Sunday, September 2, 2007

Igor Debut's This Season: Scouting Report

Ansar Kahn posted his scouting report on one of the more curious and highly touted future Red Wings in recent years, Igor Grigorenko. For those who do not know, Grigorenko was one of the Wings highest rated prospects before a near fatal car accident. After rehabbing in Russia and getting back to playing hockey at a competitive level, he is still highly ranked in the Wings system and is set to make his professional debut this year for the Red Wings. We've been hearing a lot about this kid for many years. The curiousity builds and about a month from know, we'll get to see Grigorenko in action. If he turns out to be what I expect, the Wings will have unearthed another diamond amid a plethora of coal.

Scouting Report: Igor Grigorenko
by Ansar Khan
Tuesday August 28, 2007, 3:50 PM

Igor Grigorenko may be anywhere from a top-six NHL forward to a player who won't be on the roster next year.Wings rookie forward Igor Grigorenko will be the most closely watched player in training camp and the preseason. A top prospect before his near-fatal car accident in May 2003, the team needs to find out what it has in Grigorenko. He could be a top-six NHL forward right off the bat, or he could be hopping a plane back to Russia in November.

The injuries from his accident (broken left femur and two fractures in his left tibia) have affected his skating ability, which was never a strong part of his game. But because he's a shifty skater who plays close to the net and will be skating on the smaller NHL ice surfaces, speed might not be that big an issue.

Grigorenko, 24, was the club's top pick in the 2001 entry draft (62nd overall). He was named the best forward at the 2003 World Junior Hockey Championships. He played on the same line as Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk at the 2003 World Championships. He has been described as a highly skilled player with tremendous hockey sense. He's built like a tank (5-10, 209), likes to drive to the net and shouldn't be deterred by physical play. He has good hands and knows where to go to score goals.

Grigorenko will see plenty of action in the preseason and, in all likelihood, early in the regular season. The Wings have the option of sending him to Grand Rapids at the start of the season, but he has a clause in his contract that enables him to return to Russia (where he can make around $1 million, as opposed to about $70,000 in the AHL) after Nov. 1 if he's not on the NHL roster. That probably won't be an issue, however. He should earn a place on the Wings' roster.

He's scheduled to arrive in Detroit on Sunday and participate in the Wings' prospects camp in Traverse City from Sept. 6-11, prior to the main camp.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

THN: 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings Team Report

Just got the summer edition of The Hockey News in the mail today. It has Zetterberg on the cover, a feature on Chris Chelios, and individual team reports. I can't find a link anywhere to the article on Chelios, and it's too long to type out unfortunately. Other than that article, I'll type out everything else, so forigve me if there are some typo's.

But, there are some interesting things in this issue that pertain to our Red Wings. And I think there is plenty to be excited about for the upcoming season. I know there has been a lot of debate about resigning Hasek, and questioning the Drake signing, but overall, I think there are a lot of positives and I think this year could be a very good year for the Wings; especially after reviewing the stats from last season. Despite a disappointing loss in the WCF, it was a pretty damn good year. So, for those who aren't subscribers or won't be picking up a copy, I'll provide ya with everything Red Wing related in this issue.

Four Red Wings made the annual THN Top 50 NHL Players list...another indication that this is still a good team.

Top 50 NHL Players:

3. Nick Lidstrom
The Clark Kent of the NHL, this consistent veteran quietly controls games, playing superbly at both ends and becoming Superman when the outcome is on the line. With five Norris Trophies in the past six seasons, Lidstom has cemented his place in the Hall of Fame. All that remains to be seen is if he can lead the Red Wings to another Stanley Cup.

25. Henrik Zetterberg
The quiet Swede is clearly a solid offensive performer, but the 26-year old must step it up if a Stanley Cup is in the Wings immediate future.

29. Domink Hasek
How he does it is irrelevant. The fact is, Hasek, 42, continues to perform at a high level, looking like he'll play forever.

26. Pavel Datsyuk
He answered his critics with a fine playoff performance after equaling his single-season high of 87 points.

2007-08 Detroit Red Wing Team Report

Cagey Vets Still Rockin'
Wings rediscovered playoff formula and that makes them a scary bunch with a lot of talent still in the tank

By Ansar Khan

In a season of transition, the Detroit Red Wings proved they were still amonth the NHL's elite by racking up 113 points, tying Buffalo for the highest total in the league. More importantly, they rediscovered the keys to success in the playoffs, which had eluded them since their last Stanley Cup title in 2002.

If not for injuries to two of their top three defensemen (Matthieu Schneider and Niklas Kronwall) and a couple of bad bounces in Game 5 of the WCF against Anaheim, the Wings believe they would have been facing the Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup showdown with a legitimate chance to win it.

It was a bitter ending, but it didn't diminish their accomplishment. It might have been the first time in recent memory this team exceeded expectations. They topped the 108-point mark for the seventh straight season and advanced to the playoffs for the 16th straigh year, the longest currnet post-season streak in the four major sports.

They didn't feel the need to make many offseason changes. They lost Schneider, but replaced his with another puck-moving defenseman in Brian Rafalski and elected not to bring back a trio of veteran forwards--Todd Bertuzzi, Robert Lang and Kyle Calder--who didn't produce in the playoffs.

With 18 players back from last season, this team is still the class of the Central Division. Five time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, the dynamic forward duo of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and a 42-year-old goalie, Domink Hasek, who's still one of the best in the business, will ensure the Wings of being at or near the top of the Western Conference. And now they know what it takes to win in the playoffs.

The Wings dominate games territorially with their puck-possesion style, enjoying a large disparity in shots and scoring chances. They also showed the ability to adapt to a more gritty, chip-and-chase game in the playoffs when opponents clogged the neutral zone. They have tremendously skilled players up front (Datsyuk & Zetterberg) and on the blueline (Lidstrom, Rafalksi, Kronwall), enabiling them to play an up-tempo style with quick puck movement.

They lacked offensive balance last season, getting the bulk of their production from the top line of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom while the second line sturggled. They were unable to acquire a goal-scoring forward early in the free agency period but hoped to address the need prior to training camp or during the season. Their top-rated power play of 2005-06was amazingly mediocre last season (21st, 17.1 per cent). Age and toughness always seem to be issues, but they responded well to physical challenges from Calgary and San Jose in the playoffs and, despite having eight players who'll be 35 or older, thier greybeards are some of their best-conditioned athletes.

2007-08 Prediction
1st in Western Conference

The Way It Was: 2006-07 Season Recap Statistics
Record: 50-19-3
Points: 113
Conference: 1st
NHL Overall: 2nd
Offense: 3.07 GPG (10th)
Defense: 2.30 GAA (T-2nd)
Power Play: 17.1% (21st)
Penalty Killing: 84.6% (T-6th)
Ice Time: (D) Nick Lidstrom 27:29; (F) Henrik Zetterberg 20:50
1-Goal Games: 18-5-13
2-Goal Games: 12-6
3-Goal Games: 20-8
Longest Winning Streak: 9 games
Playoff Run: Lost in WCF to Anaheim

2007-08 Projected Depth Chart



Games Played Per Time Zone
Pacific Time Zone: 8
Mountain Time Zone: 8
Central Time Zone: 16
Eastern Time Zone: 50

The Shoot Out Report 2006-07
Team Record: 2-8
Shooters: 10 G, 39 shots, .256 success
Top Shooters:
1. Datsyuk 5G/10 shots; .500 success
2. Cleary 2G/4 shots; .500 success
3. Zetterberg 1G/4 shots;.250 success
Goalies: 20 saves, 37 shots; .541 save percentage

Offense Report
The Wings can expect 30-plus goals from each of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Holmstrom. They're hoping Dan Cleary's strong playoff performance indicates his offensive resurrection wasn't a fluke. They're counting on a handful of younger players to step up their production. Gifted Valtteri Filppula, hoping to replace Lang as the second-line center, has speed and the ability to control the puck in traffic, but needs to develop a better finishing touch. Small but skilled Jiri Hudler produced 15 goals with limited ice time and can crack the 20-goal mark with more minutes.

Defense Report
With Lidstrom showing no signs of slowing down at 37, and Rafalski and Kronwall locked up to five-year deals, the Wings will have a skilled core of puck-moving defensemen for years. Keeping the injury-plagued Kronwall healthy is vital. He must take the next step and begin playing like the star many project him to be. Ageless wonder Chris Chelios excelled in the playoffs and Andreas Lilja, despite a disasterous turnover in Game 5 vs. Anaheim, was stellar. The unit, however, lacks a big, strong, physical presence and is less abrasive without Danny Markov, who remained unsigned.

Goalie Zone
Hasek was one of the best bargains in the league. His drive to win hasn't diminished and he avoided the groin injuries that hampered him the previous two seasons. For the first time in five years, the Wings had a goalie they believed in come playoff time. Even though he turns 43 in January, Hasek maintains quickness by keeping his weight down. The key, once again, is staying healthy. He won't be overworked (50-55 games) and won't play on consecutive nights.

Cap Crunch
Many key players are locked up long-term and they've done a good job of finding late-summer free agent bargains. Once again, they'll have cap space for a mid-season move and/or a trade deadline acquisition, which will take them right to the cap limit.

At least two rookies have a shot at making the team. After a near-fatal car accident in Russia four years ago, left winger Igor Grigorenko will make his long-awaited NHL debut. Derek Meech, their best defenseman in Grand Rapids, must earn a spot on the team because he can't clear waivers. Kyle Quincey acuitted himself well after being thrust into the lineup during the playoffs because of injuries.

Market Watch:
The Wings remain immensely popular in a competitive sports market, but the struggling Michigan economy, coupled with high playoff ticket prices, caused an 11-year streak of sellouts at JLA (452 games, regular seaon and playoff) to be snapped in Game 1 of the post-season last year. They hope advancing to the conference final will also bring back some fans who tired of seeing tremendous regular seasons go up in smoke with stunning playoff defeats.

The Wings are a model of continuity. Senior VP Jimmy Devellano, GM Ken Holland, assistant GM Jim NIll, consultant Scotty Bowman and much of the amatuer and pro scouting staffs have worked well together for anywhere from a dozen to 20 years. They share the same philosiphy in drafting, trading and signing players, with an emphasis on skill and puck possesion.

Future Watch-Top 10 NHL Prospects
1. Jakub Kindl, D
2. Jimmy Howard, G
3. Darren Helm, C
4. Brendan Smith, D
5. Cory Emmerton, C
6. Jan Mursak, LW
7. Joakim Andersson, C
8. Igor Grigorenko, LW
9. Kyle Quincey, D
10. Derek Meech, D

2007 No. 1 Draft Pick Report

Brendan Smith, D 18 years old
Selected: 27th Overall
2006-07: St. Michaels (Jr. A)
Scouting Report:
Finishing third in playoff scoring by defensemen with 20 points in 16 games, Smith has proven he has what it takes to be an offensive player. But questions abound about his defensive game, which has been sloppy and lazy at times. Smith scored half of his 36 points while on the powerplay.

Future Watch Team Grade: C+. Red Wings have picked in the first round just three times since 1998. Rather than bemoan the hardships, the scouting staff just digs deeper for burried gems.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Where Ya Been?

My apologies for not updating this more regularly. I have been quite busy the last couple of months. I should be able to update more regularly.

With the season almost upon us, it's time to bust it out: GO WINGS!

I'm still hoping to get to the Training Camp in Traverse City this year. We'll see though--it's a pretty busy month. I'll be in Wisconsin and Iowa, and hopefully Atlanta. I might also get down to the Joe for the Pre-Season games. I've been to Pre-Season games the last few years in a row and it's a good chance to see the prospects fighting for a roster spot.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to go to the Red & White game in Detroit. I went two years ago, and it was a lot of fun. Met Ken Kal, Mickey Redmond, Doug Brown and we got to watch Babcock, Filppula and Hudler speak up close in the VIP room.

I expect to be writing more articles on the Red Wings soon. Lately, I've included updates about the team, prosepcts, etc. But, I do plan on writing more features and stories on the players.

A lot of things to do before the season starts!!!

Wings Release Regular Season Schedule

Just as I suspected...another horrible schedule. The 2007-2008 schedule is, once again--since the new CBA--extremely unbalanced and heavy on divisional teams.

Here's my brief analysis of the 2007-08 Schedule:

Not many, but the Wings will face the Stanley Cup Champion Ducks, with former Wings Matthieu Schneider, on opening night. Should be interesting to see Schneids on the blue line with Pronger and, possibly, Neidermeyer.

Alexander Ovechkin will make his first visit to Detroit on Dec. 17th. This phenomenal player should have already played in Detroit by now, but I guess beggers can't be chosers in "the new NHL."

With 2 games in Detroit aginst the Los Angeles Kings, Wings fans will get to see hometown hero and promising young defenseman Jack Johnson (University of Michigan). The 6-1, 200 lb. Johnson is one of the most promising young defensemen to come out of the draft in years. He holds many records at Michigan. He played 5 games last season (no points, -5, 18PIM).

Where are the Original Six matchups? Of course, there aren't any. The Original Six teams, especially Detroit, have been disrespected and almost forgotten by this commissioner. This is nothing new, but in my opinion it reflects how out of touch with the hardcore hockey fan that Gary Bettman really is. So, let's look at the negatives:

No Toronto at home--the Wings play them ONCE this season. Unacceptable.
No Boston at home--the Wings play them ONCE this season. Unacceptable.
No Montreal at home--the Wings play them ONCE this season. Unacceptable.
No New York Rangers.

Too many games against division teams, specifically Columbus. The division heavy schedule is a joke and a slap in the face to the storied tradition of the Detroit Red Wings.

Most of the games are against teams in two or three time zones away. Why? Because the Red Wings continue to play in the Western Conference, even though they are in the Eastern Time Zone. They out-travel every team in the NHL, some by nearly 10 times. Until this changes, until Detroit is put in the Eastern Conference where they belong, this will always be an issue.

3 Wed. ANAHEIM Joe Louis Arena 7:00
6 Sat. At Chicago United Center 8:30
8 Mon. EDMONTON Joe Louis Arena 7:30
10 Wed. CALGARY Joe Louis Arena 7:30
12 Fri. CHICAGO Joe Louis Arena 7:30
14 Sun. At Los Angeles Staples Center 8:00
15 Mon. At Anaheim Honda Center 10:00
18 Thu. At San Jose HP Pavilion 10:30
20 Sat. At Phoenix Glendale Arena 9:00
24 Wed. VANCOUVER Joe Louis Arena 7:30
26 Fri. SAN JOSE Joe Louis Arena 7:30
28 Sun. At Vancouver GM Place 10:00
30 Tue. At Edmonton Rexall Place 9:00

1 Thu. At Calgary Pengrowth Saddledome 9:00
7 Wed. NASHVILLE Joe Louis Arena 7:30
9 Fri. COLUMBUS Joe Louis Arena 7:30
11 Sun. At Chicago United Center 7:00
13 Tue. At St. Louis Savvis Center 7:00
17 Sat. CHICAGO Joe Louis Arena 7:00
18 Sun. At Columbus Nationwide Arena 5:00
21 Wed. ST. LOUIS Joe Louis Arena 7:30
22 Thu. At Nashville Sommet Center 8:00
24 Sat. At Columbus Nationwide Arena 7:00
27 Tue. CALGARY Joe Louis Arena 7:00
29 Thu. TAMPA BAY Joe Louis Arena 7:30

1 Sat. PHOENIX Joe Louis Arena 7:00
4 Tue. At Montreal Bell Centre 7:00
7 Fri. MINNESOTA Joe Louis Arena 7:30
9 Sun. CAROLINA Joe Louis Arena 5:00
10 Mon. At Nashville Sommet Center 8:00
13 Thu. EDMONTON Joe Louis Arena 7:30
15 Sat. FLORIDA Joe Louis Arena 7:00
17 Mon. WASHINGTON Joe Louis Arena 7:00
19 Wed. LOS ANGELES Joe Louis Arena 7:30
20 Thu. At St. Louis Savvis Center 8:30
22 Sat. At Minnesota Excel Energy Center 8:00
26 Wed. At St. Louis Savvis Center 8:30
27 Thu. At Colorado Pepsi Center 9:00
29 Sat. At Phoenix Glendale Arena 9:00
31 Mon. ST. LOUIS Joe Louis Arena 7:00

2 Wed. DALLAS Joe Louis Arena 7:30
5 Sat. At Dallas American Airlines Center 2:00
6 Sun. At Chicago United Center 7:00
8 Tue. COLORADO Joe Louis Arena 7:30
10 Thu. MINNESOTA Joe Louis Arena 7:30
12 Sat. At Ottawa Scotiabank Place 7:00
15 Tue. ATLANTA Joe Louis Arena 7:30
17 Thu. VANCOUVER Joe Louis Arena 7:30
19 Sat. At San Jose HP Pavilion 10:30
22 Tue. At Los Angeles Staples Center 10:30
23 Wed. At Anaheim Honda Center 10:00
30 Wed. PHOENIX Joe Louis Arena 7:30

1 Fri. COLORADO Joe Louis Arena 7:30
2 Sat. At Boston TD Banknorth Garden 7:00
5 Tue. At Minnesota Excel Energy Center 8:00
7 Thu. LOS ANGELES Joe Louis Arena 7:30
9 Sat. At Toronto Air Canada Centre 3:00
10 Sun. ANAHEIM Joe Louis Arena 1:00
12 Tue. At Nashville Sommet Center 8:00
15 Fri. COLUMBUS Joe Louis Arena 7:30
17 Sun. At Dallas American Airlines Center 1:00
18 Mon. At Colorado Pepsi Center 8:00
22 Fri. At Calgary Pengrowth Saddledome 9:00
23 Sat. At Vancouver GM Place 10:00
26 Tue. At Edmonton Rexall Place 9:00
29 Fri. SAN JOSE Joe Louis Arena 7:30

2 Sun. At Buffalo HSBC Arena 3:00
5 Wed. ST. LOUIS Joe Louis Arena 7:30
9 Sun. NASHVILLE Joe Louis Arena 3:00
11 Tue. CHICAGO Joe Louis Arena 7:30
13 Thu. DALLAS Joe Louis Arena 7:30
15 Sat. NASHVILLE Joe Louis Arena 1:00
16 Sun. At Columbus Nationwide Arena 3:00
19 Wed. COLUMBUS Joe Louis Arena 7:30
20 Thu. At Nashville Sommet Center 8:00
22 Sat. At Columbus Nationwide Arena 7:00
25 Tue. At St. Louis Savvis Center 8:30
28 Fri. ST. LOUIS Joe Louis Arena 7:30
30 Sun. NASHVILLE Joe Louis Arena 3:00

2 Wed. At Chicago United Center 8:30
3 Thu. COLUMBUS Joe Louis Arena 7:30
6 Sun. CHICAGO Joe Louis Arena 3:00

Wings Release Pre-Season Schedule


18 Tue @ Minnesota Excel Energy Center 8:00
20 Thu MINNESOTA Joe Louis Arena 7:30
21 Fri PITTSBURGH Joe Louis Arena 7:30
22 Sat @ Pittsburgh Mellon Arena 7:30
24 Mon @ Tampa Bay St. Pete Times Forum 7:30
25 Tue NY RANGERS Joe Louis Arena 7:30
27 Thu TAMPA BAY Joe Louis Arena 7:30
28 Fri @ Toronto Air Canada Centre TBA
29 Sat TORONTO Joe Louis Arena 7:30

Hopefully, with the NHL's ridiculous unbalanced scheduling, the fans of the Detroit Red Wings will be able to see Sidney Crosby at least once during the NHL regular season.

This is a pretty promising pre-season schedule. Highlights include the Penguings game in Detroit (Sidney Crosby), the Rangers game in Detroit (facing long time Wing Brendan Shanahan, and the home and home against long time rival, and Original Six team--the Toronto Maple Leafs.

However, despite those highlights, I suspect that Wings fans will be lucky to see the Maple Leafs in Detroit this season or Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. Although, I am holding out some hope.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Hasek To Announce Decision Next Week

The Detroit Free Press reports that goaltender Dominik Hasek has informed the Red Wings he will let them know whether he will return to the team within a week.

"I talked earlier this week with Dom's agent, and he said he'd let us know by the middle of the next week at the latest," general manager Ken Holland told the newspaper on Wednesday. "Dom keeps his cards close to his vest."

Hasek, 42, signed to a one-year contract last summer worth $750,000.

He went 38-11-6 with a 2.05 goals-against average, .913 save percentage, and eight shutouts during the regular season, his 15th in the NHL and third with Detroit in two stints.

Hasek was 10-8 with a 1.79 GAA, .923 save percentage, and two shutouts in the playoffs.

10 Year Anniversary of Wings 97 Cup!

Wow, has it been 10 years? It feels like just yesterday I was pacing around my living room with my parents watching the Red Wings break their 55 year-old drought to win the Stanley Cup. And to win it at home, at the Joe--absolutely awesome. I admit: I teared up as I saw Vernon throw his gloves in the air and the team celebrate on the ice, as Kool & The Gang's "Celebration" played over and over.

After the celebration, I jumped in my car, picked up some friends and drove around the various metro-Detroit cities in full celebration mode.

It was the summer before my senior year in high school and for the whole playoffs, I couldn't concentrate on the last couple of weeks of school. Forget summer break, the Red Wings were back and were destined to win it.

If you have the Red Wings DVD set, A Celebration Of Champions, pop that bad boy in tonight and watch the final game against Philly. You'll see a young Holmstrom, putting on his cap in the hallway behind the bench as the final seconds tick down. Mike Vernon...the savior we needed in net, and the Conn Smythe winner standing tall despite his small stature. Stevie Y, Sergei Fedorov, Vladdy...all throwing the cup over there heads. There are so many great memories from that night.

Where were you on this night? Who were you with? What are your memories?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

HF Feature On Red Wings European Prospects

Hockey's Future posted an excellent feature on the Detroit Red Wings European prospects. This is a nice, in-depth article about the Wings prospects.

Red Wings European prospects season review
Written by Zoran Manojlovic on 06/04/2007
This past season wasn’t an overwhelming success story for the Red Wings European prospects. Several of the highly anticipated prospects didn’t have nearly as good of a season as expected.

Mattias Ritola couldn’t crack the lineup of Leksand, Christofer Löfberg had family problems, Anton Axelsson saw only limited ice time with Frölunda, Johan Ryno bounced around several teams in search of ice time and Juho Mielonen was once again hit by the injury bug.

Looking for some positive notes, last year’s second-rounder, Dick Axelsson proved to be a steady goal scorer in Allsvenskan and future teammate Daniel Larsson established himself as one of the best young goalies in Sweden. Russian late-rounder Gennady Stolyarov broke onto the big stage in the Russian Superleague with Dynamo Moscow.

Anton Axelsson, LW
Axelsson started the season on fire and was among the leading scorers on his team through the first five or six rounds of the season. But thereafter, he was almost nonexistent on the scoresheet. His ice time was reduced dramatically as he was stuck on the fourth line and even being a healthy scratch a few times. The head coach might have misused Axelsson early on, which derailed his confidence. That is the reason why he chose to switch team in the off-season, as he will be representing Timrå next year.

Axelsson is a steady checker who always plays the game with high intensity and a lot of jump. He might not have a high upside as an offensive winger, but if he can add some more strength and become even more physical then he could have a shot at cracking the NHL some day as a third-line checking winger.

Mattias Ritola, C/W
Ritola was also having trouble with the coaching staff, as he couldn’t manage to crack the lineup of Leksand. After his ice time had almost disappeared with Leksand, Ritola was loaned out to Arboga in the same league, but he couldn’t find his game there either so it was back to Leksand before he finally was loaned out to his native town of Borlänge. After the season Ritola was put on the plane and sent to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL for some testing. The Red Wings brass wanted to see if there was something worth keeping in Ritola, and apparently he showed enough to warrant a three-year entry-level contract with the Red Wings, which will start at the 2008-09 season.

His size, skating and skills are impressive while his work ethic and attitude are questionable. He will try to redeem himself next season with Leksand as they try to get back to the Elitserien, before moving over the pond.

Johan Ryno, RW
Ryno had the biggest expectations of any Red Wings prospect in Europe this season, including Igor Grigorenko. But he would probably want to forget this season as soon as possible. He started off on the wrong foot, having to recover from a back injury right before the regular season started. That set him back a few months conditioning-wise, and it took him two team changes and more than half the season to get back on track. Once he arrived late in the season with Timrå, the team was suffering several injuries, which gave him a chance to step up, and he sure did. He was producing at nearly a point per game during a short stint. During his time in Timrå, Ryno found his game and was playing with confidence.

He will need a full season with that kind of confidence and consistency before he moves over the pond. His size, skating and natural ability with the puck is a rare combination that could make him a star in the NHL one day. He has signed an entry-level contract with the Red Wings and will make his pro debut next season.

Igor Grigorenko, RW
Grigorenko had a very solid but unspectacular season in Russia, while playing for his home team Lada Togliatti. He was an assistant captain on a pretty young team, and he finished the season second on the team in scoring with 14 goals and 27 points in 49 regular season games. Those numbers are slightly down from his previous season in which he recorded 13 goals and 34 points in 51 games, but his overall game has improved. He’s more confident with the puck and his skating ability is pretty much the same as it was before his car accident.He was making plays with the puck, getting his nose dirty and contributing offensively. After signing a contract with the Wings just recently, it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to crack the Red Wings lineup for the next season. If all goes as expected, then Grigorenko would be a solid third or fourth line winger who gets about 10-12 minutes of ice time on a semi-regular basis.

Dick Axelsson, LW
Axelsson missed a big part of the start of the season because of a transfer disagreement between his former club Huddinge IK and Djurgården. He spent the preseason with Djurgården by turning heads of the coaching staff forcing them to offer him a contract to play in Elitserien, but his former club Huddinge didn’t want to lose him for nothing so Axelsson didn’t play at all for the start of the season. When all was said and done, Axelsson was back with Huddinge for one final year in Allsvenskan. He didn’t take long time to get on the scoresheet as he put up nearly a point-per-game in the (13 goals, 8 assists in 25 games) as well as 113 PIMs. So far Axelsson has been proving his worth as a second-round pick, but he will have to continue his development next year in Elitserien with Djurgården. His size, skating, scoring touch and skill are very encouraging. He has to add some bulk and improve his play away from the puck. He is almost a surefire bet to get a contract next summer with the Red Wings.

Daniel Larsson, G
This 21-year-old netminder had an impressive rookie season in Elitserien with Djurgården. A team with a lot of youth all over the roster provided a nice development place for Larsson. He stepped up after a very good season in Allsvenskan the year before, and just seemed to be improving with the challenge.He played in 24 games and posted a 2.53 GAA as well as .911 save percentage. Those numbers are very respectable for a 20-year-old rookie. During short stretches, he even pushed the No.1 goalie, Teemu Lassila (a former Nashville pick), to the bench with his strong play. For the upcoming season, Larsson will be the go-to guy on the team and will be looked upon delivering a solid effort night in and night out. That will be a big challenge for the young netminder who is a strong candidate for getting a contract with the Red Wings after next season.

Gennady Stolyarov, RW
Stolyarov was a gamble back at the 2004 NHL entry draft, being selected in the eighth round. But this was a conscious move by the Red Wings, who are known for going after talented players who seem to have some kind of a drawback in the latter rounds of the draft. Stolyarov spent the next two seasons playing quietly in the lower Russian leagues, before emerging with Dynamo Moscow during the last season. He played in 37 games scoring 6 goals and 9 points as well as 39 PIMs. His season wasn’t anything earth-shattering, but his game had improved a lot since his draft day. He’s a better skater and more responsible defensively, although he still needs to address that part of his game. He also has to gain a lot of strength as he has been pushed around by the veteran defensemen in the Russian Superleague. With a good season in the Russian Superleague, Red Wings might be forced to offer him a contract. His size and skill are still there, he just has to improve year by year, and he might make it one day to the NHL.

Lost prospects
Five prospects who are no longer in the Red Wings system are Stefan Blom (D/F), Mikael Johansson (C) and Andreas Sundin (LW), Christofer Löfberg (C/W) and Juho Mielonen (D).

Blom has disappeared from the elite hockey stage, playing with Bålsta in the fourth best league in Sweden. His selection back in the 2003 draft was an unexpected one, as he didn’t offer much more than solid size and respectable skating. His hockey skills and sense are questionable and it seems that he will settle down as a low rank minor leaguer.

Johansson on the other hand has been improving consistently since being drafted. He was a very solid soldier for Färjestad this past season, contributing with 7 goals and 16 points in 55 regular season games. He has the skill and hockey sense, but his work ethic and conditioning needs a lot of improvement. Plus, his small stature makes it even harder to be in the fight for an NHL contract.

Sundin had a very productive season in the Finnish second tier league, scoring 21 goals and 41 points in 45 games. Next season he will be playing in Sweden with Bofors of Allsvenskan, in hopes that it will propel him back to Elitserien for the 2008-09 season. It will be interesting to see what he can do in Allsvenskan after his one-year stint in the Finnish hockey environment.

Löfberg, who is a big guy with very soft hands and a lot of intensity on the ice, had a rough season. He had some personal issues within his family, which might have gotten his attention away from hockey. His lack of scoring and intensity made him drop from the second line to the fourth line and even in the press box. For next season Löfberg has moved down a division and will be playing with Rögle in Allsvenskan. This could prove to be a very smart move as Rögle is a good team for young, talented prospects to develop in. For now he looks like a long shot of making it to the NHL, but his size, skating and skill level are still on demand. His rights have been released by the Red Wings, but with a productive year he might be back on track to North America.

Mielonen is a skilled defenseman with solid size and mobility, but injuries just can’t seem to stop coming for him. He has been injured for most part of the last two years. He hasn’t been able to stay healthy and that is the primary reason why he wasn’t given a contract by the Red Wings. But, as with fellow prospect Löfberg, Mielonen could be a guy who in a couple of years from now makes a name for himself in Europe and then moves over the pond, a few years older than the regular NHL rookie.

GM's To Focus On Head Shots At Meetings


OTTAWA (CP) - A minor penalty could be assessed to NHL players who deliver
a hit to the head as soon as next season.

The league's 30 general managers met for several hours Monday and spent
most of the time reviewing tape and talking about the issue, which has picked up
steam after several incidents this season.

The NHL will have to come up with the specific language of the rule before
it passes through the competition committee and is eventually approved by the
board of governors.

The general feeling after the meeting seemed to be that there would be
enough time for all of that to take place over the summer.

"I think some level could be in place by next season," said Edmonton Oilers
GM Kevin Lowe. "I think that there was enough appetite there, enough concern and

Added Toronto Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson: "I think there'll be something there."

The issue found it's way into the spotlight during this Stanley Cup after
Anaheim defenceman
Chris Pronger was suspended for Monday's Game 4 for hitting Dean McAmmond with a forearm to the head.

The biggest obstacle to it entering the rule book as an infraction will be
outlining exactly what constitutes a hit to the head.

"There's going to be an attempt to draft some type of rule or enforcement
provision about a hit directly to the head and nothing but the head," said Ducks
GM Brian Burke. "My prediction is that it's going to be hard to draft that.

"Most of the hits we have to the head are also to some other part of the
body so it's going to be hard to do. I think we owe it to our players to try."

The issue has become a hot talking point in the league since Ottawa
Senators forward
Chris Neil levelled Chris Drury of the Buffalo Sabres with a blindsided hit in February. No penalty was called on the play and Neil wasn't suspended. Drury missed four games with a concussion.

Sabres owner Thomas Golisano sent an open letter to NHL commissioner Gary
Bettman shortly after the incident saying that he was "deeply concerned" with
head shots. The Buffalo organization was feeling better Monday after the issue
was discussed at length.

"For me, for our organization, it's a step in the right direction," said
Sabres GM Darcy Regier. The managers were clear about the fact that they
were happy with the amount of contact in the game.

As more than one pointed out, big hits often bring as much attention to
hockey on sports highlight shows as pretty goals.

"There's lots of hitting in the game, everyone wants the hitting to
continue," said Minnesota Wild GM Doug Risebrough. "We want to make sure that
the hitting is done in a tactical way at the body."

The GM's also discussed discussed having bigger nets and instituting
four-on-four overtime during the playoffs, but neither issue was met with much

Risebrough was one of the general managers interested in bigger nets before
the meeting. "It was discussed but I can say there was not a great appetite
to deal with it right now," he said. "I would even put myself in - a guy who was
supportive - is not as supportive.

"I like what we have right now. There's been a lot of changes and sometimes
they don't amount to more goals."

Some GM's were open to the idea of playing overtime games in the playoffs
with four skaters on each team in an effort to avoid games dragging on into the
night. However, not enough were interested to recommend a change to the rules.

Vancouver and Dallas played into a fourth overtime during the first round
of the playoffs before
Henrik Sedin scored to give the Canucks a win in the sixth-longest NHL game ever.

"I don't mind the fact that we played five-on-five for a long period of
time before we finally ended the game," said Canucks GM Dave Nonis. "People
talked about that game for a long time and that's not necessarily a bad

This is an issue the GM's, the players and the owners definitely need to examine and ultimately fix. I know my stance may not be popular with traditionalists (like myself), but I see a problem here in the NHL and I think it needs to be fixed.

I'm all for old-school hockey and big, crunching hits. But it was not too long ago that the league removed hip-checks from the game because too many players were getting hurt. For years, players used hip-checks regularly--but there weren't as many injuries for whatever reason. Who didn't love watching a wicked hip-check delivered on a guy? I loved it. But, throughout the 90's, not every player was executing the move properly--some were accidents, some had some intent to injure--and, as a result, we saw a rise in knee injuries. Million dollar athletes being shelved, some for a season at a time, rehabbing their torn MCL's, ACL's, and every other part of the knee that was damaged.

The NHL recognized the rise of a serious issue and dealt with it. The same thing is happening here.

Head shots are an issue now. And it must be fixed, now.

Elbows to the head, cross checks to the head, headshots--these aren't new to the NHL. But, the injuries occuring from them are becoming more severe. Players are bigger, stronger and the equipment is harder and bigger. Some players are executing head shots accidentally, some are aiming high with intent.

Players aren't stupid. They know that--with their size, the speed of the game and the physicality of the sport--hitting someone in the head can have a very disasterous result. The NHL had the same problem with hits from behind. It was becoming an epidemic, and the NHL acted. They implemented "boarding" calls or hits-from-behind penalties. In pee-wee hockey, kids had stop signs sewn on the backs of their jerseys to teach kids to respect your opponent when his back is turned and to ease up, to lay off the hit from behind.

Hits to the head are becoming an epidemic, the new version of hitting from behind. There appears to be a lack of respect among players creeping into the game and it's evident when a player throws an elbow to the head of another player, or slams a players face into the glass with his forearms.

I'm a big supporter of physical, hard-hitting hockey. But I've seen too many hits to the head this year that have lead to concussions and other injuries--hits that still could have been executed without aiming, purposely or not, for the head.

The NHL has penalties for kneeing, for boarding and I hope they create a penalty for a headshot.

Let's not kid ourselves--hockey is a fast-paced, physical game. Hits to the head will happen whether you legislate them or not. Players have a split second to make a decision and sometimes they make the wrong one, or sometimes it's purely accidental. But, penalizing hits to the head will help decrease the amount of headshots that are happening (it won't make them completely disappear) and it will force players who are doing it on purpose to think otherwise.

From a business standpoint: these are million dollar athletes; they are pieces of property with tremendous value. Owners and GM's don't want to see their investments in doctors offices. They want to see them on the ice, doing what they can to win a championship for the organization. Your investment is no good when they are sidelined with post-concussion syndrome or a broken facial bones.

From a personal standpoint: these athletes are human beings. They are somebody's sons. Some are fathers. Playing professional sports is a risk, especially in a fast paced physical game like hockey. But the NHL owe's it to these people to minimize the risks when possible.

Players are going to keep getting better, bigger, stronger and faster. Now is the time to adress this problem. I'm not saying to legislate hitting out of the game. Creating a minor penalty, or a double minor penalty for a headshot might be a start in the right direction. Repeat offenders would be subjected to harsher punishment (fines and suspensions that elevate after X amount of offenses). As Risebrough stated, "we want to make sure the hitting is done in a tactical way to the body." Penalizing hits to the head will not eliminate hitting or hard, physical play from the game. Hip-checking is no longer part of the game and the game is still as physical.

Headshots are an issue now. They aren't becoming an issue, they ARE the issue. And the NHL needs to come up with a way to regain control of this epidemic, to minimize the chances of this happening as often as it has been.

RWC's Top 20 Red Wing Prospects

With the signing of Ritola and Ryno, the trade of Shawn Mattais to Florida in the Bertuzzi deal and the fluxuation of various prospects, it was time to update the rankings of the Wings top prospects. Matthew Wuest at RWC has updated their Top 20 prospects list for the Detroit Red Wings:

Goaltender Jimmy Howard remains No. 1 in’s end-of-season ranking of Detroit Red Wings prospects. Howard, who grabbed the No. 1 spot from forward Igor Grigorenko at mid-season, narrowly edged second-ranked Jakub Kindl, a defenseman with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers. Grigorenko, who plays for Lada Togliatti of the Russian Elite League, is third.

Howard, 23, is coming off his sophomore year in the American Hockey League with the Grand Rapids Griffins. He went 21-21-3 and posted six shutouts, a 2.70 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. When is the 2003 second-round pick expected in Detroit? “He’s ready, but his play (in training camp) is going to dictate how ready he is,” Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said. “He had a good year. There have obviously been a few bumps here and there, but he’s improved. It’s going to be a big training camp for him. “The thing with him is, is he better to be playing 20 to 30 games in the NHL or to be playing 60 in the AHL? Whether it’s the NHL or AHL, he’s got to be playing. There’s no sense in having him on the bench.” Where he plays will be partially determined by Dominik Hasek's retirement decision, which is expected in the near future.

Ontario Hockey League wingers Jan Mursak (fourth) and Cory Emmerton (fifth) round out the top-five ranking. Howard, Grigorenko and defensemen Kyle Quincey (seventh) and Derek Meech (11th) are the prospects on the list closest to playing in the NHL, but all four can go to the AHL without having to clear waivers.

Here’s a look at the top 20.
1. Jimmy Howard, G, 6-0, 215, Grand Rapids (AHL), 49 GP, 2.70 GAA, .911 SPCT. Howard is still Detroit’s goalie of the future. He’s still a pup in goalie years, having turned 23 in March. He’s made great strides in two minor-league seasons and the Red Wings are willing to remain patient.
2. Jakub Kindl, D, 6-3, 202, Kitchener (OHL), 54-11-44-55-142. Kindl finished second to Marc Staal for the OHL’s most outstanding defenseman award. He has great size and a pile of offensive talent, and should step in as a top-four AHL defenseman with Grand Rapids next season.
3. Igor Grigorenko, RW, 5-10, 209, Togliatti (RUS), 49-14-13-27-71. The fiercely competitive winger has terrific skills and smarts. His foot-speed and ability to adjust to the NHL pace are his only question marks, but the Red Wings are hoping he will crack their roster in the fall.
4. Jan Mursak, LW, 5-11, 173, Saginaw (OHL), 62-27-53-80-50. Mursak’s speed and spunk will push the prospects ranked ahead of him next season, especially if he hits the weight room in the summer. His strong showing in the AHL playoffs was indication of his bright future.
5. Cory Emmerton, C, 6-0, 190, Kingston (OHL), 40-29-37-66-22. He’s a complete player who thinks the game brilliantly. He missed a lot of time with a broken ankle this season and needs to get stronger and faster, but should challenge for the OHL scoring title next season.
6. Justin Abdelkader, LW, 6-1, 209, Michigan State (NCAA), 38-15-18-33-91. He’s big, he’s strong and he bangs. To top it off, he’s great skater with untapped offensive potential. He led Michigan State to an NCAA title and could be a third-line staple for Detroit in three years.
7. Kyle Quincey, D, 6-2, 215, Grand Rapids (AHL), 65-4-18-22-126. There was nothing outstanding about Quincey’s season until injuries hit the Red Wings and he stepped into the NHL for 13 playoff games. He played well and is ready for NHL duty as a sixth or seventh defenseman.
8. Darren Helm, C, 6-0, 182, Medicine Hat (WHL), 59-25-39-64-53. Blazing speed and terrific work ethic define his game. His skills are vastly underrated, too. Helm won a WHL title and a world junior gold medal this season, and will make the jump to the AHL in 2007-08.
9. Jonathan Ericsson, D, 6-5, 218, Grand Rapids (AHL), 67-5-24-29-102. He’s huge, gritty and has terrific raw skills, but he hit a wall at mid-season in his first year in North America. At 23, he has a lot of development ahead, but he looks like a real find and his upside is undeniable.
10. Johan Ryno, LW, 6-5, 209, Timra (SWE), 39-5-6-11-22. Except for one dynamite 11-game stretch (four goals, five assists), Ryno didn’t do much this season. But that stretch, combined with his size and skill, got him a contract, and the Red Wings hope he rewards them down the road.
11. Derek Meech, D, 5-11, 197, Grand Rapids (AHL), 67-6-23-29-40. He evolved into an AHL all-star and saw time in four NHL games. He might be ready for an NHL job, but the Red Wings’ defensive depth may force Meech back to the AHL for another year of seasoning.
12. Daniel Larsson, G, 6-0, 170, Djurgardens (SWE), 24 GP, 2.53 GAA, .910 SPCT. The technically-sound stopper had a solid rookie year in the Swedish Elite League and should get even more starts in 2007-08. If he performs well, the Red Wings won’t hesitate to sign him.
13. Dick Axelsson, LW, 6-2, 198, Huddinge (SWE-2), 25-13-8-21-113. He might have as much offensive upside as anyone in the system. He had a good year at Sweden’s second level but his true test is next season -- his Swedish Elite League rookie campaign with Djurgarden.
14. Evan McGrath, C, 6-0, 195, Grand Rapids (AHL), 59-6-8-14-41. McGrath’s AHL rookie year was a disappointment. He didn’t earn the trust of his coaches and struggled for ice time. He can bounce back, but needs to work on his conditioning and defensive play.
15. Mattias Ritola, RW, 6-0, 198, Leksands (SWE-2), 23-1-4-5-4. He’s a speedy winger who can dangle and that’s why the Red Wings signed him, even though he’s coming off two sub-par years in Sweden. Now, it’s Ritola’s job to work harder and shake the enigma tag.
16. Anton Axelsson, LW, 6-0, 187, Frolunda (SWE), 52-5-7-12-14. Axelsson had a decent year, but didn’t get see ice time on Frolunda’s top two lines. He’s entering a contract year and hopes that a transfer to Timra will help him get the ice time needed to post breakthrough numbers.
17. Logan Pyett, D, 5-11, 198, Regina (WHL), 71-14-48-62-84. He finished fourth among WHL defensemen in scoring and could follow a similar development path to Toronto Maple Leafs blueliner Nathan White. Another strong year will go a long way toward helping him land a contract.
18. Gennady Stolyarov, RW, 6-4, 203, Dynamo Moscow (RUS), 37-6-3-9-39. Stolyarov was mostly forgotten before putting together a decent Russian Elite League rookie year. He’s entering his contract year, and more consistency might get the big, skilled winger signed.
19. Ryan Oulahen, C, 6-0, 190, Grand Rapids (AHL), 79-11-16-27-42. The defensive ace took another step forward in his development, showing he can do a little bit of everything in the AHL. Like Matt Ellis, don’t be surprised if Oulahen one day lands an NHL call-up.
20. Sergei Kolosov, D, 6-4, 187, Cedar Rapids (USHL), 51-1-10-11-79. There is plenty of intrigue around Kolosov -- he’s a big, mean hitter who flies below the radar. The Red Wings have another year to sign him, and they’ll let him play in Europe or the East Coast Hockey League until then.

Chelios: PA To Meet With MLB, NBA Players' Association Leaders

Posted by George James Malike from
June 05, 2007 08:46AM

According to Red Wings defenceman Chris Chelios, MLBPA director Don Fehr, MLBPA general counsel Michael Weiner, and former NBA PA director Charles Grantham will meet with the players in Toronto this month to discuss the PA's future:

June 5, Globe and Mail: The plan is for Fehr, Weiner and Grantham to help the NHLPA plot its future without former executive director Ted Saskin, who was fired with cause last month. Taking part in the meeting will be as many NHLPA player representatives as available, along with any players in the Southern Ontario area who wish to attend.

"I met with [Fehr, Weiner and Grantham] and we'd be crazy not to listen to these guys," said Detroit Red Wings defenceman Chris Chelios, whose dogged questioning of Saskin's hiring and in-office tactics led to his ouster. "Major League Baseball has the best union in sports and they're willing to help us."

Chelios said the three union officials, current and past, are willing to lend their expertise to help the NHLPA regain its stature as a unified and viable front. The rationale is that a weak union in one professional sport can undermine a union's bargaining position in another.

"If one sport gives something up, others follow, like the National Football League," Chelios said. "[What if NHL officials say] why not do what the NFL did and have no guaranteed contracts? I think there should be interaction within the unions. It's important."

The Globe and Mail's Alan Maki says that the PA will have to wait until August to hear the results of Shiela Block's investigation into Ted Saskin's regime as the PA's executive director, and it's then that Chelios may truly feel some vindication for his struggle against Saskin:

"I'd say about 85 per cent of the guys don't know what happened with the executive committee and Ted Saskin," Chelios said. "The more who know, the better it is because once they understand they'll feel as strongly as I do. We have to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Lilja Emerges As Pleasant Playoff Surprise

There were a lot of surprises during the Red Wings exciting run through the Stanley Cup playoffs. The most pleasant surprise, arguably, was the solid performance from veteran defenseman Andreas Lilja—a player many fans, including myself, weren’t expecting much from.

After all, this was a season that saw Lilja, 31, only play in 57 games, his lowest total since playing with Los Angeles in 2001-02 (26). He failed to register a goal and only had 5 assists for 5 points. This was the first season Lilja was held goalless since his rookie season in 2000-01 (Lilja only played in 2 games that season).

That’s not surprising given that Lilja’s game has never been based on offense, but the Wings organization and fans would liked to have seen some contribution offensively, as limited as it might have been. He was, however, a plus player with a respectable +6 and he kept his penalty minutes under control with 54. Before the season started, Coach Mike Babcock proclaimed Lilja was “the teams most improved player.” But on many nights during the regular season, Lilja was the odd man out—the seventh defenseman.

Lilja signed with the Red Wings before the 2005 season from Nashville. Coming to Detroit capped off a wild and scandalous year for the Swedish born defenseman. The lockout year didn’t start well for Lilja. During the lockout year, Lilja—like many NHL players—played overseas. Lilja played for the Swedish club Mora. In February 2005, a 22-year-old woman accused Lilja, along with NHL players Henrik Tallinder and Kristian Huselius, of raping her in her hotel room. Police opened an investigation into the trio on suspicion of sexual exploitation.

In March, one month later, after police dropped the charges due to lack of evidence, a special prosecutor re-opened the case. As a result of this new investigation, Lilja, Tallinder and Huselius were suspended from the Swedish national team for one year. In addition, Lilja was released outright by Mora for the rest of the season. All three admitted they had consensual sex with the woman, but they never raped her. In June, after a lengthy investigation, the special prosecutor cleared the trio when the prosecutor’s office could find no evidence that the three players forced the woman to have sex.

Before his release from Club Mora, Lilja had three goals and eight assists in 44. He played 11 games for Sweden, scoring three goals.

Despite seeing sporadic playing time during the regular season, Lilja would be called upon to be the reliable, stay-at-home defenseman that the Wings needed. He would also be called upon to elevate his physical game—to utilize his size on a depleted defensive corp. The loss of two of Detroit's top four defensemen in Nicklas Kronwall and Mathieu Schneider was a major blow. Lilja would indeed be called upon. Simply put, Lilja answered the call.

Because of the injuries to Kronwall and Schneider, Lilja went from being a spare playing sporadically; to being one of the Wings top four defenders and playing in all 18 of the Wings playoff games. He averaged nearly 19 minutes (66th among defensemen) per game in the playoffs, a considerable increase from his regular season average of 15:14 (191st among defensemen).

In an area that was desperately lacking from the Wings—a strong, physical defensive presence—Lilja really stepped up his game. He led all Red Wings in hits with 55 and was second behind Sammy Pahlsson at the conclusion of the Western Conference Finals.

Then there’s that one blemish, that black-eye that will forever live in the minds of Red Wings fans and Lilja himself: “The Giveaway." It is the play that may very well have turned around the series. Lilja attempted to skate up the middle, in front of Hasek, when the puck bounced over his stick blade and right onto the tape of Duck’s forward Teemu Selanne. The rest is history. This was one area where Lilja struggled throughout the playoffs. He had 23 giveaways (third worst on the team).

Sure, Lilja made a mistake. A bad bounce, a great move by a talented forward and the game was over. But, to Lilja’s credit, he owned up to it in the locker room and addressed the media openly and honestly. And let’s not forget, in that same game, Lilja scored his first and only goal of the playoffs—and at the time, a very big goal. Had it not been for a fluky deflection off Lidstrom’s stick in the final seconds of regulation, it would have been the game winner.

Andreas Lilja was, in my opinion, the biggest positive surprise for the Red Wings this postseason. He made $1 million this past season and is another prime example of a Red Wing player whose on ice play far exceeded the value of his contract. This is what you want from your lower paid players in a salary cap system. Lilja truly gave the Red Wings the biggest bang for their buck. He exceeded everybody’s expectations with his smart, strong, physical play. As each playoff game wore on, you could add another label to Lilja: reliable. Lilja recognized the opportunity before him and he seized it.

Once the playoffs started, Lilja became a valuble part of the Wings deep playoff run. Was Andreas Lilja brilliant in these playoffs? No. Are there areas of his game that still need work? Yes. But did anyone, including die hard Red Wings fans and the “experts,” anticipate or expect a journey-man, No. 7 defenseman who played only a litte more than half of the regular season to emerge as one of the Wings more solid players on a lineup with future Hall of Famers? No way.

Over the course of 18 intense, grueling playoff games, one player surprised me more than the rest. Perhaps that earlier proclamation from Babcock came to fruition during this Stanley Cup Playoff run: Andreas Lilja really was “the teams most improved player.”

Saturday, June 2, 2007

THN: Goal Breakdown-Wings Vs. Ducks (WCF)

In a segment called Goal Breakdown, THN anaylzed where on the ice the Ducks scored against Detroit and where in the net they put it:

Through five games of the Western final, the Ducks weren't picky when it came to trying to score on Wings goalie Dominik Hasek. But that changed in Game 6 when Anaheim found a spot it liked, and went with it. The Ducks scored all four goals with shots on the ice: three of which were due to Hasek being out of position and Detroit's defense not getting to rebounds.

The Ducks made their presence felt around the net as only one goal, Getzlaf's Game 4 winner, came from beyond the top of the faceoff circles. Only one goal all series, a Rob Niedermeyer deflection off a Pronger blast in Game 6, was tipped in.

I made a diagram, since none was available on the internet:

(click for a larger view)

Goal Key:
1. Game 1-Kunitz scores off the rush
2. Game 2-Rob Niedermeyer one-times quick pass
3. Game 2-McDonald knocks in rebound, barely
4. Game 2-Moen's shot slides in on top of Hasek
5. Game 2-Scott Niedermeyer snipes after pass from brother Rob
6. Game 4-Perry blasts it in far side
7. Game 4-Jackman 28-foot wrister
8. Game 4-Selanne golfs bouncing puck
9. Game 4-Getzlaf's long wrister find top shelf
10. Game 4-Rob Niedermeyer empty-netter
11. Game 5-Scott Niedermeyer's shot deflects of Lidstrom's stick
12. Game 5-Selanne OT backhander after Lilja turnover
13. Game 6-Rob Niedermeyer deflects Pronger blast
14. Game 6-Perry pots rebound
15. Game 6-Getzlaf scores in scrum
16. Game 6-Pahlsson buries rebound

Goals 14, 15 and 16 illlustrate my point that I made in the my blog Net Front Domination: One Reason Why The Wings Lost. These three goals were scored in a scrum or a rebound that landed next to, or underneath, our goalie. Dom was out of position on the first goal in Game 6, as the article states. But it also states something that was painfully obvious--that the Detroit defense was unable to clear the rebounds, clear the crease or neutralize the Ducks in front.

There is another illustration in the magazine that shows where on the ice the Ducks players scored from. 6 goals came from directly in or on the edge of the crease. And as the article states, only one goal came from behind the face off circles. Every goal but one was concentrated in the faceoff circles, between the hash marks or directly in front of Dom.

THN: Article on Red Wings Front Office

Ken Campbell wrote an interesting piece about the Red Wings front office and management in this week's issue of The Hockey News:

It won’t be this summer and it might not happen for another year or two, but the day is definitely coming when the Detroit Red Wings will have to start playing nice and begin to share their embarrassment of riches with the rest of the NHL.

Because this is starting to get ridiculous. While there are a good number of teams—such as oh, let’s see, Phoenix and Columbus—that have floundered for years because of bad management, the Red Wings have all the good hockey people to themselves and that has to stop.

I mean, come on, Ken Holland, recently ranked as the No. 1 GM in the NHL by The Hockey News, will celebrate his 25th anniversary with the Wings next season. Assistant GM Jim Nill, who continually takes third-round picks and makes them front-line players, has been with the Wings for 13 years. Senior vice-president Jimmy Devellano, Holland’s mentor, has been in Detroit 25 years and Scotty Bowman, who will continue consulting with the Wings until he dies at the age of 107, has been there 14 years.

That’s 25 Stanley Cup rings for those of you keeping score at home.

So all the Wings needed last summer was for Steve Yzerman to walk into Holland’s office to tell him he was retiring and that he wouldn’t mind having a copy of the keys to the executive bathroom. Then the guy goes out and wins a World Championship with Team Canada on his first try. Yes, putting together an all-star roster with the deepest talent pool in the world is nothing like running an NHL team, but you have to think Yzerman has a little something going here. Canada went 9-0 in the tournament and who knew about Jay McClement?

The Red Wings have three Stanley Cups in the past decade and 16 straight playoff appearances largely because the members of the front office work so well together and are essentially without ego, but realistically how long can three men—Holland, Nill and Yzerman—who are capable GM’s continue to work for the same team?

The answer lies with Yzerman, who spent this season learning and absorbing everything he could. What Yzerman has to decide after making almost $70 million during his career is whether he wants to put in the heavy lifting it takes to become a GM in the NHL.

As involved as Yzerman was with the Wings this season, he also used this year to spend time traveling and vacationing with his family, and you simply can’t do that as a hockey executive when your itinerary says you have to be in Binghamton for a Friday night American League game before flying to Medicine Hat for a Sunday afternoon Western League game.

If Yzerman indeed wants to become the Wings version of Joe Dumars, he’ll have to spend a couple of years slogging it out like everyone else.

It was the same question Doug Gilmour faced this season when he became a professional development advisor with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It took him only a couple of scouting trips to realize he’s not cut out for management and his future probably lies in coaching. And it will be the same decision former stars such as Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Joe Nieuwnedyk and Mark Messier will face as they dream of becoming hockey executives.

What these guys have to realize is that, as a GM, you can’t go off to the cottage for a couple of months in the summer. Sure, you might be able to squeeze in a week or two, just as long as you bring along your cell-phone, laptop, and fax machine and a re prepared to leave on a moment’s notice. Oh yeah, and you also will have to do work every single day.

And what to do with Nill? Both the Coyotes and Blue Jackets asked the Wings for permission to speak to Nill about their GM vacancies, but it was denied by the Wings in both cases.

Nill still has three years remaining on his contract with the Wings and with an annual salary of above $600,000, he makes more than some GM’s in the league. He is treated very well by the organization, including receiving a nice, shiny ring every couple of years.

Nill has never approached the Wings asking to be released and chances are, he knows what a good thing he has going and probably never will. But one of these days, a team will push very, very hard to get Nill and the Wings will have a difficult decision to make.

Yzerman, of course, could leave the Wings, but it’s highly unlikely. In fact, probably the only way Yzerman would go somewhere else would be if he were offered a situation similar to Wayne Gretzky’s in Phoenix, where he would have the power to make decisions, be the face of the franchise and part owner.

Or will Holland be the one who ultimately leaves Detroit? If Yzerman decides he wants to devote his life to being a GM, and he wants to do it in Detroit, look for Holland to step aside and take on a new challenge. If Holland were ever to leave the Wings, he would have his pick of jobs and going to the Maple Leafs in a role similar to the on Bryan Colanagelo has with the NBA’s Raptors would be an enticing proposition.

Of course, this is all fodder for another day, but that day is coming. Count on it

In my opinion, Yzerman is still several years away from becoming a full-time GM--if that's what he even wants to do in the first place--of an NHL team. I think what he did with Canada was excellent, but I think they'll continue grooming him via that route.

I could even see Yzerman becoming the GM of the Grand Rapids Griffins sometime down the road. He would be able to run an AHL team where he could familiarize himself with future Red Wing players. It's the best of both words. If Yzerman were to ever take of the Griffins GM position, he would be able to experience running a team and would be able to report to the Wings first-hand, intimate knowledge about Red Wing prospects. Whatever happens with Yzerman and the Red Wings will be very interesting.

Ken Holland, Jim Nill and Jimmy Devellano are without a doubt, the best trio working for an NHL team. Period. Their incorporation of scouting and development in Europe (when many NHL teams weren't looking at Europe at all), the talent they've been able to unearth all over the globe and the fact they've been able to rebuild a professional hockey team while remaining competitive is a real testament to their ability and their tremendous value to the organization.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Red Wings Sign Prospect Ryno

The Red Wings signed another prospect today: Johan Ryno, a right winger from the Swedish Elite league. Ryno signed a three year entry-level contract. The 6'5", 209 lb Ryno was drafted in the 5th round, 137th overall.

From Red Wings Corner:

“Mattias and Johan are two highly-skilled young players,” said Detroit assistant general manager Jim Nill. “They will attend our training camp this fall as a part of their continuing development towards the goal of playing for
the Red Wings in the NHL."

Ryno, who turns 21 June 5, played 39 games in the Swedish elite league this season -- his first in that circuit -- tallying five goals and 11 points.

Hockey's Future ranks Johan Ryno 3rd out of 20 for the Red Wings Top 20 Prospects. They give him a 7.5 rating with a letter grade of C. A 7.5 rating is for players not quite good enough to play on the top line or pairing on a regular basis, but still possessing enough talent to contribute offensively. Think Andrew Cassels or Jason Arnott.

A "C" rating is for a player who may reach potential, but could drop 2 ratings. This player has shown some flashes, but may ultimately not have what it takes to reach his potential. The potential rating is multiplied by 80 percent for depth chart purposes to show the uncertainty of a player reaching his potential.

Hockey's Future analysis:

Ryno had a very good season in Division-1 in 2004-05 and was among the
leaders on his team in scoring. He more than doubled his goals and points from
last season.

Talent Analysis:
Ryno has tremendous size for a winger and is a solid skater. He does also
have respectable, but not spectacular puck skills. He has good attitude and is a
hard worker. Ryno isn´t afriad of using his size to his advantage. He has good
scoring touch and is dangerous around the net. He possesses above average hockey sense and uses his linemates well. has three stories about Ryno:

Aug. 8, 2005: Ryno 'has all the tools'
Feb. 5, 2007: Ryno turns season around
March 26, 2007: Wings may let Europeans develop at home

I am really excited at seeing how Ryno performs at training camp. The guy is 6'5", 200 lbs and is still filling out. From everything I've read, Ryno has offensive gifts but needs to work on his skating and aspects of his physical game.

This is a kid who will be fun watching develop. He is obviously highly-regarded by Holland and Nill and there will be plenty of time for him to develop all of his tools. This could be a player who could really help the Wings in the future.

Training Camp Tickets On Sale

From The Traverse City Record-Eagle:

TRAVERSE CITY — Tickets for the Detroit Red Wings training camp will go on sale Saturday, June 2nd, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Centre ICE.

This will be the 10th year for the Wings in Traverse City. Players will report on Sept. 13 for physicals and a golf outing. On-ice activities begin Sept. 14 and run through Sept. 18.

The camp will feature as many as 60 players. They'll be divided into three teams. The first three days of camp will consist of intrasquad games and on-ice workouts from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Tickets are $15 each. On Sept. 17, the top players compete in the annual Red & White game at 6 p.m. ($25). The camp ends on Sept. 18 with a unique 4-on-4 intrasquad game at 5 p.m. Tickets for the 4-on-4 game are $10, which includes a hot dog and soda.

I've always wanted to go the the training camp in Traverse City. Yet, every year my band has a show that weekend, most of the times out of state. Hopefully, I will be able to attend this year and examine some of our prospects in action.

I'd like to see Jimmy Howard, Igor Grigorenko, Cory Emmerton, Jan Mursak, Jonathan Ericsson, Darren Helm and our other prospects. Ericsson almost made the team last year with his strong training camp, so I'm curious to see what he beings to the camp this year.

Not to mention, the possibility of seeing Ryan Smyth in the red and white. Or maybe the return of one of the original Russian 5 members, Slava Kozlov. Maybe we'll see rival Scott Hartnell from Nashville wearing the winged-wheel. It will be interesting to see which UFA(s) Holland brings in to bolster our lineup.

Either way, my goal is to get to this training camp and to start blogging about it.

Red Wings Sign Swedish Prospect Ritola

The Wings have some decisions to make regarding their list of prospects. Today, that list got a little shorter. The Red Wings signed Swedish forward Mattias Ritola to a three-year entry-level contract. Ritola was drafted by Detroit 103rd overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Matthew Wuest from has a nice summary on Ritola:

The 6-foot, 198-pound right-winger is one of 10 prospects the Red Wings
must sign or relinquish the rights to on Friday.

Ritola, 20, spent most of this season with Leksands at Sweden's second level, recording a goal and four assists in 23 games. He is known for his offensive ability but criticized for his inconsistency. He is expected to come to training camp in the fall but could spend another year developing in Sweden, depending on how things go.

Hockey's Future ranked Ritola 17th out of 20 for the Red Wings Top Prospects. They give him a 6.0 and a D on their grading scale. A 6.0 is the grade they give to a player they project to be a third line player, similar to Kris Draper. A "D" letter grade, according to Hockey Future's system, is for a player who has a chance to reach his potential but is unlikely to do so. The potential rating is multiplied by 70 percent for depth chart purposes, indicating that the player’s potential is extremely fluid.

Here's Hockey Future's analysis on Ritola:

Talent Analysis: Some have questioned Ritola’s attitude, while others have
stated the opposite. What is certain is that Ritola is a creative player with
soft hands, good hockey sense and good penalty-killing skills. His scoring touch
could use some improvement, though

Future: Ritola has been a huge disappointment in all kinds of ways. Drafted
as highly-skilled player who could be a future top 6 forward, he has been
bouncing around in the lower divisions in Sweden.Ritola has to find a steady
home where he can develop his game and mature at the same time. That has been a
big question for him so far. He doesn’t seem to have the mental strength to
learn how to use his talent on the ice. Ritola has natural ability, but somehow
that disappears many times on the ice and he seems lost. He could be a potential
signing in the offseason, but it remains to be seen if the Red Wings are willing
to gamble on him.

Here are Ritola's stats for the last two seasons in Sweden:

Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM
2005-06 Leksands IF SEL 30 0 3 3 10
2006-07 Arboga IFK Swe-1 3 1 0 1 2
2006-07 Leksands IF Swe-1 23 1 4 5 4

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Rollercoaster Year For Chelios

"Terrible" Ted Lindsay would be terribly proud of Chris Chelios.

His much publicized battle with player's union boss Ted Saskin lead to the discovery of corruption at the highest level; the discovery of a perverted version of the union Ted Lindsay helped organize. Yet, the player's union drama has been only a part of the rollercoaster season for the twenty-two year veteran of the NHL.

In many ways, the fact that Chelios, 45, is still playing in the NHL is astounding. But the aging defenseman, in excellent physical shape, was back for another season with Detroit.

Detroit resigned Chelios to a one year deal before the offseason with expectations that he would be a solid fifth or sixth defenseman. His ice time would be diminshed, but he was expected to focus on being more of a stay-at-home type defenseman. His presence and experience on the blueline would be valuable for his young partner Brett Lebda.

The 2006-07 season started out well for Detroit, but Chelios suffered a groin injury that forced him to miss six games. Once back in the lineup, Chelios proved he could still play at a competitive level. He still could be the nasty defenseman, but he picked his spots and instead focused on playing a positionally sound, stay-at-home game. The former three-time Norris trophy winner was still sharp at making the initial breakout pass and at times could still join the rush offensively (his slapshot shattered the glass in a game this season).

As the Red Wings continued to play well on the ice, Chelios' battle with NHLPA boss Ted Saskin
continued to heat up. In the early months of the season the war of words continued between the two in the press. In October, Saskin publicly responded to the lawsuit brought forth by Chelios,
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson and former player Trent Klatt.

"The claims issued in the complaint are the same claims that have been made repeatedly over the last 13 months by this tiny group," said Saskin to the Canadian Press. "These claims, including the offensive allegations of illegal conduct, are completely without merit as has already been demonstrated in many forums on a number of occasions."

Despite having the lawsuit thrownout by a federal judge in the United States, Chelios and his group of supporters continued to pursue the matter into Saskin's hiring and continued to apply pressure.

By the end of the first month of the regular season, the Red Wings were tied for the division lead with Nashville. The team was playing well and Chelios was making the most of his minutes. In the first season without Yzerman and Shanahan, the Wings were still a competitive team atop the standings. Afterall, this was supposed to be a transition year for the Wings. But with veteran players like Chelios in the fold, this team was able to remain competitive while rebuilding.

For Chelios, battles were raging not just on the ice, but off it as well. It couldn't have been easy to deal with the lawsuits, the naysayers, fellow hockey players-even teammates-questioning you, criticizing you behind your back, or maybe even to your face. Teammate Mathieu Schneider is the Players Association Vice President, and despite his concerns about Chelios' lawsuit, he claimed all things related to the lawsuit would stay out of the dressing room.

"Pretty much want to keep it out of the dressing room as much as we can," Schneider said. "It's an outside issue. Once the season started, we agreed that it's in everyone's best interest that we focus on our team and what's going on here."

While "business" may not have been talked about in the locker room, I'm sure there must have been tension at times. That tension may have existed on the ice when Chelios played opposite of the other players named in the lawsuit (Bill Guerrin and Trevor Linden). For all intents and purposes, Chelios became the face of a very public and heated witch hunt of a man who had yet to be proven guilty for any crime.

As 2006 came to a close, the Red Wings posted a 24-9-5 record and were feeling good about what they acomplished so far. Unfortunately, Chelios would suffer a tragedy that would affect him deeply. It would stay with him the rest of the season and through the playoffs.

In January, two employees of Chelios' bar, Cheli's Chili, were found brutally stabbed to death inside the restaurant. Chelios knew both employees personally and their deaths struck a heavy blow to the heart of the grizzled hockey player. Chelios, clearly shaken and distraught at a press conference, requested time off "indefinitely" to deal with the incident.

Chelios missed two games. One of those games was the Steve Yzerman jersey retirement night, January 2nd. It must have been tough for the seasoned Chelios to miss his friends jersey retirement ceremony--to be a part of a special night, a historical night--especially given the reason he had to miss it in the first place.

In March, the Toronto Star reported a story that NHLPA executives were illegally monitoring player emails. The battle between Chelios and the NHLPA, specifically Saskin, re-ignited with this stunning news. The Toronto police launched an investigation. What started out as a battle over the hiring procedures of a union head now became a criminal investigation.

The Wings continued to roll, piling on wins and by March 26th, the team was 46-19-11. That night, Chelios finally had something to smile about. USA Hockey honored Chelios for becoming the all-time leader in games played among American players. As the Joe Louis crowd stood and cheered, he was presented with a beautiful lithograph of him in his USA uniform, Red Wings uniform, Blackhawk uniform and Montreal Canadian uniform. Chelios surpassed Phil Housley's mark of 1,495 games.

On April 7th, the Red Wings finished the regular season, a top the Central division and second in the NHL with 113 points (50-19-13). For the first time since playing for Montreal in the 1983-84 season, Chelios failed to register a goal in the regular season. But the defenseman finished with 11 points and a +11. He also kept his penalty minutes down to a lowly 34 minutes.

As the playoffs started, Chelios was averaging 16 minutes per game. After Schneider and Kronwall went down with season-ending injuries, the 45-year old defenseman's minutes jumped from 16 to an average of 25 minutes per game. Not only that, he was seeing power play time. Clearly, the signing of Chelios during the offseason began to pay dividends. He went from being a sixth defenseman to a top four defenseman during the playoffs. Not only did he have to deal with increased minutes, he was paired with rookie defenseman Kyle Quincey. Chelios did a tremendous job with Quincey. When Quincey would make a rookie mistake, the veteran Chelios was right there to eliminate the threat or to turn the play up ice for the Wings. Again, the Wings had to be grateful they signed Chelios.

A day before the Wings opened their series against the Ducks, the NHLPA's executive board voted in favor of terminating Ted Saskin--a step toward vindicating Chelios. ''I doubt it's over,'' Chelios told The Canadian Press. ''We haven't heard from Ted yet. But it was a unanimous vote today, which was nice. We're all on the same page. We're moving forward.'' Since then, evidence has emerged that Saskin indeed accessed player emails among other illegal activities and violated privacy issues.

Does Chelios feel vindicated?

"I don't want to say vindicated," he said. "All along, I never said it was anything personal. It was just what was best for the union."

The Red Wings overcame injuries to two of its top four defensemen and made an impressive run to the Western Conference Finals before being eleminated by the Anaheim Ducks in six games. By any standard, Chelios had an excellent playoff. He lead the team in blocked shots with 33, and ranked third among defensemen in hits behind Lilja and Markov. Just as he was in the regular season, Chelios was a plus-player in the playoffs as well, finishing with a +7. He lead the Red Wings defensemen with that +7 and ranked fourth among all defensemen in the playoffs in the plus/minus category.

Chelios took the loss to Anaheim rough. His excellent playoff would be overshadowed by a momentary lapse in judgement that can be chalked up to nothing more than raw emotions. It is a tradition in the NHL to shake hands with the opponents who advance at the end of a series. If anyone respects tradition and the history of the NHL, it's Chris Chelios. But, as game six concluded and the Wings were eliminated, Chelios skated over to the Ducks bench and congratulated the coaching staff. He then went directly to the locker room, avoiding the respected handshake.

Chelios recieved criticism from all over the place, including from Red Wings fans. Ducks players, specifically Teemu Selanne, took shots at Chelios: "It shows what kind of guy he is," Selanne said. "It's easy when you have success to be a good guy. But when something happens and it gets tough, a couple of guys from Minnesota did it and now, he does it. I don't really care, you know. Maybe I'd like to say, 'Have a good summer.' "

After taking a few days, Chelios came forward with an explanation: "Nobody's bullet-proof," he said. "I'm the biggest believer in tradition, having honor and showing class. To be totally honest -- this is not an apology I couldn't lie -- with all sincerity, trying to keep it together in the last 20 seconds of the game realizing we were going to get knocked out, it was almost a blackout kind of thing going to the room, coming back and shaking hands with the coaches. Whether you're going to get sick and throw up or bawling your eyes out. It's a situation where I've found myself not being able to control my emotions maybe twice in my life. I mean this with all sincerity ... no disrespect to the Ducks, no animosity towards them ... I just couldn't control it. I don't want to get into the details."

Perhaps those details stem from the tragedy that took place at his bar. Maybe Chelios was playing this season for the memory of his two employees. Maybe Chelios promised the family members that he would win the Cup for them. It's never been said by Chelios, but I'm sure the emotions he felt at the end of the game were not solely tied to losing a hockey game.

"I've always done the right thing and tried to do the right thing," said Chelios. "Set a great example for the Detroit Red Wings and my family. I saw Selanne's quotes and I think he understands I've been through a lot off the ice as well as on the ice...which might have had something to do with it. In the last 20 seconds, a lot went through my head."

This incident was the culmination of a rollercoaster year for one of the greatest defenseman to play the game. It also shouldn't distract or taint the wonderful season Chris Chelios had for the Detroit Red Wings in the regular season and the playoffs. His value to the Red Wings and his strong play this season, along with leading the charge against the corrupted NHLPA, didn't go unnoticed. Chelios was named the recipient of the Mark Messier Leader of the Year Award for his outstanding performance as a player, his vast leadership skills and his dedicated humanitarian efforts.

"I don't have many regrets about my hockey career, but one might be never having had the opportunity to play with Chris Chelios," Messier said. "I have always admired his commitment and dedication to the game, and I have never heard a negative word spoken about him, which is a true testament to his character. In addition to his ability to lead his teammates both on and off the ice, he is an incredible ambassador for the game of hockey and a wonderful role model - totally committed to his community and giving back to those in need."

At the end of the day, Chris Chelios is just a person. Remove the professional athlete label and you still have a human being. The experiences, the tragedy, the triumphs, the vindication and the disappointment that Chelios endured this past season is difficult to deal with no matter what profession you hold in life. In one season, he went through a tremendous range of emotions--a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows.

"Terrible" Ted Lindsay would be terribly proud of Chris Chelios and not just for helping to clean up a corrupted players union. The outspoken, old-school Red Wing would be proud of the good player he still is on the ice, for the teammate he is in the locker room, for the honorable person he is in the Detroit community and for the way he handled a difficult, challenging year both professionally and personally.