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Heading into Friday’s Game 5 between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was the latter that needed to make a few tweaks to their game after a 6-4 loss in Game 4 that evened their best-of-seven series.
Stopping the Bruins from scoring six goals would be a big start. Quelling their solid power play would also be wise.
So a 2-1 win where Boston’s only goal came with an empty net with 43 seconds left in the third was a pretty good improvement.
So, too, was a power play that was stifled. The Bruins came into the game 5-for-11 (45.5 percent) but was held at bay in each of their three man-advantage opportunities.
The first two periods of the game resembled hockey that’s played in overtime. It was hesitant, a byproduct, surely of two teams know what was at stake. Nearly 80 percent of the teams that take Game 5 in a series that is tied 2-2 go on to progress to the next round. It was a tight game.
Both teams seemed reluctant to take any risks, and it wasn’t until Auston Matthews broke the ice at 11:33 of the final frame that some urgency seemed to set in. Kasperi Kapanen took advantage of a Bruins team now in chase mode, giving the Leafs a 2-0 lead 2:12 later.
The NHL Situation Room said the play wasn’t conclusive in terms of overturning the call of a good goal on the ice.
“After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Referees, the Situation Room confirmed the Referee’s call on the ice,” an email from the league said. “The decision was made in accordance to Rule 78.7 that states in part, ‘If a review is not conclusive and/or there is any doubt whatsoever as to whether the call on the ice was correct, the original call on the ice will be confirmed.’ “
Bruins fans aren’t going to like that one, and they certainly have an argument. Rask was clearly impeded on the play.
Frederik Andersen was solid in the game, stopping 28 shots in a bounce-back effort after allowing five on 30 in Game 4.
Toronto can now take the series at home on Sunday, which would exorcize their demons against the Bruins, who beat them in Game 7 of Round 1 last year (and in 2013).
Game 6 of this series goes on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC
NHL Live, hosted by Mike Tirico, Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Detroit Red Wings fans are right to rejoice. While the move’s been telegraphed for a while, this is indeed a good Friday for the Red Wings, as Steve Yzerman was officially named as their next GM.
Whether it was convincing Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman to sign team-friendly deals, or identifying the league’s general prejudice against smaller players to unearth draft day bargains, Yzerman* did such a great job with the Tampa Bay Lightning, that I’ve called him a magician and/or wizard on multiple occasions.
Even if you’re a vociferous defender of Ken Holland’s latter, sometimes-rebuild-resistant years, chances are, you’re probably very excited about Yzerman’s hiring. The team announced official titles for both Yzerman and Holland, if you like your updates especially granular.
So, to me and plenty others – not just Red Wings fans – this is a shrewd hire.
Still, if there’s one talking point that stands out as especially valid, it’s this: when Yzerman took over the Lightning, he already had an elite center in Steven Stamkos, and a future Norris-winning defenseman in Victor Hedman.
All due respect to Dylan Larkin (who had a strong season, and is only 22) and some other nice players, but the Red Wings don’t have foundational players at quite that superstar level. They do, however, have a pretty interesting setup. If Yzerman is as bright as he seemed to be in Tampa Bay, the Red Wings could really turn things around. All they need is some luck and patience.
Let’s get an idea of the path ahead for Yzerman.
On a Larkin
Look, there’s no shame in Larkin not being quite what Stamkos was in 2010, when Stevie Y took over in Tampa Bay. It’s easy to forget just how potent Stamkos was (the NHL’s most goals  and second-most points  from 2009-10 to 2010-11), possibly because a few catastrophic injuries briefly derailed his career.
Larkin is fantastic, and stands as the sort of contract you’d build around: a 22-year-old star with a bargain $6.1 million cap hit running through 2022-23.
Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi showed great chemistry with Larkin late in the season, with Mantha in particular boasting the sort of pedigree that points to continued success. One of Yzerman’s early challenges will be to strike affordable deals with Mantha, Bertuzzi, and Andreas Athanasiou, three useful forwards whose contracts expire after 2019-20. Would the best deals come in earlier extensions, or would the Red Wings be wiser to wait? It’s up to Yzerman & Co. to decide, and getting good deals could be key if they want to build a winning core.
Early fruits of rebuild
While I’d argue that Holland dragged his feet multiple times when it came to the rebuilding process, the good news is that when Holland did act, he landed some nice building blocks. In trading away Gustav Nyquist, Nick Jensen, and especially Tomas Tatar, the Red Wings have really loaded up on draft picks, most of which land in the top three rounds.
The development processes are already underway for a few interesting prospects, particularly 2018 first-rounders Filip Zadina (sixth overall) and Joe Veleno (30th). The Red Wings once again pick sixth overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, so it’s up to Yzerman to land another blue-chipper, even if Detroit doesn’t get the luxury of a more obvious choice like Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko.
Almost as important is that the Red Wings have loaded up on picks like they’re at Prospect Costco:
- Last year, they had those two first-rounders, plus: two second-rounders, and three third-rounders to go with their normal set of choices (minus a fifth-rounder).
- Via Cap Friendly’s handy chart, the Red Wings have two extra second-round picks and one additional fifth-rounder in 2019.
- In 2020, they have an extra second and third-round pick. (The third-rounder could turn into a second-rounder depending upon the San Jose Sharks’ actions.)
- They already have an extra third-rounder in 2021.
That’s a fantastic start, eh? Even the best drafting teams would admit that there’s a lot of “dart throwing” involved in drafting, so it makes sense to load up on those darts, especially when you get the added precision of picks in earlier rounds.
The Lightning were adept at finding quality talent off-the-beaten-path under Yzerman,* most notably identifying Brayden Point as a third-rounder (79th in 2014) and Nikita Kucherov in a second round (58th in 2011). If Yzerman can carry that success over to Detroit, even partially, the Red Wings could really make some exciting leaps.
Which brings us to the messier part.
For all of Holland’s accomplishments, he left behind a shaggy salary structure. There’s dead money (Stephen Weiss’ buyout lingers through 2020-21), scary contracts (Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser), and, erm, maybe too much of a “veteran presence.”
By that I mean this team is old, at least beyond the core. Niklas Kronwall is 38 with a (mercifully) expiring contract, both Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley are 35, and Mike Green is a very banged-up 33. DeKeyser is oft-criticized and not really a spring chicken, either, at 29.
The goalie duo is also creaky. Jimmy Howard was fantastic in 2018-19, but at 35, it’s still surprising that the Red Wings didn’t trade him, even with the understanding that they’d come calling during free agency time in July. Jonathan Bernier is 30 and his $3M cap hit doesn’t expire until after the 2020-21 season.
Most of those trends are disturbing, and while the Red Wings need more talent basically everywhere, the defense and goaltending likely need the most strenuous surgery.
The good news is that a significant chunk of those contracts aren’t lingering too long after Yzerman takes the reins. Kronwall is headed to free agency (or retirement?), while Ericsson, Green, and Daley come off the books after 2019-20. Howard’s extension only lasts through 2019-20, so maybe Yzerman will get trade value out of the veteran where Holland could or would not.
In the short term, and in the case of a few lengthier deals, there’s a significant mess to clean up. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t too dim, however.
Some pain for future gains
I’ve seen at least mild arguments to try to win now, with at least a portion of The Athletic’s Craig Custance piece (sub required) mentioning certain surprise stories in the NHL. And, sure, if the goal were only to make it back to the playoffs (and maybe even win a series), then speeding up the rebuild would make sense.
My guess is that mega-winner Stevie Y wants his best chance at a Stanley Cup, not merely getting the Red Wings to the playoff bubble.
The free agent market dries up pretty quickly when you realize that Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky likely wouldn’t find much of a lure to join a rebuilding team in a cold weather city (heck, “Detroiters” even got canceled).
So, instead of chasing mid-tier free agents and settling for mid-tier expectations, Yzerman should use his clout to absorb another rebuild year or two. Doing so would raise the ceiling on this rebuild, for a few reasons:
- Most directly and obviously, tanking for an even better pick in 2020. If you look at the teams who regularly contend, virtually all of them required high-end talent found early in drafts.
- Rather than giving valuable playing time to long-in-the-tooth veterans, why not let younger players learn on the job? You might just get an idea of what you have in, say, Michael Rasmussen. Difference-making players are hitting the NHL earlier and earlier, so why not find out which players can actually make a difference?
- Allow the Red Wings to be a short-term receptacle to clear cap space, with Detroit taking a bribe, whether that means quality draft picks or useful players. See: the Coyotes landing an important scorer in Vinnie Hinostroza in exchange for keeping Marian Hossa‘s contract warm. Yzerman could even call up his buddies in Tampa Bay and offer to absorb the final year of Ryan Callahan‘s contract ($5.8M cap hit). Boy, Anthony Cirelli and/or Mathieu Joseph would look nice with a winged wheel …
- Going further, getting more cap space means that the Red Wings could position themselves to land better players in trades than they’d likely entice in free agency. Perhaps teams would ready for the expansion draft by sending good, would-be-exposed players to Detroit for something? Maybe the Hurricanes would sour on Dougie Hamilton, or something similar would happen with P.K. Subban, considering his hefty $9M price tag? Could the Red Wings echo former exec Jim Nill in being the next team to say “Why, yes, we’d love to take Tyler Seguin for 25 cents on the dollar, thank you.”
This isn’t an easy job, and again, some of this comes down to luck. Still, it’s easy to see why Red Wings fans are excited.
Make no mistake about it, though: Yzerman has his work cut out for him. It could be the fun sort of work that you’d get from tinkering with a car in the garage, and it should be fascinating for those of us who are dorks when it comes to studying how teams are put together.
* – And his staff, including current GM Julien BriseBois. We could have a lengthy, basically impossible-to-resolve discussion about who was most responsible for the great building in Tampa Bay, but it would be pretty fruitless. And, really, wouldn’t all smart GMs want to surround themselves with other smart people?
Steve Yzerman’s return to Hockeytown is now official.
The Detroit Red Wings announced on Friday afternoon that Yzerman will assume the role of executive vice president and general manager, responsible for all hockey operations, and that Ken Holland, who’s been in the GM position since 1997, will stay on as senior vice president with a new multi-year extension.
“I’m extremely honored to be named General Manager of the Red Wings,” said Yzerman in a statement. “I’m very grateful to the Ilitches, both for their support when I left to become General Manager of the Lightning, and for their kindness in welcoming my family and me back to the organization. I’d also like to thank Ken Holland. I was fortunate to learn the management side of the game from Jim Devellano, Ken and others in the Red Wings organization for four seasons after I retired, and I’m very happy to have the opportunity to work alongside them once again. It was very humbling to be approached about returning home to become General Manager, and I’m looking forward to building on the exciting young core Ken has already put in place.”
Yzerman stepped down as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning in September, citing a desire to spend more time with his family. Immediately, the Detroit connection was made, and after a season of rumors, the Red Wings and their fans can finally welcome the franchise legend back in the fold.
A Hockey Hall of Famer who played 22 seasons with the Red Wings, Yzerman helped the franchise win three Stanley Cups. Following his retirement in 2006, he served as Holland’s assistant as the team’s vice president. He was also executive director of Canada’s gold medal winning Olympic teams in 2010 and 2014. From 2015 to this past September he helped build a Lightning team that reached three Eastern Conference Finals and the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, and recorded the fourth-most wins in the NHL (402).