Hatcher adds physical presence
Ex-Star still feels 'weird' playing for Red Wings
By D Chase Record-Eagle staff writer
TRAVERSE CITY - Derian Hatcher is the complete package.
That's what the Detroit Red Wings believe.
The Wings signed the rugged 6-foot-5, 235-pound defenseman to a lucrative free agent contract in the off-season. Owner Mike Ilitch called it one of the most important signings in club history.
"The guy is 31 and in the prime of his career," Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "He's a combination of skill and size. He was runner-up for the Norris Trophy (as the NHL's best defenseman) last year. He's a guy who can 25 to 30 minutes a game against the other team's best players. There's not many of those guys out there. We're very fortunate he made the decision to come join us."
Hatcher was a star for the Dallas Stars - one of Detroit's foremost challengers in the Western Conference.
"I said from day one, that it was a very difficult decision (to leave Dallas)," said Hatcher at the Wings' training camp at Centre ICE. "But it's a decision I made and I'm moving forward. It felt weird out there (Friday). I'm not going to lie about it. It may take some time, but things are going good."
Hatcher adds a physical presence to Detroit's blueline.
"I played with Hatcher in Dallas," winger Brett Hull said. "I used to watch Nick Lidstrom, but until you play with him, you never really realize how good he is.
"With (Hatcher), as much as you hate playing against him, they're going to find out how much an asset he is when he's on the same team."
The Wings can't wait to find out.
"He plays with a meanness," assistant coach Barry Smith said. "He play so hard. He doesn't just go into the corners with you, he rubs you out.
"He's a tough competitor. We haven't had a player like that in a long time."
That's just what coach Dave Lewis is looking for this season. He wants his team to be more physical. He wants to establish a "tone" early in every game.
"We want our opponents to know that when you come into the Red Wings zone there's going to be a price to pay, that's it's going to be hard to score, that you're going to be bounced around and that you can't poke at the puck at the net," Lewis said.
That's where Hatcher's size and strength will come into play. One of his duties will be to keep the crease clear for goalies Dominik Hasek and Manny Legace.
"He and Jiri Fischer (who was injured most of last season) give us that added ingredient," Lewis said.
Fischer is 6-5, 225 pounds.
The two have been paired together in training camp, although fans have yet to fully see how they can disrupt an offense.
"It's hard for them to play their game, be real physical and bang guys around," Lewis said, "because a lot of the guys they bang around are going to be with them in a week (for preseason games)."
But those in the Detroit organization know what Hatcher can do.
"He's tough to play against," said All-Star defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who beat out Hatcher for the Norris Trophy over the summer. "Having him battle for us will help a lot. I thought we were solid before (defensively). Now we're even stronger."
"Obviously, this is a great unit," he said. "With any good defense, you need different guys doing different jobs. That's what makes us potentially so good. We have a lot of players who play different roles.
"Guys like (Mathieu) Schneider, (Jason) Woolley, Lidstrom and (Mathieu) Dandenault move the puck well. Fish, Chelli (Chris Chellios) and myself are more physical. We all do different things."
And what about playing in front of Hasek?
"I'm excited," he said. "He's one of the best. He's always been fun to watch. I'm looking forward to playing with him.