Saturday, May 26, 2007

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)

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