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Notes: Vanek, Smith and Red Wings play waiting game

Nick Jensen rewarded with two-year contract extension

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner /

DETROIT - As the Red Wings gathered for practice Monday at Joe Louis Arena after their five-day bye, you couldn't help but wonder what the team will look like the next time they return to the Joe.      

With a 10-day road trip looming and the NHL trade deadline just two days away, the rumor mill has included a few Wings who could be on the move before Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m.

In recent days, Riley Sheahan and Steve Ott have been mentioned as possible trade candidates, but the two names that have been bandied about the most are forward Thomas Vanek and defenseman Brendan Smith.

"I'm here today for practice. Flying on the trip and hopefully play tomorrow," Vanek said. "Like I said before, I hope I can stay here. I know we're a long shot to get in (the playoffs), but it's a place that I like and I've enjoyed. I guess you guys will know before me if I'm here or not."

Like many veteran players that have arrived in Detroit in past years, Vanek has meshed well with the Wings and has developed a tight bond with many of the young forwards.

Many have even speculated if he is moved, Vanek could sign a deal with the Wings this summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

However, Vanek admitted Detroit may have a better chance to re-sign him if he is not dealt before the deadline.

"Probably, for sure. At this point we haven't talked much contract, but there really is no point to talk right now anyway," Vanek responded when asked about his chances of staying with the Wings if he's not moved. "July 1 is right around the corner. Again like I said, it's a place that I like, but at the same time I might as well wait and see what's out there."

Vanek has been traded before and has repeatedly said that it is all part of the business but knows that a trade could impact his family, especially his children.

Vanek and his wife, Ashley, have three boys, Blake, 9, and twins Luka and Cade, who are six.

Since his boys are in school, they would continue to live in Detroit while he would stay in a hotel playing for his new team.

"It's hard," Vanek said. "My boys are getting to a good age where they miss dad too and not just mom. "You miss a lot of their games and not seeing them. It's obviously not easy, but it's the business we're in. I love what I do and I can only do it for so long."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill told reporters this time of year is always difficult because there is so much speculation about potential trades, which not only makes players anxious, but their families as well.

"For guys where's there's rumors and things like that it's a hard thing as a human, there's no question about it," Blashill said. "The only thing I can do is talk them through the process and make sure they're doing OK mentally and that the families are doing OK.

"It is certainly hard to hear that (possibly being traded), especially if you have kids. There is a human element that gets missed a lot in this whole deal."

SMITH WOULD PREFER NEW CONTRACT: Unlike Vanek, Smith has been trying to negotiate a contract with the Wings before Wednesday's trade deadline.

Smith will become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and it seems likely that if he can't work something out with Detroit, the Wings will aggressively try to trade him over the next two days.

"My agent is in contact with Kenny (general manager Ken Holland), but there hasn't been anything definitive right now," Smith said. "I really don't have anything to give you guys."

Smith indicated that his agent and the Wings have been trying to hammer out a deal for the past month. He doesn't want to be traded, preferring to remain with the Wings and isn't too thrilled to test the free agent market.  

"Do I want to go to free agency? I would rather have a contract, to be honest," Smith said. "I would like to know where I am because I think becoming a free agent is the unknown and that can kind of be scary at the same time.

"All I know is that I would like to have a good contract with the Wings and be around. We're kind of starting to go through that process. If that works out, or whether Kenny is maybe looking to move myself or somebody else, we'll just have to wait and see."

When he was asked if the odds are 50-50 of him getting a new deal with the Red Wings, Smith had a playful grin on his face and replied, "50-50 is a good one. I will or I won't. We'll go 50-50. I don't know."

JENSEN GETS EXTENSION: Since his call up from Grand Rapids on Dec. 20, defenseman Nick Jensen has proven that he belongs in the NHL.

In 27 games played, the right-handed shooting rearguard has tallied three goals among eight points, is a plus-2 and his average ice time is 16:05.

Because he had not played in 80 NHL games by age 25, Jensen, 26, was slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but the Wings made sure that wasn't going to happen by rewarding the Minnesota native with a two-year contract extension.

"It's been quite an adventure this year. I started off the year going through waivers, getting sent down to Grand Rapids," Jensen said. "But I just stuck to it down there, do what I had to do, just kept playing like I wanted to play in the NHL.

"I eventually got the opportunity and I took advantage of it. It's led to a two-year contract that I'm really excited about. If feels very good. Obviously there's a security that you have that kind of gives you a feeling that they trust you and they're giving you a pretty good chance with two years.

"I'm still going to go into every game and try to prove myself that I should be an NHL defenseman."

Jensen believes it is his ability to quickly move the puck out of his own end to the forwards streaking up ice that led to his new contract.

"The faster you get the puck out of the D zone, the easier the game is and I think that's what I've developed the most at through four years I've been with this organization," Jensen said.

Blashill has always thought Jensen's quickness, especially his quick feet, have been a great asset, but he feels that Jensen really just needed an opportunity with the big club.

"He went through two years, or three years maybe, where there wasn't lots of light at the end of the tunnel," Blashill said. "We called up other guys, other guys got opportunities before him and he just kept working and trying to get better.

"That can be a disappointing thing to watch other guys get opportunity. He stayed with it, kept working, and when his opportunity came he jumped through that window of opportunity and is rewarded with a two-year deal, so I'm happy for him.

"Sometimes it comes down to opportunity. Nick's been a great competitor, he's defended well with his feet. When he got the opportunity, he executed."

BLASHILL LIKES TEAM'S APPROACH: Everyone is aware that teams coming off the mandatory bye have not done well in their first game back.

After Monday's practice, Blashill was optimistic that the Wings could buck the trend.

"Four teams won (after their bye), so there is obviously opportunities to win the hockey game," Blashill said. "If you look back at those games, I know this from enough of them they were close. Certainly our game against Washington they were coming off break, it was an overtime game. We just got to make sure that we mentally prepare ourselves. We worked on it today; we'll work on it tomorrow morning.

"Today's practice was fairly long and fairly hard. I think that's the best approach when you're coming off a long break. Tomorrow morning I want to get some stuff done and make sure that our habits are in a good spot, but we also got to make sure we have energy when we drop the puck."

Detroit plays at Vancouver Tuesday night.

PAIN-FREE HOWARD MAKES TRIP: Goaltender Jimmy Howard participated in a full practice with his teammates and didn't experience any pain in his knee when he was in the butterfly position, which is an encouraging sign.

Howard didn't take part in any physical activity during the Wings' bye.

Originally, he wanted to play with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins, but that fell through because he was still not feeling right.

Detroit's veteran netminder will continue to practice with the Wings and if he doesn't experience any pain, he will join Grand Rapids to get a few games under his belt.

"Today was very strong. I didn't feel the knee at all, so that's a great sign," Howard said. "Maybe taking the weekend off was key in the recovery, getting to rest a little bit. "Everybody's body is different and responds in different ways. We'll just hope tomorrow morning is the same thing and we can get the ball rolling on playing time."

As optimistic as Howard was after practice, Blashill was a little more cautious.

"The plan is for him to come on trip and see where he's at health-wise and make decisions from there," Blashill said.

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