NHLPA Blocks Realignment

As a fan of the NHL’s proposed realignment, it’s tough for me to see that the NHLPA has blocked its implementation for the 2012-13 season.

Red Wings’ senior vice president Jimmy Devellano is “disgusted” by the move and the league has already moved to paint the NHLPA as the bad guys here via a statement.

“It is unfortunate that the NHLPA has unreasonably refused to approve a Plan that an overwhelming majority of our Clubs voted to support, and that has received such widespread support from our fans and other members of the hockey community, including Players,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to satisfy the NHLPA’s purported concerns with the Plan with no success. Because we have already been forced to delay, and as a result are already late in beginning the process of preparing next season’s schedule, we have no choice but to abandon our intention to implement the Realignment Plan and modified Playoff Format for next season.”

As someone who admittedly supports the PA over the league more often than not, I hate to see them do something that will make them take such a bad PR hit. That said, there’s an interesting line in that statement that deserves some extra look.

We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to satisfy the NHLPA’s purported concerns with the Plan with no success.

That could be read two ways. The NHL wants us to think that the NHLPA making up concerns that can’t be invalidated. On the flip side, it could be that the PA’s concerns are entirely valid but that the NHL won’t give them the data they’re looking for because they know that.

From Puck Daddy, we have the NHLPA’s list of concerns.

  • The unbalanced conference format would make playoff qualification unfair.
  • Claims of lessened travel were not backed up by hard data.
  • The NHL did not take the NHLPA’s feedback into consideration.

The first one was something that many fans were also up in arms about. I don’t agree with it because I think it requires looking at the standings backwards. True, being in a conference with seven teams means you only have to beat three teams to make the playoffs, rather than beating four teams in an eight-team conference. That said, the goal is to win your conference. Failing that, you want to finish second. Failing that, third, then fourth, etc.

We measure our standings from the top, not from the bottom, that there are fewer teams that miss the playoffs in two conferences doesn’t mean finishing in the top four was any easier there. If it is easier to make the playoffs in one conference versus another, it’s just an issue we have already (as we saw with two Western Conference teams who would have made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference last season). The only 100% fair solution is a balanced schedule and a single-table playoff.

The second one I agree with the NHLPA on. While I like the idea of the Wings heading out West less and heading to Original Six markets out East more, we’ve seen no data to show that this would actually mean fewer miles travelled. We can’t know that until a schedule is drawn up, though. On one hand you have the PA saying they need data to give their approval, on the other you have the league saying they need approval to make the schedule that would provide the data. Seems like a hypothetical schedule could have been made but that’s easy to fudge one way or the other to get the numbers you want.

The third note is interesting to me. Looking at the proposed alignment, there are quirks that were clearly there to appease certain owners. The fact that Tampa Bay and Florida are in a division with the Northeastern teams only happened to ensure that the current Atlantic Division would stay together. This means that the Lightning and Panthers are subjected to brutal divisional travel (something this realignment was supposed to correct) in order to buy votes from other teams. This would be where the PA should step in, because the league is deciding some teams are more important than others.

So, overall, it might be the right move for the NHLPA to question realignment. It’s not going to do them any favors on the PR side of the coming labor war, though.

U of M Contacted About 2013 Winter Classic

Leading up to and immediately following the 2012 Winter Classic, there’s been a lot of buzz that the Red Wings are next in line to host the event.

Today, University of Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon confirmed that the league has been in contact with him about using Michigan Stadium as the 2013 Winter Classic venue.

There’s a lot of politics involved here, as Wings’ owner Mike Ilitch reportedly wants to host the event at Ilitch-controlled Comerica Park. The NHL, meanwhile, wants the attendance record that could be reached at Michigan Stadium. Add in the issue of liquor sales at the Big House and there are still a lot of things to sort out.

Personally, I’m torn. I was not a fan (though I know I’m in the minority) of the Big Chill at the Big House so I have concerns about another outdoor game there. A game at Comerica Park, though, would be harder to get tickets for and I for damned sure want to be at this one.

Nothing is set in stone anywhere and it’s important to remember that, but it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Hudler Scores Twice as Red Wings Hold off Stars, 5-4

Detroit forward Jiri Hudler scored two first-period goals Tuesday night as the Red Wings held off a late comeback attempt by the Dallas Stars for a 5-4 win.

Hudler’s linemates, Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg, each had three points on the night. Filppula had a goal and two assists while Zetterberg notched three assists.

Filppula opened the game’s scoring at 8:02 of the first period. After an Ian White shot from the blue line, Henrik Zetterberg sent the puck from the left side to Filppula on the far side of the crease, who settled it down and flung it into the open net.

Hudler’s first made it 2-0 with 2:54 left in the period, when a Zetterberg shot deflected off Hudler’s skate and past Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen.

Loui Eriksson got the Stars on the board just 50 seconds later, making a wide wraparound attempt through the right circle and into the slot to snap a shot past Red Wings’ netminder Jimmy Howard.

Hudler restored the Detroit two-goal lead with one minute left in the first. After rushing down the right wing, Zetterberg cut into the high slot and passed off to Filppula in the left circle. Filppula sent it back into the slot to Hudler, who was left uncovered for a wrister past Lehtonen.

Jamie Benn pulled Dallas to back within a goal at 1:04 of the second, beating Howard short-side from the goal line below the right circle.

Cory Emmerton returned the favor for the Red Wings at 3:51, putting a shot from below the left circle off Lehtonen and into the Dallas net.

Michael Ryder‘s first of the night at 7:25 of the middle frame made it 4-3 Detroit. Ryder snapped a shot from the left wing boards that Howard got a piece of before it fluttered into the net.

With 8:14 left in the period, Johan Franzen gave the Red Wings their fourth two-goal lead of the night. Lehtonen went down early and gave Franzen only the top corners, and Franzen lifted a shot from the left faceoff dot into the far corner for a 5-3 lead.

Ryder’s second of the night rounded out the scoring with 5:53 remaining, as he flung a shot through a screen from the right circle past Howard.

Howard finished the night with 25 saves on 29 shots against. Lehtonen made 26 saves on 31 Detroit shots.

Dallas had the game’s only power play just fifteen seconds in. They were held scoreless.

The Red Wings continue their four-game road trip on Saturday when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Postgame: Red Wings @ Stars – 1/3

Every win counts, but (as I suggested on Twitter immediately after the final buzzer) this was the sloppiest win of the season for the Red Wings, hands down.

Emblematic of the defensive side of Detroit’s game: Dallas’ fourth goal. Two Red Wings miscommunicate and collide inside the blue line, leaving Michael Ryder free to cut across the ice and overload the left side, then use Nicklas Lidstrom as a screen to get a shot past Jimmy Howard.

Howard got beat on shots through a screen three times, which I’m not sure what to think about. I feel like he should have been able to get at least one of them, as it’s not like the screens were particularly close to the net.

On the offensive side of the game, it’s crazy to think that the Wings scored five goals and that was with Kari Lehtonen playing out of his mind. It could have been 5-0 Detroit in the first period if not for some big stops, particularly on Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler. Lehtonen made those stops but then allowed one where he didn’t hold the post and had one go in off a skate, leading to a weird situation where the Wings’ offense generated great chances that they didn’t score on but the seemingly harmless plays did get a couple goals.

Weird game. Not indicative of the talent level of either team, so I hope the Wings take the points and immediately forget about it.

Howard Blanks Blues, Red Wings Wrap 2011 with 3-0 Win

Jimmy Howard and the Detroit Red Wings closed out the 2011 calendar year with a 3-0 win over the St. Louis Blues Saturday night, the team’s eighth win in the last ten editions of their annual New Year’s Eve game.

Howard stopped all 31 shots he faced in shutting out the Blues. It was his third shutout of the Red Wings’ twelve-game home winning streak.

All of the game’s scoring came in the second period.

At 7:28 of the middle frame, Johan Franzen opened the game’s scoring. Franzen darted around Barret Jackman to cut through the right faceoff circle, then skated past Roman Polak at the top of the crease and wristed a shot past St. Louis netminder Brian Elliot.

Just 1:17 later, Justin Abdelkader made it 2-0. Drew Miller deflected an attempted pass by the Blues to Abdelkader at the left side of the slot for a snap shot past Elliot.

Earlier in the game, Abdelkader had taken a hit to the head from Ian Cole and missed time in the “quiet room,” where he was observed for concussion-like symptoms.

Jiri Hudler wrapped up the game’s scoring with 53 seconds left in the second. With two St. Louis defenders covering him, Hudler took a pass at the inside edge of the left circle and put a shot on Elliot, then followed up his own rebound to knock it into the goal.

Elliot finished the night with 28 saves on 31 Detroit shots.

The Wings were held scoreless on four power play chances. The Blues did not score on their three tries with the extra attacker.

Detroit is next in action on Tuesday when they begin a four game road trip in Dallas.

The Red Wings played without forwards Tomas Holmstrom and Darren Helm, both out with groin injuries and aiming for a return against Dallas… Defenseman Jakub Kindl was a healthy scratch.

Postgame: Blues @ Red Wings – 12/31

Tonight was the best the Red Wings have played against St. Louis this season and it showed on the scoreboard.

It was the first time in four meetings that Detroit didn’t get bottled up along the boards by the Blues’ puck-pressure. Instead, the Wings had chances from the slot area and were able to get to the net.

Of course, the offense was helped by Jimmy Howard‘s stellar goaltending, yet again. In this twelve game home winning streak, he has three shutouts and a GAA well under 2.00.

As I mentioned on Twitter immediately after the game, it’s great to see Justin Abdelkader come back from the quiet room to score a goal and be named the game’s second star. The hit was ugly, though definitely not the worst we’ve seen (helped by the fact that there was no injury). You have to think there will be supplemental discipline but we’ll see.