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Last season Detroit struggled to fill the void down the middle, dealing with injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Stephen Weiss.
Johan Franzen—when healthy—played center in spurts, while Darren Helm and Riley Sheahan were thrust into scoring roles. Luke Glendening played well in 56 games, but won’t see anything above a fourth-line role.
Detroit was also forced to acquire David Legwand, who is unlikely to be retained as an unrestricted free agent.
With the likelihood of Datsyuk and Zetterberg returning at 100 percent next year, the pressure falls solely on Weiss. He played just 26 games posting four points before a nagging groin injury resulted in surgery and colossal disappointment.
It would be hard to imagine Weiss opening the year as the No. 2 man in the middle, but Helm and Sheahan are not the immediate answers either.
Among free agents, Paul Stastny would provide an immediate impact. On the other hand, his previous contract garnered an annual average of $6.6 million over five years, and would likely receive something similar.
It would be a shock if Detroit went for Stastny, considering the mammoth need to improve on defense.
Detroit initially signed Stephen Weiss to provide the offense from the second line that Valtteri Filppula could not. As luck would have it, Weiss was grossly underwhelming, while Filppula had the second-best offensive season of his career (25 goals, 58 points in 75 games).
Considering the prospect depth at most positions, Detroit’s cupboard is relatively bare for impact centers. Beyond Sheahan, Landon Ferraro has just four NHL games of experience and Mattias Janmark has yet to experience North American hockey.
Splitting up Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk is the probable direction Detroit takes until someone establishes themselves as capable. Both are world-class talents, but are best suited alongside each other for maximum production.
If this position is to be addressed at any point, the 2015 trade deadline could be possible if Detroit remains in the playoff race. Until then, the team is poised to exercise its options from within.