This past season, the Detroit Red Wings’ massive injury problems forced the team into an unexpected youth movement, and though general manager Ken Holland has long preferred his players fully mature in the AHL, he had no choice but to go the other way and hope for a bright upside.
@JeremySchick Name last 20 yr old to play for Red Wings during Ken Holland's tenure as GM? He says, "I want them here when they're overripe"— Craig Button (@CraigJButton) March 30, 2014
The upside turned out to be brighter than most would have thought, as young players like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening now figure to be long-term regulars on Detroit’s roster.
However, this summer, Holland still has a few notable slots to fill and, as Cap Geek can attest, over $19 million to help fill them.
Holland made note of items on his offseason shopping list in an interview with Ansar Khan at MLive.com shortly after the Red Wings’ first-round exit.
We need more scoring, but lots of teams need that. Lots of teams are looking for a right-handed shooting defenseman. If we can find a top-four right-handed shooting defenseman by trade or free agency, we’d certainly like to add one.
As to Holland’s first item—a right-handed defenseman—it appears that current Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen will emerge as this summer’s biggest free-agent prize.
However, Holland will be but one in a sea of general managers likely to throw offers at Niskanen. If Holland could be the one to land him, it will go a long way toward securing a key component of his team’s future as well as proving Detroit’s ability to still present itself as an attractive destination for top talent.
However, should the Wings’ miss out on Niskanen, Holland could opt to go a familiar route, that of the veteran free-agent acquisition. San Jose Sharks defender Dan Boyle is also free agent-bound and possesses the right-hand shot the Wings desire.
Still, Boyle will be 38 by the time the 2014-15 season begins and will hardly be considered an acceptable substitute for the 27-year-old Niskanen.
However, Holland could opt to go even younger and count on 21-year-old Ryan Sproul to fill the right-handed void on the blue line next season. This would be a sea change in Holland’s historic veterans-first strategy, but it's one that might be necessary should Detroit miss out on Niskanen and/or deem an older option like Boyle too risky an option.
Regardless of his final decision, bolstering the team’s blue line is going to be a key offseason decision in Detroit and one that could very well require Holland to deviate from his traditional modus operandi.
As to the other noted need Holland made mention of—that of more scoring—Holland may already be looking to bring in help much younger than he has historically preferred.
"If Anthony Mantha is ready and he beats somebody out, he'll play in the National Hockey League." - Ken Holland— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) April 29, 2014
If offensive wunderkind Anthony Mantha can impress during Red Wings training camp in September, he will apparently have an opportunity to do so on a nightly basis during the 2014-15 NHL season. So much for being overripe.
Despite his impeccable career in Detroit, and his philosophy of looking to build teams by using only minimal young talent, it is quite possible that Holland is on the verge of ditching that particular strategy.