Justin Abdelkader

Winter Classic Memories: The snow storm at The Big House

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Every Tuesday in December we’ll be looking back at some Winter Classic memories as we approach the 2020 game between the Stars and Predators from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas on Jan. 1.

The Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings should have taken place in 2013, but due to a lockout the outdoor game was delayed a year until Jan. 1, 2014.

It was the first time that the New Year’s Day game was held in a college football stadium, with the NHL eyeing an attendance record inside Michigan Stadium. The previous attendance record for the Winter Classic was set during the first one at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo in 2008 when 71,217 fans saw the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins need a shootout to decide a winner. 

The world record attendance of 104,173, which was set in 2010 at a University of Michigan football game at The Big House, was something the NHL hoped to top with the 2014 Winter Classic.

“You don’t remember everything in life, but you remember moments,” said then Red Wings head coach Babcock. “This should be one of those moments you remember.” 

A winter storm made the trek to Ann Arbor tough for those going to the game, and fans were still entering the stadium deep into the second period. The snowfall was heavy, which was clear between stoppages when shovelers were seen pushing large amounts of the stuff off the ice. In the end, there was no Guinness World Record, but an outdoor game record of 105,491 tickets were sold to see the Maple Leafs top the Red Wings 3-2 after a shootout. 

Due to the weather conditions, ticket-takers stopped scanning stubs and the league could not get a 100% accurate count at the gate.

From Nick Cotsonika’s 2014 story for Yahoo:

The NHL had to agree to a preapproved accounting method with Guinness, and it chose a barcoded ticketing system. Guinness had an official adjudicator on site, Alex Angert, who said he could count only fans whose tickets were scanned, plus media and officials who came only to watch the game.

The league still seemed to have a shot afterward. At the “Big Chill at the Big House” in 2010, Michigan announced a crowd of 113,411 – even though Guinness was on site and certified only 85,451 at the time mainly because ticket scanners froze in the cold. About a month later, after analyzing photos of the stands, Guinness certified the attendance at 104,073. It now lists it at 104,173.

Those who were there, however, withstood the cold, snowy conditions and got to witness a tight game, despite the weather, which saw a 13 degree temperature at puck drop and wind chills around zero.

After a scoreless first period, the teams exchanged goals in the second and third periods to force overtime for the third time in Winter Classic history. In the shootout, it was Tyler Bozak who broke the draw to give the Maple Leafs the victory.

Four outdoor games since that Maple Leafs win have needed overtime to decide a winner. None have reached the shootout.

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Among the unique sidebars to the game was Red Wings forward Luke Glendening’s experience. He was planning on watching the 2014 Winter Classic on television after being sent down to the team’s AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids three days before the game.

After playing that Monday at Comerica Park as part of the Hockeytown Winter Festival AHL matchup against the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, Glendening, who played 165 games with the Wolverines, was told he would be getting called back up to play with the NHL team at the Big House, his second outdoor game in three days.

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The snow globe scene, mixed with the red and blue sections of the stadium for each team’s fans made it a picturesque day, despite the ugliness of the weather. For everything it delivered, that Winter Classic was later named 2014 sports event of the year by Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily.

As Babcock said, it was a moment to remember for everyone involved.

“It was great,” said Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader of the fan support. “All of the fans, I don’t know how they did it, how they stayed warm. We had heat on the benches, but I know it was cold up there and it was windy. They battled the conditions and just made it an unbelievable atmosphere. Of all the outdoor games like this, I don’t know if there’s been an atmosphere like this.”

NBC will air the 2020 NHL Winter Classic between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas, at 2 p.m. ET.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Red Wings vs. Rangers livestream: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

These two Original Six teams face off in the first of three meetings this season. Both clubs have been perennial contenders in this era but currently each is mired in a multi-season playoff drought. Neither team has gotten off to a strong start this season – both sitting below .500 as these storied franchises look to return to prominence, rather than extend their non-playoff streaks. Each of the last six meetings have been decided by one goal, including five of those reaching overtime and two being decided in a shootout.

The Red Wings returned home on Monday from a two-game road trip and could not turn things around. Andreas Athanasiou scored his first goal of the season 2:35 into the game but the Predators responded by outscoring the Wings 5-0 in the second period to chase Jimmy Howard (4 GA on 8 shots in 2nd per.) and added another in the third for the five-goal win.

Artemi Panarin, New York’s splashy free-agent signee this past offseason, leads the team in both goals (6) and points (12). His point/gm average is right in line with his last two seasons in Columbus when he set career highs each year. Kaapo Kakko, the second overall pick in last June’s draft, scored on Monday and added an assist for his first career two-point game.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Detroit Red Wings at New York Rangers
WHERE: Madison Square Garden
WHEN: Wednesday, Nov. 6, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Red Wings-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RED WINGS
Tyler BertuzziDylan LarkinAnthony Mantha
Andreas Athanasiou – Valtteri FilppulaAdam Erne
Taro HiroseFrans NielsenBrendan Perlini
Justin AbdelkaderJacob De La RoseDarren Helm

Patrik NemethFilip Hronek
Dennis Cholowski – Dylan McIlrath
Joe Hicketts – Madison Bowey

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

RANGERS
Artemi Panarin – Ryan StromeJesper Fast
Chris Kreider – Filip Chytil – Pavel Buchnevich
Brendan LemieuxBrett Howden – Kaapo Kakko
Micheal HaleyGreg McKeggBrendan Smith

Libor HajekJacob Trouba
Brady SkjeiTony DeAngelo
Marc StaalAdam Fox

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

Liam McHugh will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones and NHL insider Darren Dreger. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Red Wings-Rangers from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y.

NBC Sports will premiere “The Russian Five” documentary, a feature on the first five Russians to play hockey together in the NHL, Wednesday, November 6, following Wednesday Night Hockey between the Red Wings and Rangers. The documentary tells the story of how Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, and Igor Larionov were able to defect from their homeland and transform the Detroit Red Wings into perennial contenders and back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

Ken Holland handed keys to Oilers rebuild

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From Ken Holland’s perspective, you could see why he’d up and leave from Detroit to take on the roles of president of hockey operations and general manager with the Edmonton Oilers. 

The 63-year-old, who recently switched from his decades-long role as Detroit Red Wings GM to a senior vice president position with the franchise after Steve Yzerman returned, is taking a reported five-year, $25 million dollar deal to try and turn around the Oilers with Connor McDavid as the centerpiece. Enticing for any one, clearly, especially when given, per the official release, “full autonomy.”

But if you’re Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson and your goal is to make a rebuild into a quick transition back into a playoff team, is Holland the right choice? He has four Stanley Cups on his resume while running the Red Wings, sure. But once the franchise’s golden generation reached their golden years in the NHL, that success came to an end, and there were no younger reinforcements coming through the Red Wings’ system to sustain those years of winning, at least not immediately.

One of the things Holland was known for during his time in Detroit was allowing prospects to develop properly in the AHL, even if some thought those players were well-beyond ready for the NHL. 

Three of the Red Wings’ top five scorers this past season probably could have been up earlier in the NHL considering the franchise was and remains in a transition phase after the end of their 25-season playoff streak. Andreas Athanasiou spent parts of three seasons in the AHL before becoming a full-time NHLer. Anthony Mantha needed extra time to find the scoring touch that served him well in junior and has posted back-to-back 20-goal seasons. Tyler Bertuzzi broke out this past season with 21 goals after finding his way through 137 games in Grand Rapids. 

Jesse Puljujarvi had a roller coaster of a 2018-19 season. Kailer Yamamoto got in 17 games with the Oilers. Caleb Jones and Cooper Marody have accumulated good experience with the Bakersfield Condors. Evan Bouchard is coming soon. Those are the prospects the Oilers need to get right if they’re going to have any impact at the NHL level. Letting them overripe in the AHL would serve them well as opposed to yo-yo’ing them between levels, messing with their development.

But while prospect development could be looked at as a positive, some of the contracts Holland has handed out has ended up handcuffing him while attempting to maintain their status as a playoff team. Justin Abdelkader, Frans Nielsen, Darren Helm, Trevor Daley, and Jonathan Ericcson are some of the term-heavy, cap-eating deals that have helped put the Red Wings in the position they currently reside.

That track record can be improved if Holland surrounds himself with smart people. Pat Verbeek, who was a pro scout with the Red Wings under Holland, is leaving his role as assistant GM in Tampa to return to Detroit in the same position under Yzerman. But will the same be said for Tyler Wright, who currently works as the Red Wings’ director of amateur scouting?

The staff will need to be a strong and creative one considering the Oilers’ current position under the salary cap and some of the roadblocks that remain in place as they try to build a team around McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Then you have the question of the head coach now that Ken Hitchcock will not be back and possibly moving into an advisor role. Dave Tippett seems itching to return behind a bench and doesn’t want to wait for Seattle’s NHL entry. Dan Bylsma was an assistant in Detroit this past season. Jay Woodcroft has done a great job in his first season with the Oilers’ AHL affiliate in Bakersfield.

There will be plenty of options available to replace Hitchcock.

Nicholson and Oilers owner Daryl Katz feel Holland is ready for a successful second act as an NHL GM. They are, of course, also desperate to ensure time isn’t wasted while McDavid is still posting 100-point seasons. There’s plenty of work ahead for Holland to make that a reality, and this move cannot fail and set the franchise back any longer.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Red Wings rebuild won’t be easy, but Yzerman is right GM choice

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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 [156] and second-most points [283] 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.

Cleanup duty

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.”

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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?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Red Wings give Blashill two-year extension to continue developing youth

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Another playoff-less spring means the Detroit Red Wings have already begun working on the 2019-20 NHL season. First, they extended goaltender Jimmy Howard and now they’re bringing back head coach Jeff Blashill.

The Red Wings announced on Thursday that Blashill has agreed to a two-year extension through the 2020-21 season. He was hired in June 2015 and has headed up a rebuild that is still on-going, but has some bright spots to it.

Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou each hit the 30-goal mark for the first time during career years, while Anthony Mantha hit 20 goals for the second straight season, and Tyler Bertuzzi took a big step forward as part of a developing Red Wing core. There’s still plenty of age on the roster beyond this season — Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Jonathan Ericcsson, Trevor Daley, and likely Niklas Kronwall, whose contract expires this summer — but a youth movement is afoot. In general manager Ken Holland’s eyes Blashill is the right choice to continue to lead this transition phase.

“Jeff has done a tremendous job developing our young talent as we continue to rebuild our organization,” said Holland in a statement. “Our young players have made significant strides during his time as head coach and are playing important minutes in key situations. As we continue to build towards the future, we have the utmost confidence that Jeff is the coach best suited to help our prospects become impactful NHL players. He has gained valuable experience as an NHL coach in each of his four years in Detroit and has instilled a work ethic in our current team that makes us hard to play against every night and competitive in every game, which is the identity we want our team to have as we move forward.”

The one solution the Red Wings have yet to find is a goaltender of the future who can step in in a year or two. With Howard’s extension and Jonathan Bernier still under contract through the end of next season, Holland has $7.25M invested between the pipes for 2019-20.

A two-year extension is a short enough leash that a change could be made if things aren’t trending in the right direction. There’s plenty of speculation about Holland’s future as well. He signed two-year deal last April, but his name has been constantly brought up in rumors surrounding the GM position for the Seattle franchise, which isn’t entering the NHL until the 2020-21 season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.