling hot out of the randomness oven. Unfortunately, Andrew Hammond hit his terrible twos pretty quickly and flickered out of the playoffs, and some keepers never survive past that stage. Luckily, the Senators still have dumpy old Craig Anderson, who has a great year every other year, though he sometimes loses track of which year is supposed to be which. They still have all the aforementioned young talent, which is significant, and that’s not even mentioning perennial All-Star Erik Karlsson. They carried some younger players that now face the ever-looming sophomore slump, which is always written off as a myth until it hits home. Curtis Lazar, Mark Stone, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau will all technically be entering their second full seasons, and there’s plenty of youth all over the roster that needs time to develop. The defense is shaky beyond Karlsson and Cody Ceci, who plays 20 minutes a game and looks to be the team’s hopeful replacement for Chris Phillips. The admixture of Anderson’s bobbing reliability, and the team’s unlikeliness to repeat their outstanding shooting percentages, leads me to believe that the Sens will fall out of the playoff picture altogether this year.
Chara is a monster, and will need to play like it this season.
After a tough year in which some important players either stalled in their development (Reilly Smith), underperformed (Loui Eriksson), or became injured (Zdeno Chara), Boston is hoping a significant roster turnover can bring in some new blood; the future-forward acquisition of valuable draft picks has been balanced with incoming players like Matt Beleskey, Zac Rinaldo, Colin Miller, and Jimmy Hayes. This mild bunch comes at the cost of several key players such as the potential future anchor of their defense, Dougie Hamilton, and fan-favorite Power Forward, Milan Lucic. The hope is that one of Beleskey or Hayes can oaf it up in front of the net to sufficiently replace Dr. Lucic’s cerebral style of smashy-smashy. They’ve retained Claude Julien, one of the most accomplished coaches in the NHL; they’ve also still got Patrice Bergeron, one of the most complete players you’ll ever see. Bergeron is an absolute joy to watch, from the way he commands the face-off circle, to the way he always, head up, makes a patient play. I also see this as a potential rebound year for All-Star keeper Tukka Rask, who struggled at times with the defensive turmoil in front of him. The big, and I mean big, question is that of Zdeno Chara’s health. He’s currently listed as day-to-day, though that is obviously subject to change rapidly as the team will be cautious going into the season. Without big Z, Boston lacks the defensive depth to launch a meaningful challenge in the East. Contrary to most people’s projections, I believe the Bruins, with solid leadership and the luck of a little good health, will return to the playoffs this year — but it’ll be a thin line to tread unless more changes come.
Jack Eichel looks like he could be one of the Sabres’ children.
The overhaul that Buffalo underwent in the off-season was transformative, no other way to say it. When I was watching action from the most recent World Junior Championships, it was actually Jack Eichel who stood out more than Connor McDavid at first, even when the U.S. team didn’t go as far as McDavid’s Canadian champs; then I saw some insane footage of McDavid showing otherworldly control and power in skating drills during the Oilers’ training camp, and I felt light-headed, so now I’m not so sure. Regardless, Eichel is a major talent who is highly likely to be one of the best players in the NHL within five years. They also have, by the way, last year’s second-overall pick Sam Reinhart, who led Canada to the WJC crown by tying McDavid and Max Domi for the lead in scoring. That’s no joke. Add to that a ridiculous infusion of talent including versatile but troubled Center/Forward Ryan O’Reilly, promising winger Evander Kane, and potential star goaltender Robin Lehner, and you just have a different team from last year’s onslaught of awful. Did I mention that all of these players are under 25? The Sabres upgraded in other areas, too, adding Cup-winning coach Dan Bylsma, and taking a flyer on talented two-way defenseman Cody Franson. The team also added the veteran David Legwand, who won’t break games but is a great role-model for young players andaslaslsgggggggg… shit, sorry… almost fell asleep there. You get the idea. Apart from David Blandwand, I am quite excited for this Buffalo team, as this is a good hockey community that has been thirsty for greatness since the day the Dominator left town. The playoffs are not at all out of the question for this squad, though a lot of that will hinge upon the formation of a coherent defense, especially with the Grand Canyon-sized crater left behind by Tyler Myers. Luckily he wasn’t all that great, and Bylsma has the energy and credential to whip this inexperienced Sabres D into competence. It looks like it will come down to a competition between the Bruins, Penguins, Sabres, and Blue Jackets for those final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Detroit Red Wings:
19 year old Dylan Larkin could be the future in Hockeytown.
A new era begins in Detroit, with first-year coach Jeff Blashill looking to bring some energy and fresh looks to an always-good Red Wings team. The problem in recent years is that that “always good” has come at the expense of “ever great,” as injuries (see: every Red Wing), odd contracts (Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard, “Diamond” Dan Cleary) and failed signings (RIP Stephen Weiss) have stunted opportunities for the Wings to break through. As an aside, Wing-haters can delight in reading this article from the invaluable Winging It In Motown blog about the truly horrific contract situation of Captain Hank and Franzen, should either retire before fulfilling their contract. And don’t even get me started on Dan Cleary, whose inconceivable presence on the Wings’ roster is only explicable through a tangle of Newfoundland mafia connections. Nonetheless, this year hope abounds, as Wings fans can finally admit to themselves that there’s always been some weirdness with the way departed, beloved, Cup-winning and hair-ever-swooping coach Mike Babcock used players. Prime example: Jakub Kindl has actually always been very good, and his essential deletion from the Red Wings universe last year truly puzzled me, especially when he was being leap-frogged by guys like Brian Lashoff and Alexei Marchenko (who are fine in their own right, just not as groomed or effective). So I’m looking forward to seeing Blashill’s take on the talent available. That talent was significantly increased when GM Ken Holland signed Mike Green, a right-handed defenseman with blistering offensive skill, and Brad Richards, a two-time Cup winner, former Conn Smythe trophy winner, and one of my all-time favorite slowpoke badasses. This team will continue to dominate possession numbers and show high shooting percentages with ridiculous talent like my best friend, father, and life coach, Pavel Datsyuk, as well as outstanding younger talent like Gus Nyquist and Tomas Tatar. The Wings also have a potential rookie starlet in Dylan Larkin making the opening-night roster; the Wings haven’t had a teenager on their opening-night roster since Jiri Fischer in 1999. His talent has been dynamic and impactful in training camp and the pre-season, so don’t count out that new blood making an impact. Larkin dominated for the US in those World Juniors, by the by, outclassing both Eichel and McDavid before the States petered out and McDavid had more games to rack up points. Peter Mrazek represents a solid hope for the Wings future in net, but the real hope is that Jimmy Howard can live up to his weighty contract. My prediction: Playoffs x 25. Beyond that, I see a competitive second-round exit. Or ten Stanley Cups — that’s what I meant. Ten Cups, this year.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Ben Bishop and the Lightning look to be poised for greatness again this year.
It doesn’t take a lot to figure out why I’m predicting the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the Stanley Cup. With everything in place for another deep run, and the bitter taste of coming oh-so-close last year as a particularly powerful motivator, the Bolts look to be hockey’s most complete team. Starting with Steve Stamkos, the NHL’s archetypal sniper, the Lightning have elite talent at every position, and lots of it. Victor Hedman has finally matured into a Norris-Trophy candidate, and is supported by a deep defense with the likes of Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, Jason Garrison, and Matt Carle all capable of contributing in meaningful ways. Ben Bishop proved himself to be a fine backstop, and only looks to get better. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of season Tyler Johnson has, who came from nowhere to become one of the NHL’s elite offensive players, this generation of Martin St. Louis for Lightning fans. Jon Cooper has also acquitted himself nicely as a tactically astute coach that can find productive player combinations, evinced by the chemistry discovered between Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat. This team has no significant weakness, and if anything, is looking at rebound seasons from the likes of Stamkos and Valteri Filppula, who mysteriously was minus-17 in spite of the Lightning being the NHL’s highest-scoring outfit last year. Let’s also remember that the 3rd overall pick from two years ago, Jonathan Drouin, may be ready to burst out in a big way. Things look to finally be lining up for Tampa’s second Stanley Cup run.
Look, sometimes these picks are fairly anticlimactic because the writing’s on the wall. As such, here’s an inappropriate GIF of Jaromir Jagr that I found on Reddit:
I kid about Florida, but I still don’t see them going anywhere after a stagnant off-season. The ageless Jagr will, of course, be good for 40-60 points, and 20-30 European models bedded; Roberto Luongo will likely be a consistent net presence as long as there are no serious stakes. The rest of the team’s outlook seems to hinge on player development, as their core of Alex Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and, most importantly, Aaron Ekblad, will have to carry a larger load if this team wants to go forward. It’s clear that Ekblad is a star, but elevation is needed out of the other two as well as players like Nicklas Bjugstad, Vincent Trocheck, and Boston castoff Reilly Smith. Remember when Florida fans threw rats on the ice after a hat trick for some reason (because cats)? Do they still do that? Are there still Florida Panther fans even? Ah, stupid times.
Sorry to say it, but Montreal’s season really depends on Carey Price, who we know will be very good, but may have trouble replicating his MVP season from last year. His level of excellence will drive their team, though a very minor influx of speed and creative potential in players like Zack Kassian and Alex Semin, as well as the retention of Jeff Petry, offer potential relief for their offensive woes. More importantly, they have the game’s most exciting defenseman, P.K. Subban, who also became one of hockey’s foremost philanthropists after pledging to donate $10 million to a Montreal Children’s Hospital. I’m an unabashed fan of everything P.K. He does things on the ice nobody else can, makes the game fun and thrilling, expresses himself in an interesting way (as opposed to most NHL players and their monotone cliché-bot routine), kisses Pierre Mcguire on live TV, I mean what more could you possibly want? I’m hoping Subban does something unthinkable like celebrate after a goal so the anything-but-level-headed Montreal media run him out of town, straight into the arms of the Red Wings. Yes, I may be having an Ambien hallucination right now, but this is why we all gathered at the Eiffel Tower today, isn’t it? N’est-ce pas, Henri?
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