Tondar's Daily Rant

Prepare yourself for the writings of Tondar the Destroyer, Baron of Atlanta, Rightful Heir to the Throne of Spain, from whom all babies come. As his will be blogged, so let it be done.

Monday, April 16, 2007

BEST MOVE BY HOLLAND?

From Seth...

"So on the drive home from the airport this morning, the radio was talking about what was the shrewdest move made by Kenny Holland in building the Red Wings.

There's so many to choose from.

My pick: Acquiring Chris Chelios, just because I wanted to rub it in the eye of everyone who accused him of "mortgaging the future" when he made it.

The story goes, in 1998-99 the league was pretty much ready to hand the cup to either Ottawa (the beneficiary of a Penguins-like draft string that had won the President's Cup) or Colorado, who had just acquired Theo Fleury. Detroit was only a few games above .500 in an easy Central Division (Nashville was still brand new, St. Louis mediocre, Chicago stunk). They were defending cup champions, but lost a bunch of guys from that 97-98 team. Osgood had no solid backup. Uwe Krupp and Todd Gill were injured, meaning after Lidstrom and Murphy, our 3 and 4 defenders were Aaron Ward and Jamie Macoun.

Now, we'd been acquiring draft picks in trades over previous years, including those from trading Vernon. The prevailing thought was the Wings were now aging and would stockpile prospects to rebuild in a few years around Lidstrom and Kozlov, once Yzerman, Shanahan, Murphy and Larionov retired and Fedorov moved on. 1998-99 was going to be the last gasp of the old crowd.

Then, nearing the trade deadline, Holland instead went the other route. He got Ulf Samuelsson from the Rangers for a few '99 draft picks. He got Wendel Clark (Tampa's leading scorer and longtime Leafs captain) and Bill Ranford for goalie prospect Kevin Hodson and 1st and 3rd round picks. That might have been enough right there. But the same week, Chris Chelios asked the Blackhawks to extend his contract. Looking at his age, they refused, and Chelios, their biggest star for a decade, instead asked for a trade. The Red Wings jumped, with what seemed a steep price: NHL-ready defensive prospect Anders Eriksson, the last of their '99 stockpile (before the 4th round at least) and the 1st round pick in 2001. The Wings promptly offered him 2 more years on his contract.

It was the Chelios deal that got the most heat, even though Wendel Clark was closer to retirement and Ulf Samuellson had a broken toe that would keep him out to the playoffs. Chelios was considered washed up, and it looked like they were getting an overpriced 3rd or 4th defender who would be a financial drain the following season and then retire.

It made them instant contenders for the 1998-99 cup, but the real question was what if we didn't win it? To pundits, it looked like the Wings had set themselves up to hit the new millenium with a mass retirement and no draft picks on their way up.

The Wings finished hot, meaning those traded picks attached to the Wings' fortunes fell a good 10 spots in each round since the deadline. They didn't win the cup in '99, or in 2000. Samuelsson's injury made him ineffective with Detroit, and he didn't know the players he was playing with anyway. Clark looked closer to retirement than we'd realized, and as an offensive-minded left winger, didn't fit Scotty Bowman's left-wing lock system (where the left winger hung back with the defenders). Ranford actually proved more valuable, backstopping the Wings well when Osgood was sidelined during the end-of-the-season push.

But since 1998-99 -- that's EIGHT YEARS AGO -- Chris Chelios has proven himself a cornerstone 3rd defender, penalty killer and defensive leader. He helped the Wings win a championship team in 2001-02, and mentored young defenders like Jiri Fischer and Brett Lebda. 40 came and went, and Chelios kept plugging away in a winged wheel. He also became a part of the community, starting a successful chili restaurant downtown. Now 45, Chelios has been an unheralded hero of the first two playoff games so far in '06-'07.

And all of those draft picks in 1999 that we gave away? Not one NHL regular came from any of them. In fact, after trading 5 picks in the first three rounds for that year, the Red Wings still managed to walk away with probably the best player in that draft, Henrik Zetterberg. The 2001 pick was used on goaltender Adam Munro, who is not projected to play much in the NHL. Anders Eriksson was in Toronto in a few years and then left the NHL, never playing any better than he did with Detroit.

All told, I'd say we came out pretty well, and with a bright-looking future, while Chicago, who supposedly held the deed to our future, has yet to emerge from its post-Chelios purge, or show any signs of doing so soon.

Of course, picking Kenny Holland's best move as GM is like having to answer the question "Who's Your Tiger?" Grabbing Shanahan, bringing back Larionov, or just finding and nurturing any of our talented youths without any early draft picks -- you can't go wrong with any choice."

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