5 Problems Detroit Red Wings Must Address This Offseason
Following their first-round exit, the Detroit Red Wings have a long summer ahead of them.
Ten players from last season’s roster are headed for free agency (seven unrestricted, three restricted), and substantial change could be on the horizon.
Detroit went through one of the most stressful season in recent memory, suffering a franchise record 421 man-games lost to injury as well as insufficient play from certain veterans.
Looking forward, it is likely Detroit will part ways with some familiar faces, while allowing some younger talent their opportunity in the big leagues.
As the team assesses its current state and begins to address the future, there is quite a bit of work to do. The options appear endless for any fan playing arm-chair general manager. The Red Wings have glaring needs and finally the corresponding cap space to accommodate.
The issues that require attention also go beyond the playing surface. Conversations regarding the man behind the bench and the status of valuable investments are of great concern moving forward.
With more on all the above, these are five problems Detroit needs to address this offseason.
Mike Babcock's Contract Situation
As a 2014 Jack Adams Award finalist, Mike Babcock has gained national attention for leading an injury-ridden team into the playoffs for a 23rd consecutive season.
The 2014-15 season marks the final year on Babcock’s current contract, and an extension may not be imminent.
With a lot of work ahead—and a mentally trying season behind him—Babcock has made it clear that signing an extension with Detroit is not at the top of his to-do list.
The idea that this could be a sign of disinterest or perhaps a falling out with the club should be discarded with last week’s leftover meatloaf. He has deeply planted roots in Detroit and has expressed that is where he wants to be.
Babcock would be happy to remain with Detroit, and GM Ken Holland has made it a priority to retain his coach’s services, per Ansar Khan at MLive.com
I want him back behind the bench. I respect the job he does for us. I respect his work ethic. I respect the job he did putting the young players into our system and sticking with them. I think if you put down a list of the best coaches in the National Hockey League, he’s on that short list. I think many would have him on that list.
Detroit fans can breathe a sigh of relief, at least for the time being.
Should he leave, Detroit could promote Grand Rapids head coach Jeff Blashill to lead the big club. Based on what he has shown in the AHL, he could be a very pleasant alternative.
Add a Right-Handed Defenseman
On the ice, adding a right-handed shot on the blue line is priority No. 1 for the Red Wings.
Their last effective right-hander on the back end was Brian Rafalski, who retired following the 2011 NHL season. With an entire defensive corps of “wrong-siders,” Detroit’s power play has struggled mightily.
Shots from the point are a staple with the man advantage and not having that opposite hand can slow down puck movement considerably. Shots aren’t fired as often or adequately and the whole unit suffers.
The picture-perfect scenario for Detroit comes via the free-agent market in Matt Niskanen.
In the midst of a career season, Niskanen has scored 10 goals, 46 points and plus-33 for the Pittsburgh Penguins, leading their depleted blue line. Fifteen of his points came on the power play. He has two goals and eight points in 10 playoff games this year.
At 27 years old, the right-handed veteran is entering his prime and looking to capitalize financially. Detroit has the cap space and desperation to make a sizeable bid for his services.
After Niskanen there is a significant drop-off in talent that fits Detroit’s needs. Florida’s Tom Gilbert could be an inexpensive experiment, but the Red Wings could be better off sampling the trade market.
The issue? Neither are an improvement on defense in conventional situations. Myers finished the year minus-26, while Byfuglien posted a minus-20 despite scoring 20 goals and 56 points.
Niskanen is certainly going to enjoy a significant payday when free agency opens up. With the need and available finances, it could be Detroit’s dotted line he signs.
Understatement of the century: Detroit needs its star players healthy.
Henrik Zetterberg returned from back surgery to play in the final two games of the first round.
Pavel Datsyuk played through a nagging knee issue and still scored five points in five games in the playoffs.
Darren Helm returned to the lineup and successfully played in 42 regular-season games.
Stephen Weiss is the biggest concern after playing just 26 games dealing with a distressing groin injury and the subsequent sports-hernia surgery.
Zetterberg and Datsyuk both will get the rest they need and deserve, while Weiss has all the time he needs to heal and rehabilitate without the added stress of an NHL season.
After signing a five-year, $24.5 million deal, Weiss was a huge disappointment for a team that made a large investment in his offensive proficiency. If he can finally be healthy, he can be a much-needed punch centering the second line.
Detroit suffered through injuries all season but enjoyed the growth of key prospects that helped salvage its season.
Going into the 2014-15 season after a summer of healing, Detroit can mix and match its young talents in with its top stars to formulate a new-look Red Wings offense. A healthy season could push Hockeytown back into contender territory.
Move on from Veteran Loyalty
Out of Detroit’s seven unrestricted free agents, five are over the age of 33.
David Legwand (33), Daniel Cleary (35), Mikael Samuelsson (37), Todd Bertuzzi (39) and Daniel Alfredsson (41) could all hit the open market come July 1.
Alfredsson is the likeliest to return to Detroit, if he decides to play in the NHL at all. He dealt with back issues throughout the season and wants to relax and heal before determining his hockey future.
Cleary dealt with knee issues during the season and an injection that was supposed to subside swelling caused a reaction, ultimately ending his season. After balking at a three-year deal offered by Philadelphia, Cleary re-signed to remain in Detroit.
It’s unlikely he’ll return to the ice after his poor season, but the team’s loyalty could make room for him within the organization.
Bertuzzi and Samuelsson are both well beyond their prime and had a tough time cracking the lineup with any regularity. This writer would be shocked to see either re-sign in Detroit.
It would be tough for Hockeytown to accept Legwand’s departure solely because of the hefty price paid to get him.
Patrick Eaves, Calle Jarnkrok and a conditional third-round pick (now a second-round pick) went Nashville’s way for a rental? It appears that way. With the return of Weiss and the health of Datsyuk and Zetterberg, there is little to no room on the roster, let alone at the center position.
It’s good for Detroit to part ways with the significant veteran presence and embrace the youth movement. Detroit dealt with a glut of forwards this season due to lingering veterans and ripe prospects.
After spending the majority of the season in Detroit, those young players are ready for the big stage. It is time for Detroit to transition in their favor.
Create Goaltending Competition
After the worst statistical season of his career, Jimmy Howard could use a little extra competition to light the fire.
Jonas Gustavsson had the best statistical season of his career, but he could test free agency. Petr Mrazek has made a splash in his first two seasons with Grand Rapids in the AHL and could steal a roster spot in 2014-15.
The 22-year-old Czech could be ready for regular NHL experience. However, Detroit would much rather he start 60-plus games in the AHL than 20-25 games in the NHL.
While a logical sentiment, healthy competition could push Howard to prove he still belongs in the starter’s crease. Gustavsson outplayed Howard this season, but his play wasn’t stellar enough to create a goaltending controversy.
With Mrazek as the team’s prized goaltending prospect, the fear of losing his job to the team’s future before he’s ready could motivate Howard to up his game. Competition is hale and hearty at the professional level, and a solid No. 1 would go a long way for the Red Wings.
Suffice it to say that Howard will be the starting netminder for Detroit in 2014-15. Realistically Mrazek will start the year in the AHL, and if not Gustavsson, Detroit will seek a new backup on the free-agent market.
It’s important for the Red Wings to get the best they can out of Howard. Some pressure from a talented youngster may be right formula for success.