Detroit Red Wings: 6 Things That Need to Happen for Return to Stanley Cup Finals
For Red Wings' fans, this tune of "one and out" or "two and out" has to be getting old.
Since losing Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins on home ice, the Red Wings have had a pair of second-round exits to the San Jose Sharks and a first-round exit to the Nashville Predators this season.
Now of course, it could be worse; Detroit could pull a Toronto Maple Leafs and miss the playoffs all together and not even be in contention for the Stanley Cup.
But as that is not likely, the Red Wings management will push on and focus on putting a more competitive, hungrier team on the ice this season.
Here are six things that need to happen for a return to hockey's "Promised Land" of the Stanley Cup Finals.
1. Continue the Change of the Guard
The Red Wings have often been called an aging, veteran team.
They lost their captain, Nick Lidstrom, to retirement on May 31st, and they will need to continue to get younger this off-season to have a shot at bringing home a 35-pound chalice in the 2013 playoffs.
Next in line to retire seems to be unrestricted free agent left-winger, Tomas Holmstrom.
I love Holmstrom to death, and I respect the heck out of him for what he does in front of the net, but his mobility has become an issue in recent years and he was never a very good skater to start. Look for Holmstrom to retire if the Red Wings do not offer him a new contract this offseason.
Honorable mention for retiring next would be Daniel Cleary, who when healthy is a perennial 20-goal, 50-point scorer.
Unfortunately, Cleary hasn't been completely healthy all season, as his knees are giving out on him, and he saw his shooting percentage (6.0 percent) and goals (12) cut in half compared to the 2010-11 season.
Bottom line: the Red Wings looked flat, old and slow against Nashville in the first round. To have any shot at getting further (or even making the playoffs next year), Detroit must bring in players who want to win and are capable of getting the job done.
2. Bring in a Capable, Experienced, Back-Up Goaltender
Now let's get one thing straight here: by no means am I suggesting to bring back Dominik Hasek.
It was just the last time that the Red Wings had a truly capable back-up/starting goaltender.
For as much as Red Wings fans hated not having a designated "starting" goaltender in 2008, the Red Wings had Hasek and Osgood. The two goalies played off of each other and gave the Red Wings a chance to win every night.
Hasek ended up going in net to start the playoffs, but was pulled in the first round in favor of Osgood. The rest, as they say, is history.
All right, back to the present. Some candidates for the 2012-13 season include Johan Hedberg (39 years old), Scott Clemmensen (34), Martin Biron (34) and my dark horse prediction of Justin Peters (who will be 26 in August).
Peters started only seven games last season with a record of 2-3-2. Not too impressive until one looks at his 93.1 save percentage and 2.48 GAA. Oh, and that was with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Instead of overspending on Hedberg, Clemmensen or Biron (the latter two could be starters next season with the numbers they put up this season), why not go with Justin Peters. He could start 20 games next season, which would spell Jimmy Howard when necessary, and he wouldn't break the bank at around $600,000.
3. Sign a TRUE Top-Line, Shooting Winger
The last true shooting winger that the Red Wings had before Marian Hossa was Brett Hull.
That history lesson takes you back a bit, doesn't it?
Time to take advantage of a free agent seeking a change of scenery. The players I'm talking about are Alexander Semin and Zach Parise.
Semin has one of the best shots in the league, and if a "Best Shooters in the NHL" list came out, he would most certainly make the top five.
After his agent changing (via Yahoo Sports) an earlier claim (via ESPN.com) that he had made regarding Semin being done with the Capitals, Semin has still not been re-signed by the Capitals and will likely hit the market briefly to test free agency.
Well, leaving or staying, it really shouldn't matter to Detroit. They have another Russian superstar who would play very well with Semin. Pavel Datsyuk is a playmaker, and watching him play together with Semin would be lighting a fuse for a scoring title and watching it blow up. The Red Wings have a surplus of left-wingers, and not enough right-handed shooters. Semin would not rectify this situation, but he would give an excellent boost to the Red Wings power play that struggled last season.
Unlike Semin, Parise is still playing hockey. Parise will also be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of these Stanley Cup Finals.
Word on the street is that the Devils don't have enough actual dollars to keep him.
Larry Brooks from NYpost.com writes that:
"unless Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek finds a benefactor by July 1 willing to immediately invest millions into a dramatically front-loaded deal to keep the captain, it’s all but impossible to imagine No. 9 will stay, even if the notion of being a career Devil appeals to him."
So Parise or Semin? Let the debate begin.
Parise will command substantially more than Semin, but who knows what the different rewards on the ice will look like.
4. Find a Power Play Quarterback
The Red Wings were without a real power-play quarterback last season. Lidstrom was held to four power-play goals this past season, his lowest output since 2003-04.
Lidstrom often shot the puck wide of the net, especially at the lively boards of the Joe Louis Arena in an attempt to get a bounce off of the other side of the net.
Because of this, and the Red Wings just being content to pass the puck around in the offensive zone, Detroit found itself without an efficient power-play quarterback.
To complicate matters, there was usually only one right-handed shot on the ice, if any, in Ian White.
White was very productive by his standards this season with career highs in assists (25) and points (32), but still could not manage to get on the board on the power play.
The acquisition of a player like a Ryan Suter (25 power-play points this past season) would do wonders for the Red Wings power play.
Another player the Red Wings could consider for the position of power-play quarterback is Jason Garrison.
Garrison quietly had nine goals and 12 points on the power play; not nearly as deadly as Ryan Suter, but Garrison loves to shoot. This love of shooting has to be a sight for sore Red Wings' fans' eyes as the Red Wings power play did not shoot as much as it needed to this past season.
5. Get a Defensive-Minded, Face-off Winning, Second-Line Center
It's no secret that the Red Wings needs some help up the middle at the center position after Pavel Datsyuk.
Enter Chris Kelly.
Coming off of career highs in goals (20) and points (39), Kelly was also an eye-popping plus-33 in the regular season and his faceoff percentage was upward of 51.5 percent.
Kelly had a cap hit of $2.125 million on his last contract, but made just $2 million each of the last three years.
He would be due for a pay increase, but the 6'0'', 198-pound center could be what the Red Wings are looking for on the second line.
Recall if you will the troubles that the Red Wings had this year trying to slot Filppula, Franzen and Zetterberg in the second-line center position and how it didn't pan out as they had hoped.
Sign Kelly for $3 million and let's put the second-line center debate to rest.
6. Make Big Waves in Free Agency
If the Red Wings want to make a splash via free agency, there's no better way to do so than to free up dollars ahead of time.
The Red Wings have some contracts coming off of the books, and personally, it might be best if they stay off the books.
Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Jiri Hudler, Tomas Holmstrom, Kyle Quincey, Brad Stuart and Ty Conklin will be either restricted or unrestricted free agents this summer.
Out of those players, the only ones who should be brought back are Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader.
For the departing players, that's about $12.375 million in cap space (per CapGeek.com). Combine that with the $4.5 million (per CapGeek.com) cap space that the Red Wings had last season and the possible cap raise this season (bringing the cap up to $70.3 million), and the Red Wings look to be able to spend about $26 million this offseason.
The cap could be knocked down a few million when the NHL and NHLPA's collective bargaining agreement expires in September, but for now, the Red Wings have the green light to make some big waves via free agency.
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