The summer of 2012 was not one that will be fondly remembered by fans of the Detroit Red Wings. The end of May saw future Hall of Fame blueliner Nicklas Lidstrom hang up the skates, and defenseman Brad Stuart leave Detroit for greener pastures in California. This, in addition to the exits of Jiri Hudler and Tomas Holmstrom, left the Red Wings in need of a shakeup to keep the lineup competitive.
A shakeup was not exactly what the Red Wings got.
Despite their best efforts, the Red Wings missed out on the top two free agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Instead of countering this loss with a big trade or signing of another NHL tested marquee player like Alex Semin, they inked backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson, oft-injured defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, Swiss league star Damien Brunner and aging winger Mikael Samuelsson. With the exception of Damien Brunner, these summer signings have not been impressive in their inaugural seasons with the Wings. With Colaiacovo and Samuelsson being injured most of the season , and Gustavsson struggling, fans of the Detroit Red Wings must be thinking that summer 2013 has to be an improvement….right?
The Red Wings are projected to have about $17 million in cap space to use this summer, and they have three major priorities to address.
Priority 1: Resign Jimmy Howard
A 2012 All-Star selection, Jimmy Howard has proven himself to be amongst the elite goaltenders in the NHL. Even though the Red Wings are in a tight battle for a playoff spot, they would not be in this position at all without stellar play by Jimmy Howard. Even in a few of the games that Detroit has lost, he has been one of the best Red Wing players on the ice, delivering a solid effort each night.
Howard is set for a pretty sizable pay raise. It is projected that he will command a contract of about $5 million per year for a five or six year deal. With the way he has proven himself over the last few seasons, this price is well worth paying.
Howard is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and Detroit cannot afford to lose him. At this point, it appears that a deal is close, but the Red Wings need to keep this process moving before Howard can even consider testing the market. Although it seems unlikely that he would sign anywhere else, his importance to the Red Wings cannot be under stressed. With goalie-of-the-future Petr Mrazek still a few years from being ready for full-time duty, it’s important for the Red Wings to their solidify their situation in net for the long-term future.
Priority 2: Add a Top-Six Scoring Winger
Highlighted by Detroit’s loss on Sunday to St. Louis, offense has been failing the Red Wings. Despite having two “all-world” caliber players in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit’s offense has lacked any sort of consistant spark in the shortened 2013 campaign. This summer, the Red Wings face a free agent class with several names that would be a good fit.
Nathan Horton, the 240 lb. Boston right wing would bring size and scoring ability to the Red Wings. Although he has struggled with a concussion, Horton appears poised for a great season in 2013-2014. At 27, Horton could be picked up by Detroit while he is in his prime. While there is a strong possibility that Horton will resign with Boston, Detroit would be wise to make a large push for him.
Brenden Morrow also stands out as a possible scoring threat that the Red Wings could make a run at. Picked up by Pittsburgh at the trade deadline, Morrow becomes a UFA this summer. Although he is 34, Morrow has shown that he still has plenty left in the tank.
Priority 3: Do Not Overpay Valtteri Filppula
Valtteri Filppula is the “X-Factor” in the Red Wings free agency situation this summer. After a breakout season in 2011-2012, in which he scored 23 goals and tallied 43 assists, Filppula is due for a raise. The issue is how much the Red Wings are willing to pay him.
Filppula is seeking a deal that will pay him $5 million per season, and currently, there are no talks going on between Filppula and the Red Wings. If GM Ken Holland concedes and resigns Filppula for his asking price, the Red Wings will have him for a long time and lose cap space to negotiate a deal with other UFA’s. The ideal resolution to this situation is that the sides could reach a commonality at about $4 million, considering his limited production this season.
Even if Filppula walks away, Hockeytown has a big task before it this summer. It won’t be easy, and it will require the Red Wings brass to take a leap of faith or two (e.g. a large goalie contract). In order to keep the Red Wings competitive and the playoff streak alive, the Red Wings focus should be on these three priorities.