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Penguins’ Oleksy, Wings’ Larkin and other NHLers to skate in all-star game

(MIPrepZone photo gallery by David Dalton)

(MIPrepZone photo gallery by David Dalton)

If there was any time to have an all-star game for the Eastside Elite Hockey League it was this year.

And that’s just what founder Steve Oleksy of the EEHL is going to do.

“We have a lot of high-end guys this year and I thought it’d be a unique way to draw some attention to the league as well as raise some funds for the Mount Clemens Hockey Club,” Oleksy said. “All the proceeds are going back to the kids in the organization.

“I think it was a win-win situation,” Oleksy continued. “Guys are really excited about it and it gives guys a little something extra to play for in the league.”

The game will take place Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Mount Clemens Ice Arena.

This is the eighth season Oleksy, who was a member of the Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins this past season, has run the league.

All eight years it has been run out of Mount Clemens Ice Arena.

“It’s going to be a great event,” Oleksy said. “I would really love to sell the place out. All the guys are really looking forward to it.”

The players selected to represent the EEHL, whose alumni include the likes of Detroit Red Wing Danny DeKeyser, Tampa Bay Lightning Matt Taormina and Vlad Namestnikov, Ottawa Senator Andrew Hammond and Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele, were chosen by a team vote.

Each team collaborated to choose the top three players from the other 11 teams in the league, besides their own, to play in the All-Star game.

“This helped avoid any fights in the locker room,” Oleksy laughed.

Twenty of the EEHL’s top players and four goalies will be picked to participate.

The top vote getters from the EEHL were Garret Ross, Matt DeBlouw, Shawn Szydlowski, Austin Grzenia, Alex Kile, Namestnikov, Oleksy, Thomas Apap, Taylor Fernandez, Brandon Hawkins and Nick Betz.

The goalies will be Charles Williams, Max Milosek, Jake Theut and Andrew Hammond.

Detroit Red Wing Dylan Larkin has also committed to play and a few others are trying to arrange their schedules to do so as well along with a couple of the Red Wing alumni players.

“Guys are really amped up and it’s kind of a cool feeling for me to be the guy to tell them they made the team,” Oleksy said. “They’re really taking is serious so how they have to play better to make it. It’s cool that they feel this way about it.”

Former EEHL player, Cooper Anstett, is flying in from Nashville where he’s embarking on a music career to do an acoustic set. His song, “Move,” is featured in a Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers commercial.

Anstett played in the league last season.

Oleksy wants to elect team captains and conduct a live draft over social media prior to the game.

Four hundred tickets were printed for the event. They’re $10 a person and kids five-and-under will get in free.

Tickets can be picked up at Mount Clemens Ice Arena or by emailing steven@eastsideelitehockey.com where they will be left at will call.

Along with vendor booths setup with products fans can demo, there will be 50-50 raffles and fans can bid on the player-worn jerseys after the game.

Along with an 11-team EEHL men’s division, there’s a four-team women’s division and a four-team Tier II division, which consists of midget and high school aged players.

The women’s division is in its fourth year and this is the second season for Tier II, which Olesky uses as a “call-up system” if a men’s roster needs a player or two.

“I love to watch the guys and the success they have,” Oleksy said. “It’s really fun to be a part of it.”

Goalie Cam Johnson, who’s participating in the league again this season, won a NCAA National Championship with the University of North Dakota this past season.

The league wraps up the first week of August.

 

Send comments to chuck.pleiness@macombdaily.com and visit his blog at redwingsfront.wordpress.com

Wings land their Plan B … Frans Nielsen

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DETROIT >> When Steven Stamkos decided to return to Tampa Bay the Detroit Red Wings had to turn to Plan B.

That led them to Frans Nielsen.

Nielsen got a six-year deal at $31.5 million, an average of $5.25 million a season.

Nielsen, 32, was the two-way center the Wings were looking for in free agency.

He’s a left-handed shot.

In 81 games last season, Nielsen had 20 goals and 32 assists. He had a plus-1 rating with 12 penalty minutes while averaging 17:43 in ice time.

In 11 playoff games he had three goals, three assists and was a minus-3 in 21:42 of ice time.

For his career, Nielsen has 119 goals and 230 assists in 606 games. In 24 playoff games, he’s totaled four goals and six assists.

Nielsen is a good playmaker and can play on the power play and penalty kill.

Detroit had a ton of interest in Stamkos but was never given the chance to speak to him.

Stamkos, who took less money (eight-year deal worth $8.5 million a season), would have been the most coveted unrestricted free agent in some time had he hit the market at noon Friday.

Helm gets answers he wanted and re-signs with Wings … five years, $19.25 million

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DETROIT >> When Darren Helm was cleaning out his locker at the end of the season it sounded like his chances or re-signing were slim.

That all has changed.

Helm, 29, signed a five-year deal worth $19.25 million.

Helm, who’s coming off a four-year deal that had an average cap hit of $2.125, used the free agency interview period that began on Saturday to speak with other teams. He chose however to work on a long-term deal so he could remain in Detroit.

“It was definitely a different year,” Helm said during the Wings’ locker cleanout at Joe Louis Arena. “I think a lot of other guys experienced the same issues. It’s something I’ll have to decide. I know there are a couple guys I need to talk to, (coach Jeff Blashill and general manager Ken Holland), and see where everything is headed and where I see myself fitting into this organization or where they see me fitting into this organization then I’ll have to make some tough decisions.”

Helm had 13 goals and 13 assists in 77 games last season, which is seven points less than he had in 75 games a year ago.

The team approached Helm’s agent during training camp about signing an extension, but he got injured and missed the entire preseason and first four games of the regular season which put talks on the back burner.

That disappointed Helm.

“I’m not sure yet,” Helm said when asked if he wants his role expanded on the team. “There’s lots of different … I don’t’ know what I’m looking for here … it’s just a little tougher bouncing around from line to line.

“Winning is a big part of it,” Helm added. “I want to win. I really don’t mind playing on the bottom lines as long as there’s that respect factor. You get opportunities in different situations. If that looks like that’s the case that I’ll get to play in those situations that I feel that I can play in then I’ll be happy. If not and they tell me right away that’s not going to happen then I may not want to stay.

His former coach, Mike Babcock, once called Helm the best third-line center in the NHL.

He’s a fast skater that can play on a top-six scoring line or versatile enough to play a checking role.

“There are situations where I definitely wasn’t happy this year when I was playing and I wasn’t too happy when those situations arose,” Helm said. “So I want to see why that happened as often as it did and make sure I find a place that it won’t happen often.”

Helm has missed time with numerous injuries, including groin, concussion, forearm, back and knee.

Helm, who was taken in the fifth round (132nd overall) of the 2005 draft, played just seven regular season games in the 2007-08 campaign and then 18 more in the playoffs, playing a key role in the Wings winning the Stanley Cup.

Nielsen, Ladd, others on priority list after Stamkos stays with Tampa Bay

Detroit Red Wings v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game One

TAMPA, FL – APRIL 16: Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning against the Detroit Red Wings during the first period in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Amalie Arena on April 16, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

DETROIT >> Steven Stamkos isn’t leaving Tampa Bay.

Now the Detroit Red Wings can move onto Plan B when unrestricted free agents can begin signing at noon Friday.

Stamkos signed a maximum eight-year deal for $8.5 million a season to remain with the Lightning. The max length any other team could offer him was seven years, but they could have thrown more money at him.

Neither Stamkos nor his representatives spoke with Wings about the possibility of coming to Detroit.

The next tier of forwards the Wings have interest in include Frans Nielsen, Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd, Troy Brouwer, Kyle Okposo, Loui Eriksson and Jeff Backes.

“How do I feel going into Friday, July 1, I feel good,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said during a phone interview Wednesday prior to the Stamkos news being announced. “We’ve obviously created some cap space with the trading of (Pavel) Datsyuk.”

On Friday, Detroit traded its first round draft pick (16th overall) and Datsyuk, whose cap hit was $7.5 million, to Arizona for the Coyotes’ 20th and 53rd picks and center Joe Vitale, who will be placed on long-term injured reserve due to a broken orbital bone and concussion.

“If I look at our board we’ve probably got nine or 10 forwards ideally we’d like to sign a couple of forwards over the next week,” Holland said. “Do we get higher end forwards? There’s a star and then there’s probably another five or six good second tier forwards and then there’s a number of NHL forwards, different ages and that bring different things.”

The final tier of forwards includes Darren Helm, who’s expected to test free agency on Friday, Jason Chimera, Dale Weise and Matt Martin.

“Basically Jeff Blashill and I spent all day Monday on the phone in my office, lots of (Tuesday) and a little bit (Wednesday) and in between talking to agents we’re getting a sense for what their clients are thinking and kind of doing our due diligence working our way towards Friday,” Holland said.

The Wings were poised to offer Stamkos a seven-year deal worth $10 million a season or more. Toronto and Buffalo were also expected to aggressively pursue him.

Stamkos would have filled the void left by Datsyuk.

He’s a right-handed sniper that possesses an incredible one-timer and would have come in quite handy on the power play as well as five-on-five play.

In his eight NHL seasons, he has 312 goals – including 60 in 2011-12 – and 562 points in 569 games. Last season, Stamkos had 36 goals and 28 assists in 77 games.

A blood clot near his right collarbone, which required surgery, made him miss all but Tampa Bay’s final playoff game against the eventual Stanley Cup champ Pittsburgh Penguins.

At 26 years old, he would have filled Detroit’s No. 1 center spot and provided a nice one-two punch with Dylan Larkin, who Holland talked after the season about moving to center.

He would have been a perfect piece to add as Detroit readies to open Little Caesars Arena for the 2017-18 season and looks to extend its playoff streak to 26 consecutive seasons.

“We’re trying to work our way through the system,” Holland said. “We set up interviews with many of the players that were going to be on the open market and wanted to make sure we touched base with a lot of the players. We obviously have a priority list and some teams might not even be in this free agency sweepstakes because they’re capped out. We’ll find out through the weekend how it all turns out.”

The Wings have roughly $20 million in cap space with roughly half of that earmarked for resigning their restricted free agents which include Petr Mrazek, Danny DeKeyser, Alexey Marchenko, Teemu Pulkkinen and Ryan Sproul, all of which got qualifying offers on Monday.

Wings again will take ‘best player available’ in draft

DETROIT >> When it comes to the first couple rounds of the NHL draft of late, the Detroit Red Wings have been of the mindset to select the best player available.

And because of that the team is stocked full of prospects at forward.

This year they’re going into the two-day draft, which begins Friday in Buffalo, with the same mindset, but hoping a defenseman falls to them.

“Somewhere along the line we’d like to start to draft a few more defensemen,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We’ve had lots of forwards who are on the team or coming up and not as many defensemen. If the best player available that’s there is a forward we’ll take him, but somewhere along the line here we have to start to draft some D.”

Detroit has the 16th overall selection in the first round.

“We’re going to take the best player available,” Holland said.

The last defenseman the Wings took in the first round was Brendan Smith, in 2007 with the 27th overall pick.

Last year they nabbed a defenseman in the third round, Vili Saarijarvi.

The highest they’ve taken a defenseman since Smith was when they had two picks in the second round in 2011 and selected Xavier Ouellet (48th overall) and Ryan Sproul (55th overall).

“We’re expecting one of those or maybe two of them to make our team,” Holland said referring to Ouellet and Sproul. “But behind those two guys and Saarijarvi it’s not like we have a lot coming up on the backend as prospects. I’d like to think that between the first couple of picks one would be a defenseman. I could say all that, but both could be forwards.

“We’re trying to draft and develop to get a group of young players to work their way onto our roster that allow us to be competitive,” Holland added. “What’s competitive? Make the playoffs and go on a playoff run. Fortunately we’ve made the playoffs, but unfortunately we haven’t been able to go on a playoff run the last four or five years.”

Holland added that they’d also be willing to move up or move down in the draft.

“The drafting game when you’re dealing with 18-year-old players is not an exact science,” Holland said. “You see that with (Henrik) Zetterberg in the seventh round and (Pavel) Datsyuk in the sixth round. If their draft was held all over again they’d both be top five players in their draft. But certainly higher in the draft in the first round there’s a little more certainty.

“If somebody slides around 12 or 13, I’ve talked to some teams a little bit above us that we may have some interest in trying to move up,” Holland continued. “If we get to our pick and philosophically we think there are a few players that are close and somebody wants to move up we’ll see.”

The Wings have made a couple trades of late to slide back in rounds and have gotten two top prospects in their system.

“That’s how we got Tyler Bertuzzi and we went back two picks and got Anthony Mantha,” Holland said. “It’s like getting a free player.

“The more spins at the wheel the better it is, but if a player slides and we’re excited and we might have to pay the price to move up,” Holland continued. “Right now I’m working the phones and seeing who’s got interest in moving up and down and we’re telling them what we’re thinking so when the draft unfolds you’re ready to go in either direction.”

Holland: “He’s probably got a good month to make a final decision.”

DETROIT >> The players in the Detroit Red Wings locker room at the time did everything to try and convince Nicklas Lidstrom to stick around for one more season.

It didn’t work.

Now they’ll turn their attention on Pavel Datsyuk.

“Let’s hope it’s not,” Niklas Kronwall said when asked if Thursday was the last time he’d play with Datsyuk in Detroit. “I just hope it’s not. Right now it’s a completely empty feeling. Let’s just hope for everyone’s sake, for the hockey fan and for us and for Detroit, that it’s not.

“I think everybody is going to try to do whatever they can (to convince him to stay),” Kronwall added. “Obviously we’ve got a chance to play with him for a long time and we’d love for that to continue.”

Datsyuk made headlines prior to the start of the playoffs when he said he was not returning to Detroit to fulfill the final year on his contract.

A day later he said he hadn’t officially made a decision on what he’d do next season and he confirmed that after the Wings were knocked out of the playoffs for a second straight year by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I’m not thinking about two days or how many days (until I decide),” Datsyuk said after the Wings lost Game 5, 1-0 to the Lightning, on Thursday. “I need a little bit (to) cool down and (let) emotions get out and then I start thinking about it more.”

The decision to leave, which he has thought about since lockout shortened 2012 season, would be so he can spend more time with his 13-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who lives in Russia with his ex-wife, Svetlana.

“Don’t (ask) me a scary question,” Datsyuk said when asked if Game 5 was his final game with the Wings. “I put this question out many times and I don’t start thinking this way. It’s not happy thinking about these questions.”

If Datsyuk, who turns 38 on July 20, does decide not to fulfill the final year of his deal the Wings won’t get any relief for his $7.5 million salary, unless they’re able to unload his contract to a team that needs to reach the salary-cap floor.

“I have to find out about Pavel Datsyuk, that’s going to be priority number one,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said during a phone interview with The Macomb Daily on Saturday. “If he’s coming back then I know we have Pav and if he’s not coming back obviously I have to go through the process of his cap space.”

Datsyuk was held without a point in the five games with Tampa Bay, but did lead the Wings with 18 shots on goal. It was just the second time in his 14 seasons that he was held without a point in the playoffs. The other time was in 2003 when Anaheim swept the Wings.

“I’ve read all the articles,” Holland said. “I’ve had conversations in the past with Pav, but I have to sit down with him here in the next … I don’t think we really need to know until the first of June. He’s probably got a good month to make a final decision.”

Datsyuk, who was drafted in the sixth round (171st overall) in 1998, had 16 goals and 33 assists in 66 games during the regular season.

“I think you know Pavel well enough to know that Pavel will do what Pavel wants to do,” Wing coach Jeff Blashill said. “I’ll sit down and talk with Pav at the end of the year and obviously he’ll meet with Kenny and we’ll see what he decides.”

Datsyuk won the Selke Trophy three years in a row (2008-10) and helped the Wings win the Stanley Cup in 2002 as a rookie and in 2008.

“Pavel is one of the best competitors what will ever be in this league and he was amazing to coach this year, so I hope I get a chance to coach him again next year,” Blashill said. “His work ethic is unreal. He was coming back from injury, if you saw the effort that he put in it’s not secret why he’s been one of the best players in the league. Obviously I hope I get a chance to coach him again.”

Playoff picks: Detroit reaches East final; Caps beat Ducks for Cup

Playoffs Predictions

Eastern Conference

First Round

Detroit over Tampa Bay (six games)

Florida over New York Islanders (five games)

Washington over Philadelphia (five games)

Pittsburgh over New York Rangers (seven games)

Semifinals

Detroit over Florida (seven games)

Washington over Pittsburgh (six games)

Finals

Washington over Detroit (five games)

 

Western Conference

First Round

Dallas over Minnesota (five games)

Chicago over St. Louis (six games)

Anaheim over Nashville (seven games)

Los Angeles over San Jose (six games)

Semifinals

Chicago over Dallas (seven games)

Anaheim over Los Angeles (seven games)

Finals

Anaheim over Chicago (six games)

 

Stanley Cup

Washington over Anaheim (six games)