On Judging the Kids

It’s no secret that I’ve written off this season for the Red Wings and want to see them “play the kids.”  I wrote early this month that I liked that Ryan Sproul had been in position to make the mistake that led to a Florida Panthers overtime win.

The game after that mistake, Sproul was a minus-3 in a loss to Pittsburgh.  He’s played in just four of the Red Wings’ 11 games since then.  He’s spent time behind both Brian Lashoff and Nick Jensen on the Wings’ depth chart.

Andreas Athanasiou had seven shifts last night.  At the end of the first period, on his fourth shift, the Senators scored with seconds left to tie things up.  On his sixth shift, he jumped the gun to try to force an odd-man rush and was out of position when the pass he was waiting for got picked off, turning into an Ottawa goal.  His seventh shift closed out the second period.  He didn’t play in the third.

I want to see what the kids can do when given opportunity.  Benching takes that opportunity away.  We may find out over a season that Sproul doesn’t have it.  We may find out that Athanasiou can’t handle more than 12 minutes per night.  But we don’t know unless they get that opportunity.

I will say that, with Sproul benched, I’m glad that Nick Jensen is getting his own opportunity.  That makes a lot more sense to me than Lashoff playing.

There are two things about the small sample size that these guys have to prove themselves that have been rattling around in my head.

#1 – Lets say that Sproul plays a full season, fills in well, but is otherwise unspectacular.  Hey, a kid stepped into the NHL and proved he belonged and that’s good, right?  Yeah, but don’t throw a four-year deal at him all of the sudden.  Looking at you, Brian Lashoff.

#2 – Jared Coreau is a great story.  Two wins in his first three NHL starts after he started his pro career going a full year without a win.  He’s probably going to start the Centennial Classic and, given Petr Mrazek‘s struggles, he probably should.  But you know who else won two out of his first three starts for the Red Wings?  Norm Maracle.  Just saying, lets not get ahead of ourselves proclaiming him the starter or anything.

Red Wings – Hurricanes Rescheduled for March 27

The Carolina Hurricanes announced today that the December 19th game against the Detroit Red Wings that was postponed due to bad ice has been rescheduled for March 27.

That means that the Red Wings will be subjected to playing three games in three nights and four games in five.  As Winging it in Motown noted, that’s not against the rules, it’s just not recommended.  And as Elias Sports Bureau pointed out, it’s only happened once in the last 36 seasons.

The Red Wings have played three-in-three just six times in their history, with the last coming in 1976.  They’re 8-8-2 in those games but just 1-7-2 in the road games of that set.

Nyquist, Ott, and Random Numbers

Earlier today, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press posted a piece about how, once the Wings get healthy, guys like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, and Riley Sheahan need to be benched because they’re not producing as expected.  She then engaged readers via Twitter, repeating her argument while also stating that Steve Ott has been a great signing for the Red Wings.

I Tweeted a little bit about it but I want to sum it up here.

As far as Nyquist (and probably Tatar and Sheahan) goes, I won’t deny that the Wings probably had higher hopes for him, especially with the contract that they gave him.  That said, Prashanth Iyer of Winging it in Motown does a great job of explaining that Nyquist’s production is solid by certain metrics.

Read his whole thread. Seriously.

When asked about Steve Ott, HSJ said the following:

I’m not an Ott fan. I was confused by his signing on Day One.  Last week the beat writers were all over how great Ott is for his fight sparking the Red Wings to a win, which is confusing correlation with causation.

If Ott was brought to Detroit to fight and provide a spark, here’s what we know:  Ott has fought five times this season.  The Red Wings are 2-2-1 in those games.  In the minutes played after his fight in each of those games, the Red Wings have scored 13 goals and allowed 13 goals.

In short, the impact of a Steve Ott fight on the outcome of a game this season is completely neutral.  You could argue it’s a negative, even, if you take that overtime loss as just a loss.

But if we’re going to take salary into account, let’s say that instead of Ott, the Wings had a guy who was making just over $800k and put up at a 15-goal, 15-assist pace last season while playing about 11 minutes per night.  Would you say that’s the kind of guy you could play in the bottom six or you could bump up to the top six if you felt like you need to cut the minutes of Nyquist/Tatar/Sheahan?  I think so.

Of course, those numbers belong to Teemu Pulkkinen, abandoned by the Red Wings and now skating for the AHL’s Iowa Wild.

Postgame: Wings-Kings Blah Blah Blah

I’m just gonna start with this.

After their most uninspiring effort of the season the Wings respond with their fewest shots in the season (including a first period with only a pair of them and only eight through two).  What are you supposed to take away from that?

Mickey Redmond was rightfully upset about the officiating after a blatant hold on Riley Sheahan led to the Kings’ third goal.  What was telling to me is that the Wings seemed absolutely silent about it.

Come on.  You’re playing a stretch of piss-poor hockey, can you please at least act like you care about that kind of stuff?  It’s offensive.

I’ve said before that I didn’t expect this to be a good season.  This is not a good team, though there have been parts that are better than I thought would be.  I’m okay dropping a 4-1 decision and not being able to get shots through…  But act like you care while you do it.  It’s one thing to not be good enough.  It’s another to not be engaged enough.

Morning After: Mistakes, Instigators, and Howard

A week and a half ago I wrote about how Ryan Sproul made a mistake that directly led to the overtime game-winning goal for the Florida Panthers.  While I didn’t like the mistake, I was glad that Sproul was out there to make it.  I saw it as a sign that he was getting his chance, that the Red Wings were willing to suffer through some growing pains.

The next game, Sproul was on the ice for three of the Penguins’ four third-period goals as Pittsburgh rallied to win. The only mistake I see on those plays is his failure to cut off a cross-crease pass on the third.

He hasn’t played since, having been replaced by Brian Lashoff (of all people) and then Alexey Marchenko, having returned from injury.

Maybe I was wrong about him getting his shot.  Or maybe I’m missing a mistake that earned him a spot in the pressbox.  Xavier Ouellet has been playing while Sproul sits and I think Sproul has been better this season than Ouellet.  But what do I know?

Speaking of Ouellet, he took an insigator minor and a misconduct for jumping Michael Raffl last night after Raffl hit Steve Ott.  I think it’s hilarious that Ott, the guy who was brought in to stand up for guys, needed someone to stand up for him.

While Matt Shepard was quick to throw praise to Ouellet for fighting on behalf of the guy who usually sticks up for everyone else, I think that was a really dumb move.  Midway through the third period of a tied game you put your team down a man for two minutes and short a defenseman for effectively the rest of the game.

There’s standing up for your teammate and there’s making a smart play.  Sometimes that overlaps.  This time it didn’t.

Jimmy Howard didn’t deserve that loss, but that’s not the first time it’s happened this season.  It’s nothing new that his goal support has been pathetic this season and while a 1-0 loss (even in overtime) doesn’t help the Red Wings much, his play in those games does.

Howard, in all likelihood, will not be a Red Wing next season.  Vegas should claim him in the expansion draft if he’s available.  If they’re not right now, the team should try to trade him at the deadline.

Who knows what kind of market there will be but a team like the Calgary Flames may decide that the Brian Elliot experiment was a failure and, as they scratch for a playoff spot, they need someone more reliable than career backup Chad Johnson.

My point being that Howard’s play makes it easier to trade him, and trading him means that they’re not only free of his contract but also the player who Vegas ends up taking instead of Howard.

This is nothing new, of course.  It’s just worth mentioning that Howard’s play might make it a little more possible to pull off.

Pregame: Marchenko, Athanasiou, Howard Return as Wings Host Jackets

The Red Wings are getting some bodies back, as three players will return from injury tonight.

Goalie Jimmy Howard, defenseman Alexey Marchenko, and forward Andreas Athanasiou will all be in the lineup as Detroit starts a five-game homestand against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With Howard – who will back-up Petr Mrazek tonight – and Athanasiou back, Jared Coreau and Tomas Nosek returned to the Grand Rapids Griffins.  Brian Lashoff remains with the Red Wings but will likely be a healthy scratch in place of Marchenko.

Game time is 7:30 PM on FSD+.

Stupid Stat of the Day: The Red Wings have never lost in regulation to the Blue Jackets in December at Joe Louis Arena.  The last meeting between the teams in December in Detroit was a 1-0 shootout win for Columbus.

More NHL Alternate History

I posted an NHL alternate history timeline a little while ago.  I’m a big fan of alternate history in general, so when I saw a thread at AlternateHistory.com earlier this week asking how the NHL could have been prevented from expanding outside of the Northeast, my interest was piqued.

Short of being surpassed by another league early on, I think it’s inevitable that the NHL would eventually stretch across the entire continent.  There’s too much money to be made from a national TV contract and team owners won’t turn that down out of some kind of solidarity with the Northeast.  If it wasn’t about money, Winnipeg and Quebec and Hartford would never have lost their teams.

But I do think there’s a way that the NHL could remain somewhat regional for a little bit longer.  It requires a change in direction that doesn’t make much sense, but it’s theoretically possible.

It’s the early 1970s and the NHL has just expanded to Buffalo and Vancouver.  For whatever reason, the league decides not to try to compete with the newborn WHA.  Maybe it’s been too much stress on the league, expanding from six teams to 14 in just a handful of years.  Maybe they don’t see the WHA as a threat (which is odd just a few years removed from seeing the WHL as one).

Whatever the reason, this means that they don’t go into Long Island in an attempt to deny the NYC market to the WHA, and with their expansion partner gone, the Atlanta Flames disappear as well.

The NHL still goes to Kansas City and Landover in 1974. There’s prestige to being in the US capital so they won’t pass up the new arena there and they need another team to balance it out. The Scouts don’t last and move to Denver in 1976.

With their own rink in New York, the WHA has stability there. With the Omni in Atlanta available, the Miami Screaming Eagles move there instead of Philadelphia (and then Vancouver, and then Calgary).

By 1976, the leagues have something of a handshake agreement to not compete with each other for markets, driven mostly by the WHA’s failed attempts to do so everywhere except for Long Island and the NHL’s general lack of interest in the WHA’s locations.

With a stronger WHA, the Cleveland Crusaders (for one) are solvent, so the Gunds keep the Golden Seals in Oakland.  Come 1982, the Rockies stay in Colorado rather than unbalancing the New York market.

In 1985, the WHA kind of sandwiches the NHL geographically. It’s anchored in the south, with Atlanta, Birmingham, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, and Southern California (San Diego). Then they’ve got Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Calgary in the Canadian prairies. Quebec, New England (Hartford), and New York are what’s left of their intrusions into traditional NHL territory, while Cincinnati and Cleveland make Ohio a WHA state.

The NHL, meanwhile, is as follows: Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, California (Oakland), Minnesota, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Vancouver, Colorado (Denver), and Washington (Landover, MD).

Competition for players is taking its toll on both leagues. Both leagues want a big TV contract but can’t get it without the other’s territory. In the WHA, Southern California and New England are barely hanging on, basically propped up to keep the league relevant in Boston and Los Angeles (both of which are a stretch anyway).

Though the late 1980s the two leagues cooperate on interleague exhibitions and all-star games. A four-team “champions tournament” (made up of each league’s conference champions) is scheduled in 1988 and 1989, but both years the Stanley Cup Champions find an excuse for backing out (the NHL refuses to risk their champion losing to someone from the upstart league).

Finally, after years of negotiations and rumors, the two leagues merge in 1992. As part of the merger, the New England Whalers are sold to H. Wayne Huizenga and moved to Miami while the Southern California Mariners are sold to Disney (on the heels of their hit kids movie, “The Mighty Eagles” [in the movie, the team’s benefactor’s name is Eagleston, as Disney wasn’t going to have their team share a name with the WHA’s Long Island Ducks]) and moved to Anaheim.

The 1992 NHL is as follows:

Mighty Eagles of Anaheim
Atlanta Blazers
Birmingham Bulls
Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Calgary Cowboys
California Golden Seals
Chicago Blackhawks
Cincinnati Stingers
Cleveland Crusaders
Colorado Rockies
Dallas Texans
Detroit Red Wings
Edmonton Oilers
Florida Panthers
Houston Aeros
Long Island Ducks
Los Angeles Kings
Minnesota North Stars
Montreal Canadiens
New York Rangers
Pittsburgh Penguins
Philadelphia Flyers
Phoenix Roadrunners
Quebec Nordiques
St. Louis Blues
Toronto Maple Leafs
Vancouver Canucks
Washington Capitals
Winnipeg Jets

Technically, the NHL didn’t expand much, they just merged with a league that did.

Follow-up thoughts…

I imagine Birmingham, Cincinnati, Quebec, and Winnipeg would be at risk through the 1990s. With Denver and Phoenix already taken, relocation wouldn’t look the same.  Who even knows what cities would be building arenas then?

Hamilton might be an option with their then-new arena. Ottawa or Tampa could build an arena, as they did for expansion. East Rutherford is probably out, though, with their arena outdated by then.  Nashville and Raleigh are possible landing places by the late 1990s but Columbus won’t be as long as one of Cincinnati or Cleveland survives.

Red Wings Call Up Nosek, Lashoff

The Red Wings announced a slate of roster moves this morning as they head into back-to-back games this weekend while dealing with injuries to Justin Abdelkader and Brendan Smith.

To make room for Nosek and Lashoff, they shuffled Abdelkader and Andreas Athanasiou around on various forms of injured reserve.

My initial thought is that the Red Wings will try to see if Niklas Kronwall can go for both games, which is why Lashoff got the call instead of Robbie Russo.  I mean, if the call-up is actually going to get minutes, don’t you want the guy who has a future in the organization getting a look?  Call up Russo or Nick Jensen and see what they can do.  If the guy is expected to just sit in the press box, go ahead and call up Lashoff, and if he ends up being needed then you already know what he’s capable of.

I’m curious whether Nosek will actually play, and where he’ll play.  If he’s on the third line, I guess I’m okay with it.  I’ve already said that I wanted to see Evgeny Svechnikov and that Matt Lorito would be an interesting option.  I just don’t want to see the Wings do the whole “call up a grinder, drop him on the fourth line, and pull Drew Miller or Steve Ott up to the third line” thing they’ve traditionally done.  Scratching Nosek and bringing back the OMG line also works, I suppose.

On Wings/Panthers, Growing Pains, and Abdelkader

So the Red Wings had a good period and a couple periods where they pretty much clung to life.  They got solid goaltending.  They didn’t dominate, nor were they dominated.

That’s last night’s game, but how many games from this season could it describe?  The games this season are pretty indistinguishable from each other.

And, honestly, that’s about what I expected coming into this season.  This was never going to be a fun season to watch.  That doesn’t mean good things aren’t happening.

Ryan Sproul made an ill-advised dump-in in overtime last night that turned into an Aleksander Barkov breakaway and game-winning goal.  It’s a rookie mistake.  But it also means a rookie was in position to make that mistake.  Sproul is finally getting a chance to show what he can do and, yeah, he’s made some mistakes, but he’s also found a home on the power play.

They’re injured now, but Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi have shown that they can play at the NHL level.  This is what I’ve been waiting for, the kids to get a chance.  No, they’re not tearing up the league, but we’re finally seeing what they can do so we can evaluate from there.

I wrote this season off from the beginning.  It’s boring and it’s a lot of losing.  But good is coming of it.

And it’s looking like another prospect is going to get a chance, with Justin Abdelkader out 2-4 weeks with a sprained MCL.  I originally said I wanted Evgeny Svechnikov to get the call but I’m kind of curious about Matt Lorito, who’s not a traditional prospect but leads the Griffins in scoring.

What I don’t want to see is the Red Wings call up no one and just slide Drew Miller back into the lineup.  There’s a top-six (or top-nine, depending on how the lines are jumbled) spot open, don’t push a fourth-liner up into it.

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