Red Wings Sign Defenseman Libor Sulak

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Wednesday the signing of Czech defenseman Libor Sulak.

Sulak was slated to play for the Pelicans of the Finnish Elite League next season.

For the past two seasons, Sulak has played for Orli Znojmo of the Austrian Erste Bank Eishockey Liga.  In 2016 he was the league’s rookie of the year.  He played for Czechia – alongside Detroit netminder Petr Mrazek – at the just-completed 2017 IIHF World Championships.

The move gives the Red Wings 14 defensemen who are either already signed or are restricted free agents headed into this summer.  Some, such as prospect Dennis Cholowski, will almost certainly spend next season with their junior clubs.  However, it’s safe to assume that the Grand Rapids Griffins will add some veteran defensemen on AHL-only deals, meaning that blueline roster spots throughout the organization will be at a premium.

Sulak’s contract is a two-year entry level deal.


Update, 3:25 PM: Apparently Sulak’s deal with the Pelicans means he will either play there or with Detroit next year, not with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League.  I have to think him making the Detroit roster comes at the expense of one of Nick Jensen, Xavier Ouellet, or Ryan Sproul, who likely wouldn’t make it through waivers to the Griffins, so this signing wouldn’t impact the roster spot crunch as much as it originally seemed.

Wings Sign Czech Goalie Machovsky

The Detroit Red Wings signed Czech goalie Matej Machovsky to a one-year deal on Tuesday.

Machovsky skated with the Red Wings at their 2016 Development Camp in Traverse City, so he’s a bit of a known quantity to the organization.

On one hand, the move seemingly comes out of nowhere, as Machovsky left the Ontario Hockey League four years ago and has been playing in Czechia ever since.  At 23 years old (24 by the time the season starts) he’s not exactly a traditional prospect.

That said, the Red Wings’ goaltending pipeline is a mess.  They have to hope they’re able to unload Jimmy Howard (and his contract) this summer  without taking on another NHL-level goalie so they can go with a tandem of Petr Mrazek and Jared Coreau next season.  Eddie Pasquale is a free agent.  Cal Heeter is as well, and was never signed to an NHL deal anyway.  Jake Paterson hasn’t been able to break into the AHL, let alone look NHL-ready, and is a restricted free agent this summer.  Chase Perry and Filip Larsson simply aren’t ready.  Maybe Joren van Pottlebergh could make the jump.

This at least gives them a body going into the summer, a bit of depth to work with.  Is it a sign that a deal for Howard is coming?  Does Machovsky leapfrog Coreau on the depth chart?  I have no idea.

It is worth noting that Machovsky will be exempt from the waiver draft.  Maybe the Wings think Coreau will get claimed and this is a move to replace him.  Again, I don’t know.

Red Wings to Pick Ninth After Draft Lottery

The Detroit Red Wings will have the ninth overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

Detroit had the seventh-best odds of getting the first overall pick in via Saturday’s Draft Lottery.  Instead they dropped two spots, leapfrogged by the Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars.  The Flyers will pick second and the Stars third with the New Jersey Devils picking moving up from fifth to pick first.

This leaves the Wings among the losers of the lottery.  They didn’t fare as badly as the Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks, Vegas Golden Knights, or Arizona Coyotes – who each dropped three spots – but they were one of only two teams to drop two spots in the draft.

The annoying thing is that the Devils won the first overall pick with the league’s fourth-worst record.  On March 15, the Red Wings were predicted to finish in that spot.  This changed because of Vancouver’s catastrophic drop in the standings in the season’s final weeks and a series of overtime wins by Detroit after the team was already eliminated from the playoffs.  It could be said that all of those points the team earned while playing for pride cost them the first overall draft pick.

Thoughts on Tanking

Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland spoke to the media today at the team’s locker room cleanout and a few things jumped out at me that I feel like I need to respond to.

This is absolutely true.

Tanking is not a guarantee that your team will suddenly turn it around.  You could tank and lose the lottery (Connor McDavid says hi, Buffalo Sabres).  You could tank and completely whiff on the draft pick.  You could tank and pick the consensus Number One, only to have him end up being a bust.

I imagine that this is also true. Add in the internet and it’s harder for a player to go unnoticed.  Had there been a YouTube in 1998 and Datsyuk was pulling off his dekes on there, you can bet he would have gotten looks from more than just Detroit.

 

So if it’s hard to slip players past other teams, what do you do?  You do everything you can to pick before them.

Tanking is not a guarantee that you’ll get a great player or automatically rebound or anything like that.  It is, however, the closest thing to a guarantee that you won’t have to worry about another team picking the guy you want.

The lottery can complicate everything, of course, but if you finish last, you can expect to get first choice.  At which point it doesn’t matter who anyone else has scouted.

Is tanking palatable?  Of course not.  We all want to win all the time.

Complaining about how the late rounds aren’t a guarantee anymore while simultaneously calling a tank not a guarantee just feels ridiculous to me, though.

Of course, Holland is never going to come out and declare that it’s time to tank.  He needs to sell tickets and it’s hard to do that when you’re admitting defeat.  He can say “We’re not tanking,” though, without declaring tanking as invalid.

Saying Goodbye to the Joe

I don’t know if last night is what I expected from the last game at Joe Louis Arena.  I don’t know what I should have expected, either.

It was always going to be hard.  You want to hold on to every last thing.  You want to hold on to every last thing.

I was taking photos of every third-period faceoff, in case it was the arena’s last faceoff.  Some people I was with made sure to buy beer at the last “last call” at the Joe.  There was the last “Livin’ on a Prayer” and the last “Don’t Stop Believing” and the last goal (Riley Sheahan, because of course) and the last penalty and the last zamboni ride and there were probably lasts that I didn’t even register.  I touched on that a bit on my way out last night.

It’s the lasts that will stick with me.

The atmosphere was fun.  I’ve seen people compare it to a playoff game and I can see why, ’cause the crowd was lively, but it really wasn’t a playoff atmosphere at all.  There was no anxiety.  We knew the game didn’t matter.

I think the post-game ceremony was oddly appropriate.

It was awkward.  There was a 45-minute gap between the game and the ceremony, leaving the crowd wondering what was going on.  Microphones didn’t work.  The whole thing took place on seemingly-dingy red carpets.

The alumni present were an eclectic mix.  Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan and Pavel Datsyuk were absent; the Grind Line and Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom were there; and then there were Andreas Lilja and Fredrik Olausson and Boyd Devereaux.

Then everyone raised their sticks to the air and there were fireworks and it just kind of ended.  If fireworks can ever be anti-climatic, that was it.

As I said, oddly appropriate.

Then it was time to leave for the last time.  The last of the lasts.  And that was the hardest.

Circling the concourse, we took one last look in from several sections.  Stared up at the banners.  Thought about where we were sitting for different games we’d been to.

Then it was time to go.

Joe Louis Arena Memories

It’s the morning of the last day of Red Wings hockey at Joe Louis Arena and I can’t sleep.

Recovering from a concussion, I’m supposed to sleep as much as I can, and I’m definitely not supposed to be on my computer, but I’ve got memories and emotions swirling around in my head.

I never had season tickets at the Joe so I wasn’t there for a lot of the big games.  But there are memories that are big in my mind.

Growing up, before the Red Wings had won any Cups and banner raisings became common, I always said that I wanted to be there when Steve Yzerman‘s jersey number was retired.  It was never a question of whether it would be, for me, and I wanted to be sure that I would be there.

Fifteen years after that declaration, I was able to see that happen live.  The ceremony, hosted with a sort of breathless wonder by Darren Pang, attended by decades of Red Wings dignitaries, is probably my favorite Joe Louis Arena event.


I’ve never seen the Red Wings win the Cup at the Joe.  Not strictly, at least.  In 1998, my parents packed all of us in the family minivan and drove in for Joe Vision for Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals.  A packed arena watched the Red Wings win a game that wasn’t even being played there but celebrated as if it had been.


The things that stick with me most, though, aren’t necessarily the events I was there for, or even good moments.

My cousin, a couple friends of his, and I were at Game Seven of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.  We parked at the MGM Grand and walked down to the arena.  By the time the game was winding down, they’d all gone back to the casino, certain that it would not end well.

They ended up being right, of course, and as I walked down Third Street by myself after the game, I called my then-father-in-law, who was also a Red Wings fanatic.

“It’ll be okay,” he said as a greeting.

“Do you know where I am?” I asked him.  He didn’t.  “I’m walking down Third Street right now, headed to MGM.  I was there.

The pause as he tried to figure out how to respond to that will always stick with me.


I mentioned in the Puck Daddy roundtable that will be published this morning that I was at Game Two of the 1997 Western Conference Semifinals, a triple-overtime win over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.  Another of my favorite JLA memories is attached to that game.

My uncle’s business split a suite and for that game, he had invited the whole family in.  For some reason, we were running late.  The game had already started by the time we were on Rosa Parks Blvd. headed to Jefferson Ave.

There was a long line of cars waiting to get into the parking garage and we were missing more and more of the game.  As I agonized over that, my dad handed out tickets and told the four of us kids we could jump out and go ahead if we wanted.

I remember hitting the ground running, sprinting down Jefferson, blowing through the suite ticket entrance and racing up the stairs rather than waiting for the elevator.

I ran into the suite, ignoring my aunt, and stepped out onto the arena proper just as the game’s opening goal was scored.


I’ve had a lot of fun at the Joe.  I’ll miss it.  But nothing will take away these memories.

Thoughts on Joe Louis Arena

Joe Louis Arena is a dump.

Everyone knows it, everyone says it.  And it always has been.

As we come to the final weekend of Detroit Red Wings games at the Joe, there is plenty of reflection to go around.  Best moments at the Joe.  Best memories of the Joe.

I was asked to participate in a roundtable for Puck Daddy (to be published this weekend).  I talked a bit about visits to Joe Louis Arena as a kid in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

And I realized that – back then – I only knew it was a dump because everyone said it was a dump.

Growing up, when I skated indoors it was at places like Optimist Arena in my hometown of Jackson (back before the second rink went in).  I never played hockey competitively, but sometimes followed my cousin around to similar venues across the state.  The biggest arena I ever saw before going to the Joe was Muskegon’s L.C. Walker Arena – then about 25 years old and seating a little over 5,000 people.

I thought hockey arenas were supposed to be masses of concrete and steel.  Windows?  What for?  The shiniest thing in the building should be the ice.  Comfort?  Who cares, you’re there for the hockey.

I went to many games at the Joe growing up but my first game in another NHL arena was February 28, 2003, as the Buffalo Sabres hosted the Dallas Stars in what would be a 5-3 win for the home team.  I remember walking the concourses – plural! – of what was then HSBC Arena before the game, astounded by how clean and spacious they were.

I knew the Joe was a dump by then, and I’d seen what modern NHL arenas looked like, but this was my first time experiencing one live.

Then we got to our seats in the 300 level and I remember being shocked again, this time by how far away the ice felt.  A feeling I’ve never had at the Joe, I would come across it again in Columbus and Tampa and Sunrise.

I’m sure modern arenas can be built without removing fans from the action.  Apparently they’ve done it in Montreal and they’re trying to do it at Little Caesars Arena.  But I digress.

Joe Louis Arena is a dump.  Everyone knows this.

But if you don’t know that, it’s a shrine.  A municipal rink at massive scale.  Tons upon tons of exposed concrete, some of it sticky.  It’s a place of odd smells, where the brightest spot is the ice and the players skating on it.  Where it’s not about intermission games or light shows or other comforts that have become standard.  It’s about watching the game.  It’s a hockey rink, not an entertainment palace.

Maybe – in some ways – that’s how it should be.

Mitch Marner, the Shanaplan, and the Wings’ Coming Draft

I was thinking during the Red Wings’ 5-4 loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday night about Toronto rookie Mitch Marner.

Marner was drafted fourth overall in 2015.  He was probably NHL-ready at the time, but the Maple Leafs returned him to junior for one more season with the London Knights.

You have to think that having Marner in the lineup would have earned the Maple Leafs at least a couple more points over the 2015-16 season.  That would have lifted them out of last place in the NHL and instead put the Edmonton Oilers in position to draft Auston Matthews in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

I’ve long held the belief that a team shouldn’t be able to pick in the top five for consecutive seasons.  If you pick a guy and he ends up being horrible, you shouldn’t get a do-over.  If he gets hurt, or if you deliberately bury him in juniors so he can’t help you, you shouldn’t get to double-up on high picks.

(Of course, this would have prevented the Oilers from getting Matthews a year after winning the Connor McDavid lottery, but whatever.)

But my belief isn’t how the NHL works.  And, as such, the Red Wings should take advantage of that, too.

This summer, the Red Wings will have their highest draft pick in decades.  At one point they were fighting with the New Jersey Devils for the third-worst record in the league, which (barring draft lottery weirdness) would have given them the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft (due to the Vegas Golden Knights slotting in at #3).  Per the playoff probabilities report at Hockey Reference, after their string of overtime games last week, the Wings can now be expected to battle the Dallas Stars for the sixth overall pick.

This isn’t regarded as a particularly deep draft anyway, but whoever the Red Wings pick, they should follow Toronto’s lead with Marner and leave him in junior.

I’ve argued against the Wings’ plan of “over-ripening” prospects for years.  I find it ridiculous that Anthony Mantha didn’t have a roster spot in Detroit to start this season.  So why the switch?

This isn’t about helping the 2017-18 Red Wings.  The modern NHL rebuilds through the draft and one draft isn’t enough.  Burn off another year of some bad contracts, finish in the bottom-five again next season, and then come back for the 2018-19 campaign with two top-ten draft picks on the roster.

In Toronto they called that the Shanaplan.  In Detroit it wouldn’t be a tank, it’s just the Red Wings’ Way.

Spring 1990. Spring 2017.

I remember talking to my dad one morning while I was getting ready for school in what must have been early spring of 1990.  Just a kid, unaware of the schedule or the standings, I asked him if the Red Wings won the night before and if it was the playoffs yet.

He laughed a bit and said, “Clark, the Red Wings aren’t going to make the playoffs.”

I understand that laugh now.  The “Playoffs?  This team?” laugh.

This season’s been a disaster.  The Red Wings weren’t mathematically eliminated until tonight but we knew it was coming months ago.  This team wasn’t going to make the playoffs.

Perhaps it’s better that way.  No heartbreak in the 82nd game, just a disappointing grind through the entire season.  The longer you stay in contention, the more you find excuses for hope.  But this team wasn’t going to make the playoffs.

Hope?  I’ve been calling for a tank all season.  My hope isn’t for this year.  It’s not even for next year.  My hope is that the new streak, the losing streak, is short.

There is opportunity in this disappointment.  The Red Wings’ playoff miss in 1990 netted them Keith Primeau in the draft, who was flipped for Brendan Shanahan.  We’ll see what their loss in 2017 brings.

Thoughts on the NHL’s Playoff Format

There’s been buzz of late about the NHL’s playoff format being broken because so many of the league’s top teams happen to be in the Metropolitan Division, with only one of them able to advance to the Eastern Conference Final (barring a cross-over to the Atlantic Division).

Down Goes Brown wrote about it in his Grab Bag for Vice Sports this week.  Like DGB, I’m no stranger to throwing goofy ideas out there, and this got me thinking, so I figured I’d post my thoughts here.

First off, the problem I see with current playoff format isn’t quite what DGB mentions.  Yeah, the Metropolitan Division is stacked and it’s going to be brutal to get out of it.  Short of going to single table (which I’ll talk about below), there is no getting around that.

The issue I see is with the wild card.  Under the right situations, the fourth-place teams in a conference swap places, opening up the possibility of the New York Rangers switching to the Atlantic Division and blowing through the teams there, while the Boston Bruins get pulled over to the Metropolitan Division to face the Washington Capitals (for example).

Get rid of the wild card.  Make it a true cross-over.  If the fifth-place team in one of the divisions is better than the fourth-place team in the other, then they cross over and bump the fourth-place team.  No swapping fourth-place teams.

Under that scenario, the Rangers are locked in and it’s the fifth-place Islanders battling with the Atlantic’s fourth-place Bruins for a spot (per Hockey Reference’s playoff probabilities report).

Keep in mind that the scenario of five teams from one division and only three from the other can already happen.  Also, this still means only one of four strong teams comes out of the Metro.   With only the fifth-place team able to cross-over, however, I think you’re less-likely to see a powerhouse making that move or a team deliberately dropping into a cross-over spot.

But I said I’d talk about single-table.  DGB writes off single-table for TV reasons.  My idea doesn’t totally solve that but it’s a start.

Abolish the conferences.  Let the top sixteen teams into the playoffs.  Then take the eight westernmost teams and put them in one side of the bracket with the eight easternmost on the other.

Yeah, you might see a season where the best teams are all in California, meaning they have to battle each other earlier.  That’s been going on forever.  Short of true single-table, you’re not going to solve that.

This gives you the top sixteen teams and it’s TV-friendly.  It also gives you the oddity of teams like Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis or Dallas regularly switching brackets, as one year they might be among the western teams while another might see them with the eastern group.

Of course, I don’t expect this idea to actually be implemented, I just think it’s worth discussion.

Worth noting: I love (and have previously suggested) the idea of teams drafting their opponents in the playoffs.  For all the reasons DGB noted, it’ll never happen.