5 Roster Spots Detroit Red Wings Should Be Looking to Upgrade
The Detroit Red Wings head into the summer with holes to be filled, prospects to evaluate and plenty of decisions to be made.
While the entire summer lies ahead, the draft is fast approaching with free agency right around the corner.
While likely to part with most of their free-agent veterans, they still await the word of 41-year-old winger Daniel Alfredsson.
Players like Stephen Weiss and Jonathan Ericsson will return from injury, while leaders Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg can rest their ailing bodies and prepare for another grueling season.
Next year will see an interesting mix of players intended to be in the lineup alongside those that earned their right to be on the NHL roster.
But that is not the be-all end-all of Detroit’s big picture.
Through free agency or a trade, Detroit needs to improve at multiple positions this offseason. Its immediate playoff exit exposed a depleted lineup’s glaring holes that have become a priority to fill.
The following will explore positions where Detroit can upgrade, as well as the options to do so.
Defenseman for Top Pairing
As July 1 approaches, a right-handed defenseman is Detroit’s biggest need, and general manager Ken Holland has not been shy about keeping his options open, per Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press.
Starting with free agency will be tricky. Top free-agent blueliner Matt Niskanen will draw considerable interest, upping any asking price significantly. Holland will likely balk at anything higher than his own No. 1 defenseman, Niklas Kronwall ($4.75 million annual cap hit).
Dan Boyle, the 37-year-old former San Jose Shark, possesses a right-handed shot and excellent offensive instincts. His rights were acquired by the New York Islanders on June 5, but his best option would still be to test the market.
He is looking for more than a one-year deal, and a two-year agreement would suit Detroit handsomely. The pact would give Holland the freedom to let his prospects progress further in the minor leagues, while still having a capable NHL-caliber blue line.
When Boyle is done, prospects Ryan Sproul, Alexey Marchenko or Xavier Ouellet should be ready for the big time.
The free-agent pool is very shallow in terms of impact defenseman. Names like Dustin Byfuglien, Shea Weber and Alexander Edler have been thrown around as trade options, but the asking price would be exorbitant.
Nashville Predators GM David Poile received valued prospect Calle Jarnkrok, a conditional draft pick and a roster player (Patrick Eaves) just for David Legwand. The price for a perennial Norris Trophy candidate in Weber would be a king’s ransom.
Byfuglien would provide the offense from the back end that Detroit is looking for, but his play in his own zone has been less than inspiring. He has finished just one season in his career with a plus/minus rating in the black (plus-seven in 2009 as a forward), and was minus-20 in 2013-14 despite 20 goals and 56 points.
Alexander Edler has been linked to Detroit in the past, but after the firing of GM Mike Gillis, Vancouver’s future is clouded. He is not the right-handed shot Detroit covets, and his contract runs through the 2018-19 season with an annual cap hit of $5 million and full no-trade clause.
A trade could be the preferred direction for Holland, but if available, Dan Boyle could be the best-case scenario on all fronts.
Second Line Center
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.
Jimmy Howard struggled all season between a nagging knee injury and general inconsistency.
The team’s clear-cut No. 1 faltered after signing a six-year, $31.75 million contract in April 2013.
Last season Jonas Gustavsson was serviceable, and at points, impressive. Unfortunately, his penchant for the trainer’s table makes him a question mark. Detroit has expressed interest in re-signing the 29-year-old, but some have clamored for prospect Petr Mrazek to make the jump.
Gustavsson has spent the last two seasons in Detroit, but only played in 34 of 130 possible games. As the backup to a bona fide starter, getting the nod 26 percent of the time is normal. However, Howard has floundered a bit, putting Detroit in a predicament.
The backup is responsible for providing quality relief, but Detroit was forced to utilize a third option (Mrazek) to start on eight occasions over the past two seasons. This writer thinks that a one-year deal for a backup is the route to go, but neither Gustavsson nor Mrazek is the answer for 2014-15.
Among free-agent goaltenders, Ray Emery and Thomas Greiss would be intriguing options after decent seasons in Philadelphia and Phoenix respectively.
A fascinating possibility—and admittedly a long shot—would be 37-year-old Tomas Vokoun. He missed all of 2013-14 following surgery to dissolve blood clots in his leg, but served as the third goaltender on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ postseason roster.
The scenario is not realistic, as Detroit will probably play it safe and sign Gustavsson, but Vokoun would be a curious consideration.
After serving as a backup in both San Jose and Phoenix, 28-year-old Thomas Greiss is likely in search of a starting opportunity. He went 10-8-5 with a 2.29 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and two shutouts for the Coyotes last season.
Ray Emery would be a good acquisition. He can receive a salary similar to Gustavsson’s $1.5 million last year, and has proven capable of steering the ship when called upon.
At 31 years old, he’s a quality athlete with good fundamentals and steady reflexes who could absorb some of Howard’s workload.
Skilled Winger for Top Line
Detroit’s top two lines are counted on to provide the majority of the team’s offense, and a scoring winger would make it even more formidable.
That situation rests solely in the hands of Daniel Alfredsson.
The 41-year-old totaled 18 goals and 49 points in 68 games last season, but currently is contemplating his hockey future. If he returns, he’s likely to see time on one of Detroit’s top lines.
Should he choose to hang them up, the Red Wings will need a winger on the top line who can provide more scoring than Justin Abdelkader.
While he has performed admirably for his skill set, he’d be better served in a bottom-six grinding role rather than alongside Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
Among the internal options, Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar have proven scoring ability, but lack significant size and grit. Nyquist will likely flank the second line, while Tatar might stay put on the third.
The Red Wings are built for speed and skill, not size and physicality. Adding that extra bit could provide the extra element, and in free agency, Dustin Penner fits that mold.
At 6’4”, 247 pounds he adds physicality with a scoring touch that Detroit hoped for from Todd Bertuzzi. Between Anaheim and Washington, Penner totaled 14 goals and 35 points in 67 games, but stood out with a responsible plus-25.
He made $2 million last season and could be had for a similar price; a good bargain considering Detroit’s ample cap space.
Detroit likes the element Abdelkader adds to the top line, but upgrading to a guy like Penner who can play a similar game with additional offensive prowess is a captivating idea.
Bottom Six Enforcer
With 23 consecutive playoff appearances, the Red Wings have proven time and time again that an enforcer is not a necessity in their lineup.
After losing four straight on their way to a first-round exit at the hands of the Boston Bruins, Detroit went home knowing it was physically knocked off its game.
In Detroit’s most recent Stanley Cup titles, players like Dallas Drake, Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby and Joe Kocur all brought a tenacious, physical presence.
Detroit signed Jordin Tootoo to fill that void, but they have not had a player effectively man that role in some time.
While the free-agent wire is not exactly lined with physical role players, forwards Steve Ott, Brian Boyle and Mike Rupp are fitting candidates.
Ott would be a tremendous faceoff asset, but Detroit is happy with Darren Helm, Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening as depth options at center.
Boyle would top this writer’s wish list. Although also a center, Boyle stands 6’7” and 244 pounds, offering a good answer to division foes Zdeno Chara, Radko Gudas and Dion Phaneuf.
Mike Rupp is a stretch, but standing 6’5” and 235 pounds with 855 career penalty minutes, Detroit could use his services as a fourth line winger.
Looking within the organization, the only player who has a similar physical approach and relative size is Mitch Callahan. At 6’0” and 190 pounds, he’s not ideal, but a little time in the weight room could make him a good specimen for the role.
It would not be a priority for Detroit to acquire a depth role player, but over the course of a long season in one of the more physical divisions, the extra assistance could pay dividends.