After years of acquiring goal-scoring forwards and developing skill grinders, the Detroit Red Wings have to think fast and make decisions for their future with their forwards.
This means that they must assess the future of the team in Grand Rapids and overseas along with developing plans to return or cut ties with soon-to-be unrestricted free agents.
GM Kenny Holland has had a tough time of late perusing the free-agent market and returning a quality goal scorer to the Red Wings.
He may have found one of those goal scorers, however, in Swiss rookie Damien Brunner. The 26-year-old has been a bright spot for the Red Wings' offense so far this year. He has been used as a point man on the power play, and with his timely passing and sound positioning, he leads the team in scoring with 10 goals and is third in overall team scoring with 19 points.
By adding Brunner to an already potent Detroit offense, the Red Wings have been able to separate Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk to give the team balance among the top two lines and neutralize opponents.
Zetterberg and Datsyuk have responded well to the change by scoring a combined 52 points in 51 games so far this season.
Otherwise, the offense has been sparse. The bottom-six forward group has brought energy and size to the team but has lacked the goal-scoring punch.
Another concern has been the health of Darren Helm and Mikael Samuelsson. When healthy, these two players will be a nice addition to the offense and should bolster the third-line scoring.
So, with options to choose from that are NHL-ready and a few players like Joakim Andersson and Tomas Tatar who will be playing full time next year, the team is at a crossroads.
They don't know how the lineup looks when completely healthy this season. They also do not believe that they have all the pieces necessary to push for a late playoff run.
Partaking in the NHL trade deadline fiasco might be their option to accomplish what they need to do: shop around a few quality forwards and try to land a top-flight defenseman who will help with moving the puck and fixing their ailing power play.
One of these forwards should be Valtteri Filppula.
Coming off of a career year playing left wing, Filppula has responded well so far. In 19 games, he has 10 points. While he is currently experiencing some shoulder issues, he is an underrated playmaker who strengthens the power play.
His two-way game is not the strongest, but Fil does get back and help on defense. Teams will be intrigued with Fil not because of his expiring contract but because he is just entering his prime as a hockey player.
Since his inception into the NHL, he had never scored more than 40 points in a single season—until 2011-2012, when he proved he could handle top-six duties and became a prominent part of the offense.
He is an unrestricted free agent in July and might command slightly more than his $3 million salary.
Decisions will need to be made where that money goes. Jimmy Howard and Damien Brunner are also UFAs who are looking to stay with the Red Wings, and young stars like Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl are hoping to ink their first substantial NHL contracts.
According to Capgeek, the Red Wings have 10 forwards and 16 total player under contract in 2013-14 with a cap hit of around $45.9 million.
The unrestricted free agent forwards along with Filppula and Brunner are Drew Miller and Daniel Cleary.
So there is a good chance all four forwards could be back. But that leaves out players like Nyquist, Tatar and Andersson, who have proven they are ready to play among the league's best.
It's time for Holland and his staff to make some decisions. They can go out and say goodbye to Cleary, Miller and Filppula and have enough cap space to land the top defenseman in free agency.
Or they can simply use these players and try to package together some draft picks or prospects for a high-end defenseman or another scoring forward.
The possibilities are truly endless. The Red Wings have the talent and the right core moving forward to sustain their success.
So the Red Wings must be plotting their strategy on how to approach the April 3 trade deadline with an open mind and an eye toward the future.
Even if it means losing Valtteri Filppula or Damien Brunner.
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