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Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Bucci's Mailbag: Wings' struggles and who will reach 1,000 first

By John Buccigross
ESPN.com

Bucci,

So I just listened to a certain NHL TV analyst tell me my Red Wings have no young talent and are at the end of their run because they started off the season 3-3. So, two questions:

1. Why do Datsyuk and Zetterberg get no love? I know they are not as flashy as Ovechkin or Crosby, but come on, they are in their prime.

2. Are the Wings at the end of their run or are the pundits a little ahead of themselves? I feel like with all the rollover they had this offseason and early injuries (plus all the games they have played in the last two years), it will take them some games to get settled.

Jeff
New York

First of all, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are no longer in their NHL prime. Datsyuk is 31 and Zetterberg is 29. Those are not "prime" ages to play a nine-month NHL season (training camp to the Cup finals).

We've noted in this space for years -- hockey is a young man's game. Maurice Richard was 23 when he scored 59 goals in 50 games during the 1944-45 season. Bobby Orr was 22 when he scored 120 points and flew through the air to win his first Stanley Cup in 1970. Wayne Gretzky was 21 when he went 92-120-212 in the 1981-82 regular season. Sidney Crosby was 21 this past June when he became the youngest NHL captain to raise the holy grail.

Younger players are more energetic, more durable, heal quicker and, most important, have heightened mental clarity because younger people think only of the present, which is the key to creativity and productivity. I'm not saying Datsyuk and Zetterberg are Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden and will never win another Stanley Cup. Just realize that players get injured more in their 30s and begin a downward arc in their production.

Secondly, the Wings are probably at the end of their run. Their best players are older and their younger players are average NHL players. They continue to live off their power players and struggle with their penalty killing and goaltending. The injury to Johan Franzen is enormous. The Red Wings will struggle to score goals and that is a problem because they are not constructed to prevent them. Coach Mike Babcock may have to make some alterations to the Wings' normal style of play and GM Ken Holland may have to reach into his bag of tricks and try to find a goaltender.

The first step is a healthy Datsyuk and Zetterberg, and go from there. Detroit won't win the Central Division, but it has all season to get ready for the playoffs, when Franzen can hopefully return healthy. There is still a lot of good in Detroit, just maybe not championship good.

Bucci,

If Shanny were to retire tomorrow and if you think he has the career to get into the Hall of Fame ... do you think he would go in as a Red Wing? I would be crushed if not.

Wing Man

First of all, Brendan Shanahan (656 career goals, 11th all-time in the NHL) is a Hall of Famer. Hockey players don't really get inducted with a corresponding team like baseball. That being said, Shanahan is a Red Wing. He won three Cups in his nine seasons there.

Shanahan needs 13 goals to pass Luc Robitaille to become the NHL's all-time leader in goals for a left winger. I wonder if that record means anything to him.

John,

Who do you believe will reach the 1,000-point mark first (if either do, but they definitely should), Ovie or Crosby?

Zac Turner

Sidney Crosby missed 29 games in 2007-08, which has put him about 30 points behind Alex Ovechkin's career points total. They entered the NHL in the same season. Crosby does have a slight lead in points-per-game average and one would expect that would continue because of Crosby's assists totals. Both will hit the 1,000-point mark in about five to six seasons if they stay injury free.

I would think Crosby would have the better chance of reaching 1,000 first because of his assists totals and the "violent" way Ovechkin plays. At some point, if No. 8 continues to go 100 mph toward the net and be involved in hard-impact collisions, injury is inevitable. He will likely adjust as he gets older and play a little less recklessly, but I think we are years away from that. In the meantime, we can only hope No. 8 does not miss any extended time. There has never been anyone else like him. Or Crosby.

It is very important that you don't take either of these two players for granted; watch them as much as possible over the next 3-5 seasons when they will be at the height of their powers. It is a very small window and it will be gone before you know it. They will likely have long and productive careers; but the exhilarating portion of it, where their athleticism takes your breath away, won't last forever.

John,

My son is named Sebastian. He was born a month early, but big and healthy, almost 8 pounds. He's trending to be in the Mike Knuble mold of being a patient, persistent, thoughtful and sizable force with good hands. My guess is he'll produce 18 goals and 35 assists a season and wear a letter on his sweater.

Your column last week touched on the way hockey is learned and passed along within families, which I thought was insightful. In my view, it is this culture of structure and involvement that make the game what it is and sets the foundation for the unspoken code.

Matt Roden
New York

Amen, my brutha. And thanks to you and everyone for clicking each week.

Bucci,

On the BU banner raising, the most obvious thing about BU doing it this way is how effective a recruiting tool it can be with the U-18 national team on hand.

Alan Sunnerberg
Amesbury, Mass.

That could have a small effect on a young player's decision on where he might attend college, but players are pretty sophisticated these days. There is a definite group, especially some New Englanders, who dream of becoming Terriers and playing for BU. Those players don't need a banner-raising to persuade them. Then, there are players who want to be guaranteed playing time as a freshman more than attending a big-time program. There is also a group that vacillates between playing Major Junior or college hockey, but that decision is usually pretty simple -- some players simply don't want to go to class anymore. It's a great freedom of choice for young, elite hockey players to have.

Hi Bucci,

I wanted your opinion on a few rookies, as your predictions on point totals were fairly close last year. The pundits tended to discuss Tavares, Duchesne, Hedman and even Cody Hodgson (who didn't make the Canucks). It seems to me that it is often the rookie that is a bit older and experienced that tends to win. What do you think of Ville Leino or James van Riemsdyk's chances, and how about a point projection for both.

Jason Mazzei

Players are eligible for the Calder Trophy if they are 26 years old or younger by Sept. 15 of their rookie season. Ville Leino, who is from Finland, turned 26 on Oct. 6. He has some playmaking skills that could get him some power-play time, which would increase his production. If he can play 75 games, I could see him going 23-35-58, basically Jiri Hudler of last season.

James van Riemsdyk is only 20 years old and the Flyers are very deep at forward. He just won't get the ice time or power-play time to put up any numbers that could put him in the Calder running. Plus, I think he needs a full season of professional hockey, like Bobby Ryan needed, to get acclimated with the pace and fitness level it will take for him to be the top-line player he is destined to be. He has great size and great hands. If he has an unconditional love for professional hockey in his heart, he will be productive and rich. All you need is love.

You can probably start engraving the Calder Trophy now with John Tavares' name, given the ice time he will receive and the numbers he will subsequently put up. My preseason projection for Tavares was a scoring line of 26-27-53. That might be a little low. We can probably adjust that to about 29-39-68. Tavares will probably have big power-play numbers and average 5-on-5 numbers.

Bucci,

Our fantasy league is off and running with a great keeper system and some nice big rosters. Best of all however, are the names:

1.Vanek at the Disco
2. Don't Toews me Bro
3. Battlestar Battaglia
4. Team-o Su-Primeau
5. Just Malkin My Cows
6. Parise and Thank You
7. Obladi Robidas
8. TurnYourHead&Horcoff
9. Cuckoo for Colaiacovo
10. Two if by Seabrook-*

(* -- Correction: After getting Ovechkin, Backstrom, Varlamov and Semin, the team became Kings of Leonsis.)

Brian
Royal Oak, Mich.

Beautiful, just beautiful. My team is, yes, Hakan and the Loobs. I'll feature the team in a future column.

John,

As a lifelong Rangers fan, I can't help but be absolutely pumped by the way my team has started the year. Last season's squad started out in almost the exact same fashion as this year: 5-1-0. However, the current edition of the Blueshirts seems to have much more to bring to the ice every night. Could this be the year for the Broadway faithful? How do you see this team compared to last season? Is a full offseason with John Tortorella the difference?

Andy
Rochester, N.Y.

The Rangers have addressed their goal-scoring issues from last season with a new style, trades, development of their young players and the signing of Marian Gaborik. The Rangers did a good job in that department. They had to add some octane to their offense to hang with the Flyers, Capitals and Penguins in a playoff series. I still have two concerns for the Rangers:

1. Are they big enough, rugged enough and committed enough up front among the forwards to be a high-level team?

2. Is the defense too passive and an able-enough group to win multiple playoff rounds?

Hi Bucci,

We Sabres fans are all very excited about the play of rookie behemoth Tyler Myers. It's only been four games, but he's already playing like a top-pairing D-man and not making us miss the departed Jaro Spacek at all. What is your take on the giant 19-year-old?

Matt Koss
New York City

Tyler Myers, the 12th overall pick in the 2008 draft, is a 19-year-old, 6-foot-8 defenseman for the Sabres. (The 2008 draft is turning out to be an outstanding defensemen draft.) Myers obviously has outstanding reach, but is also a very good skater. He will be in Buffalo the entire season as he is trending toward being the Sabres' best blueliner. What has surprised me about Myers is how aggressively he jumps into the play. He has no hesitation to join the rush and he follows the play right to, and behind, the opponent's net. I don't know if the Sabres' coaching staff will let Myers continue to do that all season, but it sure makes for exciting hockey.

John,

Love the column and I know you love these stories, too.

About 10 years ago, I was in college in N.C. and played in a men's league two hours from where I was living. As this was not enough of a hockey fix, I would sometimes play in an additional pickup game at the rink, too. One night, we were playing and the one goalie was just flat-out amazing. We all wondered why we hadn't seen him here before or where this guy played, as it was obvious he could do so at some high level.

Finally, I was able to snap a high wrister past him for the only goal of the night against him. After the game near the bench, he took off the mask, and lo and behold, it was Sean Burke, goalie for the Hurricanes. This was just before he got traded. It was cool for me to realize I had beat an NHL goalie, and even better when he said that it was a really nice shot. That was by far the best on-ice moment I have ever had.

Matthew Geraghty
NYC

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or crosschecks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.

BUCCI'S FAN PHOTO

John,

Elliot attended much of the Penguins' playoff run in utero, so we're not surprised that he wanted to take part in the celebration afterward.

Brian and Stephanie
Pittsburgh, Pa.

(P.S. -- Props to the Penguins organization for giving a chance for all season-ticket holders to get a picture with the Cup. Mario Lemieux & Co. always seem to know how to keep the customers happy.)


"Our Cup crawl-eth over."

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