The 4 Most Promising Signs for Detroit Red Wings' Future
With the Detroit Red Wings' season ending abruptly Saturday in Game 5, now is the time to start looking at promising signs for the future of the organization.
Do not be mistaken: It is important to recap and discuss this current season, but the bottom line is that this season is over, and it is time to turn the corner.
Here are four promising signs for the Red Wings' future.
"Promising" in this case, means having the greatest impact on the Red Wings winning games and playoff series down the road. These "signs" will come from what can be taken from the 2013-14 season, as well as what is expected from next season as a whole.
A Healthy Lineup in 2014-15
The Red Wings came into the 2013-14 season just as they had the previous season—without Darren Helm.
The Manitoba native missed all but one game in the lockout-shortened season and struggled to stay healthy as well this season.
But Helm wasn't the only player to have trouble staying healthy, as Stephen Weiss, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and others all missed substantial time this season with various injuries.
The Red Wings, barring another offseason injury setback, should have a much healthier lineup at the start of next season.
Red Wings beat writer Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press outlined the some of the players that need to have "big summers," according to head coach Mike Babcock.
Datsyuk might need surgery on his left knee; that’ll be decided this week. Zetterberg had surgery in February and wasn’t in peak condition when he returned. Darren Helm hasn’t been able to train the last two summers because of injuries. Johan Franzen needs to reboot after suffering yet another concussion this past winter.
Hopefully, these players can have that "big" summer and get back to where they were physically before these injuries took their respective tolls.
The Kids Are Better Than 'All Right'
Simply put, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar led the Red Wings in goals this season.
When Zetterberg, Datsyuk and others were out of the lineup, two players who were almost afterthoughts at the start of the season because of an overcrowded NHL roster made their mark. Nyquist was one of the hottest players in the second half of the NHL season, with 23 goals in a 28-game span between January 20 and April 2.
Tatar was pretty good as well for a rookie, finishing with 19 goals and 39 points. But it wasn't just the Nyquist and Tatar show as there were other players like Riley Sheahan (24 points in 42 games) and Tomas Jurco (15 points in 36 games) that contributed a substantial amount as well.
When the season started, the only one of those four players that was on the Red Wings' NHL roster was Tatar, solely for the reason that he couldn't be waived to the AHL.
That was then. This is now.
All four of them could start next season in Detroit after their play in the second half of the season.
Turning the Corner with UFA Players
The Red Wings have several pending unrestricted free agents.
Mikael Samuelsson, Daniel Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi, Kyle Quincey, David Legwand and Daniel Alfredsson highlight the skaters who are pending UFAs, while Jonas Gustavsson will also be an unrestricted free agent if he doesn't get a new contract from the Red Wings.
These pending free agents help Detroit out in two areas, if they actually are not re-signed.
First, the Wings get all of the salary cap space back.
Excluding Gustavsson's contract, the Red Wings would get $20.6 million per CapGeek if none of those players were retained.
Now, some of these UFAs like Legwand might be retained simply for what Detroit gave up to get him. However, there are other players like Samuelsson who got paid $3 million to play just 26 games and put up just three points.
Start celebrating now, Red Wings fans. There will be plenty of money to spend in free agency and to give to restricted free agents like Danny DeKeyser and Tatar.
Money to Spend on New Players
When Cleary signed a contract just a few days before training camp started, prior to the 2013-14 season, he delayed the progression of Nyquist and Tatar.
Nyquist and Tatar, the Red Wings' leading scorers in 2013-14, were in the minors and not in the starting lineup to start the season.
It took injuries to a bulk of the Red Wings regulars for Tatar and Nyquist to even crack the lineup. But it was the Cleary signing that would end up "stunting their growth," as Ansar Khan, Red Wings beat writer for MLive.com suggested that it would back in September.
Simply put, the Red Wings should welcome newer, younger players to the fold after the older players in Bertuzzi (39 years old), Cleary (turns 36 in December), Alfreddsson (turns 42 in December) and Legwand (turns 34 in August) are let go via free agency.
Now, one or more of those players may be retained for the right price, but avoiding further "growth stunting" is key to the Red Wings getting more out of their season next year. Bringing in a younger core group via free agency or through the Grand Rapids Griffins will also help guard against older players who can get injured or worn down easier throughout a season.
Youth will be key in 2014-15.