Life After Niklas Lidstrom: How Will the Detroit Red Wings Respond?

Francesco PiacenteContributor IIIMay 31, 2012

Life After Niklas Lidstrom: How Will the Detroit Red Wings Respond?

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    I hate to say it, but we have seen the last of Nicklas Lidstrom in a Detroit Red Wings jersey. "Liddy" will hang up his skates this summer, having changed the game of hockey for years to come. The Red Wing will retire as:

    • an 11-time All Star
    • a seven-time Norris Trophy Winner
    • a Conn Smythe Trophy Winner
    • a four-time Stanley Cup Winner
    • the active leader in NHL games played
    • a veteran with 20 seasons played

    His accomplishments will undoubtedly land him in the Hall of Fame and quite possibly the discussion for the greatest defenseman of all time. So the question is, how do you replace that?

    The loss of Lidstrom will be devastating to Detroit; there's no denying it. He will likely be replaced by Pavel Datsyuk as the captain of the Red Wings, and in terms of his leadership ability, Datsyuk will not disappoint.

    However, the Detroit blue line will take a big hit without Lidstrom manning it, and that is something that Datsyuk cannot replace. It is clear that Detroit will not be able to just go out and find another Lidstrom; players of his caliber come around once in a lifetime.

    Still, these are some potential moves I feel Detroit could make that could mitigate the loss.

Option 1: Promote from Within

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    The Detroit Red Wings have been excellent when it comes to their scouting and drafting and thus have a very deep prospect pool. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those prospects are forwards, thus hindering Detroit's ability to bring up a player to man the blue line.

    They do, however, have one prospect who may be ready to for a shot at the big leagues.

Brendan Smith

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    Brendan Smith has been groomed to be Lidstrom's heir ever since the Detroit Red Wings took him in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

    He played three years in college for the University of Wisconsin, with his breakout season coming in 2009-2010. Smith recorded 15 goals and 37 assists in 42 games, which earned him the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Award, a WCHA First All-Star Team Selection and a spot as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

    Smith recently completed his second year of professional hockey, recording 66 points in 120 games at the AHL level. He also received a few call ups to the big club this year and did not look out of place, with seven point and a plus-three rating in 14 games.

    Smith seems to be ready for his shot at the NHL; the question is, how confident is management in Smith to replace the eventual Hall of Famer?

Option 2: Free Agency

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    When Lidstrom retires, there is one thing Detroit will gain: cap space. Lidstrom's 2011-2012 cap hit of $6,200,000 will give Detroit a lot of options come free agency.

    The free agent market is relatively shallow in terms of players that could step into a No. 1 D spot. However, there are several quality top-four blueliners that Detroit could target this offseason.

Ryan Suter

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    It seems like Suter's name comes up every time someone starts talking about the Detroit Red Wings. Many people are convinced that the former Predator will be playing in the Motor City come September, and for good reason.

    With a total of 167 points over the last four seasons in Nashville, Suter is by far the best and most consistent offensive replacement option for Lidstrom.

    However, there may be one fault in Suter's game. Many believe that Suter's offensive production is a by-product of playing next to perennial Norris candidate Shea Weber.

    Others claim that Suter has actually been restricted by Weber in becoming a No. 1 defenseman, as Suter was always the second option from the blue line, and thus he would benefit from playing on a new team.

    It is my belief that Suter is stuck in the middle of the two. While his offensive stats have benefited very much from playing next to Weber, he needs to be given a chance to become a de-facto No. 1 D. I cannot see Nashville allowing Weber to leave, so it only makes sense that Suter goes to find an opportunity elsewhere.

    Detroit, anyone?

Dennis Wideman

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    Dennis Wideman's contract status for next year is currently up in the air. However, I doubt he is too worried about it.

    Coming off of a season in which he came very close to his career highs with 46 points (11 goals, 35 assists), there will be much interest in the 29-year-old. He came into the season stuck behind Mike Green and John Carlson on the depth chart but quickly surpassed the two of them and consistently found himself on the ice in crunch time.

    His emergence, combined with the late-season hot streaks of Semin and Ovechkin, was expected to carry the Washington Capitals deep into the playoffs. In the end, though, Wideman only managed three points in 14 games as the Capitals were eliminated in seven games by the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semis.

    However, even combined with this year's abysmal stats, Wideman is still scoring at a .57 career point-per-game pace in the playoffs.

    While Wideman has been a combined minus-41 the past three seasons, that stat must be taken with a grain of salt. He was a minus-26 with Florida in 2010, a team not exactly known for their defense or goaltending. 

    In addition, he often finds himself lining up against the other team's top lines, and a significant amount of his points come via the power play, where plus/minus does not apply (55 power-play points over the past three seasons).

    Wideman's ability to quarterback a power play (129 points with the man advantage since the '06 season) would make him a good addition to the Red Wings.

    As a former eighth-round pick and a player that has had to earn everything, Wideman would fit in well with Detroit core. Where else do they better utilize late-round picks?  Need I mention Pavel Datsyuk (sixth round), Henrik Zetterberg (seventh round), or the infamous 10th-rounder Tomas Holmstrom?

Matt Carle

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    Matt Carle is a very intriguing option for the Detroit Red Wings. Coming off a solid season with the Flyers, Carle has a difficult decision to make.

    While he finds himself on a perennial contender in the Philadelphia Flyers that will only get better with the emergence of players like Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, they simply do not have enough cap space to give him what he deserves. They are restricted in what they can offer Carle due to the vast amount of money they have invested in blueliners like:

    • Chris Pronger (five years remaining with $4,921,429 cap hit)
    • Kimmo Timonen (one year remaining with $6,333,333 cap hit)
    • Andrej Meszaros (two years remaining with $4,000,000 cap hit)
    • Braydon Coburn (four years remaining with $4,500,000 cap hit)
    • Nik Grossman (four years remaining with $3,500,000 cap hit)

    Those contracts take up a significant part of the Flyers' cap, not to mention the monstrosity of a contract that the Flyers gave Ilya Bryzgalow. It seems that with over $23 million already afforded to defencemen for next season, the Fylers will not be able to fit Carle under the cap without sacrificing another significant piece.

    While he may not be the juggernaut that Lidstrom was, his pedigree as an offensive distributor (73 assists the past two years), combined with his defensive awareness and ability, will make him a very attractive player this offseason.

    However, it is not known whether or not Philadelphia will even let Carle make it to free agency. At this point, only time will tell.

Hal Gill

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    Hal Gill is a very underrated player that would strengthen Detroit's defensive depth.

    While he wouldn't be able to replace Lidstrom's offensive ability, Gill possesses great defensive awareness and would improve Detroit's penalty kill exponentially. He would prove to be a great mentor to Detroit's younger players, and could log big minutes if necessary.

    Gill is the type of blue-collar player that Detroit likes to employ and would fit in seamlessly with the game the Red Wings play.

    (Gill was included not to replace Lidstrom, but more so Brad Stuart, who is expected not to re-sign with the team due to family considerations.)

Option 3: Trade

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    As stated before, Detroit has traditionally been great at drafting (need I mention Datsyuk, Zetterburg or Lidstrom?) and getting great value with all their picks. This has allowed them to build a sold prospect pool, foremost among them Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist.

    While Smith likely won't be going anywhere (unless Shea Weber's name is thrown into the fray), Nyquist represents an interesting name to follow this offseason. He put up over a point per game in the AHL this season but is blocked by a couple guys named Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterburg in the NHL.

    While he can play anywhere along the forward ranks, Detroit boasts a lot of prospect depth on the wing, including:

    • 2010 fourth-rounder Teemu Pulkkinen, who broke Teemu Selanne's single-season Finnish Elite League Assist Record during the 2010-2011 season
    • 2009 second-rounder Tomas Tatar, a player who has scored 115 points the past two years combined in the AHL and seems destined for a role with the Red Wings
    • 2011 second-rounder Tomas Jurco, who put up an impressive 68 points (30 goals, 38 assists) in only 48 games this season

    While it is possible that it is actually one of the other players mentioned that is moved, I believe Detroit would be best served by capitalizing on Nyquist's breakout season while his value is at its highest. These are some teams that I feel would make ideal trading partners for the Red Wings.

Anaheim Ducks

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    The Anaheim Ducks find themselves in a very similar situation to the Detroit Red Wings; They are in danger of losing long time players who are not easily replaceable.

    Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne (and, to a lesser extent, Jason Blake) all appear to be on their last legs. With the contracts of Selanne and Blake up this season (Koivu recently signed a one-year extension), and Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf UFAs after next year, Anaheim is looking for talented players to rebuild their top-six.

    However, the players Anaheim seek must have relatively cheap contracts so that they can offer Getzlaf and Perry large deals in hopes of retaining the two stars. I feel that Nyquist would be a good fit in Anaheim, learning from two of the best centers of this decade and the last in Getzlaf and Koivu. He has the ability to play in the NHL now, and Anaheim has the opportunity.

    The question is, who would be going the other way? Well, Anaheim is moving forward with Cam Fowler as their franchise defenseman, which essentially makes Lubomir Visnovsky expendable. He has the ability to be a top-10 defenseman in the league, but at age 35 and with an expiring contract after this year, he does not fit in long-term with the Ducks.

    A move to Detroit would allow Visnovsky another chance to win a cup, and if he impresses, a two-to-three-year extension would not be out of the question. He would replace the loss of production from the blue line (68 points two seasons ago) and would continue Lidstrom's mentorship of Brendan Smith.

    Proposed Trade:

    To Detroit: Lubomir Visnovsky and third-round pick

    To Anaheim: Gustav Nyquist and Kyle Quincey

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The Leafs have depth on defense; the Leaf haters can bash it, but realistically, there's no denying that.  However, that depth also happens to be extremely expensive, with their top-four defensemen (in salary terms) set to make $18.475 million next season.

    While it was just midseason that he was extended by Burke, John-Michael Liles appears to be an interesting trade candidate. He comes with a very manageable $3.875 million cap hit, a number that will easily fit within Detroit's budget, and he has proved to be an elite offensive defenseman when he is on his game.

    While he is not the most "responsible" rearguard in the NHL in terms of his defensive play, he plays well for his size and could be paired with a defensively-oriented player like Niklas Kronwall to mask his play in his own end.

    Another package I could see the Leafs offering are Mike Komisarek and one of Cody Franson (RFA) or Carl Gunnarsson.

    Both Gunnarsson and Franson could step in and play effective second-pairing defense for the Wings. Komisarek could provide grit and hard-hitting play on the third pairing, while helping to replace some of Lidstrom's leadership. With the Red Wings taking a bad contract in Komisarek, the asking price would likely be lowered.

    Due to the varying opinions on Leaf's players and their value, I decided not to include a trade proposal. Instead, I ask for your opinions on what you think a fair trade would be.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets appear to be firmly committed to a rebuild.

    They have already traded away Jeff Carter this season and have entertained offers for franchise cornerstone Rick Nash this season, something they are likely to do again in the offseason when contracts come off the books and more teams can become involved, thus driving the price up.

    However, amidst all the turmoil surrounding Rick Nash, there is a player who has managed to fly completely under the radar in trade talks.

    James Wisniewski was signed  to a $33 million, six-yyear deal by the Blue Jackets last offseason. They expected that he, combined with the trade for Jeff Carter and the perennial powerhouse that is Rick Nash, could lead Columbus to the postseason.

    However, with the team now back in rebuild mode, Wisniewski is a $33 million luxury that they simply cannot afford.

    While he had a relatively injury-marred year, his history and upside should allow Columbus to find a trading partner should they so choose. His contract, as well as the fact that he is coming off of a down year, should drive Wisniewski's price down, but Columbus should still be able to get good value for the offensive rearguard.

    Columbus is looking to get younger in all positions and will take the best talent available for their players. Gustav Nyquist seems like a good place to start the trade talks, and given Colombus' woes in goal, a goaltending prospect like Petr Mrazek or Thomas McCollum could also be involved.

    Proposed Trade:

    To Detroit: James Wisniewski and Vinny Prospal

    To Columbus: Gustav Nyquist, Thomas McCollum, and third-round pick