The Detroit Red Wings wrapped up a series of “future planning” meetings on Tuesday, and while there is every indication that they plan on meeting at least once more before the NHL Draft later this month, it essentially marks the start of a long and important offseason for the team.
“We’ll do whatever we got to do that makes good business sense. When the opportunity presents itself, we have to be ready.”
His words support the statements he made to the Windsor Star’s Dave Wadell earlier in the week.
“The next four or five weeks we’ve got to figure out a way to make the team better, deeper and a little different. It takes more than one or two players to make a good team. We’ll explore free agency and trades.”
“Obviously, the team is in transition. We’re hoping the transition takes only five, six or seven weeks.”
This certainly is a transitional phase for the Wings, who fell out of playoff contention in the first round back in April. There are glaring needs at every position, and the money is there to address them.
The 2012-13 salary cap has been temporarily set at $70.3-million, and while it’s entirely possible that CBA negotiations will result in a lower figure (just as it’s possible we won’t see a season thanks to a lock out), it’s the most reliable figure we have to work with at the moment.
Using that figure, and the aforementioned Ansar Khan’s belief that it will take roughly $6 million to resign bottom 6 forwards Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader along with defenseman Kyle Quincey (which accounts for modest raises for all 3), it would appear that the Red Wings will have approximately $20 million to spend on reloading their roster this summer.
That’s a lot of space. The cap hits of 3 of the team’s best players in Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Niklas Kronwall fit under that figure with room to spare. Can you imagine a team with 2 of each of those players? They’d be a hard-working, magic-creating, Kronwalling powerhouse, but don’t get your hopes up, that kind of talent isn’t available.
Or rather, an abundance of it isn’t. Sure there are All-Stars like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter that may test the market, but beyond them the talent level slides quickly. The low amount of top-tier talent available significantly drives up demand, and consequently prices. It could easily take $15 million or more to land both of those players, unless they’d be willing to take a discount to play together.
And the Red Wings will indeed pursue those 2, with Suter being the #1 target by a country mile. They need a top-level defenseman, desperately.
Last week’s not-exactly-shocking-but-still-incredibly-depressing-development marks the 3rd top-4 defenseman that the Red Wings have lost in the last 2 seasons (assuming Brad Stuart heads for California as is expected), and they never really addressed the first loss unless you consider Ian White a viable replacement for Brian Rafalski (and if you do, you’re insane). While it’s believed that reacquiring Kyle Quincey near the trade deadline was, for all intents and purposes, the preparation for Brad Stuart’s departure, it still leaves 2 holes that haven’t yet been filled, and one of them is so gaping it might as well be 2 on its own.
The primary candidate to fill those voids is clearly the top defender available in Suter, and I would expect that the Red Wings will throw every resource they have available (within reason) at the 27-year-old defenseman to ensure he winds up in Detroit (and unfortunately they now lack perhaps their greatest asset in that cause). They were interested before Lidstrom called it a career, now it would seem signing Suter is necessary, and it’s certainly a priority. Doing so may entail Ken Holland doing something he’s never done before, trading for his negotiating rights.
“I’ve never done it, but I have no problem with it. Are we prepared to acquire a player’s rights at the draft? Absolutely if the price is right and it’s a player we’re interested in.”
The fact that it’s being talked about publicly is a pretty good indication that it’s a real possibility, and Holland admitted to beginning discussions with other teams at the general manager meetings last month. It’s a move that can often pay off, as we saw with Tomas Vokoun’s signing in Pittsburgh earlier this week.
Even if the Red Wings are able to lure Suter to Detroit (and our own David Brown puts the chances of that around 45%)they’d be wise to add another top-4 defenseman as well.
Defense is a position that, depth wise, the Red Wings are weak in at the moment (which might be why they’re expected to sign a draft pick that comes with some controversy and questions) Which makes promoting prospect Brendan Smith into the lineup as a regular, instead of replacing their losses from the outside, a risky move. While the team will surely address that lack of depth at the draft, and has reason to believe recent picks like Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul will continue to develop into quality players, those players won’t be ready for the NHL for another season or 2 at the earliest. We saw how quickly injuries can pile up this March, and how the need for depth is key during the Red Wings short-lived playoff run; Sacrificing more defensive depth now would be a mistake.
That’s why Detroit will again look to add from the outside. The most promising candidates available being Philadelphia’s Matt Carle, Washington’s Dennis Wideman, and Florida’s Jason Garrison–All young (between 27-29) point producing (between 33 and 46 in 2011-12) unrestricted free agents. They’re just what Detroit needs to fill out their top-4, and should be available for reasonable prices.
The price point is important, because the Wings will need significant space available if they’re going to add the top-6 goal-scorer they want in the New Jersey Devil’s Zach Parise. He’s expected to come with a price tag of around $8 million, and despite his team’s journey deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs, there are still questions about whether he’ll be interested in returning. That’s thanks in large part to the financial uncertainty of the Devils organization that potentially cripples their ability to remain a contender or give Parise the raise other teams will.
If Parise re-signs with the Devils, or takes his services elsewhere, the only player available that even comes close to matching him in talent is Washington’s Alexander Semin, and he may in fact be a more attractive candidate for the Red Wings.
While I’m not going to suggest that Semin is a better player than Parise (that would be ludicrous), he does have his plus sides. The biggest of which being that he’ll be available for a lower price than Parise, even if it’s not significantly lower. He also exhibited some amount of chemistry with Pavel Datsyuk at the World Championships, where they both won Gold. That proven compatibility, along with the potential morale boost of giving Datsyuk a countryman to play with, can go a long way. Naysayers will accuse Semin’s game of being one-dimensional and lazy, but his defensive play took steps forward this season in Washington, and as his agent told ESPN’s Craig Custance, he wants to be a complete player.
“They [Washington] told us Alex is not going to play short-handed, he’s not going to play in the last-minute. He’s going to get the same ice time as everybody else … Alex is not ready to be a role player. He wants to be a full-time player. It’s important to him.”
He’s driven, and wants to prove himself. Those are very attractive qualities in a player.
Behind Parise and Semin the options are almost nonexistent. With the need for scoring clear after their playoff debacle, and the likely departure of Jiri Hudler (who was 2nd on the team in goals), the addition of one or the other is almost as necessary as their defensive needs. Prospect Gustav Nyquist appears ready to step into a prominent role, but that will still leave a significant hole. Another void that must be filled, no questions asked.
A goal-scorer won’t be the only forward the team looks to add though. Grinding depth is something the team lacked this season, and felt after injuries to Patrick Eaves and Darren Helm. With Tomas Holmstrom expected to retire (whether by his own choice, or the team’s), a gap that was already too big this season, according to coach Mike Babcock, will likely only get bigger.
With players like Brandon Prust and Travis Moen (who the Wings may have been eying at the trade deadline) potentially available, there’s no reason they couldn’t bolster their ranks pretty easily. Getting bigger and more physical, while not a necessity, isn’t a bad thing, and adding to their depth is necessary unless they’ve has found a way to instantly cure any and all injuries that may arise.
Injuries are a big part of the reason Detroit will need to address another position as well. With Ty Conklin on his way out, goaltender Joey MacDonald currently holds the backup job, but he’s been struggling with back issues his entire career, and sat out the end of the season and playoffs thanks to a bulging disc. The potential for that injury to flare up again is large, and the team may not even have a great deal of confidence in him in the first place. They’ve already expressed their desire to add a veteran netminder, and with no shortage of those available, there’s no excuse for not adding someone.
(For a more in-depth look at the goaltending situation, click here.)
Perhaps Henrik Zetterberg summed up this offseason best when he offered the following quip to the Windsor Star:
“You add people and you lose people. Some of them are tougher than others.We haven’t been good enough in here lately and I think everyone in here is prepared to make those sacrifices to do what needs to be done.”
This summer will likely be the toughest of Ken Holland’s career. He faces the task of replacing the irreplaceable, adding the most coveted, and tweaking the always competitive. His decisions over the next several weeks will affect the long-term success of this organization in immeasurable ways. It’s a lot of pressure, and he feels it.
“I feel pressure every day. We all know what the expectations are in Detroit. Our ownership, management, players and fan base expect to contend for the Stanley Cup. That’s the challenge. That’s what we signed up for. That’s the goal here this summer, to put a team together that Wings’ fans are going to be proud of.”
If that goal can be achieved, Holland is likely looking at his first General Manager of the Year award. If it can’t, he’ll be looking at a muddied legacy (no matter how fair that is). This is a make-or-break team-defining offseason for the Red Wings, and how they come out of it will shape the franchise, and the league, for years to come.