Trade Rumors Will Swirl Around Detroit Red Wings If They Don't Improve, and Fast
This, as they say, is it.
As of now, the Red Wings have to decide if they're going to finish the season playing like the elite team they are on paper or, continue on being the porous, sloppy team they've been for most of 2011.
Well, having lost three of their last four games, two of them by consecutive shutouts and the last so horrifically bad their own fans booed them off the ice, the Red Wings can't really play any worse.
If they maintain the status quo, the tailspin they've been in could only be the start of what could be the crash and burn of their season.
However, if they've decided enough is enough, and dedicate themselves to playing up to their potential, well, this last stretch of putrid play may just go down as the pivot-point that turned their season around.
The Red Wings have long been considered a defensively astute team, but they've been anything but of late.
Through February, the Wings have gone 2-3-0 and have been outscored 17-11 during that stretch.
However, giving up goals in bunches is hardly a new phenomenon in Motown. After ending the month of November with the best goal-differential in the league (+18), the Wings finished out 2010 by being outscored 36-35 through the month of January.
What's more, and this really isn't easy to write, Nicklas Lidstrom is minus-4.
Now, that doesn't mean Lidstrom is a bad defenseman, and that certainly doesn't mean the Wings would ever trade him, but, as a barometer for team defense, one need look no further than the stats associated with No. 5 to see that something just ain't right in Motown.
The Wings are bad right now, let's admit it.
But, that doesn't mean they can't turn the tide.
If they do, then this stretch of bad play will be quickly forgotten.
If they don't, well, it stands to reason that more than a few trade rumors will start to swirl around the Red Wings as shaking up his team will really be the only option GM Ken Holland will have to turn their year around.
With that in mind, here's a look at the players that may finish their season in another city if they can't help turn things around in Detroit.
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Though he is currently day-to-day nursing a knee injury, Valtteri Filppula will surely be a name thrown around in trade rumors should the Red Wings continue their losing ways.
Though the 26-year-old Finnish forward is on pace for a career year, his $3 million price tag for the next two seasons could be an awfully tempting figure for Ken Holland to parlay into a gritty forward or seasoned defenseman.
With Ottawa's fire sale officially underway, bringing in a guy like Chris Neil (a player the Wings have long coveted) may not be out of the question.
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Jiri Hudler had an absolutely horrendous start to this season, despite all the faith his coach and teammates had in him when he returned to Detroit after a year away in the KHL.
But, Hudler has started turning this around of late, scoring seven points in his last 10 games.
With a $2.875 million salary, there won't be many teams lining up to deal for the diminutive Czech winger.
Still, a rebuilding team like the Islanders might be interested in acquiring a Stanley Cup winner in exchange for a defender like Radek Martinek.
In fact, Martinek is already a hotly thrown about name in the rumor mill, so, should Detroit fail to improve, a deal like this might not be out of the question.
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On the face of it, Rafalski could appear untouchable.
With 34 points and a plus-10 rating, he's been one of the more consistently strong players in Detroit this season.
That's exactly why he'd be worth a ton for a team looking to add a three-time Stanley Cup winner to their blue-line.
In fact, as the Buffalo Sabres are suddenly with in striking distance of a playoff spot, trading Jordan Leopold and a prospect, or perhaps a second-round pick, to the Wings in exchange for Rafalski might be a move worth making.
Not only could it work in the short-term, but clearing Rafalski's $6 million salary from the books and re-investing that over the summer could be an added bonus.
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Though a team and fan favorite, Dan Cleary could conceivably become expendable should Detroit enter full-panic mode.
Cleary was set to have a break-out year this season before being sidelined for over a month with a fractured ankle.
His versatility, tenacity and scoring upside contributed heavily to Detroit's 2008 Stanley Cup win and could do the same for another team looking to emerge into a champion this year.
As they're a team currently lacking in championship experience, the Washington Capitals might consider adding Cleary to their roster in exchange for Brooks Laich.
But Remember, None Of This Has To Happen
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Hopefully you've gotten this far without banging away in disgust at your keyboard to tell me just how stupid this kind of talk is.
Remember, these are the scenarios that might play out if Detroit continues to play losing hockey.
None of these players truly deserve to go.
However, should their team fail to, well, stop failing, they could fetch a good return in what would be an attempt by Ken Holland to right what would be a sinking ship.
Are the Red Wings capable of turning things around?
You're damn right they are, hell, this team could win a Cup if they played to their potential.
But, now is the time to convince their GM, their fans and themselves that such a thing is possible.
If they can't, then you can bet you'll start to see the Red Wings at the center of more than their fair-share of trade rumors included in which, could very well be some of the preceding players.
Here's hoping none of this ever happens.