Tag: Brian Rafalski

Jonathan Ericsson

Why the Red Wings need Jonathan Ericsson to make “the leap” this year

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When Jonathan Ericsson arrived on the scene in Detroit during their run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2009, he showed up as a 6’4″ 220 pound revelation. He jumped into the starting lineup scoring four goals and four assists in the playoffs from the blue line and nearly helping lead the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup against Pittsburgh.

Since then, Ericsson’s last two seasons have seen him kind of find his way through action and not using his size nor his skills to their optimum levels. Two seasons ago, Ericsson dealt with injuries and played in 62 games and put up a stunningly low plus/minus for a Red Wings player at -15. Last season in particular was a rough one for Ericsson as his play had him permanently fixed on the third pairing and sometimes getting swapped out of the lineup as a healthy scratch.

Heading into this season with Brian Rafalski suddenly retiring, Ericsson has the chance to seize the day and become the blue line force many thought he would be. After signing a big free agent deal this summer to stay in Detroit (three years, $9.75 million), the pressure is on for Ericsson and Chuck Pleiness of the Macomb Daily Newspaper finds that Ericsson knows it’s time to show that he’s worth the faith the Wings have put into him.

“It’s up to myself now,” Ericsson said. “They’re going to have higher expectations of me. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a little more pressure but that’s always good. That always helps players, most of the players, anyway. You always want to put more pressure on yourself. It’s going to be fun, too.”

While the Wings’ top three defensemen are easy to pick out in Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, and Brad Stuart landing the job as the #4 guy is between Ericsson, Ian White, Mike Commodore. For Ericsson, the opportunity to capitalize on the situation is right there for the taking. While Ericsson had his struggles at times the last two years, perhaps that shot of faith (and big bucks) is what he needed to get faith in his own game.  The Wings are banking on it happening or else.

With Lidstrom eventually hanging it up sooner than later, the Wings will need someone to step up and become that big game kind of player on defense. Replacing a guy like Lidstrom is impossible, but if Ericsson and Kronwall can reach the heights they’ve shown they’re capable of with their play, replacing that production by committee would be a bonus for Detroit. There are high hopes for youngsters Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith to also someday join that defensive corps, but they haven’t had much opportunity in the NHL to show what they can do. Smith is just two years removed from the University of Wisconsin and has yet to play in the NHL.

For Ericsson, there’s no time like the present to make his presence felt. The Wings have ponied up the cash to keep him in town, now he has to show that he’s worth the dedication and hype, otherwise they’ll be paying $3.25 million a year to a third-pair defenseman for the next three years. Those kinds of mistakes in the salary cap world can’t happen, but as Ericsson says, it’s up to him to make it work now.

Ian White might jostle with Jonathan Ericsson for spot in Red Wings’ top four

San Jose Sharks v Vancouver Canucks - Game Two
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Maybe the talented offensive defenseman lost a step or two due to injuries last season, but one can imagine that the Detroit Red Wings were a bit stunned by Brian Rafalski’s retirement. The undersized defenseman played in the shadow of some great defensemen in his career, but he deserves credit for being a prolific contributor in his own right. Replacing him won’t be an easy task.

As impressive as Ian White looked during his short post-trade stay with the San Jose Sharks, it’s tough to ask him to fill Rafalski’s void. While they probably hope to close some of that gap by committee, they signed White during the off-season with the hope that he might play a similar puck-moving, offensively adept role.

The Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James took a look at how White might fit in next season.

White will add a fresh look to the back end. He’s a thicker, bigger and younger body than Rafalski.

White shoots right, a rarity on the team (Patrick Eaves, Jan Mursak and Mike Commodore are the only others), which will help especially on the power play. He has got a physical edge to him, along with a solid set of skills. Picture a top four that’s divided up into pairs of Lidstrom-White and Kronwall-Stuart, and the Wings would have offense and physicality on each set.

Jonathan Ericsson should challenge White to be in the top four, which can only help the Wings.

At one point, Ericsson seemed like the next great Swedish diamond in the rough for the Wings’ vaunted European scouts. It’s stunning how far his stock has plummeted in the last year or two; I’d guess there are at least a few Red Wings fans who shudder at the idea of Ericsson getting a significant increase in ice time.

The Red Wings have a tendency to extract the best out of most of their players though, so it wouldn’t be shocking if White and/or Ericsson play a bit over their heads. It seems like White might have a slight edge at this point, but it could be an interesting battle to follow during training camp and next season in general.

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

Darren Helm, Drew Miller, Patrick Eaves

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?

Kris Draper announces retirement from NHL after 20 seasons

Kris Draper

When Kris Draper’s NHL career started with the Winnipeg Jets (the original ones) back in 1990 as a speedy forward with no real niche at all to crack the Jets lineup, he likely found it hard to imagine that after his struggles to earn playing time he’d be calling it quits 21 years later. After starting off inauspiciously in Winnipeg and ending as a four-time Stanley Cup champion in Detroit, that’s just what Draper is doing as he announced his retirement from the NHL.

For Kris Draper, that kind of story is the perfect way to sum up what’s been the ideal career for checking line player. He didn’t score many goals, just 161 over his career, but he helped prevent them and he won faceoffs with the best in the NHL while playing with the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings obtained Draper from the Jets in one of the oddest deals in NHL history in June of 1993. Draper was traded to Detroit from Winnipeg because the Jets didn’t have a place for him in their lineup and all the Wings had to do was give the Jets a $1.

Draper took that opportunity with the Wings and turned it into a brilliant career as one of the best checking centers in the league. Playing alongside the likes of Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty in the latter half of the 1990s they formed “The Grind Line” as Detroit’s top shutdown line. With an equal mix of grit, speed, and tenacity “The Grind Line” helped lead the Wings to Stanley Cup victories in 1997, 1998, and 2002. With the 90s teams being dominated by equal amounts of North American and Russian superstar talent, “The Grind Line” provided a change-up from what the likes of Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, and Igor Larionov were all capable of doing.

Of course, Draper nearly saw his career put on hold in 1996 after receiving one of the dirtiest hits from behind from Colorado’s Claude Lemieux in the 1996 Western Conference finals that saw Draper’s face horrifically injured. Draper suffered a broken jaw, broken cheekbone, and had numerous stitches to his face following the hit and the moment instigated the Detroit-Colorado rivalry that burned white hot through the late 90s and early 2000s.

Draper’s presence in Detroit was a constant over 17 seasons with the Wings and his ability to be productive consistently over his career is what helped his longevity. Draper enjoyed his best statistical seasons from 2001-2007 hitting his stride at its best in his 30s as he scored double-digit goals for five straight seasons. For a guy on the third and fourth line, potting that many goals is a hell of an accomplishment; Even more so considering it wasn’t his job to pitch in that much offensively.

While Draper’s departure in Detroit is a sad one for Wings fans, they have the heir apparent to Draper already in their lineup in Darren Helm. Draper was always known for his tremendous speed and ability to sustain pressure on the forecheck. Helm is one of the league’s fastest skaters and his arrival in Detroit effectively chased Draper out of a job in recent seasons.

For Detroit, it’s the third retirement they’ve seen this summer as Brian Rafalski and Chris Osgood each hung it up earlier this offseason. The effect of having three guys in their late 30s retiring helps bring the average age of the team down a bit, but losing that expertise and guiding veteran hands might prove to be difficult in the locker room. Draper’s leadership in particular leaves a bit of a void for the Wings, but with the number of other great veteran players they have their it shouldn’t affect things greatly.

While Draper isn’t someone who’s going to generate talk of joining the Hall of Fame, he’s leaving the game as a hero in Detroit and to Red Wings fans all over and as a guy hated in Colorado and Pittsburgh. You’ve done something right during your time in the league if you can leave the game beloved by the home fans and hated by rivals, and that’s just how Draper wants it.

Report: Red Wings’ Web site caption reveals that Kris Draper will announce retirement on Tuesday

Colin Wilson, Kris Draper

If the last few days taught us anything, it’s that it’s tough to keep secrets in the Internet age. For those of you who wondered why the Winnipeg Jets shared their new logo on what seemed like a random Friday in July, the reasoning becomes obvious when you consider the fact that it was already leaked.

This time around, it was a team’s own Web site that accidentally shared the news, as George Malik showed off his sharp vision by pointing out that a Kris Draper photo caption spilled the beans that he will announce his retirement on Tuesday.

To be fair to the Red Wings, it’s not as if Draper’s announcement can really compare to the retirements of Chris Osgood and Brian Rafalski or Nicklas Lidstrom’s to opt against retirement. Injuries and healthy scratches limited Draper to just 47 games played during the 2010-11 regular season and although he’s made some appearances in the playoffs, he’s averaged less than 10 minutes per postseason contest the last three years.

Many associate Detroit’s incredible run of success with draft day steals, but Draper represents one of the team’s better reclamation projects (see also: Daniel Cleary). The first version of the Winnipeg Jets traded him to the Red Wings in June 1993 and Draper stuck with the Red Wings ever since, becoming a part of four Stanley Cup-winning teams. Draper will probably be best remembered for his days on “The Grind Line,” which also featured Joe Kocur and Kirk Maltby.

Obviously, this is far from official, so we’ll pass along an update if/once he decides to retire.

Update: It’s official, but the press conference will take place tomorrow as indicated.