Wings, Bruins 'sticking with the program'

November, 28, 2009

The Detroit Red Wings are suddenly slumping, not so coincidentally after losing star blueliner Niklas Kronwall.

But anyone waiting for veteran GM Ken Holland to pull off a blockbuster trade anytime soon better not hold their breath. At least not at this point. For starters, Holland believes the work effort is there. But also, and perhaps more importantly, there are salary-cap considerations. With injuries to Kronwall, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Jason Williams and Andreas Lilja, the Wings can't really take on more salary because all those players, and their salaries, will come back at some point this season.

"I'm not going to trade prospects or draft picks for a guy making $2.5 million and then turn around in two months and have to drop someone to make room for the injured guys coming back," Holland told on Saturday. "It doesn't make any sense."

There are no easy solutions.

"We just have to stick with the program," Holland added. "I think our guys are doing a tremendous job, they're working. We need some ugly goals. We're not getting those right now."

The Wings appeared to be back in their usual groove, holding on in Montreal on Nov. 21 to improve to 11-6-4 on the season. But after scoring a pair of power-play goals in the first period of that game, the Wings scored one goal in their next 11 periods of hockey heading into Saturday night's game at St. Louis -- shut out in back-to-back home games against Atlanta and Calgary.

But they launched 40 shots at the Flames on Friday night, which suggests the team is working, if not scoring. This is a veteran dressing room with oodles of character and Cup rings to go with it, not to mention one of the best coaches in the game in Mike Babcock. Holland believes in them and says they'll come out of it.

"Frustration is one of the worst detriments to success," said Holland. "You have to stay patient and find a way."

Filppula (wrist) is expected back around Christmas/New Year, Williams (leg) and Kronwall (knee) in early January, and Franzen (knee) sometime in February or March.

I think the hope for this team is to hang in there, get its injured stars back in the New Year and get hot down the stretch. It certainly worked for Pittsburgh last season.

Same in Boston
Patience will also be key in Boston, where I'm sure Bruins fans would love to see the team trade for some offense. But losing star winger Milan Lucic (ankle) for a month likely won't ignite trade talks.

"We will grind through this," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told via e-mail Saturday.

Despite all the injuries this season, the Bruins have hung in there and played well of late.

The Maple Leafs and Hagman
The man of the hour in Toronto is red-hot winger Niklas Hagman, who leads the Maple Leafs with 13 goals. The Olympic-bound Finn is also a popular guy with other NHL teams. I'm told four teams have inquired about him and two made official trade offers. Among those four teams was Anaheim. But Toronto GM Brian Burke doesn't want to move him. Hagman is earning $3 million this season and $3 million in each of the next two seasons, and that's worth every dime with the way he's played this season.

Surf time in Carolina?
Is it time to catch the waive in Carolina? I told you two weeks ago the Hurricanes might start waiving some players if things didn't turn around soon. I think winning a few games and seeing star center Eric Staal return delayed any activity, but Friday night's collapse at home to Atlanta might push GM Jim Rutherford to finally begin the bloodletting. I wouldn't be surprised if a player or two finds himself on waivers as early as this week.

No trades!
"It's dead out there," a Western Conference GM told us Saturday.

When you're in my line of work, this is not the response you want from a GM when you ask him via e-mail about possible trade talks.

Once again, there have been very few deals in the NHL in the opening two months thanks to cap-strapped teams. So you can expect Burke will once again present his "retaining salary in trades" amendment at the next GMs meeting in March.

He has proposed this for a few years, only to be shot down by the league; but like the stubborn Irishman that he is, he will not let this go. And he's got some supporters among the GM fraternity.

The league's concern is that allowing money to be kept in deals would create "dead money" in the system, and the league doesn't want that. Burke, however, proposes a cap on the dead money per deal and an overall dead money cap per club. It would certainly lead to more trades earlier in the season instead of waiting until the March deadline every year.

"We decided [at past meetings] that it's not a rule that's going to be changed before the next collective-bargaining negotiation at the earliest," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told via e-mail Saturday. "Moving money around by definition 'loosens' the cap, and affects how talent is distributed around the league ultimately, we believe, in a negative way."

But we want more trades!

Czech bounced
Ales Hemsky was the latest Oiler to get hurt (he is likely out for the season with a shoulder injury), but this is certainly the biggest blow for Edmonton. Hemsky is the team's most dynamic offensive player, and it won't be able to replace that kind of creativity or production.

This is par for the course so far this season for an Oilers team that leads the NHL in man-games lost to injury (155 entering Saturday night's game in Vancouver). Only five players on the entire roster have played in every game this season, my colleague Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal tells me.

"I've never seen anything like it, all at once," Oilers GM Steve Tambellini told on Saturday. "It's really incredible. But what can you do? You have to find a way."

I suspect Tambellini will wait until his team gets some bodies back before deciding whether or not this season is lost. His team was only five points out of a playoff spot before Saturday's game, so it's a little early to pull the plug.

The Oilers, when healthy, are deepest on the blue line. This is the area where a body might go later in the season. One player whose name has been thrown out there is Tom Gilbert, who has struggled this season after having a nice 2008-09 campaign and receiving an invite to the U.S. Olympic summer camp. Gilbert has 4½ years left on his deal at an average of $4 million per year.

The Oilers, meanwhile, weren't the only team that took a body blow Friday with the Hemsky news. How do you think the Czech Olympic hockey team feels after learning the star winger requires shoulder surgery? That was certainly on Hemsky's mind.

"It's frustrating because it's a big year for a lot of players, especially considering it's an Olympic year," Hemsky told The Edmonton Sun. "But there is nothing I can do. It's no fun playing with an injury like that. I tried, but it just didn't work out."

Hemsky told Edmonton reporters what many of us had suspected for a while -- that he had been playing through a bum left shoulder for about a month. Then, a hit from Michal Handzus of the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night did him in for good.

"The damage was done before," Hemsky told the Edmonton Journal. "This was the last straw for me."

Another Devil down
And ... more injury news.

The injury-riddled Devils lost underrated winger David Clarkson for four to six weeks after he suffered a broken bone in his ankle while blocking a shot Friday.

The team was already without star defenseman Paul Martin (broken arm), as well as forwards Dainius Zubrus (broken patella), Jay Pandolfo (shoulder) and Rob Niedermayer (upper body), and blueliner Johnny Oduya (lower body). The team also played the first month of the season without star winger Patrik Elias.

"Listen, we don't talk about it or think about it," Devils GM Lou Lamoriello told on Saturday. "You know the old expression: You can't worry about what you can't control and you can't dwell on it because that just takes energy."

Pandolfo, Niedermayer and Oduya appear to be the closest to returning.

"All three may skate Monday, so we'll see where they are at," said Lamoriello.

Martin, the team's biggest injury, is in a half cast, although he is skating. "He's another couple of weeks away," said Lamoriello.

The Devils are banged up, but they keep winning. With Saturday's 6-1 rout against the Islanders, New Jersey is 9-2-1 in November. Impressive.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?