Wings GM builds from blue-line out
Friday, May 23, 2008 | 08:21 PM ET
Most of the people picking Detroit to win this Stanley Cup Final do it based on some variation of the following theme:
“The Red Wings do a great job of protecting their goaltender. Their defence is almost impregnable.”
Apparently, there’s a pretty good reason for that.
“When I played, I wanted guys in front of me who could protect me,” Wings GM and former goaltender Ken Holland was saying on Friday. “I still believe in that.”
Holland was drafted 188th overall in 1975 by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Since moving to the front office, his basic philosophy is “Draft skill, pay defencemen.”
The Red Wings’ success with later-round picks is well-documented. It is also why, for example, they picked Jiri Hudler 58th overall in 2002 when others were scared off by a lack of size. It’s also why the last eight times they’ve have had a first-round pick, the Wings have taken a blue-liner.
The last Detroit first-rounder not a defenceman? One Curtis Bowen in 1992.
The team’s highest-paid player is Nicklas Lidstrom. Brian Rafalski is third (behind Pavel Datsyuk). Technically, Brad Stuart is fourth, although that contract was signed with the Kings. The Wings would like to keep unrestricted free agent Stuart.
Next season, Niklas Kronwall will make more than either Henrik Zetterberg or Tomas Holmstrom.
“Last year at the deadline, we felt we needed grit, so we traded for Todd Bertuzzi,” Holland said. “This year, we felt we were fine in that area ... so when we talked about it, we went for Stuart.”
That move gave his team a pairing of Lidstrom/Rafalski, and another of Kronwall/Stuart. Both have been terrific in the playoffs and will need to be just as good if Detroit is to beat the Penguins.
Teams need two strong pairs against Pittsburgh. One NHL coach joked, “I’d play Lidstrom against both Crosby and Malkin,” then, more seriously, added, “You play Lidstrom against whoever is hot. Right now, I’d put him against Crosby, but that could change as the series goes.”
John Stevens said Thursday that containing the Detroit defence will be Pittsburgh’s biggest challenge.
“The Red Wings had 225 points from their defence this season,” the Flyers coach said. “No one else in the league had more than 200.”
Stevens put Pittsburgh’s total at around 140. Clearly Holland is getting his money’s worth. No wonder Philly will address blueline point production this summer.
Lidstrom has been Detroit’s highest-paid player since the team’s last Stanley Cup season in 2002. During that time, Chris Chelios, Uwe Krupp, Mathieu Schneider, Derian Hatcher and even Danny Markov ranked high in the team’s salary list in a particular season.
Holland did change one of his beliefs: “I don’t spend my money on goalies.”
Dominik Hasek was the second-highest paid player ($8 million) when Detroit won it all in 2002. Curtis Joseph made the same salary year one later, while both combined for $14 million during the unhappy 2003-04 season. Since the lockout, Hasek’s $2.05 million cap figure this year is the largest the team has spent on any goalie.
Osgood, who will be the starter going forward, signed a three-year, $5.25 million extension in January. He will make $1.7 next year, $1.45 in 2009-10 and $1.1 million in 2010-11, when he’ll be 38.
“The way the game is played now, there are going to be goals scored ... the puck is going to be in your net,” Holland said. “I feel it’s more important to pay those who can best stop it from getting anywhere near there.”
It helps that Holland locked in his key forwards to good-value contracts. Daniel Cleary is signed for five more years at $14 million. Kris Draper: three more at $4.75 million. Tomas Holmstrom: two more, $4.5 million.
This will be tested, though, by Zetterberg. He has one year left on his contract, at $2.9 million. Last April, with Washington lurking, the Wings spent almost $47 million over seven years on Pavel Datsyuk.
Zetterberg is at least as valuable as Datsyuk, which could put Holland’s philosophy to the test.
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About the Author
Elliotte Friedman is the host of the CFL ON CBC. Prior to being named host in 2006, Friedman worked on the CFL on CBC broadcasts for the three seasons as a sideline reporter. A Toronto native, Friedman is well known for his additional work on Hockey Night in Canada, as well as his presence on the Torino 2006 Winter Games telecasts as a hockey reporter. Prior to joining the CBC, Friedman worked at The Score network and was widely regarded as one of the best reporters in the country. Friedman used his reporting skills to break stories and file feature reports for high profile events including six Stanley Cup Finals, four Grey Cup Championships, two World Series and one Olympic Games. He is also a regular on the nationally syndicated Prime Time Sports radio telecast, hosted by Bob McCown.
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