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Central: Holland's plan for Wings anything but quirky

by Larry Wigge
Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland has made all
the right moves so far, and has positioned his club as the team to beat in the Western Conference.
Watch Red Wings-Stars highlights 
Ken Holland is the contradiction in terms to the age-old theory that all goaltenders are flaky, quirky and sometimes just plain strange.

After being a 13th-round pick, 188th choice overall, by Toronto in the 1975 Entry Draft, the Vernon, B.C., native played more than a dozen seasons in the American Hockey League, getting to the NHL for parts of just four games with the Hartford Whalers and Detroit Red Wings and posting an 0-2-1 record.

But Holland showed Red Wings GM Jimmy Devellano an intuitive side in his days in Detroit, earning a spot on the team's scouting staff in 1985. From Western Canada scout, he made it back to Detroit as Devellano's trusted right-hand man. And after the Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997, their first in 42 years, Jimmy D. handed off the GM's duties to Holland.

Since then, Detroit has been a model of excellence -- finishing in first place eight of 10 seasons, clinching that spot this season with a 5-3 victory over Dallas on March 13. The Wings also reached the 100-point mark for the eighth-straight season to tie an NHL record (Montreal did in from 1974-75 through 1981-82) and ninth time under Holland in that game against the Stars. Plus, Holland's clubs won Stanley Cups in 1998 and 2002.

"I think Kenny Holland and the whole organization deserves a lot of credit for our consistency, especially with the new salary system where everybody is basically playing on an equal playing field. Same wallet," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said after the victory over the Stars.

The consistency is clearly no accident.

Recently, the 52-year-old GM credited legendary coach Scotty Bowman with an important tip he has lived by.

"Scotty always suggested that it's a good thing to make sure we're surrounded by plenty of experienced players down the stretch and in the playoffs," Holland said. "He said you can never have enough veteran intelligence when the pressure is on."

The comments came just before the Red Wings defeated the young and up-and-coming Chicago Blackhawks, 2-1, on March 11. Interestingly, Chicago won the first four meetings with Detroit this season with those young legs, but since Christmas, the Red Wings have won the last two matchups against the Blackhawks and are clearly aiming for much bigger things in this season's playoffs.

Holland pointed to the signing of free-agent winger Dallas Drake, the former captain of the St. Louis Blues, plus the continued success of veterans Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby, Chris Chelios, Lidstrom and goaltenders Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood. You have to also give credit to Holland's ingenuity in making the trading deadline deal that brought Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart and the re-signing of long-time Wings forward Darren McCarty.

The theory is the polar opposite of the youth movement GM Dale Tallon is operating in Chicago. But you can bet that Tallon heads back to the same winning formula Holland is using in Detroit, when the Hawks' youngsters like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are ready to win.

On March 11, Drake was playing in his 1,000th NHL game. It was no coincidence that he set up Maltby's goal to give the Wings a 1-0 lead in the game for his 300th career assist. It's also no accident that Pavel Datsyuk, who grew up in the NHL with the likes of Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan and Igor Larionov paying particular attention to his development in Detroit's Cup season of 2001-02, got the game-winning goal against the Blackhawks.

This mentoring formula that the Red Wings have followed isn't groundbreaking news. Neither is the fact that Holland decided to spend second- and fourth-round draft choices for Stuart on the heels of Anaheim winning a Stanley Cup last spring by loading up on as many quality defensemen as GM Brian Burke could find.

It's not ironic that no one has called Ken Holland flakey or quirky in a lot of years. I'd call Holland's mindset innovative ... and successful, wouldn't you?

Around the Central

Detroit -- When you're used to winning as much as the Red Wings do, a 4-8-2 record in the month of February isn't going to keep them down for long. Try not at all. The Wings ran their record to 5-0 in March with Pavel Datsyuk leading the way with two goals and an assist in a 5-3 victory over Dallas on March 13. The outburst gave Datsyuk seven goals and 11 points as he extended his points streak to eight games. It also pushed Pavel's season's total to 83 points, just four short of his career-high of 87 points he had the last two seasons. ... Johan Franzen is quickly learning that his hands are just as valuable as that big body he has. He extended his goal-scoring streak to five games in the game against Dallas, two days after he had two goals in a 3-1 win over Chicago. The hot stretch gave Franzen six goals in five games and 18 for the season -- or six more than his previous career-high. ... Nicklas Lidstrom didn't miss a beat in his return to the lineup March 9 after missing six games with a knee injury. Lidstrom had two assists in a 4-3 victory over Nashville, playing in more than 20 minutes in his first game back. Lidstrom had missed only 22 games in his first 15 NHL seasons -- and it's no coincidence that the Wings won only two times in his six-game absence.

Predators' forward J.P.Dumont is
having a record-setting season.
Nashville -- J.P. Dumont got the overtime winner in a 2-1 Nashville victory at Calgary on March 7. It was his team-leading eighth game-winning goal this season, which tied Scott Hartnell's single-season club record set in 2005-06. Dumont is three goals away from becoming just the third 30-goal scorer in Predators history and four goals short of the club record of 31 goals scored by Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan. Both achieved the feat in 2005-06. ... This hasn't been a season to remember for David Legwand, whose production has dipped to 15 goals and 44 points. Several minor injuries have played a part in this forgettable season for Legwand. Plus, he was recently arrested and charged with DUI and reckless driving. He received a six months suspended sentence and six months probation. The center will have to attend alcohol safety school. ... Youth breeds excitement plus stretches of frustration. Such is the case with talented winger Alexander Radulov, the second-year man who for more than two months was on fire offensively playing alongside Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont on Nashville's No. 1 line. Of late, it's been more frustration than success for Radulov, who found his way into coach Barry Trotz's doghouse with a series of bad penalties that quickly turned into goals by the opposition. ... Trotz's 727th game behind the Nashville bench came in a 2-1 loss to San Jose on March 11. The number is significant because it allowed the only coach the Predators have known to move past former Boston Bruins coach Milt Schmidt into 11th place all-time in games coached with a single team.

Chicago -- After learning that the Blackhawks had talked to Ottawa before the trade deadline about a deal that would have sent No. 1 goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin to the Senators (some say the deal was nixed only because Ottawa insisted that Chicago take troubled netminder Ray Emery in the deal), there are signs that GM Dale Tallon and coach Denis Savard may be giving us a glimpse of next season a little early with the use of youngster Corey Crawford in goal. Crawford, the team's second-round pick, 52nd overall, in the 2003 Entry Draft, pitched a shutout in his first start this season March 5. Then, the youngster flashed more potential when he stopped 44 of 47 shots in a 3-1 loss at Detroit March 11 and stopped another 29 shots in a 3-0 loss to Carolina one night later. ... Turns out, all of the optimism Martin Havlat had coming into the season following a summer of rest and rehab on his oft-injured left shoulder was short-lived. After leading the Blackhawks in scoring with 25 goals and 32 assists in just 56 games last season, Havlat had this season cut short with the third surgery on that shoulder. His totals for this season: 10 goals and 17 assists in 35 games. Doctors said this surgery went fine and Havlat should be ready for training camp in September.

Rick Nash has been named as the new captain of the Blue Jackets.
Columbus -- Just a couple weeks after Adam Foote was traded to Colorado, Rick Nash replaced Foote as captain of the Jackets -- the team's fifth captain and the first to be drafted by the franchise. At 23, he becomes the NHL's second-youngest captain behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby. ... "Good minor league player, but..." That's a curse that has kept a lot of hard-working players out of the NHL over the years. It appears that first-year NHL GM Scott Howson and veteran Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock wouldn't mind taking a second look at some of those "good, but" players. The Blue Jackets started this season by promoting winger Curtis Glencross, an undrafted former University of Alaska-Anchorage player who had spent all but nine games of his four-year professional career in the minors. The 25-year-old showed plenty of grit and a few timely goals before the Jackets cashed him in for defenseman Dick Tarnstrom in a trade with Edmonton. Enter Andrew Murray, another career minor leaguer -- two-plus seasons at Syracuse of the American Hockey League after playing at Bemidji State University. He was an 11th-round pick, 242nd overall, in the 2001 draft. At 26, he's gotten his first taste of the NHL and played quite well. The latest veteran to this list of second-chance players is Derek MacKenzie, who spent seven seasons in the minors while playing just 35 NHL games with Atlanta and Columbus until the Jackets recalled him after Sergei Fedorov was traded to Washington and played the 26-year-old center in five straight games -- with MacKenzie getting his first career NHL goal in a 5-3 triumph over Tampa Bay on March 9.

St. Louis -- Brad Boyes has been the only goal-scoring hope the St. Louis Blues have had for much of this season -- and even he was slumping of late after being rewarded with a new four-year contract. But the streaky goal-scorer ended an eight-game drought by scoring twice March 8 at Vancouver. Two nights later, Boyes had two more goals at Calgary -- posting back-to-back two-goal games for the first time in his career. He made it five goals in three games at Edmonton on March 11. With 37 goals, Boyes is about to become the first Blues player to net 40 goals since Scott Young in 2000-01. ... Rookie defenseman Erik Johnson said recently he is getting to the point where he's more and more comfortable playing at the NHL level -- and that the game is slowing down in his mind so that he can do things he couldn't do earlier this season. That translates into more and more ice time as well as his season-high 27 minutes, 51 seconds in a game at Edmonton on March 11 might suggest. ... Hannu Toivonen and Marek Schwarz have both fallen short of expectations, forcing Manny Legace to play too many games. That could change as soon as next season if St. Louisan Ben Bishop flashes the same potential he did for three seasons at the University of Maine. The 6-foot-7 netminder, the team's third-round pick, 85th overall, in 2005, signed to finish out this season with the Blues' American Hockey League affiliate at Peoria. While it might be a stretch to see Bishop start next season backing up in St. Louis, mark down Ben's name, because you will see him in the NHL in 2008-09.

The week ahead
-- Just four days after the Red Wings hosted the Predators in a 4-3 triumph, the two teams meet two more times in short order -- in Detroit on Saturday and in Nashville on Thursday. ... The Red Wings have another home-and-home divisional matchup against the Blue Jackets, meeting them in Columbus on Sunday and in Detroit three days later and four times in the stretch run. ... St. Louis at Anaheim on Saturday is another important matchup since the Blues acquired Andy McDonald from the Ducks for Doug Weight in early December. In the first meeting since the trade, McDonald decided it 1-0 in a shootout Feb. 1 at St. Louis. With Weight out of the lineup with an injury, the Ducks won at Anaheim, 2-1, Feb. 22 on an overtime goal by Samuel Pahlsson. The Blues were 0-4 on their nine-game, 19-day trip before they played in San Jose on Friday.

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