Ah the dog days of the NHL season.
Fresh faced 18 year olds have pulled jerseys over their heads as they have been claimed by NHL teams. Over rated free agents have signed on the dotted line for salaries that rival some of the poorest nations GDP's and big name players have been dealt as if they were hockey cards being traded amongst pre-teen boys. And so, we have arrived at this point:
The doldrums of the NHL season. Where the mind is free to wonder the "what-ifs" and the "could have beens" from seasons passed. Well, in this case, off-seasons passed.
Hop in the Dolorean, punch it to 88 and join me as we travel back to the long lost off-season of 2009.
Perhaps you remember it. The Stanley Cup Finals were inexplicably not played, and the off-season began after Detroit dramatically wont the Conference Finals on a Darren Helm overtime goal. Let's all savour it. Ah, what a goal.
Anyways, the talk of Hockeytown quickly shifted to speculation about a salary cap crunch that had been unheard of up until this point (luckily Chicago, with their massive inferiority complex just had to one-up the Motor City the following off-season) and names like Marian Hossa, Michael Samuelson, and Jiri Hudler were all being discussed in hushes and whispers and wondering whether or not the Red Wings could keep them all, or whether the team would be gutted and have to face some down years in the face of having no money.
Well, we all know what happened. Hossa finally found a home in a "real hockey city", Samuelson took his talents to West Beach and Jiri Hudler decided he wanted to spend the next season with his greatest love: Russian Vodka straight from the factories. Which left us with Zetterberg and Johan Franzen as our big name free agents whose rights we retain.
Now, I will warn you, this opinion that I'm about to deliver will no doubt immediately be unpopular, and though at the time it may have looked like the organization had made the right decision, the two years of hindsight afforded to me in my position of absolutely zero influence on the Detroit Red Wings is a luxury afforded to fans and, unfortunately, not General Managers who have to make their decision in the moment, and make the best call they can. But here goes:
Johan Franzen should've been allowed to walk, Jiri Hudler should've been told to pack his bags, and Marian Hossa should have been resigned long term.
*ducks as an octopus flies overhead, smacking against the wall*
Wait, now allow me to explain my reasoning!
There is no denying Johan Franzen is a dynamic player. In fact, from 2008-the midpoint of last season, he was one of the leagues most dominant pure goal scorers. He had taken over playoff games more dominantly than Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Gordie Howe. Sometimes, more than all of them combined.
He is a sniper through and through. But he's also an injury prone one who is also prone to laziness. Immense laziness. He coasts. He spectates. His back checking makes Kessel's look good at time (note: exaggeration. Kessel's backchecking never looks good). In short, he's a pretty one dimensional forward who occasionally rises to the occasion, but has begun to look like he will go from a 30 goal scorer to potentially a 25-and under goal scorer. Which isn't bad per se, just not the kind of bang for your buck you want at just under $4 million.
Jiri Hudler is so awful I'm just going to skip my analysis. At almost $3 million dollars, the guy plays like a $800,000 scrub. Maybe he'll bounce back, but then again maybe he won't. I have never seen a guy skate around, hanging his head because stuff just isn't going right like this ever. For just under $3 million, you should be known more for your offensive prowess than thunderous bodychecks on your own team mates in pivotal Game 7's. Rar.
So, back on topic. Why Hossa over Franzen?
"They're both injury prone", so you'll point out, and in fact yes, this is true. Franzen's Games Played since inking his deal: 103 Games Played. Over that time span, he's scored 38 goals, for a GFPG of 0.37.
Not too shabby. But way down from his 0.42 GFPG the previous two seasons.
Now let's look at Hossa: 122 GP, 49 goals scored for a GFPG of 0.40 over two years.
Offensively, Hossa has out performed Franzen. However, these numbers are skewed both by the fact that Hossa played two relatively long seasons and Franzen played only a 27 game season in 2010. And the fact that these are regular season only stats.
In the playoffs, it's not even close.
Franzen has had three great playoff performances and one absolutely awful one (last season was epically terrible.)
Hossa has had three consecutive "meh" playoffs, including his performance for the Wings in 2009. His outlier still remains his superhuman performance for the Penguins in 2008, and one not since duplicated in the slightest.
So the argument must shift to hypotheticals and speculation. What do you think, fellow Red Wings fans?
Should Holland have rolled the dice, let Franzen and Hudler walk, and used that cash to sign Marian Hossa long-term? Would Hossa have learned to perform in the playoffs, being on a team that regularly made the playoffs? Would Hossa have continued to work magic with Pavel Datsyuk? And would our depth have actually been improved by keeping Hossa?
They're all interesting questions. I'm curious to see where the comments take us.
One thing's for sure: there have definitely been more than a few nights where I've watched Franzen glide around the neutral zone and have let my mind wander just enough to ask: if that was #81, how different would this team be?