On the difference between ‘good’ and ‘big-time’ players

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Let’s forget for just one second that Mike Babcock has a big decision to make about his future. This post isn’t an attempt to handicap where he’ll end up. We’ve already done plenty of that this season.

This post is applicable to fans of all 30 teams, not just those of the Detroit Red Wings. Because, for me, the one thing that Babcock said last night that really stood out was, per Yahoo Sports, the following:

“In the end, you’ve got to have big-time players up the middle and on the back to be successful. So those are questions in our organization that we work towards, drafting good and developing good, but we’ve been winning too much (in the regular season to get high draft picks). That’s the facts.”

When the Wings last won the Cup, they had two “big-time” centers in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and one “big-time” defenseman in Nicklas Lidstrom.

Not just “good,” but “big-time.” As in, future Hall of Famers. Elite. Best of the best.

Since Lidstrom retired, the Wings have not been past the second round of the playoffs.

In a related story, the Philadelphia Flyers never recovered from losing Chris Pronger and the future of the Boston Bruins is in question with an aging Zdeno Chara.

The last five Stanley Cup winners have featured one of Chara, Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty. All three are future Hall of Famers.

As for “up the middle,” Babcock asked last night, “Who’s going to replace Pav?” That’s a good question, because Datsyuk will turn 37 in July. A winner of three Selke Trophies, he’s one of the best two-way forwards in the history of the game.

Another related story: the last five Stanley Cup winners have featured one of Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, or Anze Kopitar. Again, all three are future Hall of Famers.

Meanwhile, there’s a reason there’s so much excitement in Edmonton about Connor McDavid, a center. Yet equally important will be the development of d-man Darnell Nurse.

Ditto for Buffalo, where there’s plenty of excitement for Jack Eichel; just don’t overlook the development of Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov.

And for all the strife we’ve seen in Toronto, Leafs fans can at least be hopeful about Morgan Rielly and William Nylander. Toronto hasn’t had a “big-time” center since Mats Sundin. And did you know the Leafs, an Original Six franchise, have never had a Norris Trophy winner? The closest any Toronto blue-liner has come in the modern era is Borje Salming. The Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup in the modern era.

Look, nobody’s saying a team absolutely has to have a Norris Trophy winner on defense and a Selke Trophy/Hart Trophy winner at center. There are always going to be exceptions. The 2006 Hurricanes didn’t have an elite d-man, though people sometimes forget they had Rod Brind’Amour, a two-time Selke winner.

The thing is, you don’t build a team based on the exceptions. Otherwise, every NFL team would be looking for the next Trent Dilfer.

“We’ve got lots of good young players, no question about it, and ideally we’ve got some good ones coming,” Babcock said.

But are any going to be “big-time” centers or defensemen?

Not just good.

“Big-time.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.