The Detroit Red Wings have made two bold moves on the first day of free agency, signing forward Daniel Alfredsson and center Stephen Weiss. These moves make them legitimate Stanley Cup contenders in the 2013-14 NHL season.
The Wings fell short of the Stanley Cup this season, due in no small part to a lack of skilled scorers and flexibility among their top--six forwards. Both players also bring very real motivations to win their first Stanley Cup. By adding two very talented and motivated players, the Red Wings have quickly become early Stanley Cup contenders for the 2013-14 NHL season.
In a surprising move to many, the longtime captain of the Ottawa Senators, Alfredsson, has signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings with a $3.5 million base salary and $2 million in bonuses. This signing unquestionably makes the Detroit Red Wings a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
The 40-year-old right wing appeared in over 1,000 games with the Senators, amassing 1,108 points over 18 seasons. Alfredsson had played his entire career with the Senators up until this point, and this move leaves a gaping hole on the right side in Ottawa, let alone his off-ice contributions. He brings superior on-ice skills as well as the intangibles of leadership and character to the Wings.
The Red Wings have also added Weiss who signed a 5-year deal worth $4.9 million per season. Weiss has accrued 394 points in 654 career games with the Florida Panthers.
Weiss was a Plymouth Whaler in junior and played his entire career with the Florida Panthers. He is a slick playmaking center who will play a lot of minutes in Detroit. In a little more than one hour, the top-six forward group on the Red Wings have been upgraded in a significant way.
Alfredsson and Weiss will allow head coach Mike Babcock much more flexibility. For starters, Babcock will be able to double-shift both Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk when he wants to, with Weiss there as a very good third option at center. Zetterberg can play more often on left wing now. Coach Babcock will have one of his two premier forwards–Zetterberg or Datsyuk–on the ice at all times. This will make defending the Red Wings even more difficult than it was this past season.
They have not lost any young players with these deals. so while they have added some veteran players, they have not lost youthful assets as these players were not acquired in trades. In other words, they have not mortgaged their future with these deals.
The Red Wings now have exceptional depth at center. Weiss will not have to be a first-line centerman, and this will suit him well. There will not be the pressure to produce that he would have faced in other NHL cities. He is an upgrade over Valtteri Filppula, who has exercised his option to become a free agent.
The Wings are also moving to the Eastern Conference this year, so Alfredsson and Weiss will not be forced to travel to the extent they would have in the Western Conference. While the Red Wings do not get larger with Weiss and Alfredsson, they don’t need to. The Eastern Conference is a quicker conference overall, and Detroit will not have to face the St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings or San Jose Sharks on a regular basis.
Weiss and Alfredsson are both great skaters and move the puck very well. They like to handle the puck and do not favor a dump-and-chase game that they may have had to embrace with other organizations. Their play will mesh well with Detroit’s puck-possession style that features patience and puck skill for all players, regardless of position.
Additionally, Mike Babcock might be the most cerebral coach in the NHL today. He requires his players to think all of the time, and in his system, players are asked to be movable parts in a larger chess game that sees them attack opponents in waves with their superior skill and patience. Alfredsson and Weiss are both heady players. They have high hockey IQs that will allow them to take full advantage of their hockey sense.
One of the big intangibles is the fact that neither of these players has won a Stanley Cup championship. That motivating factor should not be underestimated. These are proud hockey players who are hungry to win championships. Infusing that kind of veteran hunger into the lineup cannot be underestimated.
Weiss, in particular, had some relatively weak linemates in Florida. This will not be the case in Detroit. His best year in Florida was 2011-12 with 60 points. Look for him to better that this year with players like Alfredsson, Zetterberg and Datsyuk.
Finally, it is important that these players have joined the Red Wings before the season begins. The Red Wing coaching staff will have the time to devise lines, duos and schemes over the offseason that will feature these two players and build on what they already have with their core.
Alfredsson will have instant chemistry with Zetterberg as they have played together on various Swedish national teams. Mikael Samuelsson has also skated with Alfredsson on Swedish teams, and with Stephen Weiss in Florida. Samuelsson has had two previous stints with the Panthers. This familiarity will be extremely important as these players come together next year in a push for the Stanley Cup.
This is far superior to adding players at the trade deadline next year, when players have to be integrated quickly and there is always the danger that the right chemistry is never found.
For all of these reasons, adding Weiss and Alfredsson make the Detroit Red Wings a legitimate Stanley Cup contender next season.