The free agency period opens in less than three weeks and Detroit fans are left wondering, who will be suiting up for the winged wheels next season? Ken Holland has several difficult decisions to makeon the future of the Red Wings’ unrestricted free agents. Veteran defenseman, Brian Rafalski, surprised Hockeytown last month when he announced his retirement while still under contract and it has drastically changed the look of the Wings’ roster. On the bright side, Rafalski’s decision to retire provides Detroit with more cap relief as his $6 million cap hit comes off the books and allows Detroit more flexibility to fill the hole on the blueline and to re-sign key free agents. As July 1st nears, Detroiters will be eagerly awaiting the decisions on the some vital players.
Nicklas Lidstrom (D)
The fate of captain Lidstrom’s future will likely impact Ken Holland’s decision on every other UFA. After posting 62 points as a 41-year-old defenseman, Lidstrom will be welcomed back to the Red Wings’ organization as long as he wants to keep playing. Just over one year ago (June 2, 2010), Nicklas Lidstrom re-signed with the Wings and decided to play another year. Many expect the Red Wings’ captain to make a similar announcement prior to the June 24th NHL Entry Draft and Lidstrom will likely continue this one-year contract renewal until he decides to call it quits for good.
Expected Action: Holland re-signs his captain for another season (~$6 million)
Mike Modano (F)
The native of Livonia, MI entered the 2010-11 season as a rejuvenated 41-year old after coming west to play for his hometown team. The hockey gods were not kind to Modano after he suited up for only 40 regular season games for the Red Wings and was made a healthy scratch in all but two playoff games. On a team with strong veteran leadership, Modano’s intangibles will not be required again next season and it would be shocking if Holland awarded him with another contract.
Expected Action: Modano retires.
Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller (F)
Eaves and Miller represent the depth forwards who often become underrated on a star-studded Wings’ roster featuring Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen and Lidstrom. The contributions that Eaves and Miller bring on a nightly basis will certainly have Holland interested in re-signing these two twenty-seven year olds. Eaves is a versatile player who can play on the powerplay when needed and has shown to be a responsible defensive forward as well. Miller isn’t flashy but his work ethic and cheap contract are attractive attributes for the Red Wings’ organization. As long as neither forward expects a large pay raise, both of these energy players will be back in a wings jersey next season.
Expect Action: Eaves and Miller return with contracts 1$ million or under.
Kris Draper (F)
The 17-year veteran has publicly stated he wants to return to Detroit if Ken Holland wants him back. Last season Draper was limited to 47 games due to a hernia injury and recorded 11 points. With all of the depth in Grand Rapids, it would be shocking to see Draper return to the Red Wings’ roster next season. If Draper returns next season he would be taking valuable minutes from prospects Emmerton, Mursak and possibly Tatar. Detroit management has always been loyal to its veteran players but Holland would be smart to offer Draper an off-ice position to stay within the organization and let his prospects earn the icetime previously occupied by Draper.
Expected Action: Draper retires. Accepts an in-house position with the Red Wings.
Ruslan Salei (D)
The Ruslan Salei signing turned out to be a good investment as the 36-year old played in 75 games recording 10 points. The former Colorado Avalanche provided a physical presence as he finished 5th on the team with 117 hits and showed a willingness to block shots (3rd with 109). With the Rafalski retirement and Lidstrom’s future uncertain, Holland should extend an offer to Salei to serve as the team’s sixth or seventh defenseman.
Expected Action: Salei should be re-signed for one year at the same salary $750,000 (cap hit = $1.1M). Great value.
Jonathon Ericsson (D)
The Red Wings’ fan base have been extremely critical of Jonathon Ericsson and his play has warranted it at times. The former ninth-round draft pick (2012) was projected to become an mobile defenseman with good upside at the NHL-level but with 15 points as his career high, people have started to doubt him. Ericsson finished fifth among all Red Wings with a plus-8 rating which was quite the improvement on his previous season’s rating of minus-15. Ericsson, 27, wants to return to Detroit but his future will be dictated by his contract demands. Do not expect General Manager Ken Holland to overpay for his services.
Expected Action: Holland should only sign Ericsson to a short one or two year contract. Ericsson needs to prove that he can become a consistent and reliable defender before Detroit signs him long-term.
Chris Osgood and Joey MacDonald (D)
The goaltending situation has to be a concern for Holland and the Red Wings organization. Jimmy Howard is the starting netminder but he has shown the ability to be inconsistent at times. Holland’s pitch for Evgeny Nabokov last season confirms that Detroit does not have one-hundred percent confidence in Howard or anyother goaltender currently in the pipeline. Jimmy Howard recently signed a two year contract extension which will allow him to prove that he is Detroit’s future goaltender.
Chris Osgood has confirmed that he wants to return next season as Howard’s backup despite being limited to just eleven games last season. The lack of depth between the pipes will improve Osgood’s chances of returning but Detroit would be smart to bring in a healthier younger option.
Joey MacDonald played very well when called upon last season posting a 5-5-3 record with a team best 2.58 GAA and .917 save percentage. At a salary of $550,000, Joey MacDonald will surely be offered a new contract – if for nothing else than to play for their Grand Rapids farm club.
Expected Action: Osgood to retire. Joey MacDonald to re-sign as Howard’s backup.
Traditionally, Detroit has had the luxury of allowing its top prospects to develop fully within their system and rely on veteran contributions for production on the main club. However, Ken Holland may need to graduate a few of his prospects earlier than expected to replace holes in Detroit’s lineup left by veteran players who have retired or underachieved. Captain Lidstrom proved last season that he has the ability to play another year or two (possibly more) but Detroit should begin utilizing his time remaining as a mentor to their top prospects and hope that his magic rubs off on them. Brendan Smith, Jan Mursak, Cory Emmerton and Tomas Tatar have all shown snippets of being NHL ready and Red Wing fans should anticipate their arrival at Joe Louis Arena as soon as this season. The changing of the guard is underway in Detroit.