Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Rare Post Approaches - Right and Wrong

Back in November, I made a bold statement. With the Red Wings' OT loss last night that clinched them another chance at Lord Stanley's Cup, I am forced to address that statement and declare two things.

  1. Ultimately, I was wrong when I said that the Red Wings team that couldn't beat the Winnipeg Jets in regulation was not a playoff team
  2. That statement demands a giant asterisk 
I chose this one because to some fans, my statement was probably equally controversial
Did the Red Wings end up making the playoffs? Yes they did, and I'm elated that they did. I would describe the team similarly to how I felt about them last season: If they continue to play as well as they did in the home stretch, they could easily upset most, if not any, team that they come up against in the playoffs. 

But this is where the asterisk comes in, because the team that made it to the playoffs is not the same team that couldn't beat the Jets in regulation. If you look at the box scores for those two games against Winnipeg, the names Cleary, Bertuzzi, Tootoo and even fucking Samuelsson show up. Weiss' name is there, as is Almquist and Ouellet. No Nyquist, Jurco or Sheahan. There was Tatar, and Gleandening made an appearance, but we were relying on the tired old guard and not our young, brilliant prospects.

The team that won hockey games and got us into the playoffs is not the same team that lost to Winnipeg twice. The Red Wings that win hockey games is made up of the balls to the wall every night dedication of the young guns. It's Nyquist blowing up at the right time, Tatar being consistently good and working hard every night, Jurco blossoming, Sheahan doing fantastic in between those guys, and Gleandening doing whatever the fuck he does. And while Weiss v Legwand is up for debate, there's no denying that having Legwand - meaning having a guy who isn't hurt and can actually play - has had an impact. Maybe Weiss would be better than Legwand if he wasn't hurt.

But he is hurt.

Our defense stopped being hurt all the time and grew more consistent - even Smith and Quincey looked better. Howard and Gustavsson started playing closer to their level, and we've started to get healthy again at the right time. All of those things, for the most part, I said had to change if we wanted a shot at the playoffs when I made my initial claim. 

But let's not be naive, smug assholes about this either. Once again we had to claw our way into the playoffs. In order to truly contend for the Cup, you can't claw your way in with two games left. You have to have more or less clinched for your spot in late February/early March, and the rest of the season is just trying to figure out which seed you're going to be.

Before anyone goes overboard with the "I told you so's", remind yourself that I was almost right, and I was only wrong because what I said needed to happen did happen.

So yes, I was wrong. But only just. And as a Red Wings fan, I'm pretty stoked about being wrong.

Let's Go Red Wings

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Unexpected Game Review: Wings-4:Senators-2

Since I started my first full-time teaching job, I haven't been able to watch much hockey or blarg about it. Part of that is due to the fact that I haven't had the time, and part of it is because I decided to spend money so that I could play hockey again instead of renewing my NHL TV package. It's a hard knock life.

Needless to say, I'm always excited when I go through the TV channels I do have access to and there's Red Wings hockey on. It usually means I have to watch shitty coverage from NHL on NBC or, in tonight's case, shitty coverage from the NHL Network. But at least I got to watch the game, and what a game it was!

Obviously the big story was Daniel Alfredsson's return to Ottawa for the first time since signing with the Red Wings. I'm obligated by sports writer/blogger law to make mention of it, so this will be the first and only mention of it. The tribute video was great, the fans response was great. Moving on.

The first period was a pretty even tilt between the two teams. Both teams seemed to have a lot of energy and intensity and speed. To go along with that energy, intensity and speed was a whole lot of inconsistency and chippy play. The Red Wings never really got the opportunity to set up the puck possession game they wanted to, but the Senators also sort of over-committed or pursued sometimes. They were running around, trying to lay the body on the Wings, and certainly racked up the hits, but it seemed without cohesion or a plan. It did, as I mentioned, disrupt the puck possession of Detroit, but they also couldn't turn it into goals and scoring chances.

The big story of the first period were the two penalties taken by Detroit. The interference call was fair, but as I tweeted, Darren Helm is the victim of those kinds of plays pretty much every shift and it isn't called. Speaking of Darren Helm, he had a couple of excellent chances while shorthanded, including a quasi-breakaway that he couldn't finish. The first penalty kill, the Wings had as many shots as the Senators did. The second penalty, a dumb too many men penalty, the Red Wings kept the Senators from even getting a shot.

The second period, the Wings really got their game going, and the two goals they scored were demonstrative of that. Franzen takes a good pass and just rips a shot past Lehner, and Drew Miller gets his first of two goals. The pass from Tomas Tatar was just... fuuuuuuuuuuck that kid is good. He's averaging a point about every two games, and is really only part of the story. He's hungry for the puck, makes good decisions with it, has been reliable defensively and showing a lot of poise and skill. At one point, he put on a damned near Datsyukian stick handling clinic, making the Senators chase the puck while keeping it away, and getting shot and pass attempts to keep the play alive in the offensive zone.

The second and third periods showed a lot of intensity from the Senators. They scored their first goal when the whistle should have been blown, but wasn't. They drove the net hard and when Gustavsson bobbled the puck after when the whistle should have been blown, they popped it free and eventually into the net. But they got a lot of scoring chances due to long, bad changes and/or smart passing. Gustavsson had to be good for the Wings tonight, and he continued to do so.

Let's hand out the first game pucks in a long time, and call it an evening.

The Bret Lebda Game Puck: Brendan Smith - He didn't have a good game. There was the huge, stupid turnover that Monster had to bail him out on. There was the dumb penalty he didn't have to take because he had already defused the scoring threat, and then just decided, "HERP DERP! LET'S HAUL A DUDE DOWN TO THE ICE!" I'm not to crisis point with Smith, yet, but he's continuing to struggle and it is a concern. 

The Kris Draper Game Puck: Darren Helm - The "best 3rd line center in the league" has become one of the better 2nd line centers. He's scoring goals, winning face offs and being all around awesome since finally returning from injury. Here's the crazy thing: he's getting 2nd line center minutes AND doing power play minutes AND doing penalty kill minutes and every shift he is still balls to the wall intense. That's just insane.

10 Points to Griffins-dor: Tomas Tatar - The orgasm above wasn't indicative enough?

The Perfect Puck: Tomas Tatar and Niklas Kronwall - Two perfect passes give Drew Miller his first goal

O' Captain, My Captain Game Puck: Drew Miller - Oh sure, he benefits from some excellent passes from his team mates, but he's positioning himself perfectly to receive those passes and putting the puck in the net. His second goal he had to skate to stick it at speed, which is not easy, and shoot those pucks perfectly. Plus, he's been consistently good for the Wings and has worked hard every game.

Last note: I caught a lot of shit awhile back because I said that if the Red Wings couldn't beat the Jets in regulation, they weren't a playoff team. People spent a lot of time ignoring the things I was saying and flipping out over things I didn't say. The point I was making is that there were a lot of problems with this team that needed fixing - and that horrible losing streak was proof of that.

Since that time, the Red Wings have improved most of the problems I was seeing - goal scoring, goal tending, and attitude. The last one first: When the game is in hand, you have to have the killer instinct to score one more goal and put it away. The Red Wings weren't doing that and losing games late because of it. Tonight, the Senators came within one, and the Wings got an empty netter right away to get the 2 goal lead back.

Scoring is getting better, and the kind of depth scoring that helped take the Wings to Stanley Cups in years past, has picked up. Goaltending has gotten better, with Gustavsson really showing he can be a quality 2nd goalie.

So I said tonight that THIS Red Wings team could beat the Jets in regulation; if they get the defensive struggles underway and keep plugging away with everything else, they will be a playoff team. I said specifically that they had plenty of time to do it, and I did expect them to. It's good to see it happen now and not in February and March.

Keep it rollin', boys. Let's go Red Wings

Friday, October 18, 2013

Red Wings won a game! And I was there!

In the immortal words of that one guy from that mid 90’s Snickers commercial: “Great googily boogily”. Here’s what I realized about going to hockey games and then trying to write about them: it’s really tricky to watch the game, live, as close to the action as I was, and simultaneously be a fan and a writer. I want to be snapping pictures and video the whole time but I also did not want to be that guy. You know that guy.

Yeah, that guy
I have to admit, I was a bit of that guy in the 3rd period. But for the vast majority of the game, during the game, the phone was in my pocket. So this post will largely be about my experience of seeing the Red Wings play in Colorado, live, up close and personal.

  • First, it has to be said that the Pepsi Center is actually a really nice arena. It’s big, clean, and well organized. The staff, despite us being in full Red Wings attire were all very polite, courteous and professional. Especially the little old lady who checked us in with our tickets. She saw us on our way out and smiled and congratulated our team and wished us a safe trip home. I don’t remember your name, but I will remember your face and kindness
  • Except I pray that the new Red Wings arena is not also shared with the Pistons. Watching hockey in a place where there are also basketball games played sort of cheapens the experience for hockey fans. I sat on a God damned folding chair.
  • Also, who the hell gets paid sponsors for their parking lots!? Named after Toyota vehicles. It’s pathetic. Especially when you drive a Dodge Ram truck onto the ice, idiots.
  • I don’t know how it looked or sounded on TV, but if it seemed like there were more Red Wings fans than Avalanche fans, it would have made for an interesting poll. To out right where Avs fans. To our left were Avs fans. There were Avs fans in front and behind, but A LOT of Red Wings fans all over the place.
  • When the Avs fans started chanting, they were REALLY loud. However, they could be drown out almost at any moment by the Wings fans. That being said, their go to chant was “Red Wings suck!” Which is just pathetic. Cheer your team on, boo a bit (like when Bertuzzi touches the puck? Totally fair), but an organized cheer about the other team sucking? See, this is why we look down on you the way we do.
  • When they would stop chanting, “Red Wings suck!” I would turn and show, “So does your mother!” and that did not make me any friends.
  • Except the guy sitting down and to my left, who was an intelligent Avs fan. They do exist. He complimented Monster’s strong play, and agreed that Datsyuk is the man. I gave credit for the Avalanche dominance in the 2nd period and mentioned my respect for Joe Sakic. It was civil and fun.
Now, there was a bit of a happening during the course of the game. I will let you be the judge and try to tell the story as objectively as I could. So like I said, my mentioning the fellating prowess of the Avalanche fans’ mothers did not ingratiate to me to many of the people around me. But, in my defense, at no point during the game did I try to lead a chant saying the Avalanche sucked. It’s just a massively unoriginal, petty and stupid thing to do as a fan base. Disclaimer: I’m sure there are Red Wings fans that would do such a thing. I’ve never heard it happen at any game I’ve gone to or watched, but it may have happened. If you’re one of the Red Wings fans who have ever done such a thing; fucking stop it. You’re a shit fan and you don’t deserve to wear the Winged Wheel. But, outside of that, I just tried to enjoy the game, celebrate when the Wings scored, talk with the guy in front of me and wife, and join in the “Let’s Go Red Wings” chant.

Until two things changed.

First, the guys behind me started chiming in, right around the 2nd period when it was 2-1. Not sure what it was that sparked their ire. Seriously, I don’t think I did anything. Maybe it was after one of my “Your mother is a blow job queen” responses. I honestly cannot remember. All I do know is I hear people bitching at me from over my shoulder and I’m just trying to focus on the game. Then I hear, “Hey, Waldo, who the fuck wears a hat like that?”

It’s a Winter Classic hat, you incandescent twat waffle, and if your team is ever important enough to play in one, you’ll find out about it, too. And I don’t mean one of the 17 outdoor games the NHL is handing out to make people feel special. I mean the actual Winter Classic.

But I kept my thoughts to myself because I was enjoying myself otherwise and I really didn’t want to ruin my evening by getting thrown out.

Then sometime in the third period, during one of the “Let’s Go Red Wings” chants, I hear “Red Wings suck!” from over to my right, and one of the children – maybe 9 or 10 years old – is looking directly at me and screaming it. Over and over again. Mom isn’t doing anything. I ignored it to start with because I know better. However, after the Red Wings went up 3-2, the “Let’s Go Red Wings” chant starts up again. And one again, this kid is leaning forward, shooting daggers with his eyes, and yelling as loud as he can directly at me, “Red Wings suck!”

I know better, but I responded anyways, and pointing upwards, I holler back “Scoreboard! Scoreboard!” So yes, I did taunt back at a child.

My buddies behind me didn’t appreciate that at all and started up at me again. But I ignored them because, y’know why, as far as I’m concerned, if some kid is old enough to get mouthy and start talking shit, then he’s old enough to get put in his place. And he probably gained his courage and attitude from you dickweeds. So yeah, not my best moment, but let’s not act like you idiots are the pillars of the hockey fan community. It’s not like your fans or commentators would said exceedingly stupid shit just because you don’t like a certain player or team, right?

But then Datsyuk scored again, and they all pretty much shut up. So yeah, scoreboard.

Thanks to Doneta for snagging this pic. God I look awful.
Players I was Impressed With:
  • Datsyuk was all Datsyukian. Two goals, great net front work and lots of good puck possession and defense from him
  • Franzen was skating very well and seemed to really be motivated tonight
  • Ericsson was the much needed anchor after Kronwall went out. And shit is he BIG in person.
  • Alfredsson really wanted to score but settled for 3 assists instead. That's gotta suck, huh?
Players I’m Neutral About:
  • Andersson did have some good moments, but also had some moments of “does not exist”. I think with how hard Gleandening is working and with Helm’s return coming, Andersson may need to do something quick to stand out
  • Good on Drew Miller for standing up for himself and deciding to drop the gloves. Not so good with the tiring out really fast and getting your face punched a lot
  • Abby needed to hit more people
  • Monster played really well sometimes, making big saves and being smart when he handled the puck. Then he gave up two of the weakest, softest, most “You shoulda fuckin’ had those” goals ever. He’s been good for us but he still needs to be better
Players I was frustrated with:
  • Danny DeKeyser, I think, really tried to fill the skates left by Kronner when he left. I’m pretty sure DeKeyser got moved up to 1st pairing and certainly played a lot more minutes. But he made a lot of really, REALLY bad passes tonight. Shame on the Avalanche for not scoring off his turnovers. 
  • Weiss annoyed me. He didn’t do anything particularly bad, but I’m feeling like others are feeling: “Dude, we didn’t pay you Val Filpulla money so you could come in here and be Val Filppula” – plus the penalty he took was stupid. 
No autographs, but my wife high fived a lot of the players as they were coming to and from the dressing room. Plus pictures and video. Plus a Red Wings win.

Oh, and make sure you include Avalanche fans on the list of, “Fans who are so pathetic that when their team loses to a Detroit team, they have to shit talk the city because they are bereft of anything of value to say”

Let’s Go Red Wings

Friday, September 13, 2013

There Is Nothing Good About Dan Cleary Re-Signing

After the insanity of Dan Cleary Watch 2013 - and yes, this summer has been so devoid of anything important or interesting that we've resorted to waiting on baited breath to find out what Dan Cleary is going to do - it was announced that Cleary had signed a deal worth $1.75 million for one year to stay in Detroit.

I know we're supposed to have faith in Ken Holland and company, but this signing is just wrong. It's just objectively, scientifically wrong on all fronts. And I should preface everything that is to come by saying: this is absolutely not because I don't like Dan Cleary or think he's a bad hockey player. In fact, Dan Cleary has a lot to offer a team - just not the Detroit Red Wings. My take on Dan Cleary is essentially identical to my take on Tomas Holmstrom at the end of last year. Holmstrom (Cleary) made a lot of great contributions to the Red Wings during his time with us, and was essentially to winning the Stanley Cup, without the glitz, glammer and pomp and circumstance of some of the big names. However, Holmstrom (Cleary) is getting up there in age, the way he plays the game does take its toll on the body, and we've seen evidence of that over the past couple of seasons. Furthermore, Holmstrom (Cleary) stands in the way of some very important prospects coming up and getting the NHL exposure they need. So it was time for Holmstrom to step aside, and now it's time for Cleary to do the same.

To his credit, Cleary did manage to play the most games last season out of all Red Wings. His team leading 48 games is impressive, and during that time he managed to net 9 goals and 8 assists for 15 points. And this was while playing alongside Pavel Datsyuk, which arguably mean he should have racked up more. Meanwhile, Gustav Nyquist only scored 3 goals and 3 assists in 22 games played, with Tatar scoring 4 goals and 3 assists in 18 games played. So you might say, "See, Dan Cleary is better". To which I will respond with a rarely uttered phrase

Do the math.

Nyquist played 22 games fewer than Cleary and Tatar played 30 fewer. Goose averaged a goal once every 7-8 games (same for assists) and Tatar averaged a goal once ever 5 games or so. If they had played the number of games Cleary had played, Nyquist's numbers could have been closer to 7 goals, 7 assists for 14 points, and Tatar's could have been closer to 11 goals and 8 assists for 19 points. Meanwhile, in 44 games Damien Brunner put up 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points.

Nyquist, Brunner and Tatar all saw playing time on the 3rd and 4th line. While Brunner did get playing time with Zetterberg, that eventually came to an end and neither Nyquist or Tatar saw meaningful ice time in the top lines with Datsyuk or Zetterberg. Cleary did. Nyquist and Tatar also cost considerably less, are considerably younger, and have considerably more potential to become long term producers for the Red Wings. Dan Cleary does not.

"But Nyquist and Tatar fill a different role than Cleary does!"

And? For starters, if you told either Nyquist or Tatar that making the team and getting top line minutes would require them to be a corner/net front guy, they'd do it. It would be a drastic misuse of their talent and skill sets, but they would do it. And seeing as how Tomas Tatar is all of 5'2 and 110 pounds he may die in the process. But these guys are hungry to play.

Moreover, what does Dan Cleary bring us that Abdelkader, Miller, Eaves and Emmerton can't? They all have the ability to win corner and front net battles, they can all give us some depth scoring, they can all be defensively sound and responsible, and they can all do it faster and, arguably with the exception of Eaves, be more health in the process. Plus, they're younger, still with room to grow, which is the direction this team needs to be headed.

Let's not forget that Ken Holland doesn't buy the whole "The East is a more physical conference" notion, so the idea we need more guys like Cleary doesn't exactly hold water.

"But Cleary is a team guy! A locker room guy!"

Okay, but let's be honest, what player on the Detroit Red Wings isn't going to be a team guy? Do you think Mike Babcock would tolerate someone who is not ready to sacrifice for the team? Let's remember what he said to Stephen Weiss while they were still in the process of courting him. Forget the Babcock Death Stare, I'm sure he would bludgeon a player to death with his bare hands if they brought anything other than a team attitude to his locker room. Because that would be more fun.

Sure, Tomas Tatar's comments may seem selfish and unwise at first, but ask yourself these questions: Is anything he unsaid unfair or unreasonable, and if you were in Tomas Tatar's position, would you honestly feel any differently? And let's be clear here: he is saying he wants to play for this team, however, if this team is unwilling to let him play, then he wants to go some where that he can play.

His message isn't, "Fuck Dan Cleary, fuck Mike Babcock and fuck Ken Holland, I'm out" - although there is a tinge of that sentiment. His message is, "You drafted me to play for you, you trained me to play for you, I've worked hard, paid my dues, and helped bring your minor league team a championship. I am ready to play for you. If you aren't going to let me, then I want to go somewhere that I can compete at the highest professional level."

Again, I ask you to consider if that is an unreasonable request or if you would feel any differently.

All signing Dan Cleary has done is added some mortar to the logjam that was already present at forwards, made the cap situation that much worse, poured salt on a wound of an already aggrivated prospect, and sent a message to the rest of the kids in Grand Rapids that we will signing aging players instead of giving you an opportunity to play. If I'm Tomas Jurco, Martin Frk or Anthony Mantha, I sure as hell have taken notice of this signing. Obviously, I'm not saying that those players are doomed to never wear the Winged Wheel, and they have to spend their time developing and earning a spot. Doesn't mean they aren't scratching their heads a bit.

I sure as hell am scratching mine.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Old Man Hockey Fan

This has been a slow summer, outside of the initial crack and bang of the Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson signings. Everyone is looking for something to talk about, so much so that people got mad at Sidney Crosby for getting bumped to the front of the line at the DMV and the story had such momentum that instead of being laughed at, the CEO of the Penguins and others have come to his defense.

I've more or less implicitly supported Sidney Crosby, so I just want to point out
that this picture screams to have a giant penis photoshopped into his hand
So yes, we are all very bored and anxiously waiting for hockey to start up again, and we've got to find some things to talk about. I found something to talk about when I had one of those "I'm getting old and these kids are so young" moments. Getting to know some of my students here in Colorado, I asked who were hockey fans and one student raised his hand. I asked if he was an Avalanche fan, and he said yes. I snickered and said, "Well, y'know I'm from Michigan so I'm a big Red Wings fan" and the student stared at me blankly.

My students were born in 2001 and 2002. This means these kids weren't born yet, and if they were born, they were barely aware of the world when we absolutely destroyed Patrick Roy in Game 7. They never saw the Statue of Liberty debacle . They don't know to fear Mike Vernon and Darren McCarty. The Detroit-Avalanche rivalry is a fabled story told to them by their elders while burning incense.

It isn't just Avalanche fans that are going to suffer from this kind of issue. Thinking back over my years as a Red Wings, it occurred to me that there's a lot of big NHL moments that my students will have no personal knowledge or connection to. Let's take a look at some of what they missed, and what these damned kids these days are into.

  • While there's a great debate about retiring Sergei Fedorov's number among us older fans, it's unanimously against among younger fans because they only know him as "They guy who is trying to steal Pavel Datsyuk"
  • Thanks to the younger generations of fans, Patrick Roy will finally shed his reputation as the great, but batshit crazy, megalomaniac goaltender for the Colorado Avalanche and be able to cultivate his brand new persona as the great, but batshit crazy, megalomaniac coach for the Colorado Avalanche. 
  • Because they've not been hockey fans for very long, they're less likely to remember what hockey was like before the isosceles trapezoid was introduced behind the net. This means that they'll have no idea why the isosceles trapezoid was introduced. So that's something they have in common with the rest of us.
  • They were only about 3 years old at the time, so they only know the Steve Moore incident as, "The day Daddy screamed a lot and kicked a hole in the wall." 
  • When people complained about Russians in my day, it was because they suffered at the hands of another perfectly executed play by the Russian 5. Now it's because Alexander Ovechkin didn't score 23 goals in 6 games. 
And finally, now I understand the looks of derision and the claims that "You've never seen what real hockey is like!" when I tell older hockey fans that I am too young to have seen Gordie Howe play. 

When did I get old?