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?

Stars’ Lehtonen (upper body) day-to-day

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The collision that forced Kari Lehtonen from his relief appearance in last night’s loss to Ottawa could keep him off ice four a couple of days, Stars head coach Lindy Ruff confirmed.

Lehtonen, who entered the contest after Antti Niemi allowed three goals on nine shots, was injured just over a minute into the third period when d-man John Klingberg crashed into the Dallas net.

Ruff suggested a goalie would be recalled from AHL Texas in time for the Stars’ next game, which is on Friday against the Canucks.

While losing Lehtonen would hurt the Stars — he’s 9-1-0 this year with a .921 save percentage and 2.41 GAA — the club can fall back on Niemi who, despite the rough outing against the Sens, has been OK this year.

Niemi has a 8-4-1 record, though his GAA (.264) and save percentage (.907) leave something to be desired.

Bergevin agrees to multi-year contract extension with Habs

Marc Bergevin
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Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has agreed to a multi-year contract extension that runs through 2021-22, the club announced today.

“This new agreement brings added stability for our organization and particularly for our hockey operations. It enables us to continue our efforts in giving our fans a winning team,” said Habs owner Geoff Molson in a release. “Marc is an excellent general manager who quickly made an impact in the league with his leadership skills and his ability to identify the needs and find the personnel to assemble a championship team.”

Bergevin was named GM in May of 2012. The Canadiens have made the playoffs in all three seasons of his tenure, advancing to the Eastern Conference finals in 2014.

Still, it’s going to take time before we can truly judge his work, as is the case with any GM that’s only been on the job a few years. The lone player that Bergevin’s drafted that’s made it full-time to the NHL is Alex Galchenyuk. How the likes of Michael McCarron, Nikita Scherbak, and Noah Juulsen develop remains to be seen.

For Bergevin, the lengthy contract extension is a nice reward, and a strong vote of confidence that he’s on the right track.

“I am very pleased with his work and the results he has achieved since his appointment as general manager,” said Molson.

We asked David Poile if he’d trade a defenseman, and you won’t believe what he said…

David Poile

“I’m supposed to tell you the answer to that?”

I was hoping he would. But I guess David Poile didn’t want to tell me all his plans for the Nashville Predators. How disappointing.

The question I’d asked him, in a phone interview Wednesday, was one he’d been asked before, and one he’ll surely be asked again — would he trade one of his star defensemen for help up front?

“We are very happy with our defense corps,” Poile said, like a politician repeating the party line. “It gives us a chance to be competitive and have a chance to win every game, along with our goaltending.”

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t consider it.

“You’re always trying to improve your team. That’s what a manager’s job is,” said Poile.

“When the right time is there, when the deal is there. Whether it’s today, tomorrow, the trade deadline, whether it’s in the summer, trade or free agency situation, we’ll do whatever we can to improve our team.”

Start the trade rumors! Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen? Now you come up with one.

I mean, who hasn’t looked at the Preds’ roster and not wondered? All those defensemen. No young, elite center. Teams that win the Stanley Cup always have an elite center. Right now, Nashville’s top center is 35-year-old Mike Ribeiro. Its second-line center is another 35-year-old, Mike Fisher.

And what’s worth remembering about Jones is that the Preds never expected to get him.

“In the draft three years ago, there were four outstanding players, three of which were forwards,” said Poile. “We had the fourth pick. I think everyone thought Seth Jones was going to go either one, two, or three. And we were very comfortable taking one of those three forwards, because that’s what we needed.”

But then Colorado took Nathan MacKinnon, Florida went with Aleksander Barkov, and Tampa Bay called Jonathan Drouin‘s name.

“There’s no regrets with that,” said Poile. “That just made a good defense even stronger.”

The Preds did manage to get some promising forwards in the next two drafts, including 19-year-old Vladislav Kamenev, currently with Nashville’s farm team in Milwaukee. Perhaps he’s a future number-one center.

“In our system, we have three or four pretty good potential forwards coming,” said Poile. “I think before you look outside the organization, you always want to look inside the organization.”

OK, fine, fair enough.

P.S. — Shea Weber to the Oilers?

Related: Nobody’s got a better blue line than Nashville

Calgary waives second goalie of the year — this time, it’s Ortio

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Many people — your author included — thought it was a bad idea when Flames GM Brad Treliving entered this season with three goalies on the roster.

Now we’re starting to see why.

On Tuesday, Calgary exposed another goalie to waivers — Joni Ortio has been placed on the wire, per TSN.

The move comes just over a month after the Flames put Karri Ramo on waivers, with no takers — and since being recalled from AHL Stockton, Ramo inherited the No. 1 gig from Jonas Hiller and ran with it, starting each of Calgary’s last 11 games while playing every minute.

Ortio, meanwhile, hasn’t seen any action since allowing six goals to Montreal on Oct. 30.

Today’s transaction likely means that Hiller is ready to return from the hip injury that’s kept him out since late last month. He skated with the club on Monday and could soon reconnect with Ramo to form the combo that backstopped Calgary to a surprising playoff appearance a year ago.

Of course, many wonder if that duo will still work.

The numbers on both goalies are pretty bad this year. Ramo’s 6-8-2 with a 3.12 GAA and .898 save percentage, while Hiller is 2-3-0 with a 3.67 and .861.

Things also don’t promise to get any easier for the Flames in the near future. They have back-to-back road games in Arizona and San Jose this weekend, then return home for three games against three of the NHL’s highest-scoring clubs: Dallas (most goals for in the league), Boston (fourth-most) and the Sharks (11th-most).

As for Ortio, it’ll be interesting to see if anybody takes a flier. He’s young (24), cheap ($600,000) and has shown very well at the American League level, earning a spot on the All-Rookie team in ’13-14.