Stanley Cup or bust. Most seasons, that’s a reasonable demand in Hockeytown, but for 2012-13, it’s delusional.
Truth be told, Mike Babcock deserves coach of the year recognition for achieving the franchise’s 22nd straight postseason appearance. Hark back to that 6-0 embarrassment on opening night in St. Louis, then look at Game 7 in Chicago, when one shot could have eliminated the Presidents’ Trophy winners. That’s substantial growth in a hurry.
The lockout-shortened season was a gigantic success for a Detroit team that won four straight in the final week and rallied from a 3-2 deficit to upset the second-seeded Ducks. Thank Henrik Zetterberg, who provided a herculean effort and proudly represented the captaincy.
Yet, some fans ignore the positivity. Quite frankly, too many people mistakenly believed the Wings won the second-round Chicago series when they jumped ahead 3-1. Alas, the fourth win is the ALWAYS the toughest because it elicits the all-out-intense effort of the desperate opponent.
Sorry, but the Wings’ “kids” have to fail before they win a title. Heck, look at the struggles of Steve Yzerman in the late 1980s, early 90s. Eventually, the kids will be mature, unfazed, and poised to deliver a “knockout blow” when there’s a 2-1 lead entering the third period of Game 6. But for now, the fact of the matter is this: The Wings lost three straight because Chicago is better and more experienced.
That said, there are still some fans who believe the Wings “choked” and blame scapegoats such as Johan Franzen (“buy him out!”) and Valtteri Filppula (“let him go!”).
Look: There’s nobody available to replace Franzen and Filppula. NOBODY. Go look at the free-agent crop. The best guy on the market is Mike Ribeiro. He’s 33 and wants a long-term deal.
The Wings cannot replace a top-line player here, a top-line player there, every time the postseason ends short of a Stanley Cup parade. It’s unrealistic, delusional, and, quite frankly, not possible in today’s salary cap world, which hinders money-spending owners such as Mike Ilitch.
Plus, Franzen and Filppula are better than most credit.
Let’s start with Franzen, who had three goals in the Anaheim series, then another three points against Chicago to help Detroit build a 3-1 series advantage. At that point, you weren’t complaining. If you were, you’re dreaming of perfection, which will never happen. Hey, it’s unrealistic to expect him to duplicate his 9-goal mutilation of Colorado in the 2008 second-round series. That broke GORDIE HOWE’S RECORD for crying out loud. It’s not gonna happen again.
People need to lighten the load of The Mule, who catches too much flack. Even when he produces, it’s not good enough. Why do fans argue with a skater who averages 29 goals a season?
“Yeah, it’s crazy (speculation) for me,” Ken Holland told Mlive.com. “I don’t know where you find 30-goal scorers. There is no hockey store. He played 41 games, he had 14 goals. If you times it by two, that’s 28 goals. How many players in the league score more than 25 goals?”
Fans need to realize Franzen’s annual cap hit of $3.9 million is a great bargain. He is streaky, yes. But that’s why he doesn’t earn $6-plus million annually like Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg.
Let’s move on to Filppula.
Wings fans are forgetful of his November MCL injury suffered overseas. In our mind, he never regained full strength, which affected his ability to produce.
But forget about production for a minute. Filppula is immensely valuable in a number of areas. He’s good on face-offs (55%), great in his defensive zone (exception: Game 6 vs. Anaheim), and, he has the rare ability to lug the puck from his own end, deep into the attacking zone. Don’t overlook that skill. If a skater can shepherd the puck into the far-end and get a face-off, that’s huge. It’s critical for a puck-possession game, and, it can create fatigue for an opposing team who cannot get off the ice. All of that is better than being pinned in your own zone for a lengthy stretch.
There’s much more to Filppula’s game than goals and assists. The guy is a world-class skater.
Filppula, who is 29 and unrestricted, has another 6-7 quality years ahead. He’s needed until the prospects in Grand Rapids (Tomas Jurco, Landon Ferraro, Teemu Pulkkinen) and in Europe (Calle Jarnkrok, Martin Frk) are ready to compete in Detroit as regulars.
Quite frankly, the criticism of Filppula and Mule is unfair, but it’s not unprecedented. Sergei Fedorov was a sensational player, yet Wings fans expected him to produce like Wayne Gretzky. To this day, people don’t appreciate his stellar production – he’s one of three players in NHL history to produce four straight 20-plus point postseasons (N.Y. Islanders stars Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier were the others).
Yes, Fedorov coasted some shifts, but not every skater has the “play-every-shift-like-it’s-your-last relentlessness” of Steve Yzerman. Franzen may disappear, Filppula may irritate, but overall, they’re highly valuable to the Wings’ success.
Wings fans are a spirited bunch, the best in the business. But sometimes they expect too much.