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April 19, 2003 - Red Wings 2003 final grades by Nicholas J. Cotsonika
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Red Wings 2003 final grades by Nicholas J. Cotsonika

April 19, 2003

GRADE KEY

A -- Excellent

B -- Good

C -- Fair

D -- Poor

The Red Wings are graded on how they performed their roles, relative to expectations.

COACHING

Dave Lewis and staff: The Red Wings earned 116 points in Scotty Bowman's last season; they earned 110 in Lewis' first. Not too much of a drop-off -- especially considering the Wings could have had a Stanley Cup hangover, and Jiri Fischer and Steve Yzerman sat out most of the season with knee injuries. Lewis brought a breath of fresh air to the dressing room with his lighter touch, and he handled many situations well: from Sergei Fedorov's ice-time outburst to Curtis Joseph's inconsistent play to Luc Robitaille's struggles. After entering 2003 as the top team in the NHL, the Wings went 5-7-1-1 in January. Lewis made some adjustments, like going back to the left-wing lock and moving Brendan Shanahan to right wing; he kept his line combinations constant, most notably the excellent trio of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Brett Hull; and the Wings finished the regular season 21-3-1-2. But the Wings stumbled at Columbus and Chicago in the final two games of the season, lost the Western Conference top seed, drew Anaheim in the first round and got swept. What could Lewis have done differently? Don't know. The Wings outplayed the Mighty Ducks much of the series; they couldn't solve goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere and made some critical mistakes. But Lewis himself said there were no excuses. In the end, all that matters are the playoffs, and all that matters is the result.

Regular season:

  • A-

    Playoffs:

  • C-

    GOALTENDING

    Manny Legace: After struggling the second half of last season, Legace re-established himself as the NHL's best backup goaltender. He had a 14-5-4 record, 2.18 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. In comparison, Joseph was 34-19-6 with a 2.49 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.

    Regular season:

  • A

    Playoffs:

  • Inc.

    Curtis Joseph: A lot was expected of Joseph. He seemed like the best goaltender available on the free-agent market last summer, a world-class talent who never had won the big one because he never had an elite team in front of him, and he signed a huge contract and replaced Dominik Hasek. The idea was that he just had to do his job to give the Wings a chance -- but could do more if needed. He was up and down during the regular season, and early on that was excused because he had to adjust to Detroit. He got hot down the stretch and looked ready to chase his first Stanley Cup. But after a strong Game 1, he allowed a soft goal early in Game 2, and that seemed to affect everything afterward, from his play to perceptions of it. He posted decent numbers in the playoffs, a 2.08 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. He made many good saves and allowed only 10 goals in four games, which included four overtime periods. But the number of goals he allowed wasn't as important as how and when he allowed them. The bottom line is that he was no match for Giguere, who had a 1.24 goals-against average and .965 save percentage.

    Regular season:

  • B-

    Playoffs:

  • D+

    DEFENSE

    Patrick Boileau: After playing well in training camp and the exhibition season, Boileau played well again when the Wings called him up from AHL affiliate Grand Rapids. Extremely well. Eventually the Wings told him to find a place for his family in Detroit because he was sticking around for the rest of the season. Not bad for a guy who turned 28 in February and had hardly any NHL experience, only seven games for Washington spread over three seasons. In 25 games, he had two goals and six assists and was plus-8.

    Regular season:

  • A

    Playoffs:

  • Inc.

    Dmitri Bykov: An eighth-round draft pick in 2001, Bykov missed training camp because of immigration issues. The Russian didn't speak English. Still, he found a way to play more like a veteran than a rookie. For much of the season, he partnered with Nicklas Lidstrom -- which helped him but demanded that he play against top players. He made good decisions, moved the puck well and never received the attention he deserved. He played well in the playoff opener, especially in the first overtime, then started making mistakes. He was minus-2. He gets some slack as a rookie.

    Regular season:

  • A

    Playoffs:

  • C

    Chris Chelios: Last season, Chelios was the runner-up for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman. This season, he wasn't nearly as good. But he wasn't bad for a guy who turned 41 and struggled through knee problems. He was a leader and a warrior, as usual. When he was out of the lineup, the Wings struggled; when he came back, they improved. No coincidence. The playoffs? Ugh. He made some bad decisions at critical times. He was on the ice for the winning goal the first three games. He was minus-3.

    Regular season:

  • B

    Playoffs:

  • D

    Mathieu Dandenault: After struggling with inconsistency -- sometimes using his speed well, sometimes making too many mistakes -- Dandenault met with Lewis after the All-Star Game break. Everything changed. Lewis put him with Lidstrom, and his plus-minus rating skyrocketed. He finished plus-25, second on the team to Lidstrom's plus-40. He tied his career high with 15 assists. He was minus-1 in the playoffs -- relatively respectable under the circumstances, believe it or not. But he will be remembered for the major mental mistake he made in Game 4, when he stopped skating because he thought he was being called for a penalty and the Ducks scored as a result.

    Regular season:

  • B

    Playoffs:

  • C-

    Jiri Fischer: When Fischer suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament Nov. 12 against Nashville, the Wings suffered a significant loss. He was almost ready to come back when they were eliminated, so he should be ready to make an impact next season.

    Regular season:

  • Inc.

    Playoffs:

  • Inc.

    Nicklas Lidstrom: The Wings' most valuable player might win his third straight Norris Trophy. Again he was elegant, efficient and superb -- while looking after partners like Bykov and Dandenault. He led NHL defensemen with a plus-40 rating, and his 62 points put him among the highest-scoring defensemen once again. As a footnote, he took a career-high 38 minutes in penalties because of the NHL's crackdown on obstruction, in large part. But in the playoffs, he was only average. He had two assists and was minus-1. He could have made more of a difference.

    Regular season:

  • A

    Playoffs:

  • C

    Mathieu Schneider: The Wings acquired Schneider from Los Angeles before the trade deadline. His skills made him a perfect fit for their creative, puck-possession style. He was one of the NHL's highest-scoring defensemen with 50 points, but he produced zero in the playoffs and was minus-4. He gets some slack because he had to adjust quickly to Detroit, and Lewis said he was playing through a groin problem. Next season, he might play with Lidstrom while Chelios plays with Fischer, making for a pretty impressive top four.

    Regular season:

  • Inc.

    Playoffs:

  • C-

    Jesse Wallin: After Fischer went down, Wallin partnered with Chelios for a while and played the best hockey of his intermittent NHL career. But he ran into injury trouble, ended up out of the lineup and never really got back in. He played 32 games, had one assist and was minus-2. Wallin was the Wings' first-round pick in 1996, and he works hard and has a good attitude. But he might have to go elsewhere to play at this level.

    Regular season:

  • C

    Playoffs:

  • Inc.

    Jason Woolley: The Wings acquired Woolley from Buffalo via waivers after Fischer went down, and he did a heck of a job for them when he played a third-pair role. He finished the regular season with 26 points and a plus-11 rating. He was minus-2 in the playoffs, but he was one of the few who got a goal, and the coaches were pleased. He can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, but the Wings probably will try to keep him.

    Regular season:

  • A

    Playoffs:

  • B-

    FORWARDS

    Kris Draper: Although he didn't play with Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan -- as he did for a while last season -- he set career highs in assists (21) and points (35). His 14 goals were one shy of his career high. He was a minus-2 in the playoffs, but he was good on face-offs. The Grind Line did a decent job.

    Regular season:

  • A

    Playoffs:

  • C

    Pavel Datsyuk: After struggling somewhat in his sophomore season, Datsyuk got hot with linemates Brett Hull and Henrik Zetterberg after the All-Star break. He ended up with 12 goals and 39 assists, better totals than he had last season, when he finished fourth for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. He was plus-20, third-best on the team. He had no points and was minus-3 in the playoffs, but the coaches were pleased with his performance.

    Regular season:

  • A-

    Playoffs:

  • B-

    Boyd Devereaux: Devereaux led the team with seven goals in training camp and scored in the exhibition opener. But he suffered a broken left thumb, and although it healed, he never recovered. He became a common healthy scratch, finished with three goals and nine assists, and didn't play in the playoffs.

    Regular season:

  • D

    Playoffs:

  • Inc.

    Sergei Fedorov: Although he went through hot and cold stretches, although he dealt with different issues behind the scenes, Fedorov led the team in assists (47) and points (83) during the regular season. He was plus-15. In the playoffs, he had a goal, two assists and a minus-1 rating. But his goal was a lucky one, scored with 2:15 to go in regulation in the final game. He could have made much more of a difference. Anaheim's Steve Rucchin covered him, but Rucchin isn't exactly a defensive dynamo. He was minus-14 during the regular season. The question now is whether the Wings will keep Fedorov, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. They probably will offer a high salary but as part of a short-term deal.

    Regular season:

  • A-

    Playoffs:

  • D

    Tomas Holmstrom: Great season. Holmstrom hit 20 goals for the first time in his career, and he was plus-11. Last season, he was minus-12. In the playoffs, he had a goal and an assist, and at plus-1, he was one of only three players with a positive rating.

    Regular season:

  • A

    Playoffs:

  • B-

    Brett Hull: The old goat on the line with kids Datsyuk and Zetterberg, the 38-year-old Hull led the team with 37 goals, scoring seven more than he did last regular season. He was plus-11. He signed a one-year contract extension. After leading the NHL with 10 playoff goals last year, he produced zero this year, although he and Lidstrom were second on the team with 15 shots each. He had one assist and was minus-4.

    Regular season:

  • A

    Playoffs:

  • D

    Igor Larionov: Larionov was the only Wings regular who had a minus rating during the regular season, and it wasn't pretty: minus-7. But the NHL's oldest player contributed as a third-line center, power-play specialist and mentor at age 42. His numbers (10 goals, 33 assists) were nearly the same as his numbers from last season (11 goals, 32 assists). He picked up his performance in the playoffs, generating scoring chances, especially in the first two games. Had he capitalized on even one of them, it would have been huge. He had one assist and was plus-1. Will he be back next season? Doesn't look good. He might retire, and the Wings might not invite him back so they can go with younger, cheaper players.

    Regular season:

  • B-

    Playoffs:

  • B

    Kirk Maltby: Maltby set career highs in assists (23) and points (37) and tied his career high in goals (14). He was plus-17. In the playoffs, he was minus-2. He generated some scoring chances, but he failed to capitalize.

    Regular season:

  • A

    Playoffs:

  • C

    Darren McCarty: McCarty rebounded from a dismal 2001-02 with an OK season. He had 13 goals and nine assists, similar totals to what he had in '00-01 (12 goals, 10 assists) but below what he has had in the past. He was plus-10. In the playoffs, he had no points and was minus-3. He can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. The Wings want to pay him about what he made this season, $1.95 million; others might offer more. Whether he stays or goes probably will depend on how much he likes his situation in Detroit, which seems perfect for him.

    Regular season:

  • B-

    Playoffs:

  • C-

    Luc Robitaille: After scoring 30 goals last season, Robitaille had only 11 this season -- a career low by far, a shockingly low number for the future Hall of Famer. After scoring only four goals in 23 playoff games last year, he had a goal in four games this year -- and could have had more. He hit the crossbar and right post in the first overtime of Game 1. He was plus-1. The Wings almost certainly will buy him out for $1 million.

    Regular season:

  • D

    Playoffs:

  • C+

    Brendan Shanahan: Shanahan's numbers slipped a bit from the past three years, but not much. He had 30 goals and 38 assists. He was plus-5. In the playoffs, he had a goal, an assist and a minus-1 rating. He led the team with 17 shots and struck his share of iron.

    Regular season:

  • B+

    Playoffs:

  • C-

    Steve Yzerman: The captain deserves every accolade for how he came back from knee realignment surgery. In 16 games, Yzerman had eight points and a plus-6 rating while the Wings were on a roll. He brought his usual intensity into the dressing room. But he had one assist and an even rating in the playoffs. He couldn't carry the team as he did last year in the first round against Vancouver. It's hard to judge him because it's hard to know what to expect from someone who had a surgery never performed on a professional athlete before. He doesn't seem like the same old Stevie, though.

    Regular season:

  • Inc.

    Playoffs:

  • C

    Henrik Zetterberg: If Zetterberg wins the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, he will be deserving. He led NHL rookies with 44 points (22 goals, 22 assists). He was plus-6. He showed skill on offense, showed responsibility on defense and showed humility in the dressing room. He seemed like a veteran. In the playoffs, he was minus-4. But he had a goal, and the coaches were pleased.

    Regular season:

  • A

    Playoffs:

  • B-