Thoughts on Game One

I spent most of the Red Wings’ 2018-19 season opener watching how the five players making their debuts looked.  Mostly eye-test stuff, this is not a detailed breakdown, but here are my thoughts nonetheless.

Christoffer Ehn
There was a stretch in the third period where I was pleasantly surprised to see Ehn on the ice for two consecutive scheduled shifts.  That’s how little ice time he got (8:09, by far the fewest minutes of any Red Wing and only beating out Sonny Milano‘s 7:30).  That’s largely driven by the fact that his linemates were getting time on special teams, so it’s not his fault, but it still makes it hard to get much of a read on him.

Michael Rasmussen
I felt like I was looking for him and not finding him.  Is that because he was invisible or because he only got 12:06 of ice time?  Probably a combination of the two.

I will say that the look that I got from staff at the LCA Team Store when I asked if they had any Rasmussen jerseys was slightly hilarious.  It’s rare to come across someone else with my last name, I’m going to have fun with it.

Filip Hronek
Hronek had at least three giveaways that weren’t recorded as such and on one of those I was certain it was going to turn into a goal against.  He also wasn’t afraid to shoot the puck, even if those shots didn’t always end up on net.  Jeff Blashill said during the preseason that Hronek needs to consistently have more positives than negatives and I don’t think he did last night.

Libor Sulak
There were a could times Sulak surprised me when he was carrying the puck on a rush and just held onto it himself, ending up in an offensive-zone corner.  On one hand, these plays didn’t turn into anything so they probably weren’t the right call.  On the other hand, with how predictable the Red Wings’ zone entries have been over he last several years, with over-reliance on getting too cute with the puck, it was kind of nice to see someone willing to go all Thanos on it – “Fine… I’ll do it myself.”

Dennis Cholowski
The goal-scorer of the bunch, Cholowski looked solid.  He showed great timing on that goal, stepping up exactly when he should.  But I don’t think we shouldn’t get too wrapped up in that, because I really don’t remember a lot of positives for him other than that.  Kind of the inverse of Hronek, where he didn’t make many mistakes or do a whole lot, other than that goal.

That said, one thing I noticed is that, when I was shooting photos during the game, I kept coming back to him.  Someone my eye was just drawn to.  Not sure if that means anything.


Joe Hicketts
Hicketts wasn’t one of the five players making his debut but as part of the kid contingent, I figured he deserved some thoughts.  Once or twice there was a group of bodies around the Detroit net and Hicketts came screaming in to clear things out.  It was this combination of awesome and hilarious to see, at his height.


Henrik Zetterberg
It was time.  Zetterberg has been playing on a bad back forever and with what it took for him to play last year, him calling it a career before the start of training camp made sense.  I’ve been ready for the team to move on, to name a new captain, all of that.

But…  Man…  Watching him come out for the ceremonial puck drop?  That was hard.  I’m ready for this team to rebuild.  Zetterberg’s absence opens up a roster spot for that.  It comes at the cost of an icon, though.

Red Wings Announce Bylsma as Assistant Coach

The Red Wings made official on Friday something that had been rumored for weeks: The hiring of former Penguins and Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma as head coach.

It seemed somewhat inevitable once the Red Wings cut ties with John Torchetti that Grand Haven-native Bylsma would come to Detroit if he couldn’t land a head coaching gig.

I like the move.  That’s partially because every time the Wings’ coaching staff has an opening I worry that they’ll just bring in a former Red Wing who doesn’t have any coaching experience.  It’s also because this gives Detroit a clear backup plan if the team struggles under Jeff Blashill this season.

Coaching isn’t like goaltending, where you might bring in a veteran to backup a struggling younger player to light a fire under him.  Blashill isn’t going to become a better coach just because Bylsma is waiting in the wings (though he might by learning from Bylsma, which is a whole other thing).  But if the Red Wings don’t turn things around and if management decides it’s time to move on from Blasill, Bylsma isn’t a bad option to turn to when that comes.

Final Thoughts on Petr Mrazek

Much like my thoughts on Andreas Athanasiou‘s mindset during his holdout last fall, I have a theory on Petr Mrazek‘s tumultuous tenure with the Red Wings.  A lot of it is conjecture, so take it with a grain of salt, but I don’t think I’m far off.

Mrazek was known as a cocky goalie from the start.  His celebrations while playing for the Czech Republic in the 2012 World Junior Championship introduced him to the world.  His “attitude problems” through the 2016-17 season can be attributed to it.  His comments upon being traded reflect it.

“The pressure for both of us was pretty high,” he said. “You have to show up every night if you want to play the next game. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s a really good thing when we can battle between goalies and do the best that we can. Sometimes when they say, ‘you’re the guy who’s gonna play for a while,’ I think it’s better.”

Specifically that last line.  I read that as Mrazek being frustrated that he was never made “the guy” in Detroit.  Some might say he never earned it, given his regression last season, but I think the slump was caused by feeling threatened by the presence of Jimmy Howard.

We don’t know what went down in meetings between Mrazek and Ken Holland.  We don’t know the reasons behind decisions made by Mike Babcock and Jeff Blashill.  But what if it went something like this…

In 2012, Mrazek is coming off being named the best goaltender at the World Juniors.  He wraps up his OHL career and goes pro in the fall.  The Red Wings assign him to the ECHL to start the season but he quickly replaces future doctor Jordan Pearce in the AHL as the backup for the Grand Rapids Griffins, then supplants Tom McCollum as the starter.  He even gets in a couple games in Detroit, going 1-1 with a respectable .922 save percentage and 2.02 GAA.  By spring, he’s leading the Griffins to their first-ever Calder Cup Championship.

For 2013-14 Mrazek is back with the Griffins, with Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson manning the crease in Detroit.  In 32 games he drops his GAA to 2.10 and his save percentage gets up to .924.  He gets into nine games in Detroit, putting together a 1.74 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

Come summer of 2014, Mrazek has put together stellar numbers through the first two years of his pro career and Gustavsson’s contract is up.  There is no reason for him to not think that he’s earned the backup role in Detroit.  Yet the Red Wings re-sign Gustavsson after a season where he had a 2.63 GAA and a .907 save percentage.  With one year left on his existing deal, Mrazek signs a one-year contract extension – a one-way  contract to ensure he’s in Detroit for 2015-16 – but starts 2014-15 in Grand Rapids.

Injuries open the door for Mrazek, who steps in and plays 29 games.  His 2.38 GAA and 9.18 save percentage are better than both Howard and Gustavsson.  He starts all seven games of Detroit’s playoff series with the Tampa Bay Lightning and, though the Red Wings drop the series, Mrazek  improves on his regular season stats, going 2.11 and .925.

Despite his playoff starts, Mrazek is the backup when the Red Wings start the 2015-16 season.  He ends up starting 49 games, though, with a 2.33 GAA and a .921 save percentage, better than Howard’s 2.80 and .906.

Come Game One of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs – with the Red Wings facing the Lightning again – Howard gets the start.  In the first two games of the series, Howard puts up a .891 save percentage and a 3.59 GAA as the Red Wings go down, 2-0.  Mrazek takes over for Game Three but Detroit falls in five games.  Mrazek’s GAA is 1.36 and his save percentage is .945.

Mrazek’s contract extension from 2014 is up and on July 27, 2016, he agrees to something of a bridge deal, two years at $4 million each.  It’s less than Howard’s salary and a shorter deal but he’s being paid like a starter.  The rumor is that Howard will be dealt.  By all appearances, the Red Wings are now Mrazek’s team.

But Howard isn’t dealt.  Mrazek gets the start to open the season in Tampa and at the final home opener at Joe Louis Arena.  He gets 14 starts in the first two months, being pulled once.  Howard started 11 games, also being pulled once.  It’s clear it’s a 1A-1B situation.

It’s at this point that the wheels come off for Mrazek.  Even with Howard hurt for much of the season, Mrazek puts up the worst numbers of his career, with a 3.04 GAA and a .901 save percentage.  Both are better than the 3.46 and .887 of Jared Coreau, who “steals” some of Mrazek’s starts, including the outdoor Centennial Classic in Toronto.  Rumors abound about Mrazek’s attitude and it’s even suggested that Coreau is the true heir-apparent to the Detroit crease.

Six months later, Mrazek is left unprotected in the expansion draft, going unclaimed.

He comes into the 2017-18 season the clear backup.  It’s expected the Red Wings won’t even give him a qualifying offer when his contract is up (which has since been confirmed).  His .910 save percentage and 2.89 GAA nearly match Howard’s numbers but Mrazek ends up dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers.

If I were in Mrazek’s skates, I would have a bad attitude, too, and it would certainly impact my play.  I’m not saying it’s okay for that, just that I can understand it.

You rise up from the ECHL to the AHL to the NHL in your first season and carry your team to a Calder Cup Championship.  The next year your stats are even better, but a worse goalie is re-signed to play in front of you.  You take over the starting role anyway and make the most of it, putting up great numbers in a seven-game playoff series.

By next fall, you lose the starting role anyway.  You fight your way back to become the playoff starter again, you get a starter’s contract, and then again you’re the backup on opening night and the guy who they said they’d trade is still there taking up space in your crease.

It’s in your head, you falter, and suddenly the third-string goalie who hasn’t done anything is stealing your starts.  The spiral continues.  You pull yourself together over the summer.  After a rough start, you’re putting up similar numbers to your partner in the crease.  But it’s too late, you’re out.

Again, I’m not saying that Mrazek didn’t slump and didn’t have an attitude.  I’m saying that I can see why he would have one and why it would impact his play.  And, with that perspective in mind, it’s also why I think the Red Wings should have tried harder to deal Jimmy Howard, rather than giving up on Mrazek.

Red Wings Call-Up Bertuzzi, Put Vanek on LTIR

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Monday that Tyler Bertuzzi was called up from the Grand Rapids Griffins, with Thomas Vanek placed on long-term injured reserve to make room for him.

Vanek’s LTIR stint is back-dated to October 25th, so he’s eligible to come back late next week.

The interesting thing is that, with a player like Bertuzzi, you’d think he’d be called up so a guy like Steve Ott could sit.  Ott’s signing last summer essentially took away Bertuzzi’s spot on the fourth line.  But then there’s this:

If Bertuzzi was slated for the fourth line in Philadelphia tomorrow, wouldn’t he be practicing on that line while the 13th forward fills in for the missing Henrik Zetterberg?  Is Bertuzzi the spare, called up just in case Zetterberg can’t go against the Flyers?

If Bertuzzi was called up as insurance, it’s really interesting that the Red Wings didn’t go with Anthony Mantha.  A top-six spot opens up and they don’t go with the supposed top-six guy?  I don’t know.

Apparently Zetterberg will be ready to play tomorrow.  In that case, Bertuzzi taking his spot in practice confuses me.  I guess we’ll see tomorrow.


Update, 12:20 PM: MLive’s Ansar Khan, who still has me blocked on Twitter, says that Bertuzzi will play in a top-six role.

I really don’t get why they didn’t go with Mantha here and I’m confused as to what they want from him.

Pregame: Red Wings @ Rangers – 10/19

Coming off their first win of the season and their final home opener at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings are back on the road tonight, visiting the New York Rangers.

Jimmy Howard gets the start in goal for the Wings, his first of the season.  Howard grew up a Rangers fan and loves playing at Madison Square Garden, so that’s not much of a surprise.

Any other lineup changes will be determined after the pre-game skate, per coach Jeff Blashill.

Game time is 8:00 PM on NBCSN.


In the meantime, Down Goes Brown has an interesting time-waster going on Twitter.

I gave it a couple shots.

I mis-counted, that total is actually 143. But when you can add a seven-time Norris Trophy winner, which also allows you to swap Wendel Clark for Marian Hossa, you do that.

On the Red Wings’ Next Alternate Captain

With Pavel Datsyuk having departed, the Red Wings are left with an open spot among their contingent of captains.  I brought this up on Twitter a month ago and WiiM did a post on it a couple weeks ago.  I went back through the team’s recent history to see if anything can be gleaned from it to show us who might be picked.

The 2015-16 season was unique for the Red Wings in that captain Henrik Zetterberg and alternates Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall were the only players to wear letters for the team all year.  That doesn’t mean there wasn’t opportunity – both Datsyuk and Kronwall missed significant time due to injury – it means that there were 34 games where Detroit didn’t even bother sewing an “A” on anyone else’s sweater.

Captains are the only players who can speak to on-ice officials but the Red Wings’ going with fewer than the allowed number of captains shows how unimportant that rule.  Of note: Teams may have no more than three lettered players on the roster but there is nothing saying that they have to have that number.

We have to go back to the 2015 season to find replacement captains used by the Red Wings.  Despite ten games with only two captains dressed, seven players still managed to wear a letter throughout the year.  The injured Johan Franzen wore it for ten games, Jonathan Ericsson and Daniel Cleary each wore it for three, and Darren Helm wore it for one.

If he were healthy, I think Franzen would get the A, but he’ll never play again.  Cleary may very well return to the organization and get a letter in Grand Rapids, but I think he can be ruled out in Detroit.  That leaves Ericsson and the recently-re-signed Helm.

Going back one more season to 2014 adds no new names to the list, as the now-retired Daniel Alfredsson was the most-frequent extra alternate, wearing an A for 36 games to Franzen’s 31 and Cleary’s 8.  Five games were spent with only two captains.

The lockout-shortened 2013 – Zetterberg’s first as captain – featured three games with only two captains but no replacement alternates.  It was also the first season since the 2007-08 campaign, when Datsyuk was given an A along with Zetterberg and Kris Draper, that the team had only three captains.

Even with four captains on the books in 2012, Tomas Holmstrom wore the A for eight games.  The team dressed three captains for every game.

Going back further, we see the names of long-departed defensemen Brian Rafalski and Chris Chelios…  Clearly players who won’t be options now.

In the last seven years there have been ten players to wear the C or A with the Red Wings.  Two of them – Zetterberg and Kronwall – still do.  Only two of the remaining eight are still with the team: Ericsson and Helm.

At three games to one, Ericsson has more experience wearing the letter than Helm.  Maybe that gives him an edge.

So can anything be pulled from these numbers?  I think the only thing they show is that it’s time for someone new.  The old standbys are gone.

While newcomers Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek, and Steve Ott have all worn letters elsewhere in their career – Nielsen had an A with the Islanders last season while Vanek and Ott co-captained the Sabres back in the 2013-14 season – the Red Wings haven’t given the alternate captaincy directly to a newcomer since trading for Brendan Shanahan in 1996.

By my count, the Wings haven’t had two defenseman with letters since before the Steve Yzerman era, which would seemingly rule out Ericsson or any of the other blueliners, so long as Kronwall wears the A.

Jeff Blashill is not Jacques Demers.  I don’t think Dylan Larkin gets the available letter by virtue of being the team’s best player.

I think – almost from lack of better options – that we’ll see Justin Abdelkader get the A.

Of course, that could change if the mythical “trade for a top defenseman” ever emerges.  We’ll see.

Red Wings Name Houda Assistant Coach

Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland announced on Tuesday that the team has hired former Red Wings defenseman Doug Houda as an assistant coach.

Houda joins Detroit after ten years as an assistant with the Boston Bruins. He replaces Tony Granato, who left the Red Wings to take over the program at the University of Wisconsin.

Houda, 49, was selected in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by the Red Wings in the second round, 28th overall. The Wings traded him to the Hartford Whalers in 1991 but he returned to Detroit for three games in the 1998-99 season.

While Granato had been in charge of the team’s defensemen and penalty killers, Houda’s role with the team was not immediately announced. For his first eight years in Boston, Houda ran the blueline and the power play before switching to just manage the defensemen. It is expected that he would take over Granato’s position.

Head coach Jeff Blashill will have a drastically different staff when the season opens next fall. In addition to Granato’s departure and Houda’s arrival, assistant coach Pat Ferschweiler has been shifted into the press box and will be replaced by an NHL veteran on the bench. As well, longtime goalie coach Jim Bedard will not be brought back, with Grand Rapids Griffins goalie coach Jeff Salajko the leading candidate for his replacement.

Postgame: Red Wings @ Rangers – 4/9

“Red Wings Back Into Playoffs.”

That was the headline I thought about running instead of just doing my usual postgame thoughts formula. Double-meaning, eh? For the 25th consecutive year, they’re back into the playoffs. And they certainly backed into them.

Needing a win to control their own destiny, following a woeful loss against the Bruins on Thursday in a game in which they could have clinched, the Red Wings came out relatively flat against the Rangers. Sure, they kind of scored first, with call-up Joakim Andersson banging a loose puck in behind Antti Raanta on a play that was deemed to be offsides upon review, but they weren’t pressuring the Blueshirts at all for the first twenty minutes and ended the period down a goal.

They got better as the game continued, so that’s a positive. In the end, Jeff Blashill pulled Jimmy Howard for the extra skater at a ridiculous time, they gave up and empty-net goal, scored with an empty net to pull back within one, then completely blew twenty seconds of a six-on-three opportunity to lose the game.

And a few minutes later, the Ottawa Senators finished blowing out the Boston Bruins, giving the Red Wings the third seed in the Atlantic Division and a second-consecutive first-round matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I’ve said repeatedly that this team does not deserve to make the playoffs. I still think that’s true. Thankfully, though, enough other teams didn’t deserve to make them that the Wings got in anyway.

The Lightning will be without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman and possibly Tyler Johnson. Aside from a blowout in their last meeting, the Wings played them close all season. It could be a good matchup. I don’t think it will be, given the Red Wings’ play in the last six weeks, but we’ll see.

Red Wings Call Up Mantha

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Monday the call-up of forward Anthony Mantha from the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Mantha, 21, will make his NHL debut on Tuesday as the Red Wings visit the Philadelphia Flyers. In doing so, he will become the 900th player in franchise history.

Selected in the first round (20th overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by Detroit, Mantha has 45 points in 56 games for the Griffins in his second professional season, good for third place on the team.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill had previously stated that Mantha would only be called up if he could slot in on one of the top two lines. As the team says there are no injuries to announce, it is not yet clear where Mantha’s spot in the lineup is.

Mantha’s promotion is unrelated to a knee injury suffered by defenseman Niklas Kronwall during Saturday’s comeback win over the New York Rangers. The Red Wings have said that a blueliner will be called up for the team’s upcoming four-game road trip but that move has yet to be announced.

On Blame and Preparedness

I’ve been thinking a bit about comments from Jimmy Howard and Jeff Blashill following last night’s loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

Howard accepted some blame for the loss, specifically stating that he misplayed the puck on the first and third Vancouver goals. On the first, he said that, knowing the end boards at the Joe, he should have stopped the puck before there was a chance for a “lively” bounce back into play than ended up in the back of the net. On the third, he said that he can’t give up a rebound straight to an opposing player.

Blashill said that the team came out unprepared and that it was his fault, he did not give specifics on what he could have done differently, though.

I’m curious about that because the team had three days off between their loss to Buffalo on Monday and the Vancouver game on Friday. I’d really like to know what Blashill thinks he should have done to have the team more prepared.

Should he have not taken the time off to scout the Griffins on Wednesday and run a more structured practice? Should they have spent the week practicing different things? Should they have had more time off to rest?

Or was he just saying that to deflect blame from his team?

I don’t expect Blashill to share specifics but without them, it leaves me wondering.