With offense inconsistent, Red Wings should kick the tires on Stewart

Gustav Nyquist kept the puck on his stick for 28 seconds, which in hockey is an eternity. It’s the world’s fastest team sport—a game predicated on moving the puck quickly and in tic-tac-toe fashion.

Yet here was Nyquist, the puck seemingly glued to his stick, literally skating circles around the Ottawa Senators and his own teammates on Saturday night in overtime, in the Senators’ zone.

Nyquist made three revolutions around the perimeter of the Ottawa zone, hogging the puck. He was a one-man, ice rink version of the Harlem Globetrotters. All that was missing was “Sweet Georgia Brown” blaring from the arena sound system.

It was overtime, so there was more ice with which to work, since the NHL plays 4-on-4 for the extra session in the regular season. And Nyquist used the extra ice to glide around with the puck as if he was a man playing among boys.

I have never seen one player keep the puck for as long as Nyquist kept it on Saturday night. Not even a video game player keeps it for nearly 30 seconds.

The solo puck possession was impressive enough in its length, but Nyquist finished the display by rifling a shot past Senators goalie Craig Anderson from the top of the right circle. Game over. Red Wings win, 3-2.

Just call him Gustav “Curly Neal” Nyquist.

Nyquist’s overtime goal was much needed, as it meant that the Red Wings would avoid the shootout, which is like Superman avoiding Kryptonite.

It’s also no secret that the Red Wings’ offense comes and goes without warning. First they’re popping four and five goals into the net per night, then it takes them a week to score that many.

The NHL isn’t sprinkled with the liberal amount of snipers that used to grace the ice as recently as 10 years ago. Like baseball, which is going through an offensive malaise, the NHL hasn’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard with any consistency for a number of years.

Pure goal scorers don’t grow on trees. This is true. Gone are the Brett Hulls of the world—at least for now.

The Red Wings have raised some eyebrows this season among the so-called experts, as they are sitting in the elite tier of the Eastern Conference and have been almost since the season began in October. The pre-season prognosticators didn’t give the Winged Wheelers much love.

Unlike the Stanley Cup-winning years of 1997 and beyond, today’s Red Wings have to scratch and claw to put every puck they can past enemy goalies. That’s why you see fits of scoring closely followed by bouts of sparseness, and vice-versa.

The Red Wings’ goal-scoring chart, if you spread the games played from left to right, would look like an EKG.

There may not be a true sniper available within the league, but the Buffalo Sabres have made it known that RW Chris Stewart could be had in a trade.

The Red Wings should place a phone call.

Stewart is trade bait because he is a pending, unrestricted free agent next summer and it’s doubtful that the small market Sabres want any part of a long-term, expensive deal with the 27-year-old. He is in the final year of a contract that pays him $4.15 million this season.

Stewart has only scored 20+ goals twice in his career (and hasn’t done so since the 2010-11 season), but he’s certainly a 15-20 goal guy who shoots right and isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty. He’s a Justin Abdelkader type but with maybe a little more skill.

Stewart isn’t having a great year so far (just five goals and a minus-14) but he likely would perk up if traded to a team that has a chance to actually do something, which the Sabres are not, despite their recent stretch of solid play.

So far there have been no indications that the Red Wings are in on Stewart, but they should be.

Buffalo’s Stewart is on the trading block. The Red Wings ought to be interested. (Getty Images)

Stewart will be 28 when next season starts, which should be the start of the prime of his career. He’s already played on some good teams in Colorado and St. Louis, so he knows a little about winning. With the Red Wings, he should get a healthy dose of that culture of success for many years to come, should he sign with them long-term next summer.

Watching the Red Wings on a nightly basis, you get the feeling that the team is still one goal scorer away from being a serious Stanley Cup contender. Even with the return of the oft-injured Stephen Weiss, who has been effective, there’s still a missing je ne sais quoi.

The inconsistent offense is a reason why coach Mike Babcock feels it necessary to occasionally pair Henrik Zetterberg with Pavel Datsyuk to jump start things. If the coach had his druthers, he’d play those two veteran stars on different lines to spread the wealth.

Nyquist could be a 20-goal guy (at least) every year, for sure. He has 15 goals this season in 36 games, and he popped in 28 goals in 57 games last season.

But one more sniper-type guy—just one—and the Red Wings could make this a special season after all.

The defense doesn’t have the lapses it has had in the recent past. The younger guys back there are maturing. Goalie Jimmy Howard is enjoying a nice bounce back from a checkered 2013-14 season. There’s some toughness and grit up front, with forwards who often outwork their opponents. Their coach is still among the best in the league.

The Red Wings of 2014-15 can’t throw their sweaters with the famous logo on it, onto the ice every night and chalk up two points. Those days are long gone. This squad can’t be outworked or it will lose. But it has something going, and if they can add one more guy who can put the puck into the net, the sky’s the limit.

Easier said than done, I know. But isn’t that why GM Ken Holland makes the big bucks?

1954-55 Red Wings: Tony Leswick

THE TONY LESWICK FILE:

Born: March 17, 1923; Died: July 1, 2001

Position: Right wing

NHL games played: 740 (302 with Red Wings)

1954-55 stats: 70 GP; G: 10; A: 17; 137 PIM

CAREER: GP: 740; G: 165; A: 159; PIM: 900

Tony Leswick played on some pretty bad New York Rangers teams before being traded to Detroit in 1951, but the losing on Broadway was hardly Tony’s fault.

Leswick, a right winger with slick-backed, black-as-night hair, popped in 113 goals in six seasons with the Rangers, but only twice did the Broadway Blues make the playoffs in those old Original Six days.

But Leswick was never a stranger to scoring goals prior to his NHL debut in 1945.

Whether it was in juniors or in the minor leagues, Leswick was a point producer and he gained a reputation for getting under opponents’ skin. Think Kenny “The Rat” Linseman or Theo Fleury.

Finally, Leswick tasted winning hockey when the Red Wings acquired him in the summer of 1951 for Gaye Stewart. In fact, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in Leswick’s first year in Detroit. He would win two more Cups as a Red Wing.

There was great irony in Leswick’s career in the Motor City. His goal scoring dropped dramatically (partly because in Detroit, he didn’t have to be the no. 1 guy), yet Leswick notched one of the most famous goals in franchise history.

It came in Game 7 of the 1954 Stanley Cup Finals against Montreal, in overtime. And it was hardly a Leswick special.

May as well let Leswick himself describe it, as told to Chuck O’Donnell.

“It was early in overtime, I don’t know, maybe four or five minutes in. We were trying to change our forwards. I had the puck around center ice or so and I just wanted to do the smart thing and throw it in. If I get caught with the puck and the Canadiens steal it, we may get caught and they may get an odd-man break. Just like that, the game could be over. So, I’m just thinking of lifting the puck down deep in their end, just making the safe play. So I flipped it in nice and high and turned to get off the ice. The next thing I know, everyone’s celebrating. It had gone in. I said, “You’ve got to be kidding. It went in? Get out of here!””

Yes, it went in. Habs defenseman Doug Harvey went back to glove the puck, but instead deflected it past goaltender Gerry McNeil and into the net for the game-winning goal!

Leswick played on one more Cup-winning team in Detroit in 1955 before he was traded to Chicago in the off-season in a blockbuster deal involving eight players.

Leswick was traded back to Detroit in August 1956, but played only 22 games in 1957-58. Before and after that return to Detroit, Leswick spent three mostly productive seasons playing for Edmonton in the (then) rival Western Hockey League before retiring at age 36 after a nine-game cameo with Vancouver of the WHL.

He tried coaching but it was a disaster. In 1963-64, Leswick guided the Red Wings’ Central League affiliate, Cincinnati, to a 12-53-7 record before getting out of hockey. Perhaps the tone was set nine games into the season, when the team’s arena in Indianapolis exploded during an ice show, forcing the franchise to move to Cincinnati.

More Leswick trivia: one of his nephews is former big league baseball player Lenny Dykstra. Maybe the family genes were passed down; Dykstra also had a reputation for irritating opponents (and teammates).

NEXT WEEK: “Terrible” Ted Lindsay. Need I say more?

1954-55 Red Wings: Red Kelly

THE RED KELLY FILE:

Born: July 9, 1927

Position: Defense

NHL games played: 1,316 (846 with Red Wings)

1954-55 stats: 70 GP; G: 15; A: 30; 28 PIM

CAREER: GP: 1316; G: 281; A: 542; PIM: 327

Bobby Orr is often credited with changing the way the game of hockey was played, or at least the way the position of defense was regarded.

Orr, the quintessential “rushing” defenseman, burst onto the scene in 1966 with the Boston Bruins and, well, you know the rest.

But before Orr, the Red Wings employed a defenseman who possessed unique offensive skills and who greatly helped the team move the puck up ice from the defensive zone.

Red Kelly doesn’t get the accolades that have been bestowed upon Orr, but for his time, Kelly was a rarity: the blueliner with puck-moving skills and speed.

Most defensemen in Kelly’s day, before Orr, planted their skates in front of their team’s net and moved forwards away from the goalie. Then when the action moved up ice, the defensemen would lumber ahead, not really participating in the offensive rush.

Hence the term, still used today, “stay-at-home” defenseman.

But Kelly eschewed that style, and his skills with the puck resulted in 15 goals during the 1954-55 season, which was an almost unheard of number from a defenseman—unless you were talking about Red Kelly.

Kelly’s goal totals with the Red Wings in the 1950s were always in the teens, with a peak of 19 in 1952-53.

But things eventually soured for Kelly in Detroit. He hurt his ankle in 1959 and the Red Wings tried to keep the injury a secret. When Kelly let the cat out of the bag in February, 1960, Red Wings GM Jack Adams was infuriated and immediately traded Kelly to the New York Rangers.

Kelly refused to report, threatening to retire instead. The trade was canceled. That’s when Toronto’s coach and GM, Punch Imlach, stepped in and coaxed Kelly into playing for the Maple Leafs. On February 10, 1960, Kelly was dealt to the Leafs for fellow defenseman Marc Reaume.

Stanley Cups followed Kelly no matter where he went. With Detroit, he won four of them. With Toronto, he won four more.

In Toronto, Imlach decided to use Kelly’s puck skills as a forward, and with the Leafs, Kelly became one of the best centers in the league.

His eight Cups as a player are the most in NHL history for anyone who didn’t play for the Montreal Canadiens.

Kelly was a first-team All-Star on defense six times in the 1950s.

Kelly retired after his last Cup win in 1967 and became coach of the expansion L.A. Kings for two seasons. He also coached Pittsburgh for three seasons and Toronto for four.

Part of Kelly’s effectiveness was his ability to stay out of the penalty box. He won four Lady Byng Trophies (gentlemanly play) as a result.

More fun trivia about Red Kelly: He won the first-ever Norris Trophy for best defenseman, in 1954. And while still a player, Kelly got involved in Canadian politics, being elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1962.

He was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969.

NEXT WEEK: Tony Leswick, who once scored one of the most famous goals in Red Wings history.

1954-55 Red Wings: Gordie Howe

THE GORDIE HOWE FILE:

Born: March 31, 1928

Position: Right wing

NHL games played: 1,767 (1,687 with Red Wings)

1954-55 stats: 64 GP; G: 29; A: 33; 68 PIM

CAREER (NHL): GP: 1767; G: 801; A: 1049; PIM: 1685

CAREER (WHA): GP: 419; G: 174; A: 334; PIM: 399

Gordie Howe was 22 years old and his life hung in the balance.

During the 1950 playoffs, in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ted “Teeter” Kennedy ran Howe into the boards and Gordie couldn’t brace himself properly for the collision. The result was that Howe’s head slammed into the unforgiving boards.

Howe’s brain swelled and for a couple of days his prognosis was touch-and-go. Hockey wasn’t the issue—his life was.

Eventually, Howe recovered and he was able to go onto the ice and join his teammates when the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup a couple weeks later.

The Cup win was Howe’s first of four with the Red Wings, and he never showed any ill effects from his skull fracture of 1950. Just ask all the opponents who were on the receiving end of elbows, gloves, the butt ends of sticks and, most of all, 801 NHL goals.

If there was an NHL record, Howe broke it. He surpassed Maurice “Rocket” Richard’s career goal total of 544 in November, 1963. Five times Howe scored 40-plus goals in a season, and he surpassed 30 goals 14 times in an NHL career that spanned from 1946-1971.

But you don’t need this blog to tell you how great Mr. Hockey was, do you?

In the 1955 playoffs, to which this series is dedicated, Howe was amazing, tallying nine goals and 11 assists in just 11 games. He also crammed 24 penalty minutes in there, which makes sense when you consider the famous “Gordie Howe hat trick” (goal, assist, fight in the same game).

Howe retired in 1971 but then was given a do-nothing VP job with the Red Wings. Dissatisfied with what he called the “mushroom treatment” (“They keep me in the dark and every so often they throw manure on me”), Howe got restless and had the urge to play again when his sons, Mark and Marty, were signed by the WHA’s Houston Aeros in 1973.

He called his old teammate Bill Dineen, who coached the Aeros at the time.

“How about a third Howe?” Gordie asked Dineen.

It was a no-brainer for Dineen to say yes.

Howe played six seasons in the WHA before returning to the NHL with the Hartford Whalers at age 51 in 1979.

Howe played in all 80 games for the Whalers in his last NHL hurrah, scoring a respectable 15 goals. For good measure, Howe added one last playoff goal as well.

Today, as you are aware, Howe is battling dementia and recurring strokes at his daughter’s home in Lubbock, TX.

Get well, Mr. Hockey!

NEXT WEEK: Red Kelly, who won the most Stanley Cups (eight) as a player in NHL history who never played for the Montreal Canadiens.

1954-55 Red Wings: Larry Hillman

Larry Hillman

THE LARRY HILLMAN FILE:

Born: February 5, 1937

Position: Defense

NHL games played: 790 (69 with Red Wings)

1954-55 stats: 6 GP; G: 0; A: 0; 2 PIM

CAREER: GP: 790; G: 36; A: 196; PIM: 579

Larry Hillman has the distinction of being the youngest player to ever have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.

Hillman, a defenseman, was 18 years, two months and nine days old when his name appeared on the Cup in 1955.

Despite only getting into six regular season games in 1955, Hillman played in three playoff games that spring, going pointless.

He wasn’t a Red Wing for very long (two-plus seasons). In fact, Hillman was never really anything for very long.

He did play eight years in Toronto, winning another Cup in 1967, which was the last time the Maple Leafs were Stanley Cup champions.

But other than the eight-year stint in Toronto, Hillman was well-traveled, playing for eight NHL teams and two WHA clubs in a professional career that spanned 22 years.

Along the way, Hillman managed to find himself on no less than six Cup-winning teams.

His younger brother, Wayne, who was also a defenseman, played 17 seasons in the NHL and WHA.

Larry Hillman coached the Winnipeg Jets during the last two seasons of the WHA’s existence (1977-79).

NEXT WEEK: Gordie Howe. Enough said.

Jean Beliveau Passes Away

Jean Beliveau

Jean Beliveau: 1931-2014

A bad November for hockey deaths has now turned into a bad start for December.

Old No. 4 for the Canadiens, Jean Beliveau, has died. He was 83.

Maurice “Rocket” Richard may have been the most explosive and dynamic Canadien of all-time (reflected in his nickname), but Beliveau was the most graceful. He was Montreal’s Alex Delvecchio—a smooth-as-silk centerman who didn’t do anything flashy; he just did it right.

Hockey lost a true giant.

It was fitting and proper that Beliveau’s last game played in 1971 ended with him as a Stanley Cup Champion yet again. His name is on the Cup 10 times as a player and seven more times as a Canadiens executive.

Here’s NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s statement on Beliveau’s passing.

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN STATEMENT ON THE PASSING OF JEAN BÉLIVEAU

NEW YORK (Dec. 3, 2014) – National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman today released the following statement regarding the passing of the legendary Jean Béliveau:

“No record book can capture, no image can depict, no statue can convey the grandeur of the remarkable Jean Béliveau, whose elegance and skill on the ice earned the admiration of the hockey world while his humility and humanity away from the rink earned the love of fans everywhere.

“Mr. Béliveau was a formidable presence and his departure leaves an immeasurable void. As we grieve that he has left us, we cherish what he gave us: A sport elevated forever by his character, his dignity and his class.

“For all the accomplishments he achieved and all the accolades he received, Jean Béliveau was always the epitome of the boy whose only dream was to play for the Montreal Canadiens. Hockey is better because that dream was realized. The National Hockey League sends heartfelt condolences to Mr. Béliveau’s wife, Élise, and Mr. Béliveau’s family, to his countless friends around the hockey world, and to his beloved Canadiens, who he always represented with such distinction and grace.”

1954-55 red wings: Jim Hay

Jim Hay

THE JIM HAY FILE:

Born: May 15, 1931

Position: Defense

NHL games played: 75 (all with Red Wings)

1954-55 stats: 21 GP; G: 0; A: 1; 20 PIM

CAREER: GP: 75; G: 1; A: 5; PIM: 22

Jim Hay played junior hockey across the Detroit River for the Windsor Spitfires, back when the league was called the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA).

Even though his NHL career spanned just 75 games, Hay was around long enough to get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup in 1955 with the Red Wings.

It was in the minor leagues where the defenseman made his, ahem, hay.

Jim Hay played 1,289 games in the minor leagues, and didn’t stop playing professional hockey until he was 40 years old. His last game played was for the Eastern Hockey League’s Jersey Devils, who he coached for one season after retiring (1972-73). Hay was a member of the 1964-65 Portland Buckaroos, who won the Western Hockey League Championship.

NEXT WEEK: Defenseman Larry Hillman, who was half of one of the many brother combos to play in the NHL, and who played for 15 teams in his 22-year pro career.