Red Wings Ombudsman: What's Up in the Room?
Get out your pitchforks because something's nagging at me and I'm going to try to write it out and see where it goes.
How many cooks spoil the broth again?
If you're trying to caravan, how many drivers and how many passengers do you need?
It's weird thinking this because every fiber of my fan being screams that what I'm questioning here is actually the Red Wings' biggest strength. Then I'm reminded of something I heard on a FSD' broadcast this season. I believe it was about Steven Stamkos, but it essentially boiled down to a player saying that he wasn't just going to focus on the things he doesn't do well because then his skills at the things he's good at will erode. You have to work on your strengths as well as your weaknesses.
For the last few seasons, the Wings have been chasing after personnel to overcome some weaknesses in how the team is put together. They seem committed to this end, as it's a necessary step to improve. They've got a great organization that's got all the coaching and leadership a player could ask for. Nobody is coming into Detroit to be the savior of the organization; all the Wings ask is that players do their jobs.
After all, the Red Wings have Henrik Zetterberg wearing the C for them. The logical choice to captain the storied franchise after Nick Lidstrom left, Hank was named the captain of the Swedish Olympic team in preparation for Sochi. When Zetterberg got injured, there were really two options to take his place and they were both Red Wings players: Daniel Alfredsson, and Niklas Kronwall (who got the honor). Pavel Datsyuk captained Team Russia in Sochi and performed admirably on a team with lots of problems. Right now, Justin Abdelkader is captaining Team USA in Minsk at the IIHF Worlds.
Beyond those guys, Johan Franzen, and Dan Cleary also wore letters on their chests this season. The Red Wings have veteran leadership out the wazoo. Even when you look at some of the younger guys, players like Darren Helm, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, and Riley Sheahan are all potential heirs to the A's. Hell, even Brendan Smith might not make a terrible candidate.
The Red Wings are packed to the goddamn gills with leaders. There shouldn't be any issues in the locker room. The coach is left to coach, the players are left to play, and whatever happens out there happens, but the leadership thing is taken care of.
In reality, in looking at how things have changed for the Wings in the last few seasons, I'm not so sure it's worked out that way.
There's a huge, blaring exception to the problem I have here and he might actually be the exception which proves the rule. You'll notice I mentioned Daniel Alfredsson up there. He wore a letter for a few games this season. He had zero problem coming into the lineup and contributing. Alfredsson seems to have fit into the Wings' system perfectly. Daniel Alfredsson was a wonderful addition to the Wings this season.
So why haven't the other guys been even close to that? What happened with Stephen Weiss and David Legwand?
The quick, knee-jerk answer is that Daniel Alfredsson is simply a better player. The slower brain-flex says that Alfredsson wasn't brought in for the same thing and that not only is it easier to adjust as a winger, but it's also a bit easier to handle the pressure when you don't have to be THE guy to either hold up the entire 2nd line or hold the Wings in a precarious late-season playoff race.
Sure, I'll buy that.
I'll also buy that Legwand wasn't actually that bad. The fact remains that by the time the season was over, the Wings had spent a 2nd-round pick and a promising prospect for a guy who was playing the grinding winger spot on a line with Drew Miller and Luke Glendening. The price paid for it to end like that was too high. A guy simply "not fitting in" isn't good enough.
Then there's Weiss. The former Florida Panthers' captain was brought in last offseason at quite a premium to replace the departing Valtteri Filppula. He was supposed to solidify the 2nd line, giving Datsyuk and Zetterberg an opportunity to tag-team the top lines of teams all over the league. He was going to be the north/south workhorse to soften other teams up for east/west attacks.
That went well.
Of course, we know what happened. Weiss came to the team injured and was never healthy. He got into 26 games, scoring one more point than Mikael Samuelsson in just as many games played. Without any power in his skating stride, he only really brought south to the Wings, never providing much of the north.
But it's totally ok, because he owned up to what happened, telling the diggers that he basically hid his injury from the team and made it worse, hurting them for the 26 games he was in the lineup and putting extra pressure on them for the 56 he missed, all while contributing to the need for the eventual trade that brought Legwand in at a premium cost.
Listen, in the overall spirit of "what's done is done," there's not much better that Weiss could do other than owning up to the mistake and showing remorse for it. It doesn't make me any less angry about such a shitty (series of) decision(s), but I guess it keeps me from being MORE angry about it, so that's neat. Like I said though, what's done is done. The team isn't going to buy out Weiss, nor are they trading him. He's going to be a $4.9M cap hit on the team next year one way or another. Being angry with a guy whose heart was in the right place, but whose brain jumped on the I-75 and (in fitting fashion) went south isn't going to do me any good.
Besides, I'm legitimately rooting for Weiss to get healthy and earn his contract. But while we're on the concept of placing blame, let's cast our net as wide as necessary. I'll start with the people who I feel deserve more blame, but also about whom I'm not going to go into further detail:
- Stephen Weiss himself.
- The coaching staff
- The training/medical staff
- The front office/
What bugs me about the whole situation here (and with Legwand... and to a lesser extent guys like Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian White, Mike Commodore, Kent Huskins, Jordin Tootoo, Damien Brunner, and Valtteri Filppula) is what happened from the player side?
We've long been enamored with the player leadership in Detroit. We've praised guys like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg for being the standard-setting professional paragons of hard work being used to supplement natural skill to get things done. We've heard about Niklas Kronwall being the guy willing to read the riot act in the locker room when the guys are sleepwalking through games. We've heard from Babcock that Henrik Zetterberg is like having another coach.
So the question here is, after Weiss himself hid it, the coaching staff was slow to recognize it, the training/medical staff failed to catch it, and the front office's general responsibility to oversee all of those things failed, what happened with the fifth failsafe? How did it get to 17 games before Weiss first sat with his injury? Did nobody at practices ever bother pulling him aside and asking "Hey Stephen, why do you still suck?" Why does it feel like Weiss was on a raft by himself this entire season?
We knew Weiss wasn't feeling entirely up to snuff in preseason. Reports out of camp were that he was one of many players dealing with groin injury, so it could simply be a case of Weiss' problems being overlooked as being another blip on a radar screen full of blips. You get used to everybody skating through groin stiffness in preseason and it gets just a little harder to treat a specific injury as any more severe than the standard "keep skating and it'll go away" type of stiffness that's apparently so commonplace in the Wings' locker room that it's just something you live with (another symptom of the bigger concern here).
With Legwand, did people just not like him? Was this the case of the chemistry just not being there? Is Mike Babcock's system that difficult to adjust to? Because we are dealing with just one player playing relatively few games, these are all possibilities. It's tough to say whether it's an endemic issue or simply a case of the old forgivable "good player, bad fit" issue from which there isn't really anything to learn.
Hell, for all we know, Legwand caught groinitis a few weeks after joining the Wings and it just never got reported because the Wings knew that fans were ready to dump Piet Van Zant in the Detroit River if their brand new stopgap same down with the same damn infuriating problem that had plagued the team all season.
That's the problem, it could be just about anything, so trying to pin it down gets that much more difficult.
But yeah, it worries me. Why isn't Valtteri Filppula a Red Wing anymore? All last season, the press corps was busy reporting that his contract demands were probably half a million dollars too rich for the Wings' liking and that he wanted to go to a place where he could be a #1 center. It was easy to swallow the goodbye right up until Filppula signed for a cap hit just $100K higher than the guy they signed and did so with a team where he absolutely was not going to be their top guy.
With the monetary issue minimized to near-nothing and the expectation for the limelight not matching the reality of the team with which he signed, aren't we let with a pretty simple explanation that either the Red Wings were tired of Filppula or he was tired of them? Filppula scored more points than any Red Wings player this season. We all know his history of never having lived up to that kind of potential in Detroit, and it's not hard to remember the "good riddance" that fans gave him (myself included).
Filppula isn't the kind of guy you build a team around and it's important to remember the entirety of the context which led to his departure and Weiss' arrival. I'm not so much lamenting the loss of the specific player Valtteri Filppula, but more remarking on the idea that a player like him and the organization would have grown so ready to part ways is telling. The Wings would be fine without Flip and he'd be fine without them. Sure, happens all the time. It was just time to move on to different things for both sides I guess.
The word that gets thrown around when it's "just time" for a change though is the one that keeps ringing in my head: stale.
This is what worries me in watching the Red Wings try to reload on the fly instead of going for a rebuild. The room is full of professionals and guys who absolutely try their hardest. They have the best coach in the league fronting them. They know their jobs and even have a refreshing group of youngsters to liven things up, but it just doesn't feel like all the pieces are geared together smoothly. The engine is good, but the transmission seems a bit clunky right now. All the horsepower in the world won't do you any good if you can't consistently make it put the rubber to the road.
Why does anybody have trouble playing as well in Detroit as he did in Nashville? How does an entire organization full of executives, coaches, medical professionals, and players fail to stop a guy from turning a simple injury into a complex one? Does it really take a 40-year old veteran of 17 NHL seasons to be an exception and fit in unquestionably?
The worst thing is that I don't know specifically what I'm trying to gauge here. The danger of intangibles and narratives is that they're built on a person's own tendency to want to fill holes in knowledge with a sensible narrative and they're fed by confirmation bias. I just want the Red Wings to be better.