An interesting feature produced by the beat writers in all four major local sports at my alma mater, the Detroit Free Press, is their annual “grading” of individual players after a seaon — be it baseball, football, hockey, basketball — has been decided.
The FP on Sunday May 16 printed a “Red Wings Season In Review” and graded each Wing’s performance in the ’09-’10 regular season and playoffs, and gave marks also to Mike Babcock and his coaching staff.
Now … far be it from me to question those grades, to question the questioners in essence. Or grade the graders. Criticize the critics. But as I perused this yearly report I scratched my head to the point that my wife had to assume that I had contracted a virulent form of head lice OR was once again reading the local papers when it comes to hockey. Being the aging gent that I am, I am reluctant to name the female writer who issued the grades, and by questioning their validity thereby subject her to any verbal abuse. Thus this critique will be mild and calm in its tone and language. A few interesting examples:
—Todd Bertuzzi: B+ regular season, B+ playoffs. What … is she nuts? Big Todd played most of the season like he was qualifying for the NHL pension, and threw his large body around with wild abandon about a cumulative, oh, zero times. He was a little better in the playoffs, finally looking like he had some intention of scoring when he took the ice. But his size and old ferocity (‘member what he did to Chelios?) were never in evidence on a team desperately in need of up-front crunch. The grades are ridiculously high. And that both the Free Press and the Detroit News report that Bertuzzi is a sure bet building block for next season is — as the Irish say — ‘beyond the beyond.’
—Valtteri Filppula: C regular season. C+ playoffs. If you, unlike some reporters, were paying attention during this year’s playoffs you might have noted that Filppula was clearly the most consistent Wings forward in the Phoenix series. On a team woefully lacking mid-level stardom in their lineup (i.e. players situated, say, between Datsyuk/Zetterberg and Helm/Abdelkader) Filppula is about the only forward who may possibly rise to NHL stardom in the next two-to-four years. His regular season loss to injury merits an Incomplete, not a C. That those injuries caught up with him, and his stamina, against San Jose drops his playoff grade to a B+ from the A+ he was earning against the Coyotes.
—Nicklas Lidstrom: B+ regular season, A playoffs. Here’s where the head lice suspicion originated at my house. Lidstrom had — for him, by his old standards — an abysmal playoff performance. If you bothered to notice, he was on the ice, and often out of position, for MOST of the really decisive goals scored against the Wings. I know this sounds like blasphemy in Detroit, but it was painfully true. Here’s the deal: The Wings desperately want Lidstrom to play next season. Consequently they need to sweet talk him during this off-season. And since both local papers seem to take their signals, if not their downright dictation, from Wings coach Mike Babcock, they have decided that Nick was actually terrific in both series. Thus the formally fabulous #5’s almost shocking playoff lapses … well, if you read the locals … they never happened. You’d think the papers would be interested in objectively reporting on, as opposed to signing, Nick. But Babcock plays them like a violin. Giving Lidstrom a C- in the playoffs would be closer to the truth, if not too forgiving. Which brings us to:
—Mike Babcock: A regular season. B playoffs. Babcock may be, as advertised, the best coach currently working the game. But how hard has it been to coach a team comprised mostly of standouts, built on the millions of Mike Ilitch? How often has he inspired performances better than the team’s talent level? His failure to in any way utilize (where have you gone, Billy Martin?) the outrageous hit on Franzen in the San Jose final, much less even notice it, still puzzles. Enough was enough; throw the damn sticks on the ice, man. Stand up for your guys, show some balls … this is DETROIT. Still, overall you have to like Babcock, and his reasoned approach (that’s what makes him a coach, and me a dumbass fan). But the salary-capped future will ultimately decide his real worth. Let’s hope he’ll live up to his reputation and popular acclaim. I’d give him a Lidstrom-like C- for the playoffs.