How Detroit Red Wings Should Fill Their Biggest Needs in 2014 Offseason
The Detroit Red Wings go into their 2014 offseason with a couple of key needs to fill.
Some of these needs can (and should) be filled internally, while other needs must come through unrestricted free agency or a trade.
With the Wings falling after winning just one game in the first round, one might expect these "needs" to be fairly substantial, but indeed they are quite simple.
Detroit needs help on defense, especially in terms of a competent top-four defenseman to complement Brendan Smith, should Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson remain a pairing next season. The Wings also need some help on the right side, especially in the way of right-handed-shooting players.
But who should the Red Wings use to fill their needs in the 2014 offseason?
Injured Players Need "A Big Summer"
First things first.
Before Detroit's management looks to unrestricted free agents (UFA) or trade offers, it must evaluate what is in its own system.
Players like Stephen Weiss (26 games played), Henrik Zetterberg (45 games played), Pavel Datsyuk (45 games played) and Jonathan Ericsson (48 games played) led the Red Wings' walking wounded this year.
The injuries to these players highlighted shortcomings of other available player personnel which indirectly paved the way for the youth movement that evolved. Essentially, other veteran players like Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson simply just didn't get the job done or step up when Weiss, Zetterberg and Datsyuk went down with injuries.
Before going to the respective UFA or trade wells, general manager Ken Holland must decide what he has in Detroit if these players are all healthy next season. Via Ansar Khan of MLive.com, Weiss, mentioned by Ken Holland on locker clean-out day, "needs a big summer," but so do the rest of the Red Wings who have missed substantial time with injuries this season.
Fundamentally, players need to know where they're going to be for the start of training camp before free agency opens. That can be a challenge to say the least.
A First- or Second-Line Right-Handed Right Wing: Radim Vrbata
Detroit badly needs right-handed shooters in its lineup on the right side. They had just two right-handed players who played over 27 games last season, with Luke Glendening playing 56 and Daniel Alfredsson playing 68.
With Alfredsson on the fence about retiring versus coming back for another season and Glendening not really the offensive force that Alfredsson was this season, it is imperative that the Red Wings court another right-handed shooter in their top-six forwards group who can also play the power play.
Enter Radim Vrbata, 32 years old, a veteran but not the "over-the-hill" kind of veteran that Red Wings fans are used to dealing with.
Vrbata is no Bertuzzi, Cleary or Samuelsson, and that is great news for Detroit. He put up 263 shots last season in 80 games played, ranking 11th in the NHL for total shots.
Vrbata had 20 goals and 51 points (no Red Wing eclipsed 50 points last season), so he should be on Detroit's radar for a first- or second-line right wing who can play the power play as well.
Speaking of playing the power play, Vrbata had 10 power-play goals and 21 points on the man advantage last season. Vrbata (41 takeaways last season) is the kind of two-way right wing who can take Detroit over the top, should Daniel Alfredsson choose to retire instead of come back for another season.
A Right-Handed Defenseman, Preferably a Power-Play Quarterback
The Red Wings have a couple options for this need as well.
The team needs a right-handed defenseman who can quarterback the power play and move the puck effectively, but whether that defenseman comes from inside or outside remains to be seen.
Additionally, should the Wings choose to look externally for a top-four, right-handed defenseman, it will be interesting to see how the pricing in the UFA defensemen market dictates what Ken Holland does.
So what does that market look like?
Well, Dan Boyle is coming off a contract that saw him with a cap hit of $6.66 million per CapGeek, but had his lowest point total (36) since his 2003-04 campaign. Meanwhile, Matt Niskanen is due for a large raise, coming off of the highest point total of his career and having a cap hit of just $2.3 million (per CapGeek) over his last contract.
So how high will Niskanen's cap hit and offers climb, and how low will Dan Boyle's cap hit fall if Ken Holland is willing to make an offer on one or both of them?
Will Detroit end up promoting Ryan Sproul or Alexey Marchenko to fill that right-handed defenseman need? Obviously, Ken Holland doesn't want to overspend, but at the same time, it would be nice to get a more competent level of talent on the back end than Kyle Quincey, Jakub Kindl, Brian Lashoff and even Danny DeKeyser provided this season.
Detroit has a young defense corps as of now. The key is to improve it without hindering the growth of the younger defensemen who haven't cracked the NHL. Those players must be allowed to try to prove their worth sooner rather than later.
An Above-Average, Non-Injury-Prone Backup Goalie
Petr Mrazek is ready to play in the NHL.
He is capable and—knock on wood—doesn't have a problem with injuries so far in his career.
If he plays in the NHL in a more full-time role, it will likely be in a backup capacity for this coming season.
But Mrazek did well in limited NHL action this last season with a 1.74 GAA and a .927 save percentage in nine appearances. While Mrazek was just 2-4 in those games, he needs to get some more permanent action in the NHL.
He needs more NHL action because not only does he say that he has nothing left to prove in the AHL, per Steve Amorose of Fox Grand Rapids, but he really does have nothing left to prove in the AHL.
Mrazek led Grand Rapids to a Calder Cup championship last year and had a 45-25-3 record over the past two regular seasons.
While the case could be made that an experienced backup goalie is necessary for NHL teams, Mrazek has shined on the biggest stages leading up to this point in his career, and there's no reason to think he wouldn't excel at this level, too.
If he's up to the task and Detroit feels comfortable with him getting 20-25 games in the NHL next season instead of 60-65 in the AHL, he will be a good fit in Detroit—not Grand Rapids—next season.