Detroit Red Wings: Why 2012 Will Determine Future Success of Team

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Detroit Red Wings: Why 2012 Will Determine Future Success of Team
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Nicklas Lidstrom will likely pass the "C" over to Henrik Zetterberg in 2012-13.

Now that nearly four weeks have passed since Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement, the Detroit Red Wings are writing the newest chapter of their franchise history.

Lidstrom’s retirement requires the Red Wings to name a new captain. Brendan Savage of mlive.com reports Henrik Zetterberg is the front-runner for the captaincy. Zetterberg won the 2008 Stanley Cup championship with Detroit, and he has spent his entire career with the Red Wings. Savage also says:

“Zetterberg’s appointment probably won’t be announced until shortly before training camp begins in September but it would be shocking if he isn’t the Red Wings’ next captain, especially since he was the only other player the organization considered before Lidstrom was named to replace [Steve] Yzerman.”

The organization spoke highly of Zetterberg’s leadership qualities and competitiveness during Lidstrom’s retirement press conference on May 31.

The departures of Lidstrom and fellow defenseman Brad Stuart could leave the Red Wings with questions about their blue-liners heading into 2012-13. Stuart signed with the San Jose Sharks on June 23.

If Detroit is not satisfied with its current options on defense, or anywhere else on the depth chart for that matter, big changes can be made this offseason.

Under current conditions, the Red Wings have approximately $24 million in salary cap space for the 2012-13 season, according to capgeek.com. Until the National Hockey League reaches an agreement in labor negotiations, the temporary 2012-13 salary cap is $70.3 million.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Will Ryan Suter lead the Red Wings' defensive corps next season?

Ryan Suter is the franchise’s No. 1 option to fill the defensive void. CBS Sports lists Suter as the No. 1 unrestricted free agent defenseman in this year’s class.

Suter averaged 26:30 of ice time per game to lead all Nashville Predators in 2011-12. He registered 46 points and a plus-15 rating, both of which trailed only Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber amongst Predators defensemen. If the Red Wings acquired Suter, they would have their next elite defenseman for the next few seasons.

Dennis Wideman would be a strong option for Detroit as well. His offensive ability and right-handed shot would greatly benefit the Red Wings, according to Helene St. James of freep.com (Detroit Free Press).

In addition to adding free agents this offseason, Detroit must decide whether to keep some of its own. Forwards Jiri Hudler and Tomas Holmstrom are Nos. 6 and 38, respectively, on CBS Sports’ list of top unrestricted free agents.

Hudler scored 25 goals and 50 points for the Red Wings in 2011-12. At 28 years old, Hudler had his best NHL season, and would likely be a top-six forward with Detroit’s current roster in 2012-13.

Like Lidstrom, Holmstrom has played with the Red Wings since the 1990s. Holmstrom, who does most of his damage in front of the crease, ranks sixth in franchise history in games played (1,026) and third in power play goals (122). His role in even-strength situations changed this season, though. Ansar Khan of mlive.com said:

Dave Sandford/Getty Images
The Red Wings need to act fast to keep Jimmy Howard in net for the future.

“In 2011-12, [Holmstrom] played mostly on the fourth line, where he is out of place...He needs to play on a top-two line to be effective. Holmstrom was not happy about his role and ice time and questioned whether it would change next season.”

Holmstrom is leaning towards playing in 2012-13, as opposed to retiring. In July, Detroit will likely make one of two decisions: sign him to a one-year contract for somewhere around $1 million, or release him and offer more money to a high-profile free agent in the prime of his career.

The Red Wings should shore up the goaltending situation this offseason too. Starter Jimmy Howard and backup Joey MacDonald have one year left on their contracts. Both played well in net this season, and keeping good goaltending around Detroit becomes more important with Lidstrom now retired.

Notable restricted free agents include 25-year-old forward Justin Abdelkader and top-four defenseman Kyle Quincey.

In addition to Howard and MacDonald, eight current Red Wings become free agents after the 2012-13 season. The franchise should lock up who it definitely wants to keep sooner than later.

Regardless of what the Red Wings do this summer, they will move on without Lidstrom. Lidstrom was a champion, a leader, and a defensive mastermind for Detroit for the past two decades; they will surely miss him. SI.com voted Lidstrom its NHL Player of the Decade for the 2000s.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The Nicklas Lidstrom era has officially ended. What will the future of the franchise hold?

Lidstrom was a champion. He won four Stanley Cup championships, six conference championships and 14 division championships. He is also a member of the Triple Gold Club for winning a Stanley Cup championship (four times), a world championship (1991) and an Olympic championship (2006).

Lidstrom was a leader. He captained the Red Wings from 2006-07 to 2011-12 and played the 10th-most games in NHL history. The Sweden native represented his country in all four Olympics that allowed professionals (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010) and made 63 international appearances in total.

St. James summed up his leadership this way:

“He’s possibly the most respected player in the NHL, a guy whom teammates regularly referred to as ‘the perfect human’…”

Lidstrom was a defensive mastermind. He made 11 NHL All-Star teams, the 1991-92 NHL All-Rookie Team, and was an NHL First Team All-Star 10 times. Lidstrom also won the Norris Trophy seven times and the 2001-02 Conn Smythe Trophy.

Though the Red Wings will never replace Lidstrom, they have enough salary cap space this offseason to add to their core of players who will lead Detroit into the 2010s.

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