The Detroit Red Wings are currently beefing up for their 20th consecutive trip to the playoffs, having clinched the Central Division title yet again. However, despite having what the rest of the NHL would call a very successful season, the Red Wings have managed only 102 points so far this year and sit third in the West, very different from their usual first or second that they usually sit in.
(Keep in mind, however, this is also an improvement from last year which saw them finish in fourth in the West due to Chicago winning the division.)
Even though their form going into these playoffs hasn't exactly been sparkling (getting blown out 10-3 by a mediocre St. Louis squad isn't too encouraging), the Wings will likely have a pretty deep playoff run and be a pretty serious contender for the Stanley Cup.
Their lineup is aging however. Nick Lidstrom, despite putting up an amazing 62 points this season, is nearly 41 years old. Mike Modano is 40, Kris Draper is 39, Tomas Holmstrom and Chris Osgood are 38, Brian Rafalski is 37, and Todd Bertuzzi and Ruslan Salei are both 36. In total, the Red Wings have 14 players over the age of 30 and none younger than 24.
This brings up a problem for Detroit. With so many aged veterans, there's really no telling when one of them might decide to hang up their skates and call it quits on their career. With this in mind, who do the Red Wings target to keep their core of experienced veterans intact while still filling in the shoes of those who potentially might depart?
Here are 15 free agents who I think the Wings should target this summer to both maintain their team philosophy while putting together a very strong contender.
Scottie Upshall had a breakout campaign in 2009-10 when he scored 18 goals for the very defensively-minded Coyotes, playing a large part of the Coyotes' run to their first playoff appearance since the pre-lockout era. His production has slowed however this season, and his 27 points at the trade deadline saw him dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
However, Upshall has proven he's got some scoring potential. At the age of 27, he's been around the league for a little while and could make a great addition to the Wings' third or fourth lines. He's quick, has a sharp shot and the experience that Detroit could be looking for. Additionally, he could come at the right price, only pulling in $2.25 million this year.
After three mostly-unproductive seasons with the Red Wings, Kopecky left as a free agent to join the Chicago Blackhawks, where he has really come into his element. In his last year with the Wings, he scored only 19 points. So far this season, he has 41. The Red Wings would no doubt love this improvement to be in their lineup generating points as a second or third-line winger.
Currently in the final year of his contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, Kopecky will be unrestricted this July 1, and I think it's very likely that the front office in Detroit will be eager to try to lure the Slovakian-born winger back to the Motor City. At a very reasonable $1.2 million cap it, the 29-year-old could easily have a target on his back.
The Finnish-born winger is having a stellar year on a Carolina Hurricanes team that looks like it's going to come up just short in the race for the playoffs. Despite having played only 67 games this year, he's tallied a very respectable 18 goals and 50 points as well as a plus-four rating.
At the age of 28, Jokinen will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and might be getting some serious looks from the Detroit front office. He's shown he's a very complete player, he's got some stellar skills with the puck but can also play the gritty shifts and win battles along the boards. He's got a definite edge to his game, which perhaps is something Detroit could use in its lineup.
Plus, he's got a long time left in him, making him an ideal target for the Wings, who could possibly lock him up for the entirety of his prime, which he's just coming into.
Could the American-born winger follow in his former teammate's footsteps and leave Dallas for Detroit this offseason? This author thinks possibly. Langenbrunner was traded back to the Stars this season from the New Jersey Devils, who were slumping badly. Since coming over from the Devils, however, Langenbrunner's numbers haven't jumped much. In 35 games back in Dallas, he's only notched 18 points, only four more than he scored in 31 games with New Jersey.
The 35-year-old may not be re-signed by Dallas this summer, leaving him to find work elsewhere. Detroit could be the ideal place. Langenbrunner would be reunited with Mike Modano, who he played well with earlier in his career, and the possibility of this chemistry returning is something that has to be in the back of the minds of the Red Wings.
Michal Handzus has been solid for the Los Angeles Kings this year, but has not lived up to his paycheck. In 79 games, Handzus has only 12 goals and 30 points, which in the eyes of many is not worth it for his $4 million cap hit. LA didn't decide to trade him away at the trade deadline, but it would honestly surprise me if the Kings offered him a new contract this summer.
The Red Wings have a tendency to draw a lot of high-quality veteran talent and then getting the absolute best production they can out of it, and I'm thinking they might be interested in doing so with Handzus. He's proven that he can be extremely successful (with a career high of 58 points), and even this year with LA, he's shown he's got a flair for the dramatic, scoring goals in crucial situations. The Red Wings might be very interested in these qualities, and the 34-year-old could be a good offseason pickup for them.
Andrew Brunette has been one of the few bright spots on the season for the Minnesota Wild. At the age of 38, Brunette has 17 goals and 43 points, fourth on the squad. He's a true grizzled veteran and plays just about every single game, having not played less than 77 games in a season since the 1997-98 season.
Now entering the twilight years of his career, Brunette still doesn't have a Stanley Cup ring. In fact he's gone no further than the Western Conference Finals (in 2003 when the Wild were swept by Anaheim). Despite his age, Brunette has proven he can still be deadly on the ice, and Detroit could be a place for him. Surrounded by other grizzled veterans with the same drive for a Stanley Cup, Brunette could see his numbers jump significantly again, making him a very appealing candidate for the Wings, perhaps on a one-year contract.
Vaclav Prospal, listed on NHL.com as "Vinny," is an interesting player in that while he has had seasons of brilliance, it seems like he really hasn't found a solid home anywhere outside of the Tampa Bay Lightning. In fact, four of his five best seasons for point production have all come in one of his three tours with the Bolts. While he had a great year last season with the Rangers, scoring 20 goals and 58 points, this season has been a bit more disappointing as he only has 21 points due to missing 53 games with an injury.
The Czech-born center is experienced and skilled though and would make a great veteran presence in the Detroit locker room. With a proven scoring talent, he'd be a great depth move for Ken Holland and someone to lead a line alongside "youngsters" like Drew Miller and Justin Abdelkader.
Additionally he's a pretty good faceoff man, clicking at just under 55 percent this season. Like many players, he's getting into the twilight years of his career without a Stanley Cup championship, and his best shot might be a move to Motor City.
This was probably the sketchiest selection I had to make for this list as Frolov is a bit of an enigma. Despite showing the potential of being a perennial 25-30 goal scorer, Frolov's career has been marred by seasons of sheer brilliance being followed by seasons of drastic underachievement. He's broken the 50-point barrier in five of his eight seasons in the NHL, but he's only scored more than 25 goals twice.
In this, his first year with the New York Rangers, Frolov hasn't been a great fit, having only 16 points in 43 games with the Blueshirts. I don't expect New York to re-sign him this offseason, leaving him to find work elsewhere in the NHL, and Detroit might be a great place for him. On a team loaded so heavily with European talent, Frolov might find his perfect fit alongside fellow Russian Pavel Datsyuk or Swedes Henrik Zetterberg or Tomas Holmstrom.
Despite taking part in two of the last four Stanley Cup Finals, Sean O'Donnell to this day continues to be a highly underrated defensive juggernaut. A veteran of over 1,100 NHL games, O'Donnell is experienced in both the regular season and the playoffs, is a solid leader on the blue line and can add significant depth to any defense he has a place on.
This would be a fantastic move for the Red Wings as he would make a great defensive partner for a veteran like Brian Rafalski, or a maturing young player like Jonathan Ericsson. He's smart, talented and can really rattle your bones if you come anywhere near him with the puck. His plus-eight rating also serves as a testament for how strong his play is as well, keeping the puck out of his own net and supporting his offense up the ice.
Ville Leino is a guy who the Red Wings probably wish they could have back. This July, they very easily could have that chance. After playing 55 games across two seasons and scoring 16 points for the Red Wings, Leino was traded to Philadelphia. He's made that move look quite ridiculous this season, shooting off like a rocket, scoring 52 points so far and sitting just one goal shy of a 20-goal season.
Now aged 27 years, Leino is just coming into the prime of his career, and what better time to lock someone down than right now? The price would definitely be right, as he's only making $800,000 this season (even with a hefty pay raise, his contract would still be lower than much of the Red Wings team), and he could be sealed up long term as a great offensive weapon that's only going to get better in the near future.
Bleanger has had a resurgence year in Phoenix this season, being a large part that the Coyotes are on the verge of securing their second straight appearance in the playoffs. His 38 points are fifth on the team and his 55.2 percent in the faceoff circle is nothing to scoff at. Additionally, at the age of 33, Belanger is making only $750,000, meaning he's definitely coming for a bargain.
If Detroit decides to make a move for a depth center, Belanger could be its man. He's got the ability to score goals as well as set them up (as demonstrated by his 25 assists), and he gets the job done defensively as well, sporting a respectable plus-nine rating. He'd be a great fit alongside some of the "younger" forwards on the Detroit roster to make a solid third or fourth scoring unit.
PS: I just can't resist pointing this out. Go to Eric Belanger's NHL.com profile to find out where Barry Trotz's neck went.
Without question, the biggest free agent for the Phoenix Coyotes this summer is veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski. Despite being only 34 years old, the man they call "Jovo" in the Arizona desert is a veteran of over 1,000 NHL games, and has stats that just about any defenseman in the NHL would be proud of.
He's not known for scoring, unlike his teammate Keith Yandle, yet Jovanovksi's offensive stats would make just about any defenseman in the NHL jealous. He's broken the 10-goal barrier six times in his lengthy career, and has registered at least 18 assists in four of his last five seasons (sadly, a streak he's well on pace to break this year).
If Detroit wanted to add a veteran to its blueline, Jovanovski is about as good of a free agent as it could ask for. He's experienced, a recognized leader and is definitely Stanley Cup hungry, losing in his only trip to the Cup Final in 1996 to the Avalanche (with the Florida Panthers). He may be approaching the end of his storied career, but Jovanovski likely has at least another couple years left in him, years that the Red Wings would be wise to secure in their lineup.
Alexei Kovalev is a true veteran of the NHL. When he took to the ice for Pittsburgh's game against the New Jersey Devils tonight, Kovalev played the 1,300th game in a career that has spanned 19 seasons. Since entering the NHL way back in the 1992-93 season, Kovalev has proven to be an electric player, lighting the lamp with some absolutely brilliant displays of skill. His production this year has trailed off however, as his 27 points in 54 games with the hapless Senators saw him traded away to Pittsburgh in a pre-emptive salary dump move.
Now in his second stint with the Penguins, Kovalev still hasn't been able to pick up his former scoring touch, having just five points in 17 games. He's likely just a rental player for the Penguins to provide some offensive depth for their playoff run that will be without the services of superstar Evgeni Malkin. When he's looking for work this summer, Detroit might want to give him a call to provide some experienced offensive depth to go alongside its already proven scorers in the lineup.
If a picture is worth a thousand words...then this is a pretty accurate description of Kevin Bieksa. He's tough, talented and can really get the job done defensively. The Canucks will likely be unable to re-sign him due to cap restrictions this summer, but the Ontario native will make a fantastic top-four defenseman on just about any team in the NHL next year. And if that was enough motivation, his sparkling plus-31 rating is third-best in the league this season.
It kind of goes without saying that Bieksa will be one of the most sought-after free agent defensemen this July, and with so many teams likely pushing a contract offer his way, the Red Wings can hopefully lock the 29-year-old down with the allure of a possible Stanley Cup championship (something he very likely might get this June with the red-hot Canucks) and the talent of guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg playing in front of him every night.
Over the course of his long and heralded career, Jason Arnott has been a guy who players love to play with and who opponents absolutely hate to play against. He's a solid leader on the ice, and definitely has the offensive talent to burn you if you leave him alone. In fact, Arnott's most recent goal, the overtime winner in Washington's win over Columbus, was the 400th tally of his career.
The Devils traded Arnott away at the trade deadline this past February after two relatively slow years with lowered production. Though he does appear to have found a niche in the Capitals lineup, Washington will likely not re-sign him this summer, leaving the 36-year-old to find work elsewhere.
With his abundance of experience, proven offensive talent and tested reliability, Ken Holland wouldn't be making a bad move by giving him a call on July 1st. He'd be a great pickup for a depth center in Detroit, and would go great with a guy like Holmstrom or Franzen on his line.