Detroit Red Wings' Biggest Mistakes in Each of the Last 5 Offseasons
It is starting to become clear that Detroit is no longer the premier destination for high-end free agents.
Detroit failed to acquire any of the big-name players available this offseason and will have to find alternatives to improve.
As the offseason progresses, the team will explore its trade options while gaining a better understanding of the talent level in the system. Detroit may find itself better suited to promote from within rather than seek help from outside the organization.
There does appear to be a pattern developing come summer time in recent years. One big mistake in the offseason can affect more than just the upcoming season.
Over the last five years Detroit has made at least one glaring mistake in the offseason, foreshadowing future troubles over the course of the subsequent 82-game campaign.
Those mistakes range from limiting cap and roster space to overindulging in unnecessary free-agent acquisitions. Whatever the case may be, such mistakes have led to more bad than good and contributed to the most obvious of tribulations.
These are Detroit’s biggest offseason mistakes over the past five years prior to this summer.
2009: Failing to Re-Sign Marian Hossa
While it could be argued that it was a season-long issue, Detroit’s inability to commit to Marian Hossa long-term changed the course of the team’s future.
Hossa was a monster contributor for the Red Wings during the regular season, tallying 40 goals and 71 points in 74 games. Not only was he effective, but his presence helped Pavel Datsyuk crack 90 points for a second consecutive season and allowed Johan Franzen to net his only 30-goal campaign.
Not only was it the last time a Detroit player broke 30 goals, but Datsyuk, Hossa, Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg all hit the mark.
While Hossa and Franzen were both in a contract year, the Wings elected to lock up Franzen with an 11-year, $43.5 million contract first. With limited cap space available, Detroit was unable to convince Hossa to take a pay cut.
He would go on to sign a 12-year, $63.3 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks and subsequently win the Stanley Cup in 2009-10.
Since then, Detroit has not had a premier, top-line winger to complement Datsyuk or Zetterberg, nor has Franzen been able to replicate that season.
The team’s best offensive option is to pair Datsyuk and Zetterberg together, but doing so limits the team’s scoring depth. Without the added threat of Hossa, the Red Wings’ offense has not been nearly as potent.
2010: Signing Mike Modano
The thought of Mike Modano’s homecoming was exciting, but midway through the season no one in Hockeytown was dancing.
The 40-year-old veteran hails from Livonia, a western suburb of Detroit, and spent 20 seasons with the Minnesota Wild-Dallas Stars organization. As the NHL’s all-time American-born points leader, it looked like a good get on paper.
Unfortunately, Modano underwent wrist surgery in November 2010 to repair a severed tendon sustained when he was cut by a skate. He played just 40 games during the regular season and registered four goals and 15 points. He had one assist in two playoff games.
There is no doubt that his season may have been different had he not suffered the injury, but 15 points in 40 games is hardly what the team was hoping for.
His contract was very friendly (just one year for $1.75 million), but if the club was hoping he would help lead it back to the Stanley Cup Final, it was a pipe dream at best.
While he was not a detriment, he was never a factor on the ice or the scoresheet. He played just the one season with Detroit and announced his retirement following the 2010-11 campaign.
2011: Signing Ian White to Replace Brian Rafalski
Detroit was not prepared for Brian Rafalski’s retirement with one year still remaining on his contract.
Back injuries contributed to the decline in Rafalski’s health, and after failing to appear in 70 games for only the second time in his 11 seasons he chose to hang them up.
Replacing a right-handed, puck-moving defenseman of his caliber is very difficult. Detroit chose to sign Ian White to a two-year, $5.75 million deal to fill the void.
He could not.
While the first year of his deal could be considered a success, White amassed seven goals and a career-high 32 points playing alongside Nicklas Lidstrom. When Lidstrom retired, White’s deficiencies at both ends became apparent.
An injury and inconsistent play limited him to 25 games in 2012-13, and the signing of Dan DeKeyser ultimately deemed White expendable.
His criticism of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman during the league’s recent labor dispute did not sit well with the organization, either. Regarding Bettman, White told reporters, “I personally think he’s an idiot."
White's performance was simply a product of his defensive partner in his first season, and he was unable to properly represent the organization.
Detroit still has been unable to fill the void left by Rafalski’s retirement. The seven left-handed defensemen on the current roster are proof of that.
2012: No Backup Plan for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter
Detroit had an opportunity to reload its lineup with perennial All-Stars during the summer of 2012.
Ryan Suter was supposed to be the top-pair, shutdown defenseman to replace the retired Nick Lidstrom. Detroit pursued him hard, offering as much as $90 million over 13 years. Detroit presented a deal to lure Zach Parise as well.
Both players chose to sign with the Minnesota Wild instead, and Detroit was ill-equipped for rejection.
Parise, a native of Minneapolis, chose to return home. Suter, who hails from neighboring Wisconsin, followed suit. The allure of playing close to family was a significant factor in each player’s decision, leaving Detroit completely empty-handed.
The drawing board at Joe Louis Arena was seemingly blank, as the club responded by signing 35-year-old former Red Wing and Florida Panther castoff Mikael Samuelsson and the notorious pest Jordin Tootoo.
Neither player could crack Detroit’s lineup with regularity. Samuelsson totaled just four points in 30 games over two seasons, while Tootoo was the subject of Detroit’s final compliance buyout this summer.
Detroit clearly put all of its eggs in the Parise/Suter basket, and when it came up empty it was forced to do something. Unfortunately, that something turned out to be a whole lot of nothing, and the club is still feeling the effects.
On a positive note, Detroit signed Jonas Gustavsson in 2012, who in two seasons has been a reliable backup—when healthy.
2013: Overcrowding the Forward Position
The summer before the 2013-14 season was a mess for the Red Wings.
After missing out on Parise and Suter the year before, Detroit landed some big free agents in Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss. It let Valtteri Filppula test the market and refused to give in to Damien Brunner’s contract demands.
Gustav Nyquist only had two NHL games remaining before losing his waiver-exempt status, and Tomas Tatar was given every opportunity to make the roster out of camp.
Competition was healthy, but the forward position was extremely crowded with aging veterans and NHL-ready prospects. Rather than clearing space, Detroit re-signed Dan Cleary the night before training camp opened.
The glut of forwards reached 17 skaters for 14 spots and resulted in Detroit's demoting Nyquist and scratching Tatar. Injuries eventually cleared the roster space, and in due course the two became the team’s top goal scorers.
Starting in the NHL may have led to an even more magical season for Nyquist, and Tatar would have likely hit the 20-goal mark with the extra starts.
Detroit has a tendency to exercise its allegiance to veteran players before giving a prospect his break.
While it’s understandable that the team prefers its prospects overripe, its tilted balance of loyalty over opportunity may be outdated in today’s NHL.