TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.
-- The secret's out on how the Detroit Red Wings
game plan for a majority of their opponents.
"We talk to our best players all the time and we call (the plays) Nick-isms and Pav-isms and Z-isms because we steal what they do and turn it into a system play because they do it better than anyone else," Detroit coach Mike Babcock told NHL.com.
"We got six lines coming to training camp that all think they can play in the NHL. We'll get a good look at prospects Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, (Tomas) Tatar, (Jan) Mursak, (Cory) Emmerton and many others. They're all in the running, so we'll see what happens." -- Wings coach Mike Babcock
And, to think, we all thought Babcock was a master tactician.
The veteran coach is referring, of course, to defenseman Nick Lidstrom, center Pavel Datsyuk
and left wing Henrik 'Z' Zetterberg. The 41-year-old Lidstrom needs to win just one more Norris Trophy as the League's best defenseman to tie the great Bobby Orr
Babcock, who took some time to speak with NHL.com during an intermission break at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, was asked where the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Lidstrom stood all time.
"He's the best of this generation for sure," Babcock said. "To me, he's ahead of anybody that I've seen. Now, Ray Bourque
was a heck of a player and Bobby Orr
, obviously. I don't know anyone before that, but Nick's the best.
"You don't win seven Norris Trophies without doing something right," he continued. "He's smoother, smarter and better than everybody else. He just doesn't make mistakes, is risk-free, skates unbelievable, sees the ice, is good offensively, good defensively and doesn't force anything. And he's a great leader."
Babcock also admitted that the 19-season veteran is not only a heck of a hockey player, but a great coach.
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"We brought him in the other day to ask what he thought of a certain D-zone coverage ... I talk to him about players all the time, about travel," Babcock said. "Nick told me something on the penalty kill just a couple of days ago after (Red Wings assistant coach) Bill Peters called him in. We were talking PK and he told us something and I told him, 'Nick, I've been here seven years with you and how come it took me seven years to learn this.' He just shrugged and said I never thought about it."
Lidstrom has produced 253 goals and 1,108 points in 1,494 career games. He has played in all 82 regular-season games the past two seasons.
Offensively, Babcock said Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Johan Franzen
and Dan Cleary are his top four forwards. Who does he expect to pick up the pace following two consecutive second-round ousters in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
"I think Abby (Justin Abdelkader
) and (Darren) Helm are going to have huge years," Babcock said. "I think they're probably sitting there wondering, 'Is our coach dumb? Why aren't I playing more?' I think they've earned the right to play more, so they will play more. Abby can't be on the fourth line anymore, and Helmer on the third line, unless someone else can take their job and I don't see that happening."
Abdelkader, who averaged 12:18 of ice time last season, led the team with 188 hits and a plus-15 rating. Helm, who averaged 13:18 of ice time, scored a team-high 2 shorthanded goals and finished the season with 32 points and a plus-9 rating.
Babcock is also relying on four other players to rebound in 2011-12.
"There is opportunity for more people, but the guys I feel we need to step up and have better years than last year are Franzen, (Valtteri) Filppula, (Jiri) Hudler and (Jonathan) Ericsson. We expect growth from Ericsson, and Helm and Abdelkader, as well. Those are the guys, to me, that are going to make us a better team. They're ready to make this a better team and they have to."
The Red Wings begin training camp on Sept. 17 at Center ICE Arena -- three days after the completion of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament. Babcock is looking forward to the battles at each position.
"We got six lines coming to training camp that all think they can play in the NHL," he said. "We'll get a good look at prospects Brendan Smith
, Gustav Nyquist
, (Tomas) Tatar, (Jan) Mursak, (Cory) Emmerton and many others. They're all in the running, so we'll see what happens."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale