"We can't keep everybody."
Now, I heard that phrase escape Red Wings GM Ken Holland's lips about 56,874 times last season.
Facing the impossible task of extending Marian Hossa's one-year, $7.45 million contract, and also giving raises to guys like Mikael Samuelsson, Jiri Hudler, and Ty Conklin; Holland made it clear that fans should not expect to see all of these names back for the 2009-10 season.
Little did we (or Holland for that matter) know that none of these players would be back in 2009-10, but still, the mass exodus that was the Summer of 2009 in Detroit was simply the result of the Red Wings hitting their collective head against the salary cap.
This offseason, things are a bit different.
Instead of asserting that there are players they can't keep, Holland has made it clear that there are some they won't keep.
The Red Wings have roughly $14 million in salary coming off the books this summer and while much of this is earmarked for re-investment (most notably, Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom and several restricted free-agents), Holland will have a significant amount of spending money between now and next season.
That being the case, the Red Wings have made it clear that none of it will be spent on Brad May, Brett Lebda, or Jason Williams.
All three players are unrestricted free-agents this summer and all face no small amount of uncertainty as they decide what to do with their careers.
Brad May was brought in early in the season to, as head coach Mike Babcock puts it, "keep the flies off" Detroit's star players.
At 38, the aging pugilist, wasn't expected to do much other than drop the gloves from time to time and be a physical force in the corners.
May barely met those decidedly low expectations.
He did engage in fights often enough (he had 66 penalty minutes in 40 games), the problem was, he lost most of them.
May's one point with the Wings was an assist, though, he did score one goal against the Dallas Stars that was inexplicably called back by perhaps the worst officiating performance of the entire 2009-10 season .
Though May made the league minimum, $500k, this season, even that relatively minor investment is too much for a player that should call it a career.
May has stopped short of making that decision to this point, but his value to any other NHL team is next to nil at this point.
Still, the pugnacity that has defined his style of play for 17 seasons in the NHL may drive him towards a decision to find another NHL home in 2010-11.
The case with Detroit's other two castoffs, Brett Lebda and Jason Williams isn't so cut and dry.
Originally signed by Detroit as an undrafted free-agent in July of 2004, the year of the NHL lockout, Lebda's first game as a Red Wing didn't come until the 2005-06 season.
That first game yielded high-hopes for the small, but mobile defenseman as he scored a goal in his first shift as an NHL pro against the St. Louis Blues.
Though only 5'9", 185 lbs. and anything but physical, the Red Wings hoped Lebda would develop into a speedy, offensively adept defenseman.
Someone that could play the point on the second power-play unit and beat onrushing forwards to lose pucks in the defensive zone.
After four seasons with the Wings, which did include a Stanley Cup win in 2008, Lebda has had ample opportunity to emerge as a legitimate top four defender yet has proven to be nothing more than a six or seventh.
With all the emphasis now on mobile defensemen, one would think that Lebda's speed would prove to be an attractive addition to almost any team.
However, as Red Wings fans can testify, getting to the puck doesn't mean you'll hang onto it.
Lebda's lack of strength on the puck and tendency to get rattled by aggressive fore-checkers has severely limited his value to the Red Wings and are tendencies that are sure to play against him in landing a new NHL contract.
As Lebda already has a Stanley Cup ring, it wouldn't be surprising to see him try his luck in the KHL next season, as even minimally effective NHL players are capable of landing million dollar contracts in Russia.
This bring us to Jason Williams.
If there ever was a player who would surely benefit, professionally and financially, from a move to the KHL, Williams is it.
Though Williams' second stint with the Red Wings (he played for them from 2000-2007), was dampened by a badly broken leg which cost the forward 38 games, the 44 games he did play didn't exactly make his absence that much more noticeable.
Finishing the season with six goals, nine assists and a minus-seven rating, was so underwhelming to Mike Babcock, with whom Williams goes back all the way to his minor league days in Cincinnati, that the notoriously unsentimental coach benched Williams after just three playoff games.
Aside from a breakout year in Detroit in 2005-06 which saw him finish with 58 points, Williams has never really made his mark in the NHL despite being given ample opportunity to do so with Chicago, Atlanta and Columbus.
As an eight year NHL veteran, with just one good season on his resume, Williams may not have much more to offer the NHL, but could prove attractive to a KHL team looking to add veteran NHL players to their roster.
Still, a contract of any kind is anything but certain for the once promising, now marginally effective forward.
That the Detroit Red Wings will be waiving goodbye to Brad May, Brett Lebda, and Jason Williams is all but certain.
However, for different reasons, their collective futures are anything but.
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