Interview with Detroit Red Wings beat writer Ansar Khan
[Q] How long have you been covering the Wings and the NHL for Mlive, Booth Newspapers, and the Oakland Press?
[AK] Six years for Booth and about 10 years before that for the Oakland Press.
[Q] What is the farthest you have had to travel to cover a story?
[AK] Furthest travel would be anywhere on the west coast -- LA, San Jose, Vancouver are all about the same distance from Detroit.
[Q] What was the most implausible trade rumor you have heard in that time?
[AK] I've heard literally hundreds of ridiculous trade rumors over the years, but the best came this year. Not sure where it originated, but it was mentioned a couple of days before the deadline that the Wings were trying to acquire Curtis Joseph. I can just imagine the conversation in the front office: "Having Cujo and Dom here at the same time worked so well for us in 2004, why not try it again, since they're such good pals?" Some of the people tossing around these trade scenarios need to put a little more thought into them.
[Q] In the first two games of the WCSF series between Detroit and San Jose, the Red Wings took control of the ice for much of the second and third periods. That is kind of a reversal for San Jose, who normally wear down opponents and then try to capitalize on mistakes or hesitancy late in games. Any explanation for Detroit's late game success?
[AK] The Wings have been a strong second, and especially third period team all season. They've had problems with slow starts this season. I think their puck-possession game simply tires teams out in the third period. Opponents have expended so much energy chasing around after them. And, despite their age, they are a well-conditioned team. In fact, their oldest players (Chelios, Hasek, Lidstrom, Schneider, Draper) are some of their best athletes.
[Q] How would you describe the Red Wings offense in a couple of words? The Sharks generally use a puck possession offense, but will dump it in and simplify their game in tight situations.
[AK] In a couple of words: Puck possession. That's been their trademark for a dozen years, ever since Scotty Bowman put together the Russian Five in 1995-96. They have incorporated some chip-and-chase to their game this season.
[Q] A lot of people look at Nashville's first round loss to San Jose, and judge their postseason as a failure after acquiring Peter Forsberg and having such a solid regular season. But for the second straight year the Predators had serious injuries to star players. Steve Sullivan, Martin Erat, and Jordin Tootoo all missed games, and several others played hurt.
Detroit has a similar problem with injuries to Thomas Holmstrom and Brett Lebda, and a possibly less than 100% Henrik Zetterberg and Kyle Calder. Do the Red Wings have enough depth to overcome its injury problems, or do they need a full squad to knock off San Jose?
[AK] That's a tough call. Lebda, despite his speed, I don't think is missed much because Kyle Quincey is a solid, safe player who's not going to get caught up ice like Lebda sometimes does simply because he doesn't take chances. Holmstrom is a big loss, though there's a chance he might return for Game 4 or 5. Zetterberg's back is clearly bothering him. He's played remarkably well in spite of it. But how long can he keep it up? I think Kyle Calder is hurting. I think past Wings team wouldn't be able to overcome these injuries, but this group has more resiliency, so I wouldn't bet against them.
[Q] I have heard the stories of Chelios on an exercise bike in a sauna a few times now. I also have heard of legendary workouts he undertook with other athletes in past offseasons in Southern California. Any stories that would explain his longevity in the NHL, and how long do you think he can continue to contribute? And will he go into the Hall of Fame as a Blackhawk or a Red Wing?
[AK] He's amazing. And he's having his best playoffs since the 2002 Cup run. I don't know how he does it other than, like you mentioned, his workout regimen. A fierce competitor and about as determined a player there is, I can see him easily playing a couple of more years.
Unlike baseball (because of players/managers caps), the Hockey Hall of Fame doesn't require players to choose a team. Every team they spent any reasonable amount of time with is represented in their display at the Hall. But, if he had to choose, I'm sure he'd go as a Wing. He won a Cup here and will likely finish his career here. Even though he was born in Chicago, he gets booed there every time he goes back.
[Q] You mentioned that a few empty seats for playoff games against Calgary was not a surprise, but empty seats for games 1 and 2 against a popular Sharks team was the smallest attendance you have seen in almost a dozen years. Many mentioned a slowdown in the economy, which industries in Michigan are losing jobs? And do you think playoff ticket prices have outpaced the NHL's blue collar fanbase in Michigan?
[AK] The auto industry is hurting badly in Detroit and it's affecting other businesses as well. In my neighborhood alone, there's so many people who've been forced to relocate and have been trying to sell their homes and can't. Those who manage to sell are taking a big hit. How can they possibly afford to buy tickets at those prices? No question the prices have outpaced much of their blue-collar fan base. They're going to need to lower the prices next season if they expect to pack that building again.
[Q] Will this be a tight checking, but for the most part, above board affair, or does this playoff round have the chance to devolve into a Sharks-Predators or Wings-Flames altercation?
[AK] I think it'll be a fairly clean series. The only reason the Calgary series deteriorated in Game 5 was because Flames coach Jim Playfair lost control of his players, not that he ever had much control to begin with. I've seen a lot of lousy coaches over the years and Playfair has to be near the top of the list. Calgary's abysmal road record alone indicates this guy's inability to manage his bench properly.
Thanks to Ansar Khan for taking the time to answer a few questions, and for providing a little insight on the Detroit Red Wings. You can follow more of his coverage of the playoffs on the Red Wings Bulletin blog.
[Update] Here is an article from a few years back that details the intensity of the workouts Chelios subjected himself to at Venice Beach, and a video post on Sharkspage that details a few of the Sharks training exercises.