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.

Osgood Succeeds In New Role

"The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings."
-Okakura Kakuzo, author.

The art of winning lies in a constant readjustment to your surroundings. After all, being able to adjust to adversity and to new surroundings is what can make a team successful. It can also make an individual player successful for years. Fail to make the necessary adjustments, and you lose.

Chris Osgood, the Red Wings backup goaltender, is a perfect example of an athlete who has dealt with some adversity--the fluky injuries and diminished playing time--, has readjusted his game to better himself and the organization and, in the process, is winning.

The Red Wings have arguably one of the best backup goalies in the NHL in Osgood. It couldn't have been easy going from a starter--playing 50-65 games a year, averaging over 3,000 minutes of playing time per season--to a backup, playing 20-25 games a year, averaging about 1,500 minutes per season. Everything gets cut in half--your games played and your minutes. Demotion is never easy, no matter what your profession.

Yet, Osgood, 34, has found a way to make the transition seem relatively easy. The Red Wings have a tremendous luxury and insurance policy in net by having Osgood as their backup netminder. I still hear the complaints and criticism about Osgood from time to time, but I can't help but think he is vastly overlooked in this town as an important part of the Wings present and future.

Osgood's stats for the last two seasons as a backup in Detroit:
2005-06 Detroit 32gp, 20-6-5, 2so, 2.76 .897%
2006-07 Detroit 21gp, 11-3-6, 0so, 2.38 .907%

Those are not bad numbers for a guy who is used to averaging two to three times the amount of games played. You want your backup goalie to be able to step in and give your team a chance to win, no matter how tough the opponent is. Every game during the regular season can help determine if you make the playoffs, you're seeding, your place in the division, your place in the conference, etc. So getting points out of every game is a must. In this past season, when Osgood appeared between the pipes, the Red Wings gained 28 points out of a possible 42, that means in 66% of the games Osgood plays, the Wings got at least one point. Those 28 points were critical to the Wings success this season, not only in their division, but for their seeding in the playoffs.

Osgood has demonstrated that he can still be that goalie who is capable of stealing a game and the goalie that still gives his team confidence in his ability. Some teams do not have that luxury. When their backup starts a game, you can see the lack of confidence the team has in their goalie. It's displayed in the way they play the game on the ice. Not so with Detroit. This Red Wing team has confidence in their backup goalie and he showed them why in his games against Nashville.

Last season, Detroit engaged in a fierce battle with Nashville for the Central division title. Most of the season, Nashville lead Detroit. Clearly, Nashville was the Wings toughest divisional opponent and one of the best teams in the Western Conference. Osgood played 4 games against the Predators. In those four games, against the Wings only real divisional opponent, Osgood was 3-1 and allowed 10 goals, roughly 2.5 goals per game--enough to win in the "new" NHL. With the Wings win on March 29th against the Predators, with Osgood in net, they tied Nashville for the division lead. This was an important game for the Wings and Osgood performed well. To me, that shows tremendous confidence in the backup goalie from the head coach.

Osgood showed up big and demonstrated to his teammates, the organization and the fans that he still can play big in big games. Critics will dismiss Osgood's play or call his numbers "inflated" because of playing in games against much weaker teams (i.e. St. Louis, Columbus, Chicago, etc). You cannot fault Osgood for winning games against teams he's supposed to win against. Osgood didn't select the games he played in, but he showed up and gave his teammates a very good chance of winning each one of those games. The four games against Nashville were pressure-filled games and, as it is evident throughout his career, Osgood thrives on and performs well under pressure.

In Osgood's last two seasons as a backup, he is 31-9-11 with a very respectable 2.57 GAA. He brings something to the position that many backup goalies struggle with: consistency.

Despite making it look easy, the transition from starter to backup hasn't come without its fair share of adversity. After being signed by Detroit in July of 2006, Osgood missed the beginning of the season with a hand injury that would persist throughout the season and ultimately cause him to miss 15 games. This injury, combined with it being his first year as a backup, clearly affected Osgood's rhythm and timing in '06. In 2007, Osgood was hampered by a bout with the flu (2 games) and a broken finger that caused him to miss 8 games.

If Osgood can have a healthy season, he is capable of playing 30-35 games for the Red Wings and given his recent history as a backup, is capable of winning games and piling up points.

Someone has been watching the Wings goaltending tandem of Hasek and Osgood closely. That someone is Jimmy Howard, by all accounts the Red Wings future goalie. He is projected to join the Red Wings for the start of 2008-09 season. Osgood is signed through next season at $850,000--a very good value in the cap era.

In 1994-95, the Red Wings were a competitive team with a young, promising goalie. But they had yet to win the Stanley Cup. That offseason, the Red Wings brought in veteran goalie Mike Vernon from Calgary, a Stanley Cup champion goaltender. He worked with the talented young Osgood both on and off the ice. He became a mentor for the young goalie. Vernon's mentoring had a positive effect on Osgood's game and it had a positive effect in the locker room.

Now it's time for Osgood to return the favor and the Wings have an excellent opportunity to make this happen. If the Wings plan on tabbing Jimmy Howard as the starter in 08-09, I think re-signing Osgood would be a smart play. He is a veteran goalie who knows what it takes to win championships and should be signable for a very reasonable amount of money.

Who better to mentor the young promising Howard than the once young and promising Osgood? In Osgood, the Red Wings have a former all-star goalie with 2 Stanley Cups, a Jennings Trophy and over 600 games of NHL experience. Chris Osgood is the second winningest goalie in Red Wings history, behind Terry Sawchuck with 336 wins. He has a career goals against average of 2.45 and a career save percentage of .907: both very respectable numbers.

But there's another attribute that makes Osgood so valuable and it's something that may prove to be most beneficial to the impressionable young Howard--mental toughness. Nobody knows better than Osgood what it's like to play goalie in Detroit. Nobody knows better than Osgood what it takes to survive and to be successful in a town where the target is painted clearly on your chest, night in and night out. The only position with more pressure and scrutiny in this town is the Lions quarterback.

Bob MacNamara, the Griffins GM, said Howard needs to continue to work on the mental aspect of his game: "The mental side was coming around for him," McNamara said. "He was getting better and better and I think he’s close. He has a little ways to go, but I think he’s close. He recognizes it’s part of his development." The Wings have the perfect player to help Jimmy when he makes the jump, if they chose to resign him.

When Osgood replaced Vernon in 1997-98 and lead the Red Wings to their second of back-to-back championships, he endured his fair share of moments that might have crushed other goalies psyche's. The 50-60ft. goals he allowed throughout that playoff run would have been enough to make many goalies tuck their tail between their legs and hide. Look at Manny Legace: he told reporters he wanted to hang himself after the Edmonton series in 2005. Tim Cheveldae was chased out of town by a chorus of boo's. Curtis Joseph experienced first hand the pressures of trying to win here in Detroit when he drew the ire of fans for the Wings loss to Anaheim in 2003. Despite making the Western Conference Finals, Hasek is hearing criticism from fans. Simply put: it comes with the territory. The last three goalies to win the Stanley Cup for Detroit are Hasek, Osgood and Vernon. All three had tremendous mental toughness and awareness. They thrived under pressure, relished a challenge and exhibited an ability to rebound and recover mentally after allowing a bad goal. It didn't phase them. It didn't mess up the rest of their game. They didn't fold. Instead, they stood tall, or better yet--they stood on their heads and as a result, won the ultimate prize.

And that's what makes Osgood's stock rise here in Hockeytown. Osgood will be a free-agent after next season. I'm sure he feels in his mind he can still be a full-time starter. And for some teams, he probably could. But there is an opportunity here for Osgood to continue his readjustment and to continue making a transition that will help the organization that drafted him. Osgood was instrumental in his role last season and he is a goalie who can still help us next year and in the immediate future.

The Red Wings have Jimmy Howard waiting in the wings, fine-tuning his game. There's no doubt that when he's called up, he'll be looking for some guidance, for some veteran leadership. Osgood brings a wealth of experience and is well-liked in the dressing room. He is a teammate that will work with Jimmy, not ignore him. He is a goalie who will challenge Jimmy to be better, because after all, Osgood is a competitor and he still wants to play full time minutes. He is the backup goalie who is backing it up. He is the kind of mentor that Vernon was to him and I believe he will relish the opportunity to help mold and shape the Wings best goalie prospect to come along since, well....Chris Osgood.

Quote taken from Red Wings Central article, "Prospects Watch: Howard May Need More Time" by Matthew Wuest.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Net-Front Domination: One Reason Why The Wings Lost

In my opinion, there were a couple of factors that lead to the Ducks defeating the Red Wings. Goaltending really wasn't the issue with our elimination as far as I'm concerned. It's very easy to point to the goalie position when you're team loses. So, I don't blame the criticism as misguided as it may be.

But I have a different take. Outside of the Wings inability to capitalize on their power player chances (especially the multiple 5 on 3's), I believe there was something else that the Anaheim Ducks did better than Detroit and to me, it's been overlooked and rarely been talked about. I believe this tactic factored in greatly with this series and ultimately helped Anaheim advance:The Ducks did a much better job of punishing opposing players in front of their own net.

Any time a Red Wing player came near that net, or JS Giguere, he paid a price. Beyond the usual punishment Holmstrom paid for parking his rear in the face of Jiggy, our guys got hammered, leveled, thrown to the ice, pushed outside, tied up or taken down--whatever it took. Even after the whistle, they made sure to make a statement: you come near our goalie or our net, you will pay a price.

Credit the Ducks--they were dominant in front of Giguere. Filppula wasn't even in on the scoring play but when he skated next to Giguere awaiting the puck, he was absolutley flatened. Give credit to the Ducks for something else--they didn't take a lot of penalties punishing the Wings. They were smart, but tough, brutally tough down low. I was impressed.

When Giguere gave up rebounds (which he did often) our guys couldn't get a second shot off, or at least a decent shot because they were paying a hefty phsyical price by trying to create traffic. The Anaheim defense converged immediately and physically moved or tied up the Red Wing players that crashed the net.

Three out of the four goals scored on us in Game 6 highlighted Detroit's ineffectiveness of doing the very same thing the Ducks were doing to them. Hasek made the original save, which is what you ask of your goalie. Rebounds dropped straight down, as opposed to carelessly being kicked out into traffic. The opportunity was there. We simply did not clear the traffic or make the Ducks pay a price for crashing the net.

Granted, we aren't the biggest team, but you don't need to hammer guys necessarily to neutralize them. Some players can do that because of their size and strength.. But, with our slightly smaller, less physical defense out there, we still had opportunites to tie them up, box them out and to use solid body positioning to neutralize the threat out front. We simply failed to do this most of the whole series.

There is no doubt that we definitely missed Schneider, more specifically, Kronwall in this series. This is one area where they could have helped. That doesn't mean they were the lone answers to the problem. Our defensemen--Lilja, Lebda, Chelios, Markov, Quincey--could have done a better job of neutralizing the Ducks forwards who had ample time and space to dig out pucks and tap them into the net. Perhaps the fatigue was starting to set in and our defensemen were conserving their energy. Missing two of your top four defensemen will bump every defensemen's minutes up and force them to go through more energy. Whatever the reason for it, we failed to neutralize the traffic--physically or with positioning--in front of Hasek.

In the playoffs, you simply cannot allow a team as talented as the Ducks to feel "comfortable" in front of your crease. I bet you Detroit didn't feel as comfortable when they tried to go after the rebounds and garbage Jiggy left out front. The Red Wings forwards knew they were going to take a beating. The Ducks forwards knew they could put up a tent, fire up a BBQ grill and lounge around the crease without fear of taking a beating at all.

How comfortable do you think Hasek felt when he made the saves, but had two, three, four guys standing around him digging, prodding, hacking, wacking at the puck? I can gaurantee you that Giguere felt comfortable knowing that, if he makes the intial save and gives up a rebound or can't find the puck, that his defensemen and, even some forwards, were going to protect that net and establish dominence out front. They were sent out there with a mission: punish and neutralize the Red Wing forwards if they crash the crease.

Nick Lidstrom is an amazing defensemen, the best in the league yet again. However, he cannot do it all. Nick is a smart player who plays a positional game over a physical game. He's not going to punish forwards parking in front of Dom. It's not his style. Instead, while we still have a brilliant Hall of Fame defenseman on our team, let's supply him and our goalie with another defenseman who will establish a physical presence out front. This team needs to go after a big, strong, SMART defenseman who will move and clear the traffic in front of our goalie. Give Nick some size and toughness in our own zone. I think it's fair to Lidstrom and our goalie next year to go after a defenseman who will take some of that pressure off our defensive corp; a defenseman who will make our goalie feel comfortable that he has someone who can protect the front of the net without taking a ton of penalties.

If we don't go and get a defensemen like this, then I expect our coaching staff to work with our current defensemen on improving this aspect of their game. Only one of our defenseman is under 6 feet tall. So, we have some size. It's playing physical or positionally out front that we need to work on. It's clearing the traffic. It's establishing dominance. It's making forwards pay a price. Our guys can do better at this aspect of the game.

Two seasons ago, one of the Wings most promising big, young defenseman-Jiri Fischer--collapsed on the bench and nearly died. Fischer was a big guy, a battler. He was strong and difficult to move off the puck. He made sure that players weren't too comfortable in or around our crease. Fischer was definitely missed this year, and in this series. We have another big defenseman in Grand Rapids--Jonathan Ericsson--who will be a Red Wing in a few seasons. His game is not quite as physical as Fischer's yet. So we do have players waiting in the Wings. Until they make their appearance in the red and white, the Red Wings could use another defensman like Jiri Fischer.

Bottom line:

Bringing in a big, strong, smart defensemen via free agency or trade, who's not afraid to bring a physical presence to the front of our net is important. I think this may be a piece of the puzzle that was missing from this years run. Granted, the loss of Schneider and Kronwall was huge. But, since Fischer went down, I think this is a component the Wings have been missing.

Next season, I would like the opposing forwards to feel uncomfortable in front of the Detroit net, instead of the goalie standing in it.

Hasek: The Wings Best Bet

Until you can find me a better goalie available, who's not going to cost us between 4 and 6 miillion dollars per year, Dominik Hasek is a must resign in my opinion. Count me in as one of the many skeptical fans during the 2006-07 offseason. Now, let's assume a couple of scenarios play out this offseason:

1. JS Gigeure, who will become a UFA when the Finals are over, will most likely be re-signed by the Ducks. If not, he will command a hefty contract, somewhere between 4.5 to 7 million per season (with the cap going up to $44 million). He is the best young goalie available on the list of UFA goalies, but the Wings chances of landing him are slim to none.

2. The argument for Hasek that I will make below is based on the presumption that Hasek returns for one more season. If he retires, then everything below is moot. I believe Dom will return to the Wings for one final push.

Below is a list of potential Unrestricted Free Agent goalies:
JS Giguerre, Brian Boucher, Joey MacDonald, Ty Conklin, Dominik Hasek, Ed Belfour, Sean Burke, Mathieu Garon, Nicklas Backstrom, David Aebischer, Karl Goehring, Scott Clemmensen, Mike Dunham, Kevin Weekes, Robert Esche, Curtis Joseph, Jocelyn Thiebault, Jean Sebastian Aubin, Danny Sabourin, and Wade Flaherty.

Not a very impressive list in my opinion.

Since the Red Wings were eliminated, the sports talk radio shows have been flooded with callers perfering that we do not re-sign Hasek; that we should move in another direction. The main argument is his age at the start of next season--43 years old. The number one solution is apparently to bring up the Wings goalie of the future, Jimmy Howard. Other than that it's simply, "get rid of Dom!"
Here are four reasons why Dominik Hasek is the ideal candidate to sign a ONE year deal for the Detroit Red Wings:
  1. Dom completely revamped his training and conditioning regiment to include a high intensity stretching program to keep his groin in top shape. It apprantly has worked. He' arguably in the best shape of some of our players and he is a health freak. This shows me he wants to win, he wants to be here, he wants a cup. He's doing his part off the ice to stay competitive.
  2. Babcock has a veteran backup in Osgood. The system they employed this year, to ensure Dom's health for the playoffs worked. They can do this again. Keep an eye on Dom during the regular season, monitor him closely and give Ozzie some playing time.
  3. I don't care if he IS 43 years old, the guy can obviously still play at a high competitive level. JS Giguerre couldn't believe how good Dom was for being that old, he said it in the post game of game 6. He can still stop pucks. His teammates say they've never seen a better and more competitive player at practices. He gives this team a chance to win almost every night. And with a couple of key parts to the puzzle, I think he can be the goalie we need to lead us to the finals and even win us the Cup next year.
  4. Opposing teams have a hard time game planning for Dom. Coach Ron Wilson, after the San Jose series, was asked about game planning for Dom and he echoes what many NHL coaches this season have said: "You can't", Wilson said. "He's so unorthodox. Most goalies in the NHL play a certain way, but Hasek doesn't. You can't be sure what he's going to do."
So, I ask those who do not want Hasek to return: Who do you guys want in net other than Jimmy Howard? I trust our scouting and development teams when they say they truly believe Jimmy isn't ready. “He’s much closer to the NHL (this year opposed to last year) but I hesitate to say he’s ready to go at this stage,” said Bob McNamara, general manager of the Grand Rapids Griffins. “The mental side was coming around for him,” McNamara said. “He was getting better and better and I think he’s close. He has a little ways to go, but I think he’s close. He recognizes it’s part of his development.” This comes from a guy who correctly predicted that Valteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler and Tomas Kopecky were ready to make the jump to the NHL.

And how much are you willing to pay for this goalie? Does anyone on that UFA list (assuming the Ducks re-up w/Giguere) compete with Dom in statistics, experience, mental toughness, etc?
Let's take a look at a goalie who we signed last year for 750 thousand dollars--which in the cap era, hell, any system is mighty impressive:

Regular season stats:
  • 56 games played (18th)
  • 38-11-6 record
  • 38 wins (7th)
  • 8 shutouts (2nd)
  • 2.05 gaa (2nd-more than 8 GP)
  • .913 sv% (13th-more than 8 GP)
06-07 Playoff stats:
  • 18 games played
  • 10-8 10 wins (currently 2nd)
  • 2 shutouts (3rd)
  • 1.78 gaa (3rd--more than 1 GP)
  • .923 sv% (9th)
The Detroit Red Wings tied for second for lowest team GAA in the league with New Jersey (2.30gaa). Only Minnesota had a better team GAA with a 2.20. Clearly, our starting goalie and our backup goalie are capable of keeping the Detroit Red Wings at the top defensively. Add to the fact that we have some good defensemen here, and might bring in another one via free agency, and I feel pretty good with Hasek and Osgood between the pipes. The guy finished in the top 10 in nearly every category...and he's 42. So what's one more year?

Now, if you want Dom gone, that's cool, I respect your opinion. But again, I ask--who would you want in net, how much are you willing to pay (because Dom came at one heck of a value), and what goalie on that UFA list (if we're not talking trade) would you want to play 55-65 games a year in Detroit?

Here's my plan: There's something about Detroit that Dom likes. I really believe he loves it here, the rich tradition of the Detroit Red Wings, the fans, the pressure of winning in this's something he thrives on. Dom likes a challenge. He hates to lose. These are the things that I want from a player. He WANTS to be here. He HATES losing. He has to be the best player in practice. He is competitive in everything he does. He said it again in his postgame interview--he really loves this city and this organization. Detroit was the one team he was willing to come out of retirement for: "I almost fell of my bike," joked Hasek. "I did not expect this phone call. I was totally surprised. But if I was going to come back and play in the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings were the one team that I was interested in playing for."

When we had the problems with CuJo, Manny and Dom, and all the drama that went down, Dom returned the rest of his salary to the organization--which totaled above $3 million dollars. Ken Holland stated in interviews that that gesture proved a lot to him and the organization about what kind of guy Dom is. "Ken, I didnt come back for the money," Hasek said. "I know I put you in a bad situation with Manny and Curtis. I came back to try to help this team win. Right now, I can't do that. I don't want to be paid another dime of my salary until I walk into this office and tell you I'm 100% ready to get back on the ice." Holland responded to this conversation he had had with Dom in 03. "How many players do that?" Holland said. "From that, I know that money isn't the motivation for Dom. When he's telling me that it's not about the money, it;s about winning the Stanley Cup, my history tells me to believe it. And when I think about Dom practicing that day in Carolina, being the only player to show up for an optional player practice after that long Game 4 that lasted to the wee hours of the morning, I remember his passion."

I don't care what happened in Ottawa between him and then-back up goalie Ray Emery and that organization. Ottawa is not Detroit. It doesn't come close and the two organizations will never be confused. I don't think Dom holds those two organizations in the same regard either. D Dom realized he was wrong with how he handled the situation, he messed up and gave back his salary to the team. He walked away from that remaining $3 million. Just like it does for Kenny, it also speaks volumes to me.

The players, the captain, the coach and the GM have all stated publicly that they A) believe Dom was the reason we got as far as we did and B) would love to have him back for ONE more year. This week, the Detroit Red Wings nominated Hasek for the Bill Masterson trophy--awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. His teammates nominated him. One Red Wing, who may not even return to the club--Todd Bertuzzi--had this to say about Hasek: "When you’ve got the best goaltender in the world, you want to see him back. … Obviously everyone who’s coming back is pulling for him to come back."

Having two goalies, with a combined 3 stanley cups, a wealth of playoff experience and the mental makeup to withstand the pressure of playing goalie in this town for UNDER three million dollars in the cap era is a tremendously good value. And with the cap going up, if we can resign Dom (after giving him a raise for his play) to a similar deal, we can use this extra cash that is not tied up in goaltending to address other parts of our team (defensemen, forwards). Holland stated this week that he will have between 10 and 13 million dollars to sign a goalie, three defensemen and two forwards.

If Ken Holland can:
  1. Structure a contract that is similar to last seasons, with a low-moderate base pay and incentives based on playoffs and performance
  2. Get clearance from our training staff and Dom regarding his overall health and the condition of his groin
  3. Make sure Dom is continuing with his stretching, strength and conditioning programs during the offseason

...then I would be fine for bringing him back for ONE more year. If he gets injured, we have a very reliable back up in Chris Osgood, who is also making less than a million dollars (850K) and can play 30-35 games. We can call up Jimmy Howard in an emergency if need be or another goalie.

Red Wing fans need to rethink their criticism of Hasek, a guy who performed exceptionally during the regular season and had a damn good playoff run for a team that wasn't even supposed to get that far.

In 2008, no matter what happens with Dom, I say thanks for your service in Detroit Mr. Hasek and I move on. I bring up Howard, I resign Osgood (because I think he would be a valuable mentor to Jimmy on and off the ice, he understands the pressure of this town, he's a good teammate and he wouldn't cost much against the cap) and I strengthen the rest of my team, particularily my defense if need be. So, it's clear, I'm not asking Detroit to sign Dom for more than one year.

If you don't want Dom, fine....who do you want? Who would you sign from the available UFA list? Would you trade for a goalie? How much would you pay our new goalie? How many years do you want to sign this goalie for? These are the questions you must ask yourself. Sure, a lot of people want to see new blood on this team. It's easy to say "blow out all the old guys." But, there are some old guys who can outplay guys half their age--and Dominik Hasek is one of them.

I laid out my plan and who I am comfortable with. I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical but Dom proved me wrong big time. I couldn't believe they signed him last offseason and I was a bit angry for not pursuing Martin Biron or Martin Gerber. Again, he proved me wrong on all acounts. We're not talking long term, we're talking about one season and who gives you the best opportunity to win, right here, right now, with this team, this coach, this system.

He's the guy I feel most comfortable with playing goal in Detroit and the guy our current players feel most comfortable with playing goal in Detroit.

Quotes taken from the following sources:
Inside Hockeytown (May issue-2007)