The Detroit Red Wings are heading into the offseason with many, many questions to answer. However, one thing they lacked during the 2013-14 campaign is finally on their side—time.
They have time to rest their bodies.
They have time to heal emotional wounds.
They have time to
With nearly two months until the 2014 NHL draft, Detroit’s brain trust can evaluate where the team currently stands, determine strengths and weaknesses, and begin to assess needs.
Head coach Mike Babcock recently expressed his thoughts to reporters. "A big summer for our guys is absolutely critical. We had so many injuries this year, and if you've been an injured player for a long period of time ... your conditioning is absolutely critical,” he said.
Detroit suffered its most injury-ridden season in club history, as Man Games Lost indicates that the team battled through a franchise-record 421 man-games lost.
Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk each played only 45 games and Johan Franzen skated in just 54, forcing the team to scramble for bodies to fill out the lineup.
Stephen Weiss, one of Detroit’s biggest offseason acquisitions, only appeared in 26 games due to a lingering groin issue. The subsequent sports hernia surgery and a setback ultimately shut him down for the year.
Weiss told reporters he was dealing with pain in his groin in training camp, and it never seemed to dissipate:
Coming down for the first game of the year and thinking, ‘How are you going to get through the game?’ is probably not the right way to start…I’ve been around a bit and should be a little bit smarter and should have spoken up earlier and maybe some of this could have been avoided…But sometimes that’s not my style. I’ll tend to do that and it got me in some trouble this year. Huge disappointment, but in saying that it kind of fuels the fire for this summer and next year.
Weiss was expected to center the second line, but his injury hindered him greatly, leading to a calamitous first season in Detroit. The 31-year-old expects to be ready for training camp.
Injuries forced the team to reach deep into the prospect cupboard, successfully utilizing Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist in newfound scoring roles.
Both players responded admirably, with Nyquist scoring 28 goals and Tatar netting 19. Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco also took advantage of their NHL opportunities, forming “The Kid Line” alongside Tatar.
Unfortunately, the entire line came up empty and was minus-five during Detroit’s five-game playoff exit at the hands of the Boston Bruins.
The Red Wings have seven unrestricted free agents hitting the open market on July 1, but Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press suggests the team has only expressed interest in re-signing Daniel Alfredsson.
At 41 years old, Alfredsson is weighing his options between returning to Detroit or retirement. The organization will let him take his time to decide and is likely to welcome him back if he chooses to give it another go.
That could mean Todd Bertuzzi, Daniel Cleary, David Legwand, Mikael Samuelsson, Kyle Quincey and Jonas Gustavsson may no longer don the winged wheel.
Meanwhile, key youngsters Tatar, Sheahan and Dan DeKeyser are all restricted free agents.
Before re-signing anyone, the Detroit Red Wings are looking at a little over $19 million in cap space. That gives them plenty of room to make a splash, which is not necessarily forthcoming.
As evident this season, they will try to improve from within the organization. Tatar and Nyquist are sure to retain their roster spots, while prospects Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul and Anthony Mantha could be given an opportunity to earn a spot.
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Willis has floated a few names that could be signed in free agency, but none have been definitively associated with the Red Wings.
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen will be a UFA July 1 and seems to possess everything Detroit desires.
His offensive instincts came to the forefront this year with career highs in nearly every category, and he is a right-handed shot. He finished 12th among NHL defensemen in scoring (46 points) and sixth in the league at plus-33.
The 2014 NHL season still has plenty of hockey left to play, but that has not limited the significant number of questions bombarding general manager Ken Holland and the team’s future.
Most importantly for Holland and the Red Wings, they still have plenty of time to determine what the right answers are.
Alfredsson won’t make his decision for some time. The NHL draft in Philadelphia is more than a month away. Free agency does not open until July 1.
Team management will meet with coaches, decide the immediate direction of the team and move forward one step at a time.
As the questions are sure to mount, the Detroit Red Wings have no need to provide immediate answers.
All statistics courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.
Salary-cap and contract information courtesy of CapGeek.com.