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Wings give update to Economic Club

by Zack Crawford / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Having clinched a playoff spot this week, the Red Wings had good reason to be positive at the Detroit Economic Club luncheon held at MotorCity Casino Hotel on Tuesday afternoon.

But the Wings’ 21st consecutive postseason streak was just one of many positives that the front office had to speak about at the event, which marked the seventh annual year that the team has met with the DEC, which is a non-partisan, non-profit organization formed in 1934 and committed to the discussion and debate of important business, government and social issues.

Christopher Ilitch (Photo by Jeff Kowalsky for the Detroit Economic Club)

With the entire Wings roster mingling at tables among the nearly 800 guests, Christopher Ilitch, president & CEO of Ilitch Holdings and Economic Club presiding officer, addressed the crowd before inviting general manager Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock to speak about the upcoming playoffs.

After welcoming the crowd, Ilitch immediately asserted his enthusiasm for three milestones that have set the tone for the season: 21 consecutive years in the playoffs, an NHL record-setting 23 home game winning streak, perhaps of most importance from a Metro Detroit business standpoint, the acquisition of the 2013 NHL Winter Classic.

(Photos by Jeff Kowalsky)

Wings’ television broadcasters Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond took the reins as masters of ceremonies over an event that would see overwhelmingly positive outlooks from both Holland and Babcock.

Redmond offered a few lesser-known Wings’ accomplishments to the crowd.

“Having been around here since 1971, for 41 years, it continues to get better,” Redmond said. “A couple of things that Ken Holland and I sat down and talked about that this team has accomplished over a bit of time, other than the 21 consecutive years in the playoffs: we’re a couple of points away from 12 consecutive 100-point seasons; eight of the last 16 years we’ve been in the final four; six of the last 16 years, in the finals; and four Stanley Cups.”

And all of those accomplishments, Daniels pointed out, occurred without having a top 10 draft selection since 1991.

The one underlying message that the GM and coach conveyed was that the Wings function so well because of their collaboration and interdependency. From the scouts to the players, each part of the whole has contributed to the past two decades of the teams’ success.

As for the current state of affairs, Holland pointed to the “offense by committee” as one of the things he likes most about the team, comparing the current squad’s ability to score goals on all four lines to the teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s, which saw crucial goals being scored by players like Kris Draper, Joey Kocur, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty.

“When you go into a game,” Holland said. “You’re not sure where the goals are going to come from but you know that they’re there, because the statistics say that they’re there, so I think that’s one of the things I like about the makeup of our team.”

As for the plethora of injuries that have recently plagued the team, Holland sees such adversity as an opportunity for the coaches to see and develop younger players.

“The adversity to me, that’s what team development, is all about, team building,” Holland said, “And I’d like to think over the last three weeks even though it was a bit of a struggle, that we’ve got 12 goals in the last two games, we’re starting to get our bodies back, and I really think that we’re starting to gel here at the right time. It’s hard to go eight months and think that you’re going to sail around smoothly without any adversity.”

(Photos by Jeff Kowalsky)

Before handing over the microphone to Babcock, Holland joked that he had stolen all of the coach’s thunder.

“Every year Mike Babcock and I sit and take notes, who’s going to say what,” Holland joked. “Babs always gets sour because he figures that I steal his material, so I’m kind of going on my thing, I’ll be interested to see what Babs comes up with.”

But even after Holland had talked for over 10-minutes, Babcock still had ample material to talk about, and spent much of his time highlighting individual performances.

“Those guys that have emerged and made our team better as far as the overall depth gives us the chance that even if we get injuries we can keep going,” Babcock said when acknowledging the crucial effect that players like Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl have had throughout the season.

One of Babcock’s most emphatic assertions was regarding the development of Valtteri Filppula, who, with six games left in the regular-season, has already surpassed his previous single-season best for goals (23), assists (41) and points (64).

“He’s gone to a whole different level,” Babcock said. “He’s got his game to a level that, to me, they’ve got to be talking about in the other room each and every night. He’s given us another legitimate force up front that makes hard to play against.”

While much of the focus of the day was on past accomplishments, it was clear that the most pressing issue at hand is the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“Before the trade deadline Ken and I sat down,” Babcock said, “and I told him, in my opinion, since ’09, this is our best opportunity; I believe this is our best team because of the way we’re built, who’s leading it, our goaltending.”

Babcock pointed to Todd Bertuzzi as a difference-maker during playoffs and Johan Franzen as someone who consistently heats up throughout the playoffs, but said that the most important aspect in the postgame is the goaltending.

“I think that’s the key to winning in the playoffs, no question about it, you need solid goaltending,” Babcock said. “A goaltender that gives you confidence, you can feel good about, you can make some mistakes in front of him and he’ll bail you out.

“What are we trying to do in the next six games?” Really simple – we want to earn the right to have confidence. They always say the NHL playoffs are a long, hard drive. … Only for two teams. ”

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