30 July 2008

Flippin' Awesome...Mostly.

The Red Wings avoided arbitration with center Valtteri Filppula (his hearing was scheduled for Friday), signing him to a 5 year, $15 million contract this afternoon. This is great news, as the Finn racked up 19 goals and 17 assists in 78 games last season and is only 24 years old. Filppula filed for arbitration at the beginning of the month after rumors began flying around that he might receive an offer sheet, which the Wings may have been hard-pressed to match, having only around $4 million in wiggle room at the time - a move that relieved many fans, confident that a deal would be reached, as it meant Fil would be sticking around one way or another, and was out of offer-sheet reach.

In and of itself, with no concern for where the deal puts the Wings with regard to the salary cap, the deal is a great one. Fil is expected to be a 30 goal scorer in the near future, and given his success on a line with Mikael Samuelsson and Johan Franzen, and the talent he's also shown playing with Pavel Datsyuk, who he may get time with next season if the Marian Hossa signing splits up Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, that's not unlikely. Of Filppula, Holland says,

"We love everything about him because he's a complete player with great character, and we think he can get even better. He plays hard, he plays hurt. He's got great speed and talent along with versatility because he can play left wing or centre.
The contract makes Filppula the highest-paid Red Wing forward after Datsyuk and Hossa, which shows how much faith the Wings are putting in the kid's potential. Given his performance last season, despite various slows in production throughout the year, and in the playoffs where he played through a groin injury, it seems the organization's expectations are well founded. After all, who remembers this goal? Pretty good for a kid who looks much too pretty to play hockey.

On the downside, Fil commanding $3 million pushes the Wings right up against the salary cap. The team has yet to resign defenseman Chris Chelios (whose deal was expected to wait until after Fil was resigned), forwards Darren McCarty and Aaron Downey (both of whom the Wings are now interested in signing only to two-way deals), and defense prospect Kyle Quincey - and this is where things start to get dicey. With only $977,667 left in cap space, the Wings will have to make a move before the season starts. The team will carry ten defensemen into the preseason, as Holland states that they're most likely not to make a trade until it is over, only one of whom is not required to clear waivers (Jon Ericsson).

The likeliest trade candidates, therefore, are recently resigned defensemen Andreas Lilja, Brett Lebda, and Quincey, once his contract has been settled. While none of these would be horrendous losses to the Wings, it would of course be nicer to keep them. Personally I find myself worrying over the future of Quincey, NPI's favorite Grand Rapids Griffin, given that despite his performance in the 06-07 playoffs, Ericsson has leapfrogged him as the number one defensive prospect in 07-08. Of the defensive logjam, Holland told the media,
"We'll have to make a decision based on the 23-man roster, the salary cap and age. We'll have to be prepared to trade some players. I would expect there would be interest in some of our players.''
Ominous words, and an even more ominous little letter 's' on the end of 'player' there - scary. You almost never want to see players moved, especially players with potential, but if Wings fans have learned anything through these past couple seasons, it should be to trust Ken Holland to make the right decision and get it done. Until he does, here's to painful waiting and hoping for the best - and congratulations to Val Filppula on signing a great contract and staying with a great team for the next five years.

25 July 2008


Inexplicably (but totally cool!) AT&T has decided that 2.5 million Oakland and Wayne County editions of the new AT&T Real Yellow Pages directory will feature the Detroit Red Wings on the cover. The shot of the team on the ice post-Cup victory, says the president of AT&T, is featured because, "It is our goal to keep our customers connected, but nothing connects communities like a championship team and we applaud the Wings for their accomplishment."

Cheesy, for sure, but it's certainly sort of neat to pick up the Yellow Pages and see the boys - and this time of year, it's the little things.

In honor of the recognition (or in recognition of the honor?) Wings grinder Darren McCarty was at Hockeytown Authentics signing autographs. Having missed him in Taylor and being in the area to begin with, I decided to stop by:

D-Mac, decked out in full support of Detroit and the Tigers (who would be playing across the street two hours from the end of the signing) - seemed like he was having a good time.

Freshly D-Mac-signed hat and the event-causing mini-phonebook.

Hockeytown Cafe was bustling (I proceeded to eat a panini - A+!) with the pre-Tigers game crowd, but McCarty - who looked like he was enjoying himself as much as someone writing their name for two hours straight could be, and who was very friendly - drew a fair amount of attention as well. The best thing about the event was that it was completely free, making it pretty irresistible after seeing prices charged at some other venues. The slight downside was that, compared to some other signings, the Cafe had only its own merchendise to work with, and thus your options for things to buy and get signed were a bit limited (they did, however, have the new red version of the Wings Locker Room hat - classy) - but most people (including me) had their own anyway. And hey, there was always the phone books!

20 July 2008

Of hockey and fashion.

A while back, the NHL announced that they were partnering with actress Alyssa Milano to create the hockey version of her women's clothing line full of frilled up, rhinestone-studded, "trendy" shirts, formerly featuring the logos of various MLB teams. Don't get me wrong, they were hardly all absolutely awful - but they weren't all good, either. When the idea of an NHL-based line came up, there were a few prototypes through out into the mix - a handful of 3/4 sleeve shirts emblazoned with the All Star Game logo, a girly red something and a more ice-rink-inclined vest (thanks Tracy for making that post!) but not much more. Certainly not on the scale of the MLB designs. And then the project seemed to fade away.

Until yesterday when I stepped into a new store at Lakeside Mall called "The Hook Up", specializing in sports apparel, knick-knacks, etc. I was checking out the Wings Cup Champions merchandise when I saw these:

Both (excuse the poor quality cell phone pictures) feature a small (although at least centered, in one) Wings logo and proclaims them the "Stanley Cup Champions" - which must make the logo a heck of a lot harder to work into the intended "cute" designs. The one on the right, like the earlier vest, seems at least like decent rink-wear, for those ladies who don't get cold too easily.

Apparently the NHL "Touch" line isn't dead after all - and in fact wants you to know exactly who won the Stanley Cup this year. Personally I (like Tracy) would think that winning the Cup especially would result in wanting the logo to be as big, obnoxious, and proud as possible, but these are far from as bad as (upon further investigation) they could be. And oh can they be. It seems a little odd that the NHLNHL seems to be at such a distance from the whole business though - even the Wings' online store features only a couple of the "Touch" designs - and none of the Cup Champs ones.

Thoughts? Opinions? Pitchforks? Obligatory Milano is hot comments?

18 July 2008

Jimmy Howard: Still the Future of Red Wings Goaltending

Okay, panicky Sabres fans everyone, the Miller-to-Detroit rumors can now officially cease:

The Buffalo Sabres signed goaltender Ryan Miller on Friday to a five-year contract extension through the 2013-2014 season.
See, I told you he didn't love Lansing - even given its status as a bastion of delicious greasy college-type food, being the point of origin for Biggby [then Beaner's] coffee, Gumby's pizza, and Menna's Joint - as much as you all thought.

17 July 2008

Happy Schedule Day!

Today is a beacon of light in the seemingly long, hot, endless summer that is the offseason. My car thermometer informed me we were seeing weather in the mid-90s as I left work this afternoon - muggy enough to literally fog up my glasses. Hockey, despite the fact that I spent several hours this week in an ice rink, seems years and years away on days like this. But with the release of the schedule, basically arbitrary and somewhat useless as it is, comes a breath of cool air and hope. Here are some notables regarding the 2008/2009 Wings schedule:

  • The Wings will ring in opening day at home in the Joe, raising their 11th Stanley Cup banner on October 9th. The game will be against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who the Wings play twice (a home and home) in preseason and afterward will not see again until next season. Nice touch setting up an Original Six rivalry game for opening day, NHL.
  • The three Eastern conference teams that the Wings will play both home and away this season, as per the new schedule structure, are Pittsburgh (woo!), Buffalo (kay), and Atlanta (...woo). It's a great idea to pit the two past-season Stanley Cup hopefuls at each other twice on the season and give the fans in both cities the opportunity for a rematch, but forgive my lack of enthusiasm about the Atlanta Thrashers. (And at the exact moment I type this I discover that former Oiler and NPI favorite Marty Reasoner has signed with the Thrashers and am suddenly more interested.)
  • By now it's common knowledge that the Wings will be playing the Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley Field in this year's Winter Classic. The game will be held in Chicago at 1 pm on January 1st, forcing the Wings to forgo their usual New Year's Eve game, but they will host the Hawks at the Joe on December 30th. I for one am excited about the game and do intend to go - while I, like others, was hoping for a Detroit/Toronto outdoor game somewhere closer to home, the fact that it's an Original Six matchup, and that the Hawks are poised to be a much bigger threat this coming season than in the past, should make it a fun game to see, as will the locale. It will be interesting to see how the NHL adapts a ballpark into a venue for hockey, and hopefully the event can lure in more fans in Chicago. It was a huge shame to see the hockey market there fall into such shambles, but an outdoor game against the Red Wings can only serve to help. I do, however, hope they rename the event - whether it becomes standard operations to have one outdoor game per year, a game hardly seems 'classic' if it's effectively being referred to as the 'Winter Classic II'.
For those interested, although ticket information has not be released yet, Wings GM and mad genius Ken Holland has put in a request to have "a fairly substantial number" of tickets available for Red Wings fans to purchase, and the NHL has assured their compliance. More information as it becomes available!
Another notable mention related to the schedule is that the Wings have adjusted some of their ticket prices for the upcoming season. Of note for poor recent graduates like myself, 1,869 upper bowl tickets have dropped to $33 from last season's $44 after studies indicated that many people, rather than forking out the $44, simply moved back a few rows and purchased $22 tickets, thus contributing to the plague of empty seats. Also affected were the first three rows off the glass, the prices of which have jumped from $85 to $125 per ticket.

Blogroll Updates!

With all these rumbling about the outdoor Wings/Hawks game, it occured to be the other day that we at NPI had absolutely no Blackhawks blogs on our blogroll. Coincidentally, I happened to check our linkbacks that very afternoon to see that we had in fact been linked to by both my fellow HLOGger Amy's My Tribe, and Clare's All Hawks Hockey. Make sure to check them out for some excellent divisional rivalry coverage!

16 July 2008

Dallas Drake Calls it a Career

Some people questioned Ken Holland last season when he brought Detroit draftee Dallas Drake back into the fold for his 15th season in the NHL.

Those people should know never to question Ken Holland.

While Drake made his way through the regular season looking relatively average, his gritty play stood out in the playoffs and made a huge impact on the Wings eventual Cup victory. The guy threw punches, delivered massive hits (My personal favorite being his apparent vendetta against no-name Toby Petersen during the Stars series; three times in one game Drake sent the former Oiler to the ice. That's what you get for standing out against our big Eurotwins line, Toby.) and genuinely seemed to enjoy every bit of his limited ice time. It was predicted at the end of the season that Drake would retire, but the official announcement came yesterday. Drake, who received the Cup second, directly from Nicklas Lidstrom on the ice the night of the victory, and who is now enjoying his time with it in Rossland, BC, said that mentally he has more hockey in him, but his body disagrees:

"Mentally, I want to play," Drake said. "I love the game as much as I ever have. But my body's not recovering as well. The years have worn me out."


"I played a long time and had a lot of fun," Drake said. "After winning the Stanley Cup, there's not a better way to go out."

Earlier in the season I made a post about being invested in each and every player on this year's team's specific quest for the cup, and Drake was one of the frontrunners. After fifteen seasons, he finally got to not only reach the Cup Finals, but to hold Lord Stanley high - and there's not a better way to go out than that. Plus, he takes a jab at Green Bay Packers' Brett Favre, and how can you not love that?

"I'm a little disappointed in Brett right now," Drake said of the Packers quarterback who retired in March but now says he wants to continue playing -- for another team. "You don't have to worry about me doing that."

Best of luck to you, Dallas, in all your future endeavors, whether they be hockey-related or not, and thank you for being a big part of a wonderful Red Wings season.

03 July 2008

In Case You Didn't Get Enough...

...about free agency and the Red Wings in my last post, I also guested on the I'm Not a Puckbunny Podcast again this week to discuss the Wings and the Kings with Connie of A Queen Among Kings this week, which you can listen to here. I also touch on the Wings' draft picks and the various adventures with the Stanley Cup so far.

The podcast just underwent a shift in operations, and I'll now be appearing as a guest the first week of every month (other regular guests include Finny from Girl with a Puck, Sherry from Scarlett Ice, and Cat from Untypical Girls as well as a rotating guest to fill out the last week of the month) to talk about updates both for the Wings and the rest of the league, so be sure to check it out! You can download each episode from the website above or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and I've added the convenient little embeddable player to the sidebar as well - so you have no excuse!

02 July 2008

Ken Holland is a Mad Genius (I Hope)

Wow. WOW. It's days like these you're happy to be a Red Wings fan. While a multitude of other teams out there are frantically racing around buying and selling and freaking their fans out, the Wings have sat back and made a few careful, smart, slightly shocking, deals. The other teams I follow frequently (the Leafs and the Oilers and to a lesser extent the Capitals - thanks Capschick) as well as many other teams in the league have made drastic roster changes, lost players unexpectedly, gained players unexpectedly, and set the fans on edge for what will be very different teams next year. Not so with the Red Wings, who once again have given us every reason to continue being confident in everything from the team to the management to the owners - and anything you can imagine inbetween.

First and foremost, Andreas Lilja

The Wings resigned Andreas Lilja to a two year contract worth $2.5 million. Lilja hasn't always been perfect, but despite all the grief he's gotten for a few boneheaded moves, he honestly hasn't make a substantial amount more mistakes than a lot of other defensemen, especially for the level of play expected from him - and it's easy to look bad when you're playing next to Nick Lidstrom, right? It's just unfortunate for Lilja that his mistakes always seem to wind up in the spotlight as gamebreakers. Nevertheless, he's been around the Wings for a while, understands the team philosophy, and can contribute as a fifth/sixth defenseman. He's also very affordable, and is receiving only a small raise over the 1 million he made for the past two season. The only problem with this signing in my mind, considering the next move the Wings made, is that it perpetuates a huge logjam of defensemen and creates the potential for a promising young kid to be lost.

Bringing Back B-Stu
After the Lilja signing, the chances of the Wings resigning UFA Brad Stuart, acquired from LA at the trade deadlline this past season, seemed slim. By the morning of trade deadline day, he was still unsigned and it seemed likely that he'd hit the free agent market where he could possibly make quite a bit more than Detroit was willing to offer. And then, just before noon, the news hit that he had indeed agreed to come back. The contract is for four years averaging $3.75 million per season - a little more than the Wings wanted to give and a little less than Stuart wanted to make. TSN reports the deal also includes a no trade clause for the first two years and a limited no-trade clause in the last two:

Stuart has moved around a fair bit in recent seasons, getting traded from San Jose to Boston in 2005 (as part of the Joe Thornton trade), from Boston to Calgary in 2007 before signing in Los Angeles as a free agent last summer.
It will be nice for Stuart, after all that, to get to settle down for a while. I had thought he was more than likely lost, so it was a great surprise to see that he'd decided to stay after all - and a testament to the environment surrounding the Wings that he chose to accept less to play for a team that seemed to tap into his potential. After struggling with the Kings (21 points and a minus-16 in 63 games) he clicked with Niklas Kronwall on the Wings (2 points and a plus-6 in 9 regular season games and 7 points and a plus 15 in 21 playoff games wherein he averaged over 21 minutes of ice time per night) and became an integral, top four part of the Wings' already stunning defense. He clearly liked his time here, and the way the Wings treated him (letting him travel back to LA for the birth of his second child comes to mind) and with Rafalski, Stuart, Kronwall and Lidstrom (because lets face it, even when his contract is up he isn't going anywhere unless he retires), our top four defense is locked up for a good long time. And in fact it was both family and his partnership with Kronwall, as well as tasting Stanley Cup victory, that brought him back:
“It’s been a tough couple of years from having a family and having to move around a bit, spending a lot of time a part,” Stuart said. “To be able to stick in Detroit for four years, I’m real happy about that. It’s not just about you anymore. It’s about the family and some times you have to make sacrifices to make everyone happy.”


“It was a pretty big factor. I really enjoy playing with him,” Stuart said of Kronwall. “We seem to have a pretty good chemistry. That's not always easy to find, so that was pretty important to get a chance to continue that. I'm excited to get going next year.”
Unfortunately the resigning of both of them does have it's downfalls in that the Wings now have a surplus of defensemen. Outside of the top four and Lilja, Brett Lebda will be back as well as Chris Chelios (though he's accepted a much lesser role and won't be playing as often as in the past) and then there are Derek Meech and Kyle Quincey, neither of whom can move back and forth between the AHL without clearing waivers any longer - and neither of whom aren't likely to be snatched up should they have to. On a personal level, Quincey is my favorite Griffin and I worry for his future with the organization - not because they want to lose him, but because they may have to. And then of course there's Jonathan Ericsson who's leaped from Mr. Irrelevant to the number one Wings prospect and could easily play in the NHL this season - but is stymied by not having to clear waivers and will likely remain dominating the AHL instead. Still, it's hard to find fault with either of these signings, even if they do have a small downside.

Jimmy Howard: Conkblocked
Since Dominik Hasek announced his retirement, it's been one of the biggest questions in Detroit - will Jimmy Howard, the "Red Wings goaltender of the future" for so many years, finally get his NHL chance? The answer appears to be probably not quite yet, as the Wings signed former Penguins backup goaltender Ty Conklin to a one year, $750,000 deal. It's a one-way contract which means the likelihood of Conks being sent down to the AHL in favor of Howard is slim. Holland's opinion:
"Ty Conklin has the inside track, but if Jimmy Howard is the obvious No. 2 guy (in training camp and the preseason), we'll reassess,'' general manager Ken Holland said. "Do we carry three (goaltenders)?''
Despite his rocky past with the Oilers, Conks looked incredibly solid with Pittsburgh last year when Marc-Andre Fleury was sidelined by an ankle sprain (18-8-5, with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage, which ranked second in the NHL last season). Aside from that, he and the number one guy Chris Osgood should get along well as both possess seemingly very casual demeanors, and it'll also be interesting to see how a goaltender like Conklin plays behind the sort of stellar defense Detroit possesses - look for some gaudy numbers. Another good decision by Holland.

Free agency had slowed down a little. Day One was pretty predictable as far as the Wings went, and aside from hearing that management had been looking into both Leafs captain Mats Sundin (which seemed unlikely given the offers he'd received from other teams) and at bringing back Todd Bertuzzi, it seemed as though perhaps the Wings would be done. And then, as I was pulling out of the Tim Horton's parking lot at 12:43 pm when I received the following text from a friend who'd been updating me all day:
"Hossa: 1 year, 7.4 million. DETROIT."
I stopped, stared, processed, and replied, eloquently, "WHAT?" Yes. Marian Hossa signed with Detroit, one year, $7.4 million. This sort of signing is what really puts into perspective how good your team really is. Hossa was offered nearly as much over five years by the Penguins and $9 million by Edmonton for a multi-year deal as well, and instead opted to come to Detroit for only one year, where the likelihood of him resigning after the season is virtually nil, as the Wings must then resign Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen. This effectively underlines what pretty much everyone already knew: Hossa wants to win a cup, and Hossa wants to win it now.

Brilliant. Hossa scores goals, plain and simple - and while he's not quite the two-way player most of Detroits forwards are (frankly the only downside I could possible see to this signing is if he doesn't mesh well with the team and upsets chemistry - but Detroit has a habit of bringing out the best in players), goals are never a bad thing. The team had some extra money lying around for the upcoming season and they managed to negotiate their way into becoming a heck of a lot more dangerous. How, we might never know - but is anyone complaining?

Here's another thing I like about Detroit's management of their players: Hossa was offered 7.4 million because, reportedly, it was the most Detroit would pay any UFA. No one was allowed to come in and make more money than captain Nick Lidstrom. While it's not a big deal or anything, that sort of loyalty shown to a player who deserves it as much as Lidstrom is just another example of why players stick with this team.

Finally, one hilarious bit from the Wings report of the signing:
The Red Wings’ inability to get secondary scoring last season was constantly scrutinized in the media.


Landing Hossa, who has scored 299 goals and 349 assists with a plus-85 rating in 701 career games, should address secondary scoring.
Only with the Detroit Red Wings could Marian Hossa be considered secondary scoring!

Last but not least
Are the Wings done with free agency yet? Not quite, as they have to deal with making offers to Darren McCarty and Aaron Downey, should the pair be brought back (they're expected to) and Valtteri Filppula, an RFA, whose deal will likely not come until further down the road. And who knows what else may await - Hossa was certainly unexpected, there could always be more, however unlikely. But rest assured, already the team has shown the rest of the league that it is ready to come back bigger, sharper, scarier, and more devastating than before. Congrats, Ken Holland, and thank you!

01 July 2008

More to come...

Along with coverage of the resigning of both Andreas Lilja and Brad Stuart (yay!) but this just had to be fate right?

Ty Conklin signs a one year deal worth $750,000 with Detroit.

It should really be worth noting that I was so in a tizzy over this (Good? Bad? Love it? Hate it? I just can't stop thinking that for me personally it's hilarious.) that I stopped at two banks on the way home from work, where I heard about it, and left my ATM card in the ATM at not one of them, no, at both banks. Thanks a lot, Ty Conklin.

Please, faithful readers, don't steal my identity.