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November 12, 2002 - Breaking up grinders might improve Wings
My Kris Draper Page

Burning Questions
Breaking up grinders might improve Wings
Low even-strength scoring has been problem, not Cujo

By John Niyo / The Detroit News

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   Burning questions after the first month of the NHL season:
   Question: So, since everyone else is offering up opinions on the matter, what's wrong with the Wings?
   Answer: Well, it's too early for any serious hand-wringing about the defending champs. The playoffs are still five months away. But along with the obvious defensive lapses -- and it's not just the youngsters, by the way -- there is one other red flag that has been raised.
   Q: Curtis Joseph, right?
   A: Hardly. Cujo hasn't been great yet -- 2.77 goals-against average and .894 save percentage -- but he hasn't been bad, either.
   No, the concern is the Wings' personnel up front, believe it or not. What's more, it's a concern about how the Wings will fare in this new zero-tolerance obstruction era.
   While teams like Minnesota have thrived under the rules crackdown -- and, yes, it's obvious the referees aren't all on the same page -- the Wings have mostly struggled in 5-on-5 situations. In fact, if it weren't for the special teams prowess -- only half of the Wings' 44 goals have come at even strength -- it really might be time to push the panic button.
   Q: Fine, then, but the Wings' roster is loaded with future Hall of Fame forwards. So what's the problem?
   A: The problem is a lack of true dump-and-chase forwards, now suddenly a more precious commodity in the league. In theory, at least, forwards aren't being held up in the neutral zone, so teams are able to send the puck into the offensive zone and then jump on opposing defensemen.
   But a quick check of the Wings' roster shows only a handful of dump-and-chase players, if that. And three of them often skate on the same line together -- Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty. Boyd Devereaux also can skate and works well in the corners, but the rest of the wingers -- namely Tomas Holmstrom and Luc Robitaille -- either lack the speed or the size and strength.
   If the Wings continue to struggle in the weeks ahead, it might be time to shuffle the lines more than just a little bit, especially to break up the Grind Line.
   Q: The Wings aren't the only top team struggling, though. What's Colorado's excuse?
   A: Some of us didn't want to believe it, but there's a dreadful lack of scoring depth, and it's not going away anytime soon.
   Trading Chris Drury to Calgary for Derek Morris made sense, but only provided some of the young forwards Pierre Lacroix stockpiled in recent years produced when called upon. That hasn't happened as Steven Reinprecht, Vaclav Nedorost and Serge Aubin all have struggled.
   Colorado started slowly last year -- 7-10-1 -- but still finished first in the Northwest Division. This year, though, the sluggish first month came with a healthy Peter Forsberg in the lineup, and that's cause for concern.
   Q: Makes you wonder why the Avs refused to follow the Wings' lead by signing a big-name free agent, doesn't it?
   A: Sure does, and the player everyone pointed to last June was Bill Guerin, who ended up in Dallas, where he has been a force from the start.
   Still, don't be surprised if Lacroix makes a deal sooner rather than later. He's a general manager that somehow manages to fly under the radar, but you can bet he's making a few inquiries around the league.
   One name that has surfaced in recent weeks is the New York Islanders' Brad Isbister, a big, strong winger with the size and skills -- if not the desire -- to be a 25- or 30-goal scorer. The Isles' Dave Scatchard also is reportedly on the block, and the Avalanche certainly could part with a young but regressing talent like Alex Tanguay, who might mesh with with Alexei Yashin in New York.