Sunday, December 27, 2020

Wings Preview: Keith Primeau Patch Card

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: 2020 is a different beast and requires adaptability; in my case, it means the joint posts with my "main/personal" blog will not be in the "player here/analysis there" format but rather the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written. Caveats: at this point, despite the season being set to start in Mid-January, several impact players haven't found a team yet and quite a few teams are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.

GM Steve Yzerman was always going to come back to his Detroit Red Wings roots and try to build a contender in the city where he won three Stanley Cups as a player, and he will have to take action and make tough calls sooner or later, chief among which is when to fire head coach Jeff Blashill. There's something to be said about this roster needing to ride a few bad contracts out at the bottom of the standings and how next to no one would be able to pull off a miracle and get this team to a playoff spot, but at some point, you need an NHL-level head to make the calls and Blashill had not shown to be on that level at any time since taking over in 2015.

The problem with rebuilding teams is that they usually have a few terrific pieces they can build upon, who pour their heart and soul into bad seasons and produce some kind of result, but not enough to make a dent on their own; they need help, which is why you build around them. But sometimes, one has to realize the first-line centerpiece/possible captain (for the sake of argument, let's give that hypothetical player a name, Dylan Larkin) might actually be better suited for a second-line role on a contending team, a move that would be impossible if he's paid like a first-liner, a salary he has deserved for all the lean years in which he was clearly the best player there. But if he's the best, the team will always fall short of the ultimate goal, because other teams will have the better players. It's a Catch-22.

What makes their odds look good:
Larkin is good and is from Michigan; make him captain already. Anthony Mantha will be a perennial 30-goal scorer who might even hit 40 a couple of times. Filip Zadina (RW) will eventually develop, as will Moritz Seider (D) and Lucas Raymond (F). Joseph Veleno (C) and Jared McIsaac (D) should be able to contribute regularly in the middle of the lineup in three years as well. Robby Fabbri may have found his niche in Detroit, Tyler Bertuzzi seems to have shown some 30-goal potential as well (although diminshed ice time on a better team might keep him in the 20-goal range, which is still excellent), but the smart money remains on seeing most of these guys as projects that are still a couple of years away or currently playing one line too high.

Question marks:
Why make Larkin wait so long? Was Bobby Ryan hired to fill a middle-six role for one season or will his perennial comeback story make him an invaluable piece of the leadership group going forward? How does Thomas Greiss compare with the other #1 goalies in the NHL? Why do the Wings always go out of their way to not employ a true, in-his-prime, star goalie? What is with this defense?

Detroit may not be the worst team in its division - the Chicago Blackhawks will certainly give them a run for their money in that regard - and they will have the company of the New Jersey Devils as well at the bottom of the standings, but both of those teams have a true star defenseman to build around and are grooming young goalies for their rise, whereas the Wings employ soon-to-be-35-year-old Greiss and 32-year-old career backup Jonathan Bernier in net. Upgrades are needed throughout the back end.

Eighth in the Central Division.

Which brings me to Keith Primeau, an excellent hockey player whose career was cut short due to a lockout and post-concussion syndrome. If we had a re-do for the 1990 draft - one of the best of all-time - he likely wouldn't have been selected third overall, but he's definitely top-10 material.

Even though he was never exactly at the point-per-game mark or higher only hit the point-per-game mark once with 73 in 71 games in 2000-01, he was close pretty often, operating at above 0.75 PPG six times in 15 games, with two All-Star Games appearances and two top-10 finishes in Selke Trophy voting (1997-98 and 2003-04). He also suited up for Team Canada, falling short at the 1996 World Cup and 1998 Olympics and World Chapionships (he captained the team on the latter), and winning gold at the 1997 World Championships.

He captained two NHL teams, the Carolina Hurricanes (1998-99) and Philadelphia Flyers (2001-06), and his performance with the Flyers in the 2004 playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning - in a losing effort - had Hall Of Famer Phil Esposito saying it was the most dominating performance he'd ever seen, and inspired Bolts star Vincent Lecavalier to change his style of play from elegant (in the style of Jean Béliveau) to more of a power forward.

He officially announced his retirement on September 14th, 2006 - my 28th birthday.

Here he is wearing the alternate captain's "A" on the Red Wings' classic red (away) uniform, on card #PH-44 from In The Game's 2013-14 Motown Madness collection and Patch Of Honor sub-set:
It features "a piece of replica Steve Yzerman Retirement Night patch", so a manufactured, make-believe patch from a player who wasn't on the team when Yzerman retired after the 2005-06 season. As a matter of fact, Primeau's trade to the Hurricanes (with Paul Coffey and the first-round pick that became Nikos Tselios, Chris Chelios' nephew, for Brendan Shanahan and Bryan Glynn) helped shape Detroit into the team that won two Stanley Cups, while his trade to the Flyers (with a fifth-round pick, for Jean-Marc Pelletier, Rod Brind'Amour and a second-rounder) gave the Canes a big piece for their own run in 2006.

As excellent as his own career was, I'm sure he's just as happy these days being a spectator cheering on his son Cayden Primeau's own progression as a goalie in the Montréal Canadiens organization.

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