For all the beef he gets, Homer plays incredibly smart hockey. He knows his strengths and weaknesses and he plays a style that maximizes the opportunity to use his strengths and minimizes the chances that his weaknesses will be exposed. He's the best in the league (still) in front and around the net and plays a smart cycle. He won't be the first guy out of the zone, but that isn't his job. In fact his job is usually quite the opposite: to hang down low until the puck definitively leaves the zone. There have been a lot of times where following an offensive zone turnover, the rest of our team bails and starts back-checking only for the puck to be turned over again just inside the blue line. The team knows to just get it deep because Homer is still down there and will be able to hold the puck down low long enough for the rest of the team to reestablish the zone. Most other teams just dump the puck (ie turnover) and fall back into the trap. I've seen Cleary, Bert, and Abby follow this pattern on more than one occasion as well. Anyways, the rest of our forwards are pretty well rounded. When you play alongside Datsyuk and/or Zetterberg, you can afford to not be a great backchecker, or have strong playmaking/stickhandling skills.
I like what Homer can bring to the table. Still.
Homer never takes a shift off. He's not really bad once in the defensive zone. He just sometimes takes a little longer to get back there. Even though he's a slow skater, at least he always skates as hard as he can.
Bottom line is that, like Echolalia said, he plays a very smart game according to his strengths and weaknesses. Nobody else is close to as good as him in front of the net. And he's excellent at retrieving loose pucks and maintaining the cycle as well.
Even though it's pretty saddening to think about right after the season ends...here's my dream, absolutely unrealistic roster for next season.
1. ) Trade Hudler for a bag of pucks.
2.) Let Ericsson, Miller and Modano go. (I like Miller, but I think Emmerton and Mursak can't clear waivers anymore. And I don't think Miller's shown quite enough to warrant giving up either of those two guys)
3.) Lidstrom doesn't retire. And he takes a nice discount to stay for $4.75M. How insulting is it that Rafalski would make over a million more in this case? But, I don't Nick would care.
4.) Let Osgood return as back-up if he wants to. I think we owe him that much. Draper can come back if he understands he may be in a Maltby type situation. Both of them can take $650K to help out the team.
5.) Resign Eaves for a few years at around $950K.
6.) Add a cheap veteran defenseman for $750K. I wouldn't be totally against it being Salei again.
Now for the unrealistic parts....
7.) Sign injury-prone Simon Gagne to a one year $5.75M deal. I don't think he'll leave Tampa and Yzerman or be willing to take a one-year deal, but I would kick the tires if he hits free agency. Maybe he'll make a Hossa-like contract decision and actually show up for our playoffs. He's always had rotten luck with injuries, but I think he would fit nicely in our top six with his speed and great defensive play. He could work well on Datsyuk or Zetterberg's wing and maybe revive some of the goal scoring ability he had with Forsberg.
8.) Sign Kevin Bieksa to a multi-year deal at $4.5M per. Either VAN resigns him or other teams will probably dramatically overpay. But, if he's willing to come here for around $4.5, it may be worth it with Rafalski's contract coming off the books after next season.
This would leave the lineup as follows.
Simon Gagne ($5.750m) / Pavel Datsyuk ($6.700m) / Tomas Holmstrom ($1.875m)
Johan Franzen ($3.954m) / Henrik Zetterberg ($6.083m) / Todd Bertuzzi ($1.937m)
Daniel Cleary ($2.800m) / Valtteri Filppula ($3.000m) / Patrick Eaves ($0.950m)
Justin Abdelkader ($0.787m) / Darren Helm ($0.912m) / Jan Mursak ($0.550m)
/ Kris Draper ($0.650m) / Cory Emmerton ($0.533m)
Nicklas Lidstrom ($4.750m) / Kevin Bieksa ($4.500m)
Niklas Kronwall ($3.000m) / Brad Stuart ($3.750m)
Jakub Kindl ($0.883m) / Brian Rafalski ($6.000m)
Jimmy Howard ($2.250m) / Chris Osgood ($0.650m)
The total cap hit would be a shade over 63 million. So this dream would assume the cap jumps to at least $63.5 million
I know we all know this. But it can't be said enough. Hockey players are generally far-and-away superior to all other athletes. Hockey players are better.
Right after the Wings game last night, as I was still in my blissful excitedly frantic state, I came back and saw my friend watching a baseball game. I just caught a glimpse and saw two players from different teams sharing a cordial story or two and some laughs during the game. I joked that you would NEVER see that during a hockey game. In my all years watching hockey, I have never seen that happen (save for All-star games). And, of course, never anything remotely close to such a thing in the playoffs.
But, I've seen similar things happen in the Superbowl and NBA playoffs. And my reactions were exactly the same. Hockey players are better. They care more.
My friend didn't understand my point, so I tried to explain to him--something not so easy to do in words. It's more of a feeling/emotional thing really. But, I pretty much said that if you're so emotionally engaged in the game and truly care, two players from different teams just don't act nice to one another. It doesn't make sense. It just doesn't seem right.
He argued back that you 'don't have to hate the other players' and that baseball players/other athletes care just as much as hockey players, etc. It was a lost cause anyways, so I let it go. Bear in mind that he's similarly disagreed with me before when I claimed that hockey players are more humble and hard-working. Something I think even other athletes can acknowledge.
But, in thinking about hockey, I don't know any other sport where a home crowd can jolt the players so much. That just shows how emotional a game it is. Come playoff time, it's all about will, grit, determination and emotion. The rewards of hard work are immediately and readily apparent. When you look in Pavel or Nick's or Hank's eyes, you see a fiery spirit there. A will that won't give up. Just from their body language, you can tell they genuinely care. I simply don't get that same feeling from a lot of the players of the other 3 majors sports during their grandest stages. It's like win or lose, it's just a game to them and they still get their paychecks (or paycheques, for my Canadian friends.)
More so than any other sport during the playoffs, hockey players sacrifice anything and everything for the team. Not their stats or egos. They have to in order to win come playoff time. You just don't see that kind of cohesion within a team in other sports. Maybe it's why hockey players hug after scoring a goal. There's a powerful camaraderie between hockey players that's absent in other sports.
Regardless of what happens Thursday, I'm happy that my beloved Wings proved once again that they care just as much as the most die-hard of fans. Even further, there's no doubt in my mind that our star players simply care more than San Jose's. Could you imagine cheering for a team when you feel like you care more than some of the players? In my opinion, whether they realize it or not, I think most people do just that when watching other sports.
Hockey players are just better.
Everything I said has been said before. But if you agree with me, I thought it might be worthwhile to pause and appreciate how lucky we are to be fans of the greatest sport in the world.
In a game we pretty much absolutely have to win, how the hell do Salei and Ericsson get more even strength ice time thanf****** Nicklas Lidstrom? It's like Babcock thinks Lidstrom's a powerplay specialist now or something. If anything, that would be $6M man Rafalski.
Nick wasn't out for even a second of the penalty kill (which let up 2 goals...coincidence? Probably not when your best penalty killer isn't on the ice.) Kronwall and Stuart probably spent too much time killing penalties compared to the others--obviously wearing them out.
I haven't really felt the need to criticize Babcock so much before. Even if Lidstrom's lost half-a-step and isn't perfect anymore, he's still the one defenseman in the league I would want out there in any given situation. What was the point in limiting Nick's ice time all season? I would think it would be so he could play over 30 minutes in games like these.
EDIT: Also, I just had to mention how I loved seeing Flip, Mule and Hudler suck on the OT powerplay for 1:30 while I don't think Pavel and Hank even got the first 30 seconds. It was only the most important powerplay of our season.