Why Do the Red Wings Need a Lead Defenseman?

Written by :
Published on : July 11, 2016

 

 

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 Decline
Courtesy of http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/

 

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:

 

Red Wings D 2002
Courtesy of http://www.hockey-reference.com/

 

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

 

 


Hit it and Quidditch

Written by :
Published on : November 30, 2015

 

Quidditch is the coolest fake sport ever. Made popular by the Harry Potter series of books and films, quidditch combines polo, Australian-rules football and flying for intense sports action. Sure it’s not real but it’s super awesome. Imagine if broomsticks could fly and we had a pro league with teams in all the major cities. If you owned a quidditch squad which real life athletes would you want on it?

Well first let’s do a quick refresher on how quidditch works. The object of the game is to outscore your opponent. Each team is made up of seven players: 1 Seeker, 1 Keeper, 2 Beaters and 3 Chasers.

Chasers get points for successfully getting the Quaffle (a weird football shaped thing) through one of three hoops that the opposing Keeper protects. Two grapefruit sized balls called Bludgers magically dart around the arena smashing players off their brooms. The Beaters use a bat to redirect the Bludgers into the other players. All while the tiny Golden Snitch zips around elusively. The Seeker from each team tries to catch the Snitch, which nets you 150 points and ends the game. So now we know the rules, lets pick our team.

 

This kid knows what’s up

 

The Chasers

You want good versatility at this position. Someone with a nice combo of speed and strength with a knack for scoring. It should be known that the Chasers work together so being able to pass is just as important as finishing.

1. LeBron James, forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He can pass, he can shoot, he can do it all. Easy choice. James will run the floor and dish the Quaffle for easy baskets. He totally Quafflied.

2. Blake Griffin, forward for the Los Angeles Clippers. Blake can nearly fly now. Giving him magic only turns this hardwood terror into an arial monster. Plus his name fits the Harry Potter world nicely.

3. Calvin Johnson, wide receiver for the Detroit Lions. His size and solid hands make him a perfect Chaser. Megatron’s ability to shake off punishment will force teams to pay extra attention to him, this will free up the others for easy points.

 

Step aside

The Beaters

These are your biggest and strongest. But we are still looking for precision here. You need skill to effectively use that bat.

1. Mike Trout, outfielder for the Los Angeles Angels. He has all the power you need, can cover great on defense and kills it with the bat.

2. Zdeno Chara, defenseman for the Boston Bruins is one of hockey’s best. He’s 6’9” and can swing that stick. I’m sure the transition to a bat will be easy for him. The Bludger is way bigger than a puck. I was going to put Brock Lesnar here but Chara seems more athletic overall. Also, Gronk wouldn’t be a terrible choice.

 

Get him a broom!

 

The Keeper

The brains of the outfit. The Keeper must decide which of the three hoops to defend. This job screams for someone with strong veteran leadership. Sports logic suggests maybe a soccer or hockey goalie but that is a very narrow translation of the job.

1. Travis Pastrana, motorsports and stunt competitor. He’s is super comfortable in the air, stays calm under pressure and can make those lighting fast calculations needed to pull off the impossible. Travis would own the broom and provide that stable backbone the rest of the crew would feed off of. Plus I hear he gets free Red Bull.

 

Soar Travis, soar

 

The Seeker

This is your fastest and usually best player. Being small helps but vision, guts and quickness is the real recipe for success. Like a mix of a fighter pilot and race horse jockey.

1. Harry Potter, Seeker for House Gryffindor. He is the best. Why would I pick anyone else? (eat it Viktor Krum) I thought about picking a NASCAR driver like Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch because those guys can go fast but are they really on Harry’s level? Don’t think so. Usain Bolt? Maybe. I do think Lionel Messi could probably do a solid job but he is only a wizard on the soccer pitch.

 

quidditch snitch

 

That’s my team. I feel pretty good about it. Leave a comment and tell me your seven. Can you dig it Cedric Diggory? Oh also, kids started playing quidditch on foot. I don’t like that. The flying is the cool part, take that away and it’s just a bunch of dummies running around with broom between their legs. Not magical, not cool. Get a job.

 

 

 


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