Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Off-Season Off Loading

Well, okay, we had a hockey season. Not exactly the one I wanted, but still one that made me proud of the boys in red and white. I'd have liked to kick SJ's ass, but we can't always get what we want, can we? (Though, if we can, sign me up for a few millions bucks, would you?)

So here we are, in the deep, dark depths of the off season, sucking out every tidbit of Wings news like marrow from a roasted beef bone (yummmmm) while Boston fondles that which is rightfully ours. In the 69 days since the Wings last played, one or two significant things have happened. And since I know you're all dying to hear my take on all of them, here it is:
  • Nick Lidstrom signed for one more year: Thank Jesus
  • Rafalski unexpectedly hung 'em up: This one was like a kick to the dentures--it came out of nowhere, drew blood and left me wondering what the hell had happened. Personally, I'd been braced for the possibility of Nick putting family before career, but Rafi caught me by surprise. Having seen his injuries over the last couple of years, though, it began to make a sad sort of sense. I'll miss the poetry of his passes, but I can't deny that the blueline needed a retool. His departure gave us a lot of room to do that.
  • Ericsson resigned for 3 years and mad money: That is, money that made me mad. Which left me, not doubting Kenny precisely, but at least wondering if there might be something more interesting than water in his bottle. Hopefully, Shitbox can live down his nickname and start living up to the expectations the organization obviously has for him.
  • We signed a man with hair like Bozo the Clown: This was a move that made me go, "Huh." Not what I'd been expecting, but interesting nonetheless. Mike Commodore brings a physical dimension to the back end that we've been lacking at times, and after the last couple of years, he's got something to prove to his detractors. That often works out well for us. Hopefully, it will again.
  • We signed a defector: Not one from the now defunct Soviet Union this time, but from the bowels of Purgatory, also known as San Jose (Chicago, of course, being Hell itself). Ian White was another interesting acquisition. He's fairly young and not a big guy, but he's another player with the potential to reach a new level in his career if he can click with the Detroit system. I'ma keep an eye on this one. Even if his nose is two sizes to small for his face.
  • We replaced two voices behind the bench: With Paul MacLean and Brad McCrimmon both choosing to move on from Detroit and explore career options in exciting new places like Ottawa and Russia, the Red Wings have had a bit of an overhaul behind the bench. I'm cautiously optimistic that this might be the biggest and best development of the off season. I think Mike Babcock was onto something when he said he'd started to feel like Charlie Brown's teacher in the locker room this past season. Hopefully adding Jeff Blashill and Bill Peters will allow for fresh translations of the wah-wah-wah chorus and spark some new energy in a squad that's had perhaps too much time to get comfy with each other.
  • The wizard behind the curtain has dropped the curtain for good: The Wizard of Oz is going back to Kansas. Well, actually, Chris Osgood is only moving to the Red Wings offices as a goalie scout and development guy. This is sad news for those of us who loved the Dennis the Menace doppleganger for all of his ups and down, but it's great news for the kids coming up through the Detroit goalie pipeline. Ozzie's role as a mentor has been a huge influence on Jimmy Howard, and he's got the kind of mental toughness and team-first mentality that will hopefully make the difference in turning kids like McCollum into real NHL goalies. I'll miss Ozzie, but I'm glad he's sticking with the club. He's part of Detroit after all these years, and I'd hate to see him leave us completely.
  • The Conkblock returned to Detroit: I'm fine with this. Conklin was good for us in the year he spent behind Ozzie. He's okay with being a 2nd stringer, he can play well when he's called upon, and he's cheap. These all add up to a sensible decision on Kenny's part. Plus, he's not bad to look at. Okay by me.
So with all those moves and grooves, I'm left with only one big question mark punctuating my summer: What's up with Kris Draper?

I think it's pretty much a given that Draper will be calling it quits before the season starts, though I'm sure he'll be doing it reluctantly (that man just loves to play). Hell, I'm reluctant to see it. I LOVE that man. LOVE. HIM. An original Grind Line-r, the most amazing deal in NHL history (The $1 Man...seriously, how sweet was that trade?), the man who gave his face for the franchise, and the best forward mentor a locker room has ever seen... How could I not love #33?

Unfortunately, he's done his job of bringing along the kids just a little too well. He helped mold Helm into what he is today... Draper's replacement. #43 is younger and even faster than his mentor and his hands are developing nicely, giving him the potential to turn into more of a goal scorer than Draper ever was while he's still at the beginning of his career. I'll hate seeing Draper go, but he's leaving us with a worthy successor. And if Kenny Holland isn't actually boozing it up in the front office, they'll find a place for Draper in the franchise, whether it's as a conditioning coach, a forward development guy, or some level of coach. As much as Ozzie is, Kris Draper is part of the fabric of Detroit.

And that makes us a lucky buncha bastards.