Hey, gang. It’s Daniel Mount and I’m here with your Winter Classic preview. I’ll also have the latest on Dion Phaneuf signing a 7-year extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs (who will be involved in the showcase from Ann Arbor.)
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A Winter “Classic” Wonderland
The NHL’s New Year’s Day showcase will take place tomorrow when the Toronto Maple Leafs travel to the University of Michigan Stadium to take on the Detroit Red Wings in the 2014 Winter Classic. The game was supposed to happen last year, but a little thing called the NHL Lockout happened and prevented it.
Hopefully the game will be worth the wait as both teams have been itching for an opportunity to play outdoors in front of what could be a record crowd of over 100,000 people. The Buds are the last of the Original Six teams to be showcased in an outdoor game.
Both teams are coming into the game with 45 points. The Leafs started off the season on fire, but have really cooled off as of late. However, they have won two in a row and are on the fringes of cracking the top 10 in most league power rankings. (Plus, the cameras absolutely love forward Joffrey Lupul.)
The Red Wings are in a little rougher shape than their Original Six rivals. They have been decimated by early-season injuries and their young players haven’t rounded into the form that I thought they would have. (I did pick the Wings to make the Stanley Cup final, but I’m looking quite the fool with the prediction at this point.)
The Wings did get a piece of good news as potential Team USA goalie Jimmy Howard returned, but struggled in a 6-4 loss last night to the Nashville Predators. The injury news got a little worse as Johan Franzen was ruled out due to a concussion.
It seems that every step forward that the Red Wings take, they get something that sets them back. They may be struggling now, but they can get back into the playoff race if they can managed to keep their head above water.
The game should be a good one. Detroit won the first meeting 5-4 in a shootout on Dec. 21. Tomorrow’s game could also bring back memories of the first Winter Classic in Buffalo as snow is in the forecast with a high of 18 degrees. It doesn’t matter what the conditions are as it will be another chapter in this historic rivalry that could get a jumpstart due to this game.
Phaneuf gets his payday
One major offseason question the Leafs may have faced was answered when they signed Dion Phaneuf to a 7-year extension. The deal totals $49 million a source told ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun. The signing keeps the defenseman from becoming an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
The blueliner has been a steadying force and helped propel Toronto to its first playoff berth in a long time last season. He also does his fair share in scoring and is a force on the power play. (Although the Leafs would like to see more scoring from him.) He does pick up some penalty minutes, but is one of the league leaders in plus/minus with +13.
As with any major move, there are some wondering if it was the right one. Phaneuf does bring a load of experience to the fourth-youngest team in the league and he’s one of the most veteran of a very young group at the blueline.
He may not be the best defender in the game, but he has turned into a solid all-around defender. He is eighth when it comes to the number of hits, so he’s not afraid to mix it up and get physical.
People may argue that they gave Phaneuf too many years and too much money. However, top-level defensemen are a hot commodity and locking him up give the Leafs peace of mind. He may not score the points that he used to, but the other young defensemen can pick up the slack. This move here is a solid one that will allow the team to address other concerns.
Take care and I hope everyone does take a look at the Winter Classic. It’s like hockey that you used to play out on the pond when you were growing up. I hope everyone has a Happy New Year and be safe.
Dan Mount is an NHL columnist for TJRSports.com. He is based out of Watertown, NY.