Darren Helm, Drew Miller, Patrick Eaves

Are Helm, Eaves and Miller the Red Wings’ closest thing to a new ‘Grind Line’?

It’s probably not accurate to say that Kris Draper decided to “pass the torch” by retiring from the NHL. Such a notion downplays the Detroit Red Wings’ deft methods of “reloading” instead of rebuilding while simultaneously competing for the Stanley Cup year after year.

That being said, Detroit’s trio of retirements (Draper, Brian Rafalski and Chris Osgood) do shine a spotlight on the team’s younger players – especially when you consider the crushing inevitability of Nicklas Lidstrom’s eventual last game. Naturally, the Red Wings will probably have some tricks up their sleeves* because: a) they always do and b) Lidstrom’s departure should give them a nice chunk of salary cap space, so that worry might not be quite as severe as it may seem.

Still, there’s little doubt that Detroit will need its depth players to come through here and there, much like Draper did in his prime. Maybe it’s too much to ask for a second coming of “The Grind Line” considering the defensive game’s shifting priorities from grit to speed, but it’s fairly easy to see the four forwards who will live to keep the puck out of Detroit’s net more than anything else next season.

Detroit’s candidates for a new “Grind Line”

For all the hype about Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg’s two-way play – and don’t get me wrong, much of it is justified – they weren’t the Red Wings forwards who did most of the heavy lifting last season. Here are the Red Wings’ top four penalty killing forwards in 2010-11, according to NHL.com’s stats. I also included their sometimes-laughable PP averages to show off how single-minded their approaches must have been.

1. Darren Helm (3:03 shorthanded minutes per game; 4 seconds per game on the PP)
2. Patrick Eaves (2:41 PK per game; averaged :13 on PP)
3. Drew Miller (2:13 PK per game; averaged :04 on PP)
4. Justin Abdelkader (1:42 PK per game; averaged :09 on PP)

The only Red Wings forwards who averaged somewhat significant PK time beyond those four were Daniel Cleary (1:10 per game) and – you guessed it – Draper (:51 per game).

Which three of the four will comprise the shutdown line on most nights?

Those numbers reinforce my original point that the Red Wings more or less moved on already, but the transition will truly be complete next season. It’s likely that this quartet of forwards will work together on the penalty kill for much of 2011-12, but let’s take a look at which three are most likely to be the team’s consistent grind line.

To do so, I consulted Dobber Hockey’s “line combo” stats. Let’s take a look at the four players’ most common even strength linemates from 2010-11.

  • It seems like Abdelkader moved around a lot – his most consistent linemates were Miller and Jan Mursak at 9.6 percent of the time – but his top two combos involved Miller.
  • Eaves spent more than 31 percent of his time with Draper and Helm and more than 26 percent of his time with Helm and Miller.
  • Helm‘s most common combo came with Draper and Eaves at just under 24 percent of his even strength play. He also spent 20 percent of his time with Eaves and Miller.
  • Miller played with Eaves and Helm over 27 percent of his even strength time and almost 13 percent of his time with Draper and Helm.

Looking at those numbers and the fact that the Red Wings didn’t make too many changes during the off-season (that weren’t imposed upon them by retirement decisions), it looks like the team might go with Eaves-Helm-Miller much of the time. Of course, things can change thanks to the pre-season and the general forces of line changes.


Ultimately, the Red Wings’ grinders should be very familiar with their duties next season. That doesn’t mean that the probable Helm-Miller-Eaves combo is guaranteed to match “The Grind Line,” but the team already built a foundation for their days without Draper.

* Dare we goad Nashville Predators fans into depression by mentioning Ryan Suter’s pending unrestricted free agency?

Health woes continue in Boston as Backes undergoes elbow procedure

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 20:  David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins skates against New Jersey Devils during the third period at TD Garden on October 20, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Devils 2-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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In last night’s 5-0 loss to the Wild, the banged-up B’s were without David Backes, Anton Khudobin, Tuukka Rask, Kevan Miller and Frank Vatrano.

On its own, a bad injury situation.

But today, things got even worse.

GM Don Sweeney announced that Backes has undergone the remove of the olecranon bursa from his elbow, and that Backes’ condition will be updated after this weekend.

(It’s surgery to correct elbow bursitis, basically.)

That would mean, presumably, the veteran winger is out until after the weekend — meaning Backes will miss games tonight against the Rangers, and Saturday against the Red Wings.

It’s a fairly significant blow.

Backes looked good in his first few games in a Bruins uniform, posting two goals and four points in five games while averaging a healthy 18:45 TOI per night.

As mentioned, the B’s are back in action tonight on Rivalry Night at MSG (8 p.m., NBCSN).

NHL officials in South Korea to inspect Olympic venues

PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - JULY 07:  South Koreans celebrate being selected as 2018 Winter Olympic host city at Alpensia Resort on July 7, 2011 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Pyeongchang finally won the Winter Olympic host race after being beaten by Vancouver for 2010 and Sochi for 2014.  (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) National Hockey League representatives are in South Korea to inspect Olympic facilities as the league mulls a decision on whether to let its players appear for a sixth consecutive Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Pyeongchang’s organizing committee said the NHL delegation, led by vice president of international strategy Lynn White and facilities operation manager Dan Craig, will make inspections on Thursday and Friday of facilities in Gangneung, a city near Pyeongchang which will host the ice hockey tournament during the 2018 Winter Games. They will be joined by NHL Players’ Association officials Sandra Monteiro and Mathieu Schneider and the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Hannes Ederer and Christian Hofstetter, the organizing committee said.

Pyeongchang organizers consider securing the participation of NHL players as a critical issue as ice hockey is one of the most popular sports at the Winter Games. The International Olympic Committee’s negotiations with the NHL over having the league’s players competing in Pyeongchang have stalled over the IOC’s decision not to pay for NHL players’ travel and insurance as it has in the past.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly recently told The Associated Press he felt “negative” about the chances the league’s players will compete in Pyeongchang.

Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games, told reporters earlier this month that the NHL deciding to inspect the Gangneung facilities was a “very positive step,” but didn’t offer a firm answer on whether the IOC would consider allowing the NHL to skip the Pyeongchang Games before returning for Beijing in 2022.

Related: Jan. 15 is deadline for Olympic decision, says IOC

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins need a rookie goalie to step up against Rangers

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 25:  Malcolm Subban #70 of the Boston Bruins allows a goal against Minnesota Wild during the second period at TD Garden on October 25, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the New York Rangers host the Boston Bruins at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

The Boston Bruins have been without starting goalie Tuukka Rask (lower body) for two games now and things haven’t gone well.

When Rask is between the pipes, Boston is 3-0-0, but when he’s not, they’re 0-3-0.

They dropped Saturday night’s game to the Montreal Canadiens with Anton Khudobin in goal and with him on the shelf too, the Bruins were dismantled 5-0 by the Minnesota Wild last night.

The Bruins turned to former first rounder Malcolm Subban yesterday and he lasted a little more than 30 minutes before being pulled for Zane McIntyre.

“There are some goals — I’m not going to lie — there are some goals that we thought our goaltenders should have had,” head coach Claude Julien said after the loss to Minnesota, per CSN New England.

But Julien wasn’t willing to pin it all on his rookie goalies.

“[I’m] not here to talk about a goaltender — who’s in one of his first few games — because he let in a couple of bad goals,” added Julien. “We were terrible in front of him . . .  and that’s the big picture. That’s more important.”

Still, Subban has made two starts in his NHL career and has been pulled both times. He’s allowed six goals on just 22 shots during his two brief stints in the league.

It’ll be interesting to see which rookie Julien turns to tonight.

For the first time this season, the Rangers have strung together back-to-back wins.

They’re dealing with some injuries of their own, as Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich are both out for this one.

Kreider, who has seven points in five games this season, will miss his second consecutive game because of a neck injury, while Buchnevich remains on IR with back pain.

Unlike the Bruins, the Rangers have no question marks in their crease right now.

Henrik Lundqvist will make his fourth consecutive start tonight. The 34-year-old has allowed two goals per game in each of his last three outings.  That doesn’t exactly bode well for a Bruins team that’s scored four goals in their last three contests.

Don’t look now, but the Red Wings have won five straight

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 21: Gustav Nyquist #14 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates his third period goal with teammates while playing the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena on October 21, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 5-3. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

A 26th straight playoff appearance? It seemed, when this season began, that not many were giving the Detroit Red Wings much of a chance to accomplish the feat.

Time will tell.

Despite their doubters, the Red Wings have now won five straight games, following a pretty uninspiring start with back-to-back losses in Florida to begin the season.

Their latest win came Tuesday, as the Red Wings beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2. (For Carolina, that wraps up a six-game road trip to begin the season.)

Dylan Larkin, who had 23 goals as a rookie in 2015-16, finally got his first two goals of this season, scoring twice against the Hurricanes.

So far, 11 players on their roster have scored, with Darren Helm leading the way. Nineteen of 20 players have also recorded at least a single point. As a team, they’ve been able to extend leads against the opposition over the course of this streak, which is a welcomed change for coach Jeff Blashill.

“I said that to the coaching staff after the game,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “That’s the biggest difference – we score the fourth goal this year. So now you’ve got a two-goal cushion and if something goes the wrong way, you’re still fine.

“It’s a huge difference.”

A big help has been the play of their goalies — Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek.

As per stats.hockeyanalysis.com, the Red Wings currently have the second best save percentage (95.95) at five-on-five through six games, not to mention the 10th best shooting percentage (9.86).

Howard, who was part of trade speculation last season, has allowed only a single goal on 63 shots.

So far, so good for the Red Wings.

Not many seemed optimistic about this team as the season approached.

Sure, the Red Wings had made 25 consecutive playoff appearances, but they also entered this season with an older Henrik Zetterberg, and the health of Niklas Kronwall (click here) and Jonathan Ericsson (click here) in question.

They are also without Pavel Datsyuk, who returned to Russia. But the Red Wings tried to make up for that loss by signing Frans Nielsen.

Pundits and prognosticators, including the overwhelming majority at PHT, said the Red Wings’ playoff streak would be snapped this season.

A winning streak this early might not be enough to make doubters think twice.