It's been an incredibly frustrating summer for Red Wings fans, and adding to the frustration is the fact that we can't seem to get answers about why the Wings re-signed Quincey and Cleary, or what direction the team is really going in. We've already discussed the diggers and Detroit media and their lack of true coverage, so when Mike Babcock did an interview on the Ryan and Rico show on Detroit Sports 105.1, his direct answers were a breath of fresh air and put my mind at ease about several concerns I've had. At least I think he did... maybe?
Mike Babcock is the best coach in Hockey, and I have an enormous amount of respect for him not only as a coach, but as a person. I always enjoy Babcock interviews because he is so blunt and honest in them. Sure he plays mind games sometimes, but he usually answers the questions, or flat out says that he's not going to answer them. There are several things Babcock said in the recent interview that dispelled some of my qualms, but he also said some things that I have mixed thoughts about regarding his personnel plans.
If you haven't yet listened to the entire interview, I recommend it.
When asked about free agency this year, one of the things Babcock said was
"... We have a young group. We're getting better each and every day. I think we need to let our young people grow. We signed enough players to buy our kids time in the minors. We have four d-men who are going to play here eventually and probably be upgrades on our roster. How much time do they need? We don't know the answer."
I like the general attitude here, though we seem to have different opinions of when the kids are "ready". To me, this implies that the Quincey signing was to get us through until the kids are ready to take over. I think Quincey is paid more than he should be for his role, but at least knowing where the organization is coming from can help me cope. It doesn't help me justify Cleary though, so.. moving on.
Since Babcock brought up the young defensemen in Grand Rapids, the follow up question was: So you're planning on bringing defensemen up from Grand Rapids?
In response, Babcock said
"We're going to play the best players. Just like we did last year. It's always a hard thing when a veteran who is on a one-way contract doesn't make the lineup, but that's life. We're committed to the growth of this team. Most franchises to get back on top have to get bad for 10 years. That's not our plan. We scrounged to get into the playoffs to the last two years in a row and did a real good job. We had a good run against Chicago. I didn't like us in the playoffs last year against Boston, but we like what we have coming. And we like our kids. So the biggest thing is not to rush it. We could really use some puck-moving D. Well, we just happen to have some puck-moving D in the minors. Big guys that can skate. When are they ready? We're sure not going to rush them, but if they're capable of taking jobs they're getting the jobs."
That entire quote is great, sans six words. Babcock confirms that the plan isn't to tear the team down and re-build it, but rather to re-load the team gradually from the talent pool of prospects. It also sounds like Cleary isn't guaranteed a roster spot in camp, but that he will legitimately have to earn it. Fantastic. He also mentions numerous times in the interview the defensive depth we have in Grand Rapids and he seems legitimately excited about it. However, I can't ignore
"We're going to play the best players. Just like we did last year"
"Just like we did last year"
"Just like we did last year"
"Just like we did last year"
Wait just one stinking minute here. Is Babcock saying that Nyquist being in Grand Rapids and Cleary being on the team to start last year was justified? That somehow in his mind we were playing the "best" players? When Tatar was a healthy scratch and Nyquist was in Grand Rapids while Cleary and Samuelsson were on the team? I really hope that's not what he means. I hope he means that after we were decimated by injuries and Samuelsson and Cleary were injured, Tootoo was in Grand Rapids, and he was "forced" to play Tatar, Nyquist, and even Jurco and Sheahan, that THAT'S when the best players played. Everything else he said in that quote was great and I'm completely behind it, but those six words make me anxious all over again. I wish they had asked for clarification on that point, but at least they asked him questions, and he gave answers. See diggers, this is how things are supposed to work. Ask questions, get answers.. Even if the answers leave us with more questions, as least it's something.
When asked about what the team has to do differently this year to be more successful than last year, Babcock talks about how the coaches, strencth and conditioning coaches, and medical people have to do a better job of keeping players healthy and on the ice. He then brings up, once again, the opportunity for growth on the back end from our prospects.
"The biggest growth opportunity for us is in our back end... our ability to get the puck going in a hurry so we can be on offense quicker, that's a huge priority for our club, so the best guy are going to play."
There is it again.. "The best guys are going to play". I want so badly to believe him. I want so badly to believe that when Jurco is better than Cleary in camp that' it's Jurco we'll be watching on the ice to start the season. I want so badly to believe that when Marchenko, or Ouellet, or Backman, or even Sproul are better than Lashoff and Kindl in training camp, that we'll be seeing the kids playing to start the season. I want to believe, but we've heard the same line for years now, and come the first game of the season, we don't always see the best players on the ice.
Look, I'm not opposed to Jurco starting the season in Grand Rapids IF (BIG IF) it's because everyone that is on the Wings roster is a better player who can help the team more. That's what Babcock is saying, but is that what we'll see? I just can't believe it until I see it. Babcock also said that the Cleary re-signing is a calculated risk and that he and Holland make "lots of bad decisions" but that they make "way more good ones". I appreciate his willingness to admit that he's human and that re-signing Cleary could turn out to be a waste, but that doesn't make it much less frustrating.
If I can 100% believe what Babcock said, then I feel immeasurably better about this season, but I'm afraid to believe and get my hopes up too high. I want to believe, I just don't know if I should.
The truth is out there.... somewhere.