FGD: The Red Wings are Coming!



The former juggernaut Detroit Red Wings aren’t quite as run down as their unfortunate home town, but cracks are finally starting to show in the armor. Right now, Detroit is 14th in the league in terms of score-close possession, a metric they routinely dominated for years. Datysuk and Zetterberg are growing long in the tooth, but for now remain top drawer two-way players. 

The divide between them and the rest of the club continues to grow, however. Absent Lidstrom, the team doesn’t have a third elite leg to support the rest of the average stool (yeesh…talk about your clumsy metaphors). Only three other forwards are in the black in terms of possession so far – Bertuzzi, Alfredsson and Abdlekader. And Bertuzzi mostly plays with Datsyuk and Zetterberg (meaning he’s not driving that number). Alfredsson is 40-years old and Abdelkader hangs out at the end of the rotation. Johan Franzen is close (49%), but there’s a big drop off after him.

The biggest disappointment for the Wings must be Stephen Weiss. He has the worst possession rate on the team (43%) even with a sky-high zone start ratio (57%). Weiss was a pretty good player in Florida for a long time, but his numbers started slipping over the his two seasons as a Panther. He was supposed to anchor the Wings second scoring line, but he’s sinking the boat instead.

All of which is an overly long way to say – the Red Wings are still good, but they don’t appear to be ridiculously good anymore. They have two elite forwards, some decent support pieces and a whole bunch of meh. If the Flames can cage Datsyuk and Zetterberg (easier said than done, I know), then they have chance to outplay the Wings so-so depth.

The Lineup

Hartley announced yesterday Backlund would slide back into the line-up and Joey MacDondald would get a turn after Ramo’s *ahem* "performance" against the Leafs. Her’s how things will probably shape up:

  • Glencross – Stajan – Jones
  • Galiardi – Colborne – Cammalleri
  • Baertschi – Monahan – Hudler
  • Bouma – Backlund – McGrattan
  • Russell – Wideman
  • Brodie – Butler
  • O’Brien – Smith
  • MacDonald

A lot of plaudits have been handed to Joe Colborne over his recent play and particularly his 23 minute game vs Toronto the other night, but I still find the decision making governing his usage rather bizarre – at least relative to other players on the club. Colborne has certainly looked better over the last few games compared to his first few (where he was completely lost) and in general I am not opposed to coach playing the heck out of a few young guys this year for informational and developmental purposes.

Here’s the thing – Colborne hasn’t been that good so far. Certainly not "usurp Backlund" good. The former Leaf has been fed some of the softest minutes of any forward on the team (65.5% zone start) and yet on Wednesday night he boasted the worst even strength scoring chance ratio on the Flames (3 for, 9 against). He’s nowhere near a 20 minute per night center yet and I don’t see what he’s done to privilege him above players like Backlund or Baertschi (who have seen their minutes limited or slashed at both ES and on the PP).

Maybe it’s a motivational thing. Maybe Hartley is using different reinforcement techniques with different players. But on the face of it, the disparate treatment of certain guys on the team seems…incongruous.

The Opposition

It’s the Datsyuk line and then everyone else. Via Daily Faceoff:

  • Zetterberg – Datsyuk – Bertuzzi
  • Cleary – Franzen – Alfredsson
  • Tatar – Weiss – Abdelkader
  • Miller – Andersson – Eaves
  • Kronwall – DeKeyser
  • Quincey – Smith
  • Kindl – Lashoff
  • Howard

Detroit’s blueline is somewhat underwhelming as well. Kronwall is a legitimate top pairing guy at this point and most teams could probably get away with Smith and Ericsson (currently injured) in their top-4, but the rest of the defense brigade is trouble.

DeKeyser was a highly sought after College free agent, but he’s only 24 games into his NHL career. Quincey is kind of the Wing’s version of Chris Butler – he has some tools, but always seems to end up a scapegoat at the end of too many games. Kindl is still trying to find his way at the NHL level and Lashoff (Brian, not Matt) is a 23 year old rookie and former free agent signing who has been plying his trade in Grand Rapids for the last few years. HIs resume reminds of Adam Pardy’s when he made the Flames a few years ago. 

We’ve discussed the forward unit, though I’d like to add I continually wonder what power Todd Bertuzzi holds over the Detroit Red Wing organization – he’s 38 year old, he was a suspect two-way player even as a Flame back in 2008-09, he hasn’t scored more than 45 points in six seasons and he only has four points 12 games this year…and yet he’s skating with Dats and Zetterberg at ES. I don’t get it.

Sum it Up

Detroit’s first line is a powerhouse and can take a game over all by themselves. Calgary has no true power on power option that can be reasonably expected to take them on, but some nights you have hold the big guns in check via luck or hard work (or both). The key to the game will be to minimizing the damage from those guys and then outplaying the Wing’s much softer underbelly.

  • jonahgo

    for me, the psychological calculus of a player before he cheap-shots someone is a red herring. for that player, it’s not about whether or not he can get away with it without consequences, it’s about habits. (and as a consequence, why should fighting be feared relative to the other potential dangers one faces in a hockey game at the nhl level? burke even hints at this when he notes that he feared crashing into the boards more than a fight).

    cheap-shots are not a problem of rational choice decision making in the game; they are the outcomes of a general style of play, or a player’s habitus. certain guys play on the edge because that’s what they’re there to do. to get rid of these plays you need to get rid of that style of player, or better put, that set of habits.

    how did matt cooke change? he got to the point where he was threatened by his own organization with no longer being able to play (a real consequence upon which he had a significant amount of time to reflect). and this had nothing to do with the threat of a physical altercation. furthermore, at the moment of ‘revelation’–his decision to clean up his game–he didn’t immediately change. in fact, he had to work extensively with the pens’ coaches in order to transform his habits.

    • SoCalFlamesFan

      “for me, the psychological calculus of a player before he cheap-shots someone is a red herring. for that player, it’s not about whether or not he can get away with it without consequences, it’s about habits.”

      True the effect can be exaggerated but every day I see drivers break heavily when they see a police car … even when not speeding.

      People are people.

      • jonahgo

        fair point, but i would consider breaking when you see a police car a reflexive habit as opposed to a calculus. hence people do it even when they are not speeding.

    • jonahgo

      Hartley is being politically correct to secure his own job. Colbourne was brought in by Burke so Hartley will do everything possible to make him successful. It’s obvious Burke wants nothing to do with Sven and Backs long term. They are simply not his type of players. Hence Barkley is not giving them the ice time.

      And you thought politics was only prevalent in the office….

  • SoCalFlamesFan

    Is is nice to see full year stats for Colborne’s sheltered life but a more realistic stat would be to review the immediately prior games to the Toronto game.
    The 4 previous games. Sheltered? If Hartley had given Colborne 1/2 less offensive face off and 1/2 more defensive face off per game Colbornes offensive face offs and defensive faceoffs would be nearly identical. (actually he would have a greater percentage of defensive face offs).
    Why did he get more minutes against Toronto? During the 4 previous games he was +4 while Monahan was -2 and Backlund -1. In addition he had the same points as Monahan and one more than Backlund despite playing 23 minutes less than Monahan and 18 minutes less than Backlund.
    It is true that plus/minus stats and points depend heavily on who you play with and who you play against just as the “chance stats” quoted.
    Taken in isolation they are use less.
    If Backlund gets big minutes every game and Monahan gets big minutes every game and Stajan gets big minutes every game how the “H” are we to play and develop other centers whether they be Colborne or other players on the farm? Play them all; in all situations; and sit them all as well to give all a look. Moving forward we have to give ALL a shot and this is the year to it to determine who you want to keep moving forward.

    • the forgotten man

      Yeah I think Rhett brought up the fact that Backlund’s play was slipping and that other players were playing better. I have noticed that other teams tend to be putting a lot of physical pressure on Backs now. Let’s see if he can adapt.

  • the forgotten man

    Again I ask…is this team rebuilding or going for the playoffs this year…Jekyll & Hyde.
    What is our hopeful future? Backlund, Monahan, Baertchi, Brodie etc. Play these boys, win or lose, and let the chips fall where they may. Same old Calgary Flames…as I have said before, you literally have to make an effort to be clueless & incompetent as a Franchise to make it past the 1st round of the playoffs once in 25 years.

    • the forgotten man

      Rebuilding does not mean tanking to get high draft picks. It means putting together a team that can win now and in the future. Building a team through the draft is just one strategy (I believe the best one) but how can you know if the rebuild is working or what changes need to happen if the players and coaching staff are purposefully losing?

      I just get sick of hearing that the team needs to try and lose. I don’t want to cheer for a team that has no will to win.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I’m a bit torn on the fighting in hockey debate. I certainly don’t like the goonery and staged fights (go watch MMA if you’re into that type of thing), however I do find myself getting amped up when there is a “natural fight”.

    One thing I wonder is if there would be more interest in playing the sport if fighting was removed. I know quite a number of parents who don’t want their kids to play because of the fighting aspect. There was a news story I saw recently indicating that fewer Canadian families are having their kids play hockey. Beyond the financial and time burdens, I wonder how much of that relates to fighting?

    I teach my young kids about how fighting is bad, and so on. Then I take them to a hockey game and wonder if I should cheer and yell as the fight is going on or keep quiet and explain why everyone else is screaming and yelling.

    There are a lot of very physical sports that don’t allow fighting, why should hockey be different? Anyone watch Auzzy rules Football? One of the best, physical sports to watch IMO. Rugby, Football, etc. Why is hockey the only major sport to allow fighting? I think the game could be played without it.

    • SoCalFlamesFan

      I played in Europe when there was very little fighting. It was usually us Canadian guys going after a very dirty player. lol. The stickwork, spitting, cheap shots, kicking, etc were horrendous. The crowds were very passive as the game was very structured and featured a great deal of trapping and obstruction. They would get very excited when there was a bit of emotion through a hard hit, scrums and the odd tussle much more so than even a goal. I have noticed some leagues, especially the KHL have started employing tough guys and I’m sure it is in no small part in order to get the fans a little more excited. However, an interesting thing happened in Sweden a few years ago. They changed what they were doing by realizing they needed to develop players with a grittier playing style. Not necessarily fighters but guys who would go to the tough areas and compete much harder in the physical areas. The first generation of this type of player included guys like Kronwall, the Sedins and Douglas Murray. It took them 6-7 years but their victory in the 2006 justified that what they were doing was right. Coaching against a Swedish team is much different than when I played against them as they are no longer willing to be intimidated. You ask a question asked by many. Why should hockey be different than other sports? I would say that why wouldn’t it want to be unique? I don’t want soccer or basketball on ice. I teach my younger players that they are not to fight and would like to see that as a rule until pro. There is nothing worse than seeing or having been that 16 year old getting challenged and fighting a 19-20 year old. That is when fighting is very dangerous in my opinion. Plus,if you are a third line talent you feel that if you back down, you may not be playing much longer. At the NHL level, I understand why most coaches employ the guys they do. It needs to be understood that the vast majority of these guys are not as talentless or dumb as many on this site feel they are. They understand their role/job. They sometimes sit for many minutes and are thrown out cold against 1st liners who have been playing. Sometimes they do not fare well statistically but their goal is to bang some bodies, hopefully get the puck deep and change some momentum. They are often some of the smartest players and best team guys. Detroit tries to get by without a tough guy but they are not anti fighting. If they could find another Probert, they would be all over that.

      • Bean-counting cowboy

        You mention soccer and basketball. I mentioned neither. I don’t consider those overly physical sports (I have played both).

        I did mention Auzzy Rules Footbal (my new 2nd favorite sport to watch next to hockey), Rugby and Football, none of which allow fighting.

        I’m not saying I’m completely against fighting in hockey at this point, however I think if the NHL came out next week and said “no fighting allowed”, I wouldn’t be disappointed.

        As human beings we have to learn how to handle our anger and agression through all frustrating aspects of our life. You start punching someone in the face because you’re mad at them – you could go to jail. Rugby, Auzzy rules Football and Football players had to learn to control their agression and not face punch. Just sayin’

        • the forgotten man

          “You mention soccer and basketball. I mentioned neither. I don’t consider those overly physical sports (I have played both). ”

          Well, I won’t completely disagree with you, but in spite of being ostensibly a non-contact sport, soccer can get very rough. I know this from experience.

          Of course, I’m also tiny. That was likely at least half the problem…

  • beloch

    At least it’s not McGrattan and Jackman tonight. There’s that at least.

    Backlund probably just needs to start a fight to be fully reinstated. He’s clearly not truculent enough for somebody’s taste right now.

  • I can understand playing your heavyweight when the other squad has big tough guys in their lineup. I prefer real hockey fights that result from on ice events but I have argued here in the past that I can support a McGratton in the proper situations. I DON’T think he should be in the lineup tonite. This would have been a perfect game to get one of the kids in from Abby. Detroit doesn’t fight and won’t be intimidated by McGratton. I would far rather see a Knight on the fourth line. You can’t tell Backs to play better offensively and then plug him between Bouma and Grats for seven minutes. I think that maybe coach potato had suggested rolling four decent lines. To me this would be a great game to employ that strategy.

    Finally are there any free agent Dmen that we could bring in and then swap at the deadline for a draft pick. It seems maybe we are thin down on the farm with injuries etc…

    • SoCalFlamesFan

      Thanks Trav for the plug for rolling four lines, while I have consistently been calling for this I know there are several others who also support this idea. If you kept the current 3 lines and add an offensive player from Abby to Backlund and Bouma you could do this. Unfortunately they have not brought anyone up at this point. Why I like this idea?; is it encourages development and ultimately creates team depth. No one in their right mind would suggest that we have any elite forwards on this team. What we have is a number of good to maybe very good forwards and a number of average to good forwards. By playing 4 lines you could match a line of sound NHLers who can also play D against some of the more high end lines and still generate some O from this line, Your other 3 lines get to play against other teams secondary lines which could create interesting matchups or where down the other teams lines especially those whose have a fourth line that seldom plays the other 3 lines will get tired faster. This also in no way be tanking the season but create a competitive team and player development.

      • SoCalFlamesFan

        “If you kept the current 3 lines and add an offensive player from Abby to Backlund and Bouma you could do this.”

        Yeah.. add Corban Knight or Roman Horak to that unit and suddenly Backlund isn’t toiling in purgatory any longer… at least, as long as they get above ten/game.

    • MichaelD

      This is definitely the game to do exactly what ypu propose. Vancouver took one of their heavies out the other night but the other one went hard to the net to help generate their goal. Perhaps Hartley hopes with Backlund, Mcgratten can help generate as the Detroit defense would have a hard time dealing with his size. Liles is available at all times and I am a little surprised the Flames didn’t grab him to do just what you are suggesting.

  • Parallex

    Backs on the 4th line again? I really don’t get it. I, along with others here, am also starting to wonder if BB is influencing Colborne getting 2nd line minutes. What a waste of not only one of our best players, but our best young players.

    Where is the MSM with the hard questions on this btw? Get some cameras and mikes in front of Harltey and make him explain himself.

  • Parallex

    Millions says Prob lines has Backlund playing with McGrattan. Stupid, just stupid.

    In the spirit of domebeers… Furthermore, I think Bob Hartley should be Fired.

  • Parallex

    Yeah, I’m pretty much ambivalent to fighting… I just don’t like goons. To put it another way I’m fine with watching hockey players fight I just don’t want to watch fighters try to play hockey.

    I say just make the instigator penalty non-optional. You can go ahead and fight if you want but it better be worth risking handing a two minute PP over to the other team and if it wasn’t then whatever it was it wasn’t worth fighting over in the first place.

    • mattyc

      I agree as well on the agnosticism. I kind of liked watching O’Brien pummel Ashton, if only because it satisfied some sort of primal justice. Ashton got ‘punished’ for stepping out of line, and the balance of good and evil in the universe was restored.

  • mk

    At times I wonder if management knows what they have with Backlund and is purposefully giving him the short end of the stick to get a better read on other players. That doesn’t jive with what they’re saying though.

    If he would just have a 10-game stretch with good line mates and actual PP time, he’d probably produce enough offense to stick in a top 6 role.

  • mattyc

    Love the Brian Burke op.ed on fighting, particularly this:

    Reduced to its simplest truth, fighting is one of the mechanisms that regulates the level of violence in our game.

    Leave aside that the only evidence he has to support this claim is anecdotal, the logic is also completely flawed. The simplest truth: violence regulates the level of violence.

    • The idea that corporal punishment deters crime/violence in human interactions has always been a rather complicated question that still lingers without resolution.

      Conceptualizations of justice, vengeance and psychological mechanisms (norms, catharsis) all mix together into a miasma of interconnected causal feedbacks. It’s far more complex than the simple, intuitive relationship of “people will stop doing X if they fear painful reprisal Y”.

      On fighting in general, I am far more agnostic than modern “enforcers” specifically. From what I can gather, they are gross detriments from a hockey perspective, they don’t seem to actually prevent injuries to team mates and often they work to incite – not deter – violence.

      • mattyc

        It’s interesting too I think that everyone assumes that cheap shots or dirty hits are premeditated. (Anecdotally), for every Bertuzzi hunting down a Steve Moore, there’s 100s of knee-jerk reactions that result in a ‘violent’ play. That is to say that there’s no time for the perpetrators to think about the consequences of their actions before they commit them, they’re blinded by rage. While Carter Ashton may have though “man I shouldn’t have blindsided Smith, because now O’Brien is going to break my nose”, before the hit, all he’s thinking is “gotta make a big hit”.

        • Indeed. One thing I’ve noted when writing about violence in hockey before is that it is promoted and reinforced in the culture itself. Carter Ashton is in the league to make big hits and threaten the health of other players. Heck, that is expected at the very least in everybody and some guys play ONLY to do that.

          Burke’s sense that fighting (and, ostensibly, enforcers) tamps down on the cheap shot impulse might actually be true to some extent, but it could also be a case of cultural tiger repellent.

  • Parallex

    After Baertschi got his 4th line game + benching he got to go right back alongside Monahan and Hudler… let’s see what Hartley does with Backlund. If he’s going to be fair about it he’ll put Backs with Galiardi & Cammalleri but If he’s not he’ll stick him with the pluggers again.

  • Colin.S

    The best part of Backlund sitting is they are expecting more offense from him, that’s why he’s sitting isn’t he, they were saying they wanted more points from him? So when they activate where do they put him? Between Bouma and MacGratton, I’m sure he’s gonna put up a ton of points from there.

  • We don’t have the luxury of great depth or experience at any position. Treating Backlund like a doormat and playing him on the fourth line is a joke. Monahan has cooled off over the past few games – is he in the press box next or does the tough love approach only apply to European youngsters like Sven and Backlund?

      • To be fair to the coaching staff, Backlund certainly isn’t a perfect player. In the offensive zone he can definitely be “too passive” at times – throwing the puck on net from bad angles or just inside the blueline and cheating for defense, but those are problems he can work through safely on the ice given how complete his game is otherwise.

        • SmellOfVictory

          I wonder how he’d do as a defenceman. He’s already got the defensive aspect of playing forward down, he has one of the hardest slapshots on the team, and he’s good at distributing the puck. Might be a little late in his career to say “try a new position”, but the Flames could use someone other than Chris Butler in their top 4.

          • the forgotten man

            You just… blew my mind.

            That had never, ever occurred to me before. Mickis as a defenceman.

            I do like him as a center, though (and I really think that’s the position for which his skillset is best suited) but at least if he was to play defense the pressure to put up big point totals would abate. It would also reduce the pressure to draft a big-time dman for a while (theoretically).

            That is… very interesting.

          • SmellOfVictory

            Glad you enjoyed it. Another bonus is that people would stop complaining about his faceoff percentage. 😀

            That said, I like him as a centre as well. But if it came to him either losing a spot on the team/being traded or being tried at D, it would be interesting (possibly a spectacular failure, but who knows? He’s a smart kid).

  • mattyc

    Hope Backlund does draw back in tonight. He usually has his best games against Detroit & would love to see him have another one to get out of Hartley’s doghouse. Flames play well against the Wings, should be a good game.