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?

Red Wings hope to continue the climb back to playoff contention vs. Bruins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Kevan Miller #86 of the Boston Bruins is upended by Luke Glendening #41 of the Detroit Red Wings during the second period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The odds are against them right now, but the Detroit Red Wings hope to continue the climb back into the thick of the East’s playoff bubble against one team already situated in playoff position in the Boston Bruins. It should make for a spirited edition of Wednesday Night Rivalry (8 pm ET on NBCSN, online or the NBC Sports app).

At the moment, the Red Wings are closer to the bottom of the East (two points ahead of the last-place Islanders, one ahead of Buffalo) than the last wild card spot (Ottawa has a six-point edge and five teams rank ahead of Detroit right now).

On the other hand, Detroit won’t let its record-breaking playoff run end without a fight. The Red Wings are currently on a two-game winning streak, so there could be some optimism on their end.

Meanwhile, the Bruins rank second in the Atlantic, but they still need to protect their spot. Ottawa and Toronto aren’t far behind the Bruins, and both of those teams have five games in hand on Boston.

In other words, Detroit’s climb could benefit from Boston’s fall, so we’ll see what happens tonight.

Click here for the livestream link. Tonight’s doubleheader also includes the latest round of the San Jose Sharks – Los Angeles Kings rivalry.

Rather than whining, Capitals take ‘shut up and play’ approach with refs

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 18:  John Carlson #74 of the Washington Capitals pleads his case with referee Brad Meier after teammate Brooks Orpik #44 is down after a hit in the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 18, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Shut up and play has been a mantra lately for the Washington Capitals.

Too often early in the season players would harp on officials for missing a penalty or getting a call wrong. So coach Barry Trotz and veteran leaders made a concerted effort to tone down on the yapping.

Even though the Capitals have taken their fair share of penalties, their bench has been quieter during an 11-game point streak and that’s not a coincidence.

“You don’t want to be known as the whiny team that the refs don’t want to go by the bench because they’re always going to get whined at from the players,” right winger Justin Williams said. “You don’t want to have that reputation.”

Trying to nip that reputation before it gets out of control, players talked inside the locker room about officials being human beings. No one likes to get yelled or screamed at while doing their job, so show a little respect and maybe it’ll get returned in kind.

Trotz and most around hockey will readily acknowledge just how difficult officiating an NHL game can be and compliment referees and linesmen for getting more calls right than wrong. He’ll often apologize to referees later for yelling at them if they saw something he didn’t.

But that doesn’t mean everyone’s always thrilled about officiating. Captain Alex Ovechkin expressed his displeasure about a couple of missed calls in their 8-7 overtime loss in Pittsburgh on Monday, including a high hit from the Penguins’ Patric Hornqvist on T.J. Oshie in the second period and a trip by Sidney Crosby on him in overtime.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” Ovechkin said Wednesday. “Everybody have emotions. If it’s 100 percent call and nobody make a whistle and don’t make a call, of course everyone going to be mad and sad about it. But I think the captains and the coaches, we can talk to the referees, so that’s what we should try to do.”

Trotz, Ovechkin and alternate captains Brooks Orpik and Nicklas Backstrom have the job of communicating with officials. Keeping the off-the-cuff yapping to a minimum has been part of Washington’s recent success.

Given the Capitals’ recent dominance at 5-on-5, not taking a reactionary penalty allows them to take advantage of their depth and wear opponents down. They’re pretty good when they’re not in the penalty box.

“I think controlling our emotions and having the right people talk all the time and focus on the right things can keep us more grounded, more on detail,” Trotz said. “I just think that’s how we’re going to handle it.”

Orpik said cutting back on mouthing off to officials can help players sharpen their focus on controllable aspects of the game. Oh, and they have long memories.

“If you yell and scream at them all game long, they might not give you the benefit of the doubt at the end of the game or the next game they have you they might say, `Oh we got Washington again,’ and before they even get to the game they’re sick of us,” Orpik said.

Perhaps sick of their own penchant for taking penalties, the Capitals don’t want to put undue stress on goaltenders Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer and the players tasked with killing them off. Williams said the coaching staff and older players had to set the tone for how everyone else should treat referees and linesmen.

Most of the time that means just being quiet.

“Yelling at the refs, although spontaneously it may feel like the right thing to do, it never changes the call – never, ever – as much as you whine and moan about it,” Williams said. “I think you get more respect from the referees that way when you show them the respect, as well.”

NOTES: D John Carlson missed practice Wednesday with a lower-body injury and is considered doubtful to play Thursday in St. Louis, which would be his second consecutive game out of the lineup. Trotz said the team would consider recalling a defenseman on Thursday morning but isn’t worried about going to St. Louis and Dallas with only 12 forwards “because we have airplanes.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .

Varlamov injured, again, as questions arise about future in Colorado

Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, of Russia, takes a drink during a time out against the Arizona Coyotes in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, March 7, 2016, in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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So, an interesting series of events for the Avs on Wednesday.

First, the club announced that No. 1 netminder Semyon Varlamov‘s troublesome groin — one that’s hampered him throughout the last two seasons — will sideline him for the next two weeks.

“We’re going to shut [Varlamov] down until after the All-Star break [Jan. 27-30],” coach Jared Bednar told the Avalanche website. “This is no longer a day-to-day thing.”

Varlamov, who turns 29 in April, has struggled with health and consistency since his banner ’13-14 campaign — the one in which he led the NHL with 41 wins, finished second in Vezina voting and fourth for the Hart Trophy.

He appeared in 57 games in each of the last two seasons, but his save percentage steadily dropped (from .921 to .914). This year, he’s only played 24 times, and he’s at an ugly .898.

Given he’s nearly 30 and trending in the wrong direction, it wasn’t entirely surprising to read this today, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

We’ve been focusing on defencemen as what the Avalanche will be acquiring for one of their cornerstone forwards.

But don’t be surprised if a goalie becomes a focal point of the conversation, too. I’m not sure Colorado is too secure in what they have.

Varlamov’s smack in the middle of a five-year, $29.5 million extension, one that carries a $5.9 million cap hit. That’s a big financial obligation. Outside of Varly, Colorado has a young ‘tender in Calvin Pickard — the 24-year-old in his first full year as Varlamov’s backup — but right now, it’s unclear if the Avs see him as a potential No. 1.

It’s also unclear what the organization thinks of Spencer Martin, the 63rd overall pick in ’13. Martin’s played reasonably well for AHL San Antonio this year, and is still just 21 years old.

Add it all up, and the goaltending situation is just another wrinkle in what’s become a very complex situation for Colorado.

Toffoli unlikely to join Kings on road trip

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Tyler Toffoli #73 of the Los Angeles Kings gets a shot on Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at Staples Center on December 5, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles Kings will have to keep on keeping on without Tyler Toffoli.

Toffoli has not played since Dec. 20 due to a lower-body injury, and head coach Darryl Sutter doesn’t expect the sniper will join the Kings for their upcoming road trip.

“It was four weeks yesterday,” Sutter said, per LA Kings Insider. “We thought he’d be further ahead. Once we came back and had the doctor’s evaluation we were told a three-to-six week time frame, so yesterday was four weeks, so we thought he’d be a little further ahead, but at the same time, there’s a fine line between the healing and the training. I think Tyler’s pushing hard and we want him back. We were hoping to have him for sure on this next trip, so that doesn’t appear to be the case right now because he hasn’t had any skating or practicing.”

Toffoli did actually hit the ice for a skate this morning, but there remains no timetable for his return.

Without Toffoli, the Kings have been leaning heavily on Jeff Carter to score. Carter has a team-high 23 goals; Tanner Pearson is next with 13, followed by Toffoli with eight.

Read more: Kings still don’t have timetable for Toffoli’s return 

Los Angeles hosts San Jose tonight, then hits the road for five games starting Saturday in Brooklyn. A poor trip and the Kings — currently holding down the second wild-card spot, but only barely — could find themselves on the outside looking in.

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