While teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Phoenix Coyotes have made some big splashes early in the off-season, Red Wings fans shouldn’t expect the same dramatic events over the long summer months.
Wings general manager Ken Holland will spend most of this time working on re-signing some of the team's impending unrestricted and restricted free agents.
Tops on his list are UFA Brad Stuart and RFA Valtteri Filppula.
Holland, along with Mike Babcock and the entire team, would love to have Stuart under contract for the 2008-09 season.
Paired with Niklas Kronwall on the second defensive unit, “Stewie” looked far more comfortable and confident than with his previous teams where he was slotted as a top-pair defender and relied upon to supply offense from the backend.
For this to happen, Holland has stated that Stuart would have to take a pay-cut from the $3.5M he earned last year if he wanted to remain in Detroit.
For his part, Stuart has said that he loved his time in the Motor City and has a desire to stay. However, rumors are floating that his former team, the Los Angeles Kings want him back, will pay more, and give him more ice time.
Already owning a home in northern California, it’s speculated that Stuart’s decision will hinge on the well-being of his family. Wings fans shouldn’t be surprised if big No. 23 is no longer a Red Wing once free agency begins on July 1st.
Another big defender who’s without a contract is Andreas Lilja.
Lilja was a healthy playoff scratch for the majority of the first three rounds, but after Chris Chelios went down with a knee injury in the Western Conference Finals, Lilja stepped in and performed admirably. He’s already stated his desire to remain with the Wings, and Holland won’t have much trouble re-signing him.
While it’s believed that the re-signing of Lilja is contingent with Stuart’s decision, Holland has hinted that he would still consider getting Lilja under contract and going into training camp with ten NHL defensemen. Having that many defenders may pose a problem, but it’s one many managers would love to have.
If this is the case, the Wings GM has affirmed he’ll let the problem sort itself out on its own in September. If Kyle Quincy, Derek Meech, or even top-prospect Jonathan Ericsson show they’re ready for NHL action, the issue will be addressed via trades.
Speaking of Chelios, it’s almost certain he’ll return for a tenth season with the Wings. Money won’t be an issue, and the future Hall of Fame defenseman has agreed to a lesser role.
With Meech and Quincy out of minor-league options, these youngsters will benefit from Chelios’ experience and leadership much like Jiri Fischer and Brent Lebda did before them.
On the front end, Filppula will be Holland’s primary objective. He doubled his point production from last season, scoring 19 goals among his 36 points. He was also solid as the team’s second-line centerman, notching five goals and 11 points in 22 playoff contests.
Having just turned 24 in March, the Wings have big plans for the young Finnish forward and hope he can develop in the same fashion as Henrik Zetterberg.
Filppula has already made it known that he wants to stay in Detroit and money won’t be an issue. “Money won't be the main thing by any means," he's said. "Detroit has been good to me and I'm loving it there."
Look for the Wings to lock him up long-term in the $3-4 million per year range.
With forwards Dallas Drake, Aaron Downy, and Darren McCarty set to become unrestricted free agents, Holland is allowing Drake time to contemplate retirement while a decision on either McCarty or Downey isn’t expected until late this summer. It’s believed that the Wings want to carry at least one enforcer.
Checking over the Wings current salary cap balance, it looks like there is plenty of wiggle room to acquire a free agent on the open market.
However, with Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Jiri Hudler, Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby, Brent Lebda, and Nick Lidstrom all becoming free agents in the next two seasons, Holland will have to be careful of how he allocates those funds.
It’s for those reasons that fans shouldn’t expect the Wings to dive deep into the free agent pool this summer. It’s far more likely that they’ll go into the ’08-09 campaign with the players they have now and address any needs with a trade-deadline acquisition.
It might sound boring to some, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned—"If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it".