By Jeff Moss
May 19, 2016
It has now been 26 days since the Red Wings made their annual first-round exit from the NHL playoffs and I feel I can now unemotionally discuss what this stagnant franchise should attempt to accomplish this offseason.
For weeks Red Wings fans, bloggers and the lapdog media that covers the organization have pontificated on which direction Ken Holland should take this summer in addressing the many needs of our once great hockey team.
Truth is, there is no magic bullet that will restore this franchise back to their late-aughts level. There is no elixir that will alleviate the toxic mixture of aging star players coupled with a handful of albatross contracts.
In fact, you could summarize my plan in the same fashion Bryan Cranston famously sold Lt. Bookman on extricating the US hostages from the Canadian Embassy in the Academy Award winning film “Argo”:
“This is the best bad idea we have, sir …. By far.”
So what would my marching orders be to Holland and the front office if the decisions were mine to make? Do pretty much nothing. Hell, don’t even “kick any tires.”
Here is my eight-point plan to start this organization on the road to recovery:
1] The first decision revolves around what to do with the nearly ten millions dollars in dead cap space that the Wings will be facing when Pavel Datsyuk finally announces to someone other than Mitch Albom that he is playing the 2016-17 season in Russia.
My initial reaction to the predictable news that Datsyuk would be heading back to the motherland was that Holland should attempt to ship the $7.5 million in dead cap space to a team attempting to reach the salary cap floor so the Wings could maybe get in the Steve Stamkos Derby.
But then I thought about this issue for a few weeks and realized that the best thing to do would be to eat the contract for a season and it has nothing to do with Stamkos’ coagulation issues.
First, dealing Datsyuk’s dead weight is going to cost the Wings either a prospect or a high draft choice and this team is in no position to blow another asset after getting absolutely nothing in return for Calle Jarnkrok, Mattias Janmark or Andrej Nestrasil.
(By the way, I was told the other day by a source that when Holland traded Janmark to the Stars for Erik Cole at the trade deadline last season that Holland had NEVER seen Janmark play. Yep, the champions for Janmark within the organization were super scout Hakan Andersson and former assistant GM Jim Nill. And who acquired Janmark? The Dallas Stars. A team run by Jim Nill.
The only thing I could think of when told how this scenario played out is Holland receiving an email from Uganda and instantly running to Western Union to send thousands of dollars to Africa because the Wings GM was about to receive a large inheritance from a dead uncle.)
Secondly, giving Holland $7.5 million in cap space would be the equivalent of handing David Moss or Shelly “The Machine” Levene the Glengarry leads. Just remember his recent signings of Mikael Samuelsson, Jordin Tootoo, Stephen Weiss, Brad Richards and countless others that I am too depressed to rehash.
Artificially lowering the team’s cap by 14% actually might be the best way to ensure Holland doesn’t waste any money on the next 36-year-old over-the-hill center who is going to block one of the younger prospects from receiving valuable ice time.
I know this decision would be a crushing blow for David Backes’ agent, who had planned on procuring a Caribbean winter home on the back of Holland’s ignorance, but trust me it’s the right call.
Sticking Holland with the mess he created when giving Datsyuk a front-loaded three-year contract after he was 35 years old — when #13 had already mentioned finishing his career in Russia as far back as 2012 (!!!!!) — is exactly what Kenny deserves.
Like I stated on a recent podcast, handing Datsyuk that three-year deal with an AAV of $7.5 million and THEN giving him $17 million of the $22.5 million up front the first two seasons was basically like your girlfriend telling you she has eyes for another man and then giving her a $100,000 engagement ring anyway and deciding against a prenuptial agreement.
(Keep in mind this entire column is based on the premise that there is no chance the Ilitch Family would either get rid of Holland or promote him to Team President while hiring a sabermetric nerd as GM to bring this franchise into the 21st century. Because trust me, if I had my druthers, Holland would have absolutely no say in personnel decisions moving forward. Instead, he’d be perusing carpet samples and reviewing paint swatches for the lower-bowl suites at Little Caesars Arena.)
Think of keeping Datsyuk’s deal on the books while the future Hall of Famer risks his life on questionable airplanes in Eastern Europe as a sort of ignition interlock breathalyzer device for Ken.
Anyway, forcing Holland to work around a $62 million salary cap would hamstring our salary cap era disaster of a GM into giving the youth a legitimate shot at playing time in 2016-17
Which leads me to point number two …
2] Take all of the shunned and humiliated young players to dinner at either Capital Grille or Ruth’s Chris in Troy and apologize for how the organization has recently treated them.
Offer a mea culpa to Teemu Pulkkinen for treating him like a jizz rag after he returned from a shoulder injury even though advanced metrics indicated he was one of the team’s more efficient forwards. I mean, you played Joakim Andersson over this kid when you couldn’t score on the god damn power play! Read that sentence three or four more times and then grab a barf bag.
Apologize to Anthony Mantha for Jimmy Devellano’s asinine comments at the end of the 2015 season and for this Holland gem during the 2016 Playoffs:
Anthony Mantha was a spare part in the Calder Cup playoffs (AHL) a year ago. Why does anyone think he is going to be the answer in Detroit?”
Why did anyone think Mantha was an “answer?” Maybe because you called him up at the most crucial time of the season — with your precious playoff streak on the line — and he actually IMPROVED your power play!!!!
And then before the filets hit the table, Blashill can say he is sorry to Andreas Athanasiou for this moronic comment during the Tampa playoff series:
Yep, because you should probably judge Double-A on his AHL performance and not on the fact that he led the entire team in drawing penalties and scored nine goals in very limited ice time.
That would be like the Tigers using J.D. Martinez as a 25th man instead of their starting right fielder because he didn’t dominate with the Astros.
And don’t forget about being repentant for your treatment of Tomas Jurco, who couldn’t even get an answer from Holland during his season-ending exit meeting about why he wasn’t utilized more during the year.
And finally, offer an explanation to poor Brendan Smith, who spent most of the season as the team’s BEST defenseman yet found himself a healthy scratch during the stretch because ….
WHO THE FUCK KNOWS WHY?!!!????
I will get to the reasons for utilizing these younger players more in 2016-17 — as well as others who haven’t even made it out of Grand Rapids yet — later in this article.
3] Holland has strapped this team with so many awful contracts — not even including the Datsyuk embarrassment — that I wouldn’t even suggest with a straight face attempting to deal either Niklas Kronwall or Jonathan Ericsson. There’s a better chance of George Will attending a Washington Nationals game while wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat.
But the one deal that MAYBE could be moved is Henrik Zetterberg‘s. He IS coming off a 50-point season and some southern or California franchise probably could sell their fanbase on acquiring a former superstar with immense name recognition,
Zetterberg still has FIVE YEARS left on his contract with an average cap hit of $6,083,333 but he is only owed about $20 million in real dollars.
If you could deal a 35-year-old player clearly in decline — the guy didn’t score a 5-on-4 power play goal this season — who is under contract until he starts receiving AARP mailers, you do it. Especially considering that if Jeff Blashill is ever going to have a chance at commandeering that locker room, it would probably be easier without his captain undermining him at every turn.
Sooner or later this franchise needs to move on from the Datsyuk/Zetterberg Era. No time like the present.
(And notice I didn’t refer to them as the EuroTwins because that is dumbest fucking nickname ever. One guy looks like Lurch from the “Addams Family” and the other resembles a Scandinavian lumberjack. EuroTwins? Yeah, if Ivan Reitman is directing.)
4] One of the most egregious Holland blunders over the last few seasons was his refusal to trade Jimmy Howard at the end of the 2015 season. It was clear to anyone with a brain that Petr Mrazek was the goalie of both the future and the present and that Howard was still fairly marketable.
He was coming off an All-Star season in 2014-15 and other NHL teams could have easily chalked up his second-half slide to his January 2015 groin injury. And you are talking about a netminder with a very reasonable contract. 18 goalies are making more cash than Howard.
But Holland foolishly decided to hold on to Howard as insurance for Mrazek when he didn’t really have that luxury because of all of the other anchor contracts he has signed off on.
It is imperative that Holland deal Howard this offseason. Now, however, he will most likely have to eat a decent portion of Howard’s remaining contract and it wouldn’t be shocking if he has to sweeten the deal with either a prospect or a pick.
Because when Steve Yzerman predictably places Ben Bishop on the market, which goaltender do you think teams are going to prefer?
Honestly, are we sure we can’t hire a Harvard numbers geek to replace Holland so he can spend more time focusing on whether Little Caesars Arena will have Moen or Kohler faucets in the johns?
5] Let ALL of the unrestricted free-agents walk. That includes Darren Helm (with all apologies to Kenny Loggins fans), Kyle Quincey, Drew Miller and Richards.
I would include Justin Abdelkader in this group, but Holland has already given him a seven-year, $30 million contract, a paid wedding at Kirk in the Hills with Julie Leshkevich, three Little Caesars franchises and the Joe Pesci/Tangiers treatment at the Motor City Casino.
By the way, while I am doling out advice, please ignore any of the idiots who cover this team. This list includes Ansar Khan, Helene Scarf James, Ted Kulfan, George Malik, and local columnist Bob Wojnowski.
Just read this passage from a recent Wojnowski opinion piece ….
Yep. The Wings have to decide if Justin Abdelkader can take the leap. It’s always a good idea to make that decision AFTER giving a guy a seven-year deal that averages $4.3 million a year.
6] Holland needs to come out and give an exclusive interview to one of his sympathetic and enabling TV sports dummies and explain to the fanbase that the final season at the dump known as Joe Louis Arena will be a transitional one.
I am sure Holland will have no issue finding such a person whether he chooses Bernie Smilovitz, Brad Galli, Don Shane or Ray Lane.
A majority of the fans are READY for this news and would welcome it with open arms. The obsession with the 25-year postseason streak is primarily a fixation of the team’s upper management and the Downriver dummies who believe that Darren McCarty was a better Red Wing player than Sergei Fedorov.
It’s an easy sell to the fanbase if you tell them that the franchise will sink or swim in 2016-17 with Dylan Larkin, Mantha, Athanasiou, Jurco, Smith, Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul and some of the other youngsters.
Finally, fully committing to a youth movement is a win-win situation for everyone involved. You have a full season to determine who the organization needs to keep in the fold moving forward and if the team thrives and continues the playoff streak you just had your cake and got to eat it also.
If the prospects can’t carry the load, the team potentially earns a top-five draft pick. You know, the kind that Holland keeps bitching and whining about not possessing since the team selected Keith Primeau in 1990.
7] Since you aren’t going to be able to trade Kronwall — his cap hit is $4.75 million until 2019 – the next best thing to do would be to protect him and maximize his talents by NEVER playing him on the second night of back-to-back games.
This plan would hopefully alleviate his knee troubles, and since Sproul, Ouellet and Nick Jensen all would have to clear waivers to return to Grand Rapids, it would be beneficial to rotate the young blueliners into the lineup while getting the maximum possible out of Kronwall.
Although, the team is probably going to lose one of those young defensemen if Holland can’t package one in a trade this summer.
8] If the Wings follow this plan and don’t add any free-agents this offseason, they will be well-positioned to make a big splash in the 2017 season.
Sorry to give the residents of “Hockeytown” a rude awakening but this hasn’t been a destination for unrestricted talent for A LONG FREAKING TIME. But hopefully that will change next season when the organization’s antiquated and dilapidated arena is replaced with a state-of-the-art facility.
Next year, Datsyuk’s dead money will be gone and you might be able to do SOMETHING creative with either Ericsson’s or Kronwall’s garbage deals.
And it will be a lot easier to sell Jamie Benn, Victor Hedman, Brent Burns or Kevin Shattenkirk on this franchise with the new building nearly completed and promising young stars like Larkin, Mrazek and Athanasiou having an additional year to demonstrate their skills in the NHL.
And please, please, please don’t buy that bullshit Holland was attempting to sell on the day the team photo was taken.
“Rebuilds take eight to 10 years, in my opinion, and that’s if you want to tank it and you want to go through a massive rebuild. I don’t think anyone wants to go through a massive rebuild, so I think that we’ve got to try to marginally get better, maybe change the look of our team a little bit and we’ve got to try to find a way to make the playoffs and give ourselves another opportunity.”
Where the hell is this moron getting this “eight to ten year” nonsense? Lynn Henning?
The Tigers lost 119 games in 2003. They were playing for the World Series in 2006.
The Pistons lost their superstar franchise player in Grant Hill in 2000 and won a title in 2004.
The Lions lost EVERY SINGLE GAME they played in 2008 and made the postseason THREE SEASONS later.
Maybe it would take eight to ten years under your AWFUL management style but don’t give us that load of crap when the franchise already has PLENTY of building blocks in place.
And therein lies the rub. I spoke to someone last week with pretty good Red Wings connections and went over the plan I just laid out in this article. That person agreed it made a ton of sense.
Hell, that person went so far as to tell me that it’s not something that Holland might even be adverse to attempting.
But the one person who would not sign off on such a proposal is Chris Ilitch who wants to milk that meaningless playoff streak for as long as he can. Because what would we do without these beautifully painted stairs? ….
Hey Chris, are those two extra home gates so important to you that you are putting them ahead of the overall health of your team??!!?!?!!
Grow a pair, Ken and do the right fucking thing already.
Which is basically not much. It’s what you seem to be best at anyway.