When Tomas Holmstrom retired, Mike Babcock made it officially known that Johan Franzen would be taken his place in front of the net on the power play. This should not have come as a surprise to fans; several seasons back, there was a rotation of players trying to give that Holmstrom-like net-front presence. The rotation consisted of Holmstrom himself, Franzen, and Dan Cleary.
While that may have tapered out after a few weeks, it gave fans a quick glimpse of hope that maybe there could still be someone ticking off goaltenders. And with the final departure of Holmstrom, it’s time for Franzen to step up.
Through five games, Franzen has one goal and two assists. That’s nothing for the Mule. And that’s not to say he isn’t doing his job in front of the net. Mike Babcock had a very thoughtful quote yesterday when talking to reporters. From Ansar Khan at Mlive.com:
“When you’re the Mule and you’re net-front you want someone to shoot the puck, otherwise you’re standing there and wondering what you’re doing… You’re standing around and you have dust on you, you don’t do anything.
“(Tomas Holmstrom) used to come to the bench and yell at me to tell them to shoot, shoot. Mule’s not doing that, but he’s thinking the same thing. If they shoot, he’s got a chance to generate offense. If they don’t shoot, he goes and gets the puck back and stands there and watches them pass it around. You have to shoot to score.”
Stop and think for a second. How many times during a Red Wings game do you jump up from your couch and scream, “SHOOT THE PUCK” at the screen? For myself personally, it’s at least twice a period. At least.
There is no more Nicklas Lidstrom or Brian Rafalski on the point, take slapshots at the net. All the Red Wings have now is passing around the outer edges. They keep trying to find the pretty shots or get a good cycle going (which has yet to happen). No one tries to crash the net. And Franzen stands at the front of the net and waits and waits and waits for someone – anyone – to take a shot.
If you have paid attention to Franzen in the first five games of the season, you would have noticed him standing out in front of the net. The Mule is doing what he’s supposed to do. It’s not that his new role isn’t working out; it’s that his teammates seem to refuse to take shots.
Think of it this way: If you work in an office, say sales orders are supposed to go from your boss to you so you can handle the coordination and follow-up. You sit in your cubicle and wait for your boss to hand you the order; instead, you watch him walk past you to the neighboring cubicle, hand it to your co-worker who hands it to the next co-worker who hands it to the next co-worker, who hands it back to the first co-worker, and everyone seems to ignore you until the last second. All you want to do is scream at them to hand you the order, but that would be unprofessional.
It certainly doesn’t help Franzen when the power play is more than lacking. Like Babcock said, he ends up simply standing there, taking abuse from opposing players as well as fans who scrutinize him for not doing anything. But he’s doing what he was instructed to do.
When the power play finds its rhythm, it should not surprise fans if Franzen’s output increases. Until then, however, we will have to wait for his moments of brilliance and suffer with him as he stands dutifully in front of the net, waiting for a shot that never seems to come.