TGTW: Wings Rebound in Week Two

The Games That Weren’t is one of many projects simulating the games lost by the NHL lockout. In the absence of actual games to write about, I’ll be checking in periodically on the fictional Red Wings’ season.

After dropping a 5-4 decision to the Nashville Predators to open the 2012-13 season, the Detroit Red Wings rebounded with three consecutive wins in the second week of the schedule.

On Tuesday, it looked like Buffalo Sabres’ goaltender Ryan Miller was going to shut the Red Wings down until Todd Bertuzzi broke the scoreless tie with 90 seconds left in regulation.  Miller made 27 saves on 28 shots in taking the loss, while Detroit’s Jimmy Howard needed to stop just 14.

Defenseman Jakub Kindl was ejected at 3:02 of the third period after charging former Red Wing Ville Leino.  Leino would end up missing one game with a concussion, while Kindl was not suspended.

The Red Wings continued their road trip in St. Louis on Thursday, with a 6-1 rout of the Blues.

St. Louis got on the board first when Andy McDonald scored just 6:29 in but Valtteri Filppula‘s second of the season tied things up ay 10:22 and Henrik Zetterberg put the Wings in front 1:40 later.

After a scoreless second period, Filppula added another just 29 seconds into the third.  Jonathan Ericsson scored his second of the season at 3:56 and Mikael Samuelsson scored the first goal of his return to the Wings on the power play at 9:24, chasing Blues’ goalie Brian Elliot.  Jakub Kindl added a power play goal with 2:06 remaining to round out the scoring.

Howard finished another slow night with 14 saves on 15 shots.  Elliot stopped 20 of the 25 shots he faced while Jaroslav Halak made four saves on five shots.

Detroit closed out the week in Chicago with a 3-1 win.

The Blackhawks opened the scoring at 5:31 of the first period on a goal by Jonathan Toews but Danny Cleary answered right back for the Wings 2:05 later.

Filppula’s league-leading fourth goal of the season put Detroit out front at 2:19 of the second period and Niklas Kronwall scored his first of the year at 4:39.

Howard had a third consecutive quiet night, facing just 17 shots and stopping 16.  Chicago’s Corey Crawford made 30 saves on 33 shots in taking the loss.

After four games, the Red Wings sit one point back of the Predators in the Central Division with a game in hand.  The team’s leading scorer is Filppula, with four goals and three assists.  Jimmy Howard has made all four starts, going 3-1 with a shutout, a 1.79 GAA, and a .899 save percentage.  Jonas Gustavsson appeared late in the opener, facing no shots.

The Red Wings lead the league in shots allowed with just 17.25 per game.  Second are the Pittsburgh Penguins at 21.2 per game.

TGTW: Red Wings Drop Opener to Predators

The Games That Weren’t is one of many projects simulating the games lost by the NHL lockout.  In the absence of actual games to write about, I’ll be checking in periodically on the fictional Red Wings’ season.

The Detroit Red Wings opened the 2012-13 campaign on Friday night with a 5-4 loss to the Nashville Predators, the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last spring.

New Wings’ captain Henrik Zetterberg scored twice but Nashville’s Colin Wilson scored just five seconds into a late power play to secure the win for the Predators.  Detroit newcomer Carlo Colaiacovo was in the penalty box for the game-winning goal.

It was a see-saw effort all night.  Zetterberg opened the game’s scoring with 7:01 left in the first but Nashville replied in the second with goals by Roman Josi and Sergei Kostitsyn.  Zetterberg notched his second with 4:43 left in the period to tie things back up.

Kostitsyn scored again just 2:10 into the third and Mike Fisher extended Nashville’s lead to two with 8:59 remaining.

Jonathan Ericsson pulled the Wings to within a goal just 13 seconds after Fisher scored and Valtteri Filppula tied things up 3:28 later.

Wilson’s goal ended any momentum the Wings had, coming 16 seconds after Filppula’s.

Jimmy Howard was replaced in the Detroit crease by Jonas Gustavsson after allowing the fifth goal.  Howard finished the night with 18 saves on 23 shots against.  Gustavsson faced no shots in 5:02 of play.

Pekka Rinne made 26 saves on 30 shots against in earning the win.

With the Red Wings’ defense in flux following the retirement of former captain Nicklas Lidstrom, the Red Wings went with seven defensemen in the lineup.  Kyle Quincey led all blueliners with 26 minutes, while Brendan Smith had a team-low five minutes.

How Signing a Forward Could Have Helped the Wings’ Defense

With the news today that forward Alexander Semin had signed with the Carolina Hurricanes and the report that the Red Wings are out of the running for Shane Doan, much has been made of Detroit general manager Ken Holland‘s summer inactivity.

I’m on record as saying that I don’t think you can call a summer in which you sign Mikael Samuelsson and Jordin Tootoo and Jonas Gustavsson and have $11 million in cap space remaining a successful summer.  Reasonable, perhaps, as it appears the available players just didn’t want to come to Detroit.  Not successful.

There is an argument that going after Semin or Doan is counterproductive because the Wings’ holes are on defense, not forward.  As of right now, the team has six defensemen on the roster and 15 fowards, before signing restricted free agent Justin Abdelkader.

Let’s take a look at a possible set of forward lines…

Gustav NyquistPavel DatsyukJohan Franzen
Valtteri FilppulaHenrik ZetterbergDamien Brunner
Danny ClearyDarren Helm – Mikael Samuelsson
Drew Miller – Justin Abdelkader – Todd Bertuzzi
Jan MursakCory Emmerton – Jordin Tootoo
Patrick Eaves

More important than actual lines here is where each player fits in the depth chart.  That’s why I’m throwing a healthy dose of optimism in there, with both Nyquist and Brunner panning out and fitting into the top six.

Send Brunner to Grand Rapids and slide Samuelsson up if you want, either way I think this shows that the Red Wings have about six forwards that you can actually define as “top six” and not just “players who happen to play on the top two lines.”

Signing Semin or Doan would give Detroit one more of those.  Why is that a good thing?

There are no more top defensemen on the free agent market.  Detroit already has enough bottom-pair defensemen, adding one more of them doesn’t help.  As Holland has already suggested, if the Wings want actual help on their blue line they’ll need to trade for it.

Dealing forward depth for defensive help seems like a perfect fit for this team.  The problem is that you’re not going to see a deal of Emmerton and Miller and Mursak for a Keith Yandle.  No one is going to deal a top defensemen for a bunch of third- and fourth-liners, even a whole line of them.

To make a deal for a top-four defenseman, you’ll have to include a top-six forward.  Do that with this lineup and suddenly you’re pretending that Todd Bertuzzi belongs next to Pavel Datsyuk again, and I say that as someone who likes Bertuzzi.

Signing a top-six forward gives the Wings the option of including Johan Franzen or Valtteri Filppula in a deal for their new defenseman.  It gives them flexibility that they don’t have right now.

The Wings’ forward depth in its current form does not help them in bringing in a defenseman.  All it does is push Brunner and Nyquist to Grand Rapids because they can be sent there without losing them, and then you have both Bertuzzi and Samuelsson in the top six and still no addition on defense.

Maybe the new CBA will make certain players available but as of right now, with no top-six forwards available to sign and the free agent market dried up, I don’t think the Wings have what teams will want for a top-four defenseman.

Free Agency 2012: Day 3

The third day of NHL free agency was the quietest for the Red Wings in terms of activity but they gave the fans a lot to talk about.

To start the day, Zach Parise flew back from Toronto to Minnesota and Detroit coach Mike Babcock may or may not have been waiting for him.  Reports say that Babcock was in the Minneapolis airport prior to Parise’s arrival but he may have been their en route to somewhere else (or not been there at all).

Later in the day, a Wings’ contingent flew to Wisconsin to meet with Ryan Suter.  They didn’t speak to reporters upon arriving back at Metro Airport but supposedly their standing offer is $90 million over 13 years.

Parise may announce his decision on Wednesday while Suter is expected to wait until at least Thursday.

The Wings did make a pair of of signings official.  Defenseman Max Nicastro and forward Marek Tvrdon signed to entry level deals.

Nicastro, a third-round selection in 2008, signed a two-year deal.  He is expected to join the Grand Rapids Griffins next season.

Tvrdon was drafted in the fourth round in 2011.  He will remain with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants for one more season.

On top of all that, we have Joey MacDonald‘s trade request, which the Wings have said they’ll try to honor.  With the team having acquired Jonas Gustavsson, MacDonald wants to be dealt to a team where he can serve as an NHL backup.

So quiet day with a lot going on.

Free Agency 2012: Day 1

“Trust, but verify.”

One of my co-workers loves that phrase.  So did Ronald Reagan.  Vladimir Lenin liked its Russian form.

It comes to mind because of my reaction to today’s news that the Red Wings had signed Mikael Samuelsson and Jordin Tootoo as free agents.  I’m not the only one who had the same kind of reaction.

Neither player has been a favorite of late among Wings fans, so to see both of them suddenly on our team (in Samuelsson’s case, again), signed in a matter of minutes, was a shock.

I trust Ken Holland to make the right moves for the team.  That said, I don’t blindly believe everything he does is perfect.  I question these moves and I want to see how they’ll work out.

Trust, but verify.

Logically, I know that Tootoo was a pain for the Wings to play against, so having that on “our” side is a good thing.  The Wings haven’t had someone like him in quite awhile.

That said, because the Wings hadn’t had someone like that, they were able to (most of the time) play like they were above what Tootoo brings to the table.  Maybe they need to lower themselves to that level, maybe being above that is what they’ve been missing, but it leaves a bad taste.

Logically, I know that Samuelsson is a cheap replacement for Jiri Hudler, who’s bound to get $4 million or more from a team like the Canucks or Capitals or Sabres.  He plays a similar game for significantly less money.

That said, it wasn’t that long ago that he basically had his house for sale before the season ended in Detroit.  We still make jokes about how often he’d miss the net on drives from the point.  While he replaces Hudler, it kind of seems like a role that didn’t need to be replaced.

Lost in all of that are the signings of Jonas Gustavsson and Damien Brunner.  Brunner was a known – announced a week ago but not official until today.  Gustavsson’s deal I initially questioned but only for the financial side and the reality is that $1.5 million for a backup goalie isn’t that bad.

And no news on the big fronts, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.  Depending on who you believe, any number of teams – Detroit included – are the frontrunners for either or both of those two.

Regardless of what happens with the big-names, it’s hard to ignore the math facing the Wings’ lineup right now.  There are simply too many forwards to fit into the lineup next year.

Assuming that Hudler is gone (as it seems that he is), Tomas Holmstrom doesn’t return, Brunner makes the lineup and Justin Abdelkader is re-signed as a restricted free agent, the team has fifteen forwards.  That’s with Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and a handful of others sent back to Grand Rapids, which (at least in Nyquist’s case) should not happen.

It sure looks to me (and to TPL and WIIM) like a trade is in the works.  I won’t speculate on who it could be for but I do want to look at who could be going the other way.

Abdelkader is an unsigned RFA, probably due around $2 million, which just happens to be how much the Wings brought Tootoo in for.  Given that they play similar games, it sure seems like Abdelkader was just made expendible, even if he’s the hometown kid.

Todd Bertuzzi isn’t going anywhere, he’s got a no-trade clause.  Same for Danny Cleary (and Pavel Datsyuk if you think the Wings would deal him).

Patrick Eaves could be moved but lost nearly a season to post-concussion syndrome so good luck finding a taker.

Cory Emmerton was used a lot as the fourth line center last year but that’s a replaceable position.  That said, because he’s replaceable it should mean he wouldn’t bring much in trade.

Valtteri Filppula has been labeled a future leader of the team but has an acceptable contract, is relatively young and scores a little bit.

Johan Franzen has a contract that should make it nearly impossible to move him if the Wings even wanted to.  Darren Helm also won’t be moved as he just signed his contract.

Drew Miller and Jan Mursak are in the same boat as Emmerton.  Solid bottom-six guys who are ultimately replaceable, which devalues them.

Samuelsson and Tootoo just signed (and Samuelsson got a no-trade clause) so they’re staying put.  Henrik Zetterberg is the next captain so he’s going nowhere.

Ignoring prospects (counting Nyquist and Tatar among them), that means that Abdelkader (or at least his rights) and Filppula are the Wings’ most movable, valuable forwards.

I don’t know what’s going to happen between now and the start of the season but looking at that roster crunch, I have a hard time thinking that all of those guys are going to be wearing the Winged Wheel come October.  This was just the first official day of NHL summer.  We’ve got a lot coming up.

Red Wings Sign Goaltender Gustavsson

The Detroit Red Wings made their first move of the 2012 NHL free agency season on Sunday, signing Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson to a two-year deal.

The contract is reportedly worth $3 million for a cap hit of $1.5 million.

Gustavsson is expected to challenge Joey MacDonald for the backup role in Detroit.

Coming off a season in which he played 42 games and went 17-17-4 with a 2.92 GAA and .902 save percentage for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Gustavsson’s right were traded to the Winnipeg Jets on June 23 as a backup plan in case the Jets were unable to sign Ondrej Pavelec.

Gustavsson has played his entire career with the Maple Leafs after signing with them in 2009.  He is 39-45-15 overall with a 2.98 GAA and .900 save percentage.

Red Wings Rally, Still Fall to Maple Leafs 4-3

The Detroit Red Wings rallied from a 3-0 deficit Saturday night but allowed a late goal in a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Joffrey Lupul lifted a backhander from in close over a sprawling Jimmy Howard for what ended up being the game-winner at 7:10 of the third period. Lupul had picked off Niklas Kronwall‘s weak clearing attempt off the left boards and jumped out to the front of the net all alone. Howard went down quickly and gave Lupul the top half of the net, which he hit.

Phil Kessel had opened the scoring at 4:30 of the first period. Kessel broke in alone on Howard and shook off a slight hook from Ian White to get a shot off. Howard made the save but Kessel was given a penalty shot.

On the penalty shot attempt, Kessel faked out Howard and roofed a shot over him.

Dion Phaneuf made it 2-0 at 8:19 of the period on a Toronto power play. Danny Cleary‘s clearing attempt from the side of the goal went right to Phaneuf just inside the blue line. He rifled a shot right back past Howard.

David Steckel finished an odd-man rush by tapping in a centering pass from Lupul with 8:24 to give the Maple Leafs their initial three-goal lead.

Todd Berutzzi started the Detroit comeback at 6:46 of the second period, deflecting a Pavel Datsyuk shot past Jonas Gustavsson. The goal stood after video review to see if it was hit by a high stick.

Kronwall drove to the net and banged the puck past Gustavsson to pull the Red Wings within a goal with 4:11 remaining in the period.

Jiri Hudler completed the comeback at 4:32 of the third, knocking the rebound of a Brad Stuart shot past Gustavsson from the side of the net.

Howard faced only 18 Toronto shots on the night, stopping 14. Gustavsson made 37 of 40 stops.

The Maple Leafs had only two shots in the second period, compared to 14 for Detroit as the Red Wings began their comeback.

Each team had one power play try. The Maple Leafs scored on theirs while the Red Wings did not. The Leafs also had their penalty shot goal.

The Red Wings are back in action on Sunday when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks.

Red Wings Lose Game, Lose Williams

I’m not recapping tonight’s game. Not that any of you are surprised by that, I’m sure.

The only shot the Wings scored on was a damned-near perfect play. A great pass from Brian Rafalski and an incredible shot by Dan Cleary is what it took to get Detroit on the board.

The funny thing is I didn’t think Toronto goalie Jonas Gustavsson looked particularly fantastic in stopping 35 shots. Looking at the scoresheet, I’m amazed that the Wings even got that many chances through to him.

Apparently the Maple Leafs blocked 18 shots to Detroit’s 17 but it felt like Toronto was getting in front of many more of the Wings’ chances.

Early in the third period there was a moment that I felt summed up the game. The Leafs had been knocking down Detroit shots all night but now there was some open ice with the Wings on a five-on-three. A Wings defender – Brian Rafalski, I think – fires a shot from up high… Only for it to find a Maple Leaf and get knocked aside.

Toronto only had three skaters out there and still the Wings managed to hit one of them with a shot.

And I’m not a doctor but I know a fractured fibula isn’t good. This isn’t a “put some ice on it” kind of injury. Jason Williams is going to miss some time, and considering the combination he could be with Valtteri Filppula and Johan Franzen it means the Wings are now missing their entire second line.

Mickey Redmond said partway through tonight’s game that the third and fourth lines had played well. Those lines are effectively the second and third lines now.

As a sign of what that means, go take a look at the third-period power plays. Detroit’s second unit included Justin Abdelkader.

I like Abdelkader. I think he’s got a future in the league and I think he deserves to be here now. I also think he’d be better suited to be with the Griffins for one more season, as Ken Holland wanted to do before Franzen got hurt. With all of these injuries, he’s gone from Grand Rapids to centering the Wings’ second power play unit. That is some serious loss of talent Detroit is dealing with.

I’ll also throw out there that this is one of those five-goal-against games where you shouldn’t blame the goalie. We’re all Wings fans so it’ll fall on deaf ears but I’ll put it out there anyway.

Interesting note: The Wings have now lost five “event” games in a row and six of the last seven. In reverse order, they’ve lost the Hall of Fame Game, the two NHL Premiere games, and Games Six and Seven of last year’s Finals. They won the Winter Classic but lost last year’s home opener, where they raised the 2008 Stanley Cup banner.