I’m here to provide you with your weekly reminder that Pavel Datsyuk has left the Detroit Red Wings organization.
At first, it hurt. But, as they say, time heals all wounds. And as we got into the thick of the offseason, the pill became a little easier to swallow. First, we got rid of his awful $7.5M AAV cap hit. Sure, literally this freed up our books for a major trade or free agency signing, but metaphorically we were able to shed the dead skin that Datsyuk left us with. Then, we acquired two-way centre Frans Nielsen via free agency. No, he’s no replacement for Pavel, but he’s different. And anyone who’s gone through a tough breakup knows you don’t need more of the same, that something different does you some good and shows you some new perspective.
The next step of our healing process will be assigning Datsyuk’s ‘A’ to a current roster player. Datsyuk was a leader for this team on the ice and off the ice and having his empty sweater with a hollow ‘A’ on it is a constant reminder of what he left behind and the hole that it’s left in our hearts. So, like the pictures of you and your ex that serve as a constant reminder of your perfectly imperfect relationship, we need to throw it out and give the responsibility to someone new.
There was a reddit thread a few days ago debating who our new alternate captain should be and, while a few dark horses were mentioned in Nyquist and Glendening, the conversation was mostly focused around three forwards, with the assumption that Danny DeKeyser would get Kronwall’s ‘A’ when he retires:
A fine crop, if I do say so myself. The only problem is, one is a troublemaker on the ice, one is really young to be providing leadership in a room of veterans, and one is brand new to the organization and the dressing room. So who should it be? Let’s dive a little deeper into why Detroit will or won’t give it to one of these three players.
The case for:
Justin Abdelkader is not the future of this team, he’s very much the present. But that’s not a bad thing. As guys like Zetterberg and Kronwall wind down and Larkin and Athanasiou ramp up, Abby bridges the two rosters, ensuring a consistency in the locker room and on the ice. He’s played with Nick Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg, so some good leadership qualities have surely rubbed off on him.
At twenty nine years old, Abdelkader has had his best offensive seasons yet over the last two years. In 2014-15, he put up 23 goals and 44 points and in 2015-16, he put up 19 goals and 42 points. Consistently being played on the 1st line, Abby has been credited by none other than Pavel Datsyuk for his hard play on the ice and dedication to winning. When momentum is down, Abby gets the energy going and fires the team up. He leads by example on the ice, showing his teammates what kind of grit and commitment to each other it takes to win.
The case against:
He’s a pest and he has a track record of losing his temper and ending up in the box. The first round series against Tampa Bay last year is a good example of this. While you can argue that he was firing his team up, he spent too much time in the penalty box and getting on the referee’s bad sides. Yes, an alternate captain has to lead by example, but he also has to do some on-ice management when the captain is not there and the coach needs a voice. Do you think any ref in the league will listen to what Abby has to say? I don’t. Not with his track record.
The case for:
Plain and simply: Dylan Larkin is the future of this team.
At 19 years old, Larkin was the youngest player to don the Winged Wheel through the regular season since Jiri Fischer in the 1999-2000 season. His speed and ability to find the back of the net immediately made an impression on teammates, coaches, and fans. He was the only Red Wing elected to play in the 2016 All Star game and set a new record for fastest skater.
Larkin has been complimented by management, coaches, and media alike. His passion and determination do not go unnoticed. His education in leadership has already commenced with his placement in the locker room, beside current team captain Henrik Zetterberg. He will undoubtedly be captain of this Red Wings team one day, so why not get the team warmed up to the idea now by giving him the ‘A’?
The case against:
He’s young. With only one professional season under his belt, Larkin is still learning what it takes to be a true NHL-er. His offense tapered off in the second half of the season as the team started to lean a little too heavily on his production. Can someone who is still unable to carry this team through offensive droughts be able to lead them to victory? Does he know what needs to be said when the going gets really tough? How many players-only meetings has he sat through? Experience builds leaders and Larkin simply doesn’t have enough of it yet.
The case for:
As fresh blood, Nielsen brings a new perspective and new energy into the room. A 10-year veteran in the league, Nielsen knows what it means to be loyal and what a winning attitude takes. He was an alternate captain on his former team, the New York Islanders, and therefore has experience with things like captains-only meetings, room speeches, and on-ice management.
In addition to these off-ice advantages, Nielsen’s hard work on the ice is motivating for a team that often slumps offensively and defensively. A 40+ point getter, Nielsen drives possession in the right direction while hustling back to play defensively on the same shift. He’s a responsible, 2-way centre who pushes his teammates to be better.
Plus, he’s really good at shootouts, something the Red Wings are notoriously bad at.
The case against:
A captain demands the respect of the room and Nielsen just doesn’t have that yet. You never know how the players in the room will react to a new player coming in to take the place of their beloved Pavel. Generally, I think that most players don’t feel any resentment with these kinds of things, but management and coaching still has to be wary of messing with the dynamic of a dressing room.
Plus, management may feel that the ‘A’ should go to someone who has pledged themselves to the Winged Wheel already and has shed blood, sweat, and tears for this organization. Nielsen’s status of ‘The New Guy’ may not make him a perfect candidate.
So Who Should They Pick?
I would love to see Dylan Larkin given the ‘A’. I think that by sitting next to Z in the dressing room, the team has already indicated that he is going to be their guy going forward. Why not start as soon as possible? Trust him with some more responsibility. Get the room ready for the day when he takes the ‘C’ off Zetterberg’s chest. Start to rebrand yourself as a management team that trusts in its youth and isn’t afraid to take risks.
Larkin is only going to get better from here on out and putting a letter on his chest is inevitable so you might as well just get it over with.
But Who Will They Pick?
Probably Abdelkader. He’s been a staple on the Detroit Red Wings lineup since the 2009-10 season and the Wings pledged their commitment to him last year when they inked him to a seven year, $30M contract ($4.25M AAV) with a full NTC for the first half of it and a modified NTC for the second. These contracts are not to be taken lightly. It’s the team saying to the player, “You are very important to us. We like what you bring to this organization on the ice and off the ice. We want you to be part of this team for a long time.”
We have a history of rewarding loyalty like Abby’s. Don’t forget that Dan Cleary had an ‘A’ stitched on to his jersey for a time.
One thing is for certain, though: whoever gets the ‘A’ has some big skates to fill and a big job ahead of them. Detroit needs a bounce-back season after tripping into the playoffs and an early first round exit. And they don’t have the magic man here to pull any more tricks out of his hat.