A few days have gone by, the depression has subsided (thanks largely in-part to Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton fouling, but not really fouling LeBron James, who probably shouldn't have been playing in the game anyway, so Cavs fans can probably STFU, thanks!). I'm finally ready to post my final thoughts on the 2006-07 edition of the Detroit Red Wings.
First and foremost, I couldn't be more proud of what that team accomplished this season. We went from Ken Holland saying before the year, "We think we're probably a playoff team" to the brink of the Stanley Cup Finals. It was disappointing to have the season end the way it did--losing in 6 games to a team that Detroit outplayed for vast portions of the series. But they can definitely feel good about what they accomplished, even if non-Cup seasons are thought of as a failure in Detroit.
After the run that this team has had, there's not a lot that they could do that would impress me. Beating San Jose impressed me. I was scared of that team the entire season, they whupped us a few times in the regular season, and they seemed to be the worst possible matchup for the Wings. But they dug deep and somehow found a way to contain those big, fast, talented forwards of San Jose.
So what went wrong against the Ducks? Plain and simple, I think it was just hockey. Sometimes it not your year and the bounces prove it. It's hard to explain, but sometimes Patrick Roy can do the Statue of Liberty with the puck not in his glove leading to a crucial goal, and sometimes the puck can take almost a 90 degree turn as it's heading into the empty net, I assume from hitting a patch of snow (That really did happen in Game 6).
Did the better team win that series? I think not, but then again, I'm horribly biased. In all fairness, the Wings dominated 3 games, the Ducks dominated 3 games. Strangely enough, the "dominating" team was 3-3 in those games. It just so happened that the Wings were the ones that were 1-2. It was a close series (apart from Game 3) between two very evenly matched teams. The bounces went the Ducks' way and they're moving on.
What was the turning point? It'd be easy to say Game 4. The Wings outplayed Anaheim, the Ducks didn't have Chris Pronger, and they still managed to get a win. That was definitely our chance to step on Anaheim's throat, but we were still fine at that point. 2-2 heading back to Detroit, and realistically no one thought we'd win both games out there after being outplayed in games 1 and 2. The turning point in the series was the penalty call on Datsyuk late in Game 5 with the subsequent goal off Lidstrom's stick. In a way, it was kind of fitting. The Red Wings scored in a similar situation late in game 4 against the Sharks. If they hadn't, the series would've been 3-1 San Jose and we likely would've been out in the second round. This time, the Ducks get the late goal and steal a win on the road, when a loss would've put them on the brink.
How pissed are you about the officiating? It wasn't a blatant screw job, by any means. The officials certainly did everything in their power to let the Wings get back into Game 6. The Wings did have two very critical calls go against them, and they played huge roles in costing Detroit two games in this series. In Game 2, Hasek was pushed into the net for the tying goal. The rule explicitly states that a goalie can't be pushed into the net and have the goal count. To go one step further, the puck was hidden between Hasek's pad and his pants. The whistle probably should've blown. In Game 5, the Ducks received a "makeup call" in the form of a Datsyuk interference penalty in the last minute. To their credit, they made the most of that power play, sent the game to overtime and won. Was it a penalty? Absolutely not. If that was interference, then Detroit should've been on a power play any time they dumped the puck into the offensive zone and had their player pushed into the middle of the ice. Calling Datsyuk's play interference, in a game featuring the Anaheim Ducks, would be akin to Sheed being called out for a flop in a game against Sideshow Bob.
But the Wings can't complain too much. They had countless 5 on 3s, less success on the power play that you would hope, and even with those two calls, the Wings had the rest of regulation and overtime to make the call in Game 2 a non-factor, and in Game 5, the Ducks still had to score on that gift powerplay, plus Detroit could've won it in overtime. Not to mention Lidstrom hit the post, and Holmstrom missed an open net Esa Tikkanen style, which could've not even let Game 5 get to the point of a gift power play sending that game to overtime. Bad calls happen. They went against us this time, but the Wings still had plenty of chances to end this series.
Should Babcock have pulled the goalie on the Wings last power play in Game 6? I think Babcock made the right call in not pulling Hasek. It looks bad, because the Wings didn't score, and Anaheim scored the game before on a 6 on 4, but I still think Babcock was correct. The penalty was called with 3 minutes left in regulation. Obviously you can't pull the goalie that soon. For the first minute of the power play, the Wings were all over Anaheim. If you pull the goalie, the chances of you scoring go way up. But it also brings into play the chance that Anaheim could shoot it all the way down the ice into the empty net, with no risk of it being icing. Additionally, you lose the ability to have the goalie come out and head-man the puck on a dump in.
Chances were, Babcock was getting second guessed on that decision. Leave the goalie in and don't score, he should've pulled him. Pull him, and the Ducks score, then he's an idiot because he didn't give the power play a chance to work.
As it was, the Wings had 2 PPGs in the third period alone. The PP was looking very effective, the Ducks were on the verge of collapse, and by pulling the goalie after the penalty expired (with 1 minute left) the Wings, in effect, had a 3 minute long power play with almost no risk of a short-handed goal. And Holmstrom had the puck on his stick with a chance to tie the game, and I'm not sure how he missed.
Babcock is a very good coach and the Wings are lucky to have him. He makes some questionable moves on occasion, but I don't think this was one of them. If he deserves to be criticized for anything, it's the fact that his team came out sluggish in an elimination game and didn't wake up until it was 4-1.
How do you feel about Pavel Datsyuk and his contract NOW? It's tough. Datsyuk definitely showed up for this playoff run. 8-8--16 in 18 games is not bad at all. But he was invisible on the road until the last period of Game 6. His playoff performance was a definite step in the right direction. As long as he keeps improving, and the cap keeps going up, this signing might not be the "Franchise killer" that I originally thought it could be. That said, he's going to turn 29 this offseason. It's hard to imagine that he's going to improve a whole lot more over the course of the deal, and by the time the deal is done, he'll be 36. I still disagree with the length of the contract, if for nothing more than the fact that he's essentially untradeable if things don't work out so well. In a salary cap era, with guaranteed contracts, there are very, very few players in the league that I'd be willing to give a 7 year contract to.
I still think he's a bigger question mark than you would like a $6.7 million a year player to be. But after declining to deal him last offseason, the Wings had to either pony up to keep him (and overpay if necessary) or lose him for nothing in a year where there aren't a ton of top-notch free agents on the market. I still would've preferred to see him dangled in a deal for Roberto Luongo, who is well worth the money, but he showed up in the playoffs--at least for the home games, he drastically improved as a defensive player this season, and we've got him locked up through his prime now. Worst case, he's a great regular season player, and you're always getting a good defensive effort out of him. Is he worth what we're paying him? Probably not, but probably only by about a million dollars or so.
What needs to happen this offseason? You got me. As it stands right now, the Wings have $12.3 million under the cap for next year. The cap will probably go up $4 million or so, but we owe Hasek and Chelios about $1.1 million in bonuses. That puts us at $15.2 million under the cap. They want to keep about $2 million for the trade deadline and injury call-ups, meaning we've got $13.2 left to spend on a goalie, three defensemen, and four forwards (Hasek, Chelios, Schneider, Markov, Hudler (RFA), Lang, Calder, and Bertuzzi are free agents.
Holland said in an article that Calder wasn't what they hoped and that his injury problems were not the reason for the decline in his play. I was hoping to have him back (for much less than the $3 million he was making this year) but it doesn't look like he's an option. Bertuzzi is a risk, and he may come cheap because of that, but the fact that the Wings have to give up a 2nd round pick if they re-sign him would be enough for me to part ways. Lang shouldn't return either.
You can bring up Kyle Quincey full-time for about $500,000 and Grigorenko will be on the roster next year at about $900,000. If Hasek comes back for about a million and Chelios returns for $800,000 again, that leaves $10 million for 1 defenseman and 3 forwards. Hudler will get a bump in pay, but it wouldn't shock me to see the Wings trade him, as Babcock has never seemed to like him much. As it is, we'll put him down for $1.5 million (I assume he'll get more than he's worth, since Kronwall parlayed potential into a $3 million/yr deal which is absolutely ridiculous). Figure on another forward coming up from the farm, like McGrath for $700,000 or so and that leaves us $7.8 million for a defenseman and a forward.
This team really missed Schneider and Markov had his moments but was pretty solid overall. We can probably only keep one. Schneider would be more expensive, but Markov doesn't give you much in the way of offense. There are a few good forwards out there. We need to find one. Chris Drury would be the ideal fit, but he might be too expensive. He's the guy I would really like. Another name that intrigues me is actually an old Red Wing, Slava Kozlov. He's posted 2 of his 4 best seasons over the last two years (and was only about 3 points away from having his two best seasons overall). Granted he's on a great line, but he showed that he can still be very productive. Would Datsyuk like having a guy like that on his line? We probably wouldn't have to break the bank to sign him. As long as he's not bitter about the Wings trading him when they were instructed not to move any "good players" in the deal.
Basically what it comes down to is that the Wings can probably afford 1 decent-to-big signing, but they probably have to let Schneider go if they want to sign a higher-level forward. I also don't know that they can afford to sign a top-notch guy to a long-term contract with Zetterberg coming up for a max extension in two years. That would be a lot of money to pump into 3 forwards, even if you are going to free up Lidstrom's money before too much longer (probably...who knows, he could go Chelios on us).
If Hasek doesn't come back, we're absolutely screwed as a Cup contender for next year. We'd lose the best goalie of his era, but we wouldn't free up more than $300,000 in cap space. Some people have thrown around the idea of JS Giguere. He's a good goalie, certainly in the upper echelon of the league, but I don't think you can pay him $5 or 6 million to get him here. He's not an upgrade from Hasek (even if he's got more years left in him) and you'd be paying him a ton of money. Even though he was great at times against the Wings, Detroit still pushed almost 3 goals per game past him. And you'd probably have to let Markov and Schneider go to afford him. I don't see how that improves the team. If Hasek leaves, we're probably going to just have to bite the bullet and go with a Howard/Osgood tandem, and hope that Howard can pull some Cam Ward magic out. There would be a few options out there in trade, the only problem is that two of the best ones (Toskala and Bryzgalov--if the Ducks keep Giguere) play for teams that probably wouldn't have an interest in helping the Wings.
If Hasek is back, this team is in the mix next year. If he doesn't come back, it's hard to see (at least right now) how this team is a legit contender in 2007-08. It's just too hard to replace a guy like that when his retirement wouldn't free up any money.