Abdelkader takes (good-natured) shot back at teammates

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Justin Abdelkader, left, and Henrik Zetterberg

Detroit – The annual Red Wings luncheon with the Detroit Economic Club often provides for some let-your-hair-down moments.

Such as …

* Justin Abdelkader said Thursday it’s easier standing in front of the net playing with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg because their shots are not hard.

* Dylan Larkin said he hopes Andreas Athanasiou does not land in the speed skating skills competition at the All-Star Game next year, because the new competition might challenge the record he set this year.

* Four days short of the trade deadline, Ken Holland said he preferred being general manager in the NHL before the salary cap led to parity. The new rules put an end to free-wheeling spending on free agents and forced teams to wait to the last possible moment at the trade deadline to decide if they are buyers or sellers.

* And Jeff Blashill jokingly chided Mikey Redmond for his inability to silence his cell phone, at the request of their hosts.

Asked a question by Fox Sports Detroit broadcaster Ken Daniels, Blashill paused and deadpanned, “First, Mick, is that your cellphone?”

Laughing, Redmond said, “If any one up here knows how to turn this thing off, I’d appreciate it!”

“We’re just happy, first of all, it’s no longer a flip phone,” Daniels interjected.  “He knows how to text now, although he doesn’t do it very often.”

“Great! Let’s move along,” Redmond finally pleaded. “Let’s move on!”

Before they jumped into a bus for the ride to Detroit Metro for the flight to Denver, the Red Wings dispatched with some public relations business, with 940 people representing dozens of local companies sitting in the room.

Christopher Ilitch, the president of Ilitch Holdings, provided an update on construction of the new arena.

“The bowl is taking shape as we speak,” Ilitch said. “By the fall, the structure will have a roof. And quite the buzz lately, we’ll find out soon what this arena will be called. So, stay tuned for that.

“The pace of the work has been nothings short of amazing, 12 hours a day and six days a week. And it’s being done by workers and companies from our community.”

Video: Construction progress on new Wings arena

Henrik Zetterberg talked about a different feel to this season, Blashill’s first as head coach and with young players like Larkin and Athanasiou playing significant roles.

“It’s been good,” Zetterberg said. “Definitely a lot of new stuff, new players, new coach. For those players who’ve been here for a long time, we had Mike (Babcock) for 10 years and, although a lot of people say it’s the same voice, it’s different.

“I think we’ve been playing pretty good. Some areas that we can get better at. But we just want to improve and get ready for the playoffs.”

Thursday was Abdelkader’s 29th birthday, and the hundreds gathered sang “Happy Birthday.”

“It’s a game I’ve always kind of played,” Abdelkader said of his style and responsibilities, since he was rejoined with Datsyuk and Zetterberg. “Just kind of being around the net, finishing my checks.

“I play hard for those guys,” he said, as he sat next to Zetterberg on the dais. “Obviously, whenever I get a chance, try to get the puck into their hands because they’re such great playmakers.

“I just really think they think the game at an elite level, and that’s what makes them so good. You know, no matter how old they get, they still seem to be one step ahead of the competition.”

After asserting their performance is a great tribute to them, Abdelkader said he just tries to do his job and screen the goalies.

Then, as a mischievous look came to his face, he said: “They’re not hard shots, so I should be all right.”