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Throwdown In Motown!

January 28, 2007, 11:55 PM ET [ Comments]
Andy Strickland
St Louis Blues Blogger •1380 ESPN • RSSArchiveCONTACT
What’s going on in Detroit these days?

They have arguably the most talented team in the NHL, they win, and yet they still have issues you wouldn’t expect from a team as solid as the Red wings.

I have a tremendous ammount of respect for their Owner Mike Ilitch along with GM Ken Holland and Asst. GM Jim Nill who do their jobs as good as anyone in the league.

So while things are good upstairs, you can't say the same relationship exists between the coach and his players.

I wrote several weeks ago regarding the tension inside the Detroit dressing room between the players and Head Coach Mike Babcock.

Apparently it’s getting worse!

In my dealings with Babcock he comes across very professional and seems easy to talk to.

Those close to the Red Wings organization continue to tell me that I shouldn’t be fooled.

The real story is completely different.

The most recent example came just before the All-Star break.

Sources tell me Babcock and former Selke Trophy winner Kris Draper had a major blowup in Colorado in which the two exchanged one curse word after another.

One player recently said that it’s to the point where players roll their eyes when Babcock enters the dressing room.

Players such as Robert Lang, Chris Chelios, and Mathieu Schneider apparently are leading the charge against their Head Coach.

One player told me the Red Wings have almost no chance of signing the enormously skilled Pavel Datsyuk, who is eligible to become a free agent this summer, if Babcock is retained after this season.

I am hearing Babcock is the reason Brendan Shanahan elected to take his game elsewhere and factored in to Steve Yzerman’s decision to retire.

I am being told Babcock must take the Red Wings deep into the post-season to secure his position as the Head Coach next season. He inherited an incredibly gifted group of players and is expected to take this team back to the Stanley Cup Finals. He also inherited a soft group of players. Teams consistently take advantage of their lack of overall team toughness. General Manager Ken Holland is looking to add size and toughness up front before the trade deadline.

Would St. Louis be willing to trade a player like a Keith Tkachuk or Billy Guerin to Detroit?

The word inside the dressing room is that the players are pushing for Assistant Coach Todd McLellan to take over if Babcock loses his job.

We all know it’s a dance party when the Red Wings hit the ice, the story is a little different behind the scenes.

Real Men Wear Pink?

Word is that the TPS pink Stick promotion that supports hockey Mother’s and breast caner will be returning some time towards the end of February. This was a huge success last season as most NHL players participated except for the New Jersey Devils. New Jersey Dictator Lou Lamoriello did not allow his players to participate.

Blues Clues!

Bryce Salvador will be cleared to play on Monday. Expect to see Salvador back in the lineup Tuesday vs. Minnesota. He has been out with a lower body injury that the club will not reveal. We do know it’s not a knee, foot, or hip. Sources say this injury may allow Salvador to join the soprano section of the choir!

Martin Rucinsky will try to skate on Monday and is hopeful he’ll play Tuesday vs. Minnesota. He’s been bothered by a groin strain for the last three weeks.

There remains no timetable on the return of both Jay Mckee and Dan Hinote.

I was certainly surprised to see goaltender Manny Legace didn’t get the nod Saturday night vs. Nashville. I understand Curtis Sanford deserves to play, I’m just not sure if Nashville was the right game for Legace to watch from the bench.

Nashville was playing their second game in two nights as well and elected to rest Tomas Vokoun in favor of backup Chris Mason.

Mason is much fresher though than Sanford having played most of the season when Nashville’s number one goalie Vokoun suffered an injury. Saturday was Sanford’s second game since returning from a severe groin injury.

Legace was well rested having come off the all-Star break and would still have a couple of days off before the Blues next contest. One could argue that along with Murray, Legace is the reason the Blues will be playing meaningful games in February. It was certainly a gamble by Murray who has pressed the right buttons since being hired by John Davidson.

Murray certainly puts an awful lot of trust in his players. Case in point, playing Jamal Mayers on the power play. Mayers scored 15 goals last season without playing on the power play and doesn’t view himself as a power play player.

The reality is, Murray needed a right-handed shot to execute a PP setup the Blues like to use. Mayers was Murray’s only real right-handed option with Bill Guerin in the penalty box. They like to push the puck from the half wall down low to open up a shot in the high slot.

Murray likes to use Lee Stempniak, a right handed shooter, either on the left point or on the left wing so he can one-time the puck when the Blues have the man advantage.

Blues vice President of Hockey Operations Al Macinnis was in Minnesota this weekend watching North Dakota steal a couple of games from the Golden Gophers. Macinnis was there to watch two of the Blues top prospects in Erik Johnson and T.J. Oshie. Macinnis was pleased with the play of both players and spent some time with each of them.

Oshie and Johnson each scored a pair of goals over the weekend. It was nice to see Johnson use his slaps shot. He needs to develop a one timer and a slap shot if he’s going to be considered a threat to score in the NHL, especially on the power play.

Oshie is not a guaranteed lock to turn pro after this season. One more season at North Dakota may be best suited for the player many considered the top freshman in the country a year ago. He has been hampered by injuries this season including a broken hand. The organization loves his attitude and competitiveness. They think he is really special.

The same goes for Johnson who has a reputation of being a tireless worker. He is the first to the rink everyday and is always prepared. Johnson will no doubt be playing for the St. Louis Blues next season at the very latest. His play since the World Junior Championships has been outstanding.

Another promising prospect, Ben Bishop who plays for the university of Maine is putting together another solid season. The Blues have yet to make a decision on if they will offer Bishop a contract to turn pro after this season. The organization may be leaning towards Bishop playing NCAA hockey one more year.

Congratulations to former Blues Player Bruce Affleck who was honored in his hometown of Penticton, British Columbia over the weekend.

Affleck, who is among the most respected people in the Blues organization, is the eleventh player to be honored by the long time junior franchise.

When Affleck skated for the Penticton Broncos from 1970-1972 he dazzled the crowd with his ability to carry the puck and create offense from the blue line.

To this day Affleck, who played five seasons with the Blues, is the only defenseman in tier II junior Hockey history to register 100 points in a season.

Affleck remains extremely active with the Blues Alumni and has worked with the organization in one capacity or another since 1987 after his playing career was over.

The Broncos are now called the Vees and have several distinguished alumni including Brett Hull and Paul Kariya.

Just to prove NHL players never lose their desire to win, in a men's league game late Sunday night in St. Louis former NHL tough guy John Wensink went down to block a shot with 40 seconds left in a critical one goal game to preserve victory!

Atta boy Wenner! Now we know why you remain one of Don Cherry's all time favorites to ever play in the NHL. Even in Men's league hockey Wensink leads by example and pays the ultimate price.

More to Come,

Andy Strickland

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