Glendening extension doesn’t add up for blue line challenged Red Wings

Darren McCarty wasn’t the most elegant of hockey players.

He was the bull in the proverbial china shop. He was brawn over beauty.

McCarty didn’t skate his wing, he patrolled it. He punched first and asked questions later. On many a night, he was judge, jury and executioner. He especially liked to be the latter.

But for one shining moment in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, McCarty was a virtuoso.

McCarty was one-fourth of the Red Wings’ heralded Grind Line, and if you’re wondering how a hockey line could be chopped up into quarters, that’s because the Grind Line was actually populated by McCarty, Joey Kocur, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby, who took turns filling up the three spots at various times.

McCarty wowed the Joe Louis Arena crowd on the night of June 7, 1997.

It was Game 4 of the Cup Finals, with the Red Wings going for the sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Red Wings led, 1-0 in the second period, when McCarty took a pass from Tomas Sandstrom at center ice.

McCarty was known for his stickhandling ability the same way Donald Trump is known for his couth.

Yet McCarty suddenly turned into a maestro with the puck, turning Flyers defenseman Janne Niinimaa completely inside out with a left to right move, slipping the disc between Niinimaa’s legs, leaving McCarty 1-on-1 with goalie Ron Hextall.

McCarty didn’t stop with the Niinimaa move; he lured Hextall out of the crease with a deke to the left before dragging the puck to his right. The result was an open net, into which McCarty neatly deposited the puck to give the Red Wings a 2-0 lead.

The goal turned out to be the Cup-clincher, as the Red Wings held on for a 2-1 win and their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.

A year later, Grind Linemate Draper scored another iconic Red Wings goal in the Cup Finals.

It was Game 2 against the Washington Capitals—Detroit won Game 1—and the Red Wings twice fell behind by two goals in the third period at JLA.

But the Red Wings managed to get the game into overtime.

With about 15 minutes gone in overtime, the Red Wings were dangerous deep in the Capitals zone. Draper, his legs fresh, jumped onto the ice while Brendan Shanahan and Marty Lapointe, their legs not fresh, wreaked havoc. The puck went into the corner and so did Shanny and Lapointe.

Draper floated into the slot area, and Lapointe found him with a perfect pass that Draper redirected past Washington goalie Olaf Kolzig.

Game over. Red Wings led the series, 2-0 on their way to yet another sweep to the Cup.

In Game 1 of the 1997 Finals, Kocur, who had been basically playing in a beer league earlier in the season, scored a goal in Philadelphia that got the Red Wings started.

Maltby, the other Grind Liner, scored 14 goals in the ’97-98 season and was no stranger to chipping in with some offense when needed.

Calling the Grind Line a so-called fourth line is really a disservice. They weren’t the Production Line, but nor were they a black hole on offense.

I’m flipping the “on” switch to the way back machine for you in light of the Red Wings’ odd summer of defection, free agency and contract extensions that in some cases are puzzling.

One such head scratcher was the extension of Luke Glendening to a four-year, $7.2 million contract, announced in mid-July.

I may be late to the party on this but it’s never too late to talk about what the Grind Line meant to the Red Wings of yesteryear, and how that can’t be replicated with today’s group of plugging forwards.

Besides, with training camp about a month away and the off-season rapidly draining, it’s time to take inventory of what the Red Wings did to improve themselves from last year’s team that sneaked into the playoffs in the season’s final hours, only to once again be ousted in the first round.

In the case of Glendening, one has to wonder, indeed.

Glendening had all of 21 points for Red Wings last season, and that marked a career high.

With the original Grind Line, you got not only toughness and tenacity, you got some offense as well.

McCarty could pop in 15 goals a season. Maltby did it a couple of times. Draper scored 10 or more goals in a season six times, including 24 in 2003-04. Kocur didn’t score a ton but the quality of his goals reverberated way more than the quantity. That, plus I never saw Joey Kocur lose a battle for the puck along the boards. Ever.

Glendening is a nice hockey player. He brings you some defense, some face off ability and a nose that is hard. He’ll kill some penalties.

He won’t give you any offense.

That’s not his game, of course, but the Red Wings are starved for goal scoring. They’re not going to penalty kill their way to winning hockey games.

The late-1990s Grind Line could intimidate. The Grind Line could frustrate.

But, more importantly, the Grind Line could score the occasional goal—and sometimes more than occasionally.

Red Wings GM Kenny Holland seems intent on locking up players that don’t need to be locked up, especially when there are players in Grand Rapids—ironically, that’s Glendening’s hometown—who could probably do the same thing that Glendening does for a much cheaper price.

The Red Wings, once again, showed their “we’re loyal to a fault” ways by inking Glendening, 27, through the 2020-21 season.

Why?

Here’s Holland.

“There are things a player brings to a team that maybe aren’t just in goals and assists, and that’s what Luke is,” Holland mused after the Glendening extension was announced.

“He’s a really good defensive player, has the ability to play 16-18 minutes against other team’s best players. He’s fearless. He’s a tremendous penalty killer. He brings intangibles.”

Fine. But two things make this a flawed argument for the extension.

One, see above. The Red Wings need goal scoring, not what “a player brings to team that maybe aren’t just in goals and assists.” The Red Wings are in desperate need of goals and assists.

Two, the Red Wings’ success in keeping the puck out of their own net—which runs neck-and-neck with goal scoring among the team’s most pressing needs—is far more attached to the quality of their defensemen than it is to that of their puck hounding forwards.

You could have four lines of Luke Glendenings, all Selke Trophy candidates, and it won’t mean a hill of beans if the guys on the blue line can’t play.

And the Red Wings, as of right now, plan to go to Traverse City next month with essentially the same defense corps as what played most of last season. Except—bonus!—everyone is a year older.

Doesn’t that make you warm and fuzzy inside?

There could be some infusion of youth on the blue line, however.

Xavier Ouellet and Alexey Marchenko are two defensemen—age 23 and 24 respectively—who might see more ice with the Red Wings in 2016-17. But with the extension of Danny DeKeyser, the over-reliance on ancient Niklas Kronwall, the odd loyalty to 32 year-old Jonathan Ericsson and with soon-to-be 31 year-old Mike Green just one year removed from signing a big free agent deal in Detroit, where will Ouellet and Marchenko find that time?

Don’t forget Brendan Smith, who figures to be in the mix as well. Kyle Quincey wasn’t offered a contract and is still out there, unsigned.

The days of keeping third and fourth line guys together for years have passed. Except in Detroit, where management loves to unnecessarily reward the “intangible” guys like Glendening, Drew Miller, et al.

The Red Wings seem to bid against themselves a lot. If we all woke up one morning and found out that Luke Glendening had signed with Montreal, for example, would we lose sleep the subsequent night?

But Holland loves to make sure that guys like Glendening will never, ever play for another NHL team for as long as they lace up skates.

I’m not anti-Luke Glendening. I don’t come to bury him.

But you don’t need to lock guys like that, up. You let them walk if they don’t fit into your budget, and you go find younger, cheaper alternatives.

The Red Wings’ problems go way, way deeper than Luke Glendening and players of his ilk.

Holland paid too little attention to the Red Wings’ blue line this off season. However, he can save some face if Ouellet and/or Marchenko become prime contributors this season. But at whose expense?

The Red Wings have too much money sunk into their goalies, they got rooked financially in the Pavel Datsyuk debacle, they’re paying for too many bad contracts and all the while, too many players are stewing in their own juices in Grand Rapids.

But Luke Glendening will be a Red Wing for the next four years.

Glendening himself said it best.

“If you’d have told me two or three years ago that I’d be sitting here talking about a four-year extension, I probably would have laughed.”

But this is no laughing matter if you’re a Red Wings fan.

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Mercurial Red Wings-Avs rivalry was sports’ best—for six years

The roots of one of the greatest rivalries in NHL history can be traced to May, 1995.

The roots started to take hold in early-December, 1995. They were firmly in the ground come the following May.

The Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche will be playing in yet another one of those outdoor games on February 27, in Denver.

Sadly, the alumni game that will take place the day prior to the game is likely to have more juice than the real thing.

The Red Wings and the Avs were the Hatfields and the McCoys of the NHL. Heck, maybe in all of professional sports.

Their bitterness toward each other was fleeting and mercurial, however. But for about six years, nothing was a hotter ticket than a Red Wings-Avalanche game, whether it was played in Detroit or Denver.

You can have your Yankees-Red Sox. You can have your Lakers-Celtics. I’ll even give you Pistons-Celtics and Pistons-Bulls. Same with Flyers-Rangers or Canadiens-Maple Leafs.

You can have them all, but what the Red Wings and Avalanche did to each other from 1996-2002 trumps everything those teams did. For six years, it was must-see TV.

But that was a long time ago.

The Red Wings-Avs rivalry can’t truly be put up there with the greatest of all-time, because it didn’t last very long.

The Red Wings kept being good—winning another Stanley Cup in 2008—but the Avs had some playoff trouble in the years after capturing their last Cup, in 2001.

The teams met again in the post-season in 2008, but it wasn’t a competitive series whatsoever; the Red Wings swept the Avs by mostly lopsided scores.

The alumni game on February 26 will be a trip down memory lane for those who were enthralled by the drama and subplots that seemingly every Red Wings-Avalanche contest provided.

In those days, everything would spill over to the playoffs, where the teams met five times in the seven seasons between 1996-2002, with the Red Wings capturing two series, the Avs three series. Three times the squads faced off in the Western Conference Finals, with the Red Wings winning two of those.

But again—a long time ago.

The NHL is trying, I would imagine, to get some TV eyeballs on the outdoor game on February 27 because of the Red Wings-Avalanche brand name.

But today, the teams aren’t even in the same conference anymore. Most Red Wings fans likely couldn’t name three players on the Avalanche roster, without the help of the Internet.

That’s why the alumni battle will be fun. But of course, it’s not the same as when the players genuinely hated each other.

Claude Lemieux, of course, wore the biggest black hat in Detroit.

Patrick Roy’s lid was pretty large as well.

Which gets us back to the root of the issue—pun intended.

The Quebec Nordiques were a pretty good hockey club in 1995, but they were in financial trouble.

Owner Marcel Aubut tried like mad to keep the team in Quebec City, but the red ink was too deep and the Province of Quebec rejected Aubut’s proposal for a bailout.

Aubut had no choice but to sell “Le Nordique” to COMSAT Entertainment Group, which owned the NBA’s Denver Nuggets. COMSAT moved the Nordiques to Denver and dubbed them the Avalanche, prior to the start of the 1995-96 season.

Denver was a prior NHL loser, having had the Colorado Rockies from 1976-1982 before the team moved to New Jersey and became the Devils.

But the Rockies were 13 years ago in 1995, and the NHL felt comfortable giving Denver another chance—especially since the team was highly competitive.

The move from Quebec City to Denver was announced in May, 1995. So there’s your first roots of the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry.

In early-December, the Red Wings, with what would be tremendous irony, torched Montreal Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy in an 11-1 shellacking at the old Forum. Roy surrendered all but two of the 11 goals.

Roy had battled with coach Mario Tremblay, and when Tremblay left Roy in to suffer the humiliation of the 11-1 loss to the Red Wings, the Canadiens goalie had had enough. He demanded a trade, right then and there—behind the Montreal bench. Roy sought out Canadiens President Ronald Corey, seated near the team’s bench, and announced that he’d just played his last game as a Hab.

Roy was traded forthwith—to the Colorado Avalanche.

A rivalry’s roots started to take firmer hold.

The Avalanche, for one, moved to the Red Wings’ conference because of their geographical relocation to Denver.

As fate would have it, the Red Wings would set a new all-time record for most wins in a season (62), and in the conference finals, who were waiting for them but the Colorado Avalanche—with their new goalie, Patrick Roy.

Lemieux rearranged Kris Draper’s face with a brutal, illegal hit in the Conference Finals, which the Avs won in six games.

Red Wings forward Dino Ciccarelli lamented the post-series handshake after Game 6.

claude-lemieux-kris-draperjpg-35a9759a0a17377f

Claude Lemieux, leaving the scene of the crime in the 1996 Western Conference Finals.

“I can’t believe I shook that [expletive]’s hand,” Ciccarelli seethed of Lemieux, who had been suspended for the clinching game because of the Draper hit, and who joined his teammates on the ice in an Avs t-shirt for the handshake.

The rivalry was now on!

Back and forth the two teams went for the next six years, slugging it out on the ice—twice the goalies got into it—with each team one-upping the other. But the head that wore the rivalry’s crown lied uneasily. Neither team really dominated, or went on any long winning streak against the other.

That was, of course, part of what made Red Wings-Avs so delicious. It was like MAD Magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy” series.

But after 2002, the teams didn’t have very many memorable regular season contests, as they used to. And in that 2008 playoff series, the Avs were totally outclassed.

The Red Wings moved to the Eastern Conference in 2013, which means the two teams hardly play each other.

But for six years, we were treated to the best that pro sports rivalries can give.

There were heroes and villains, subplots and drama. Even a mental image of an Avs sweater would make a Red Wings fan seethe, and vice versa.

When the Red Wings ousted the Avs in Game 6 of the 1997 Conference Finals, it was like when the Pistons finally eliminated the Celtics in the 1988 Conference Finals after years of torment; that 1997 series victory almost meant more than winning the damn Cup—which the Red Wings hadn’t done for 42 years.

The rosters for this month’s alumni game were announced a few weeks ago and as you would expect, the names that dot them are a Who’s Who of vintage Red Wings-Avs storylines.

But there won’t be bloody battles. There won’t be black hats. There will only be the names of yesteryear on the backs of the sweaters.

There’ll be too much smiling on the ice, number one.

As for the real game on February 27 between the Red Wings and Avs of today, you can have it.

All this is, is a reminder that sometimes in sports, you can never go back.

But you have the memories, and those will have to suffice—and they will.