NHL: The 10 Biggest Questions Facing the Detroit Red Wings This Summer
So, here we are again, unfortunately.
In the end, fans could take some comfort in the notion that the Red Wings really did everything but win that series.
Coming back from 0-3 was thrilling enough, but the fact that each of those games could have gone either way, and that the Wings emptied their tank in Game 7, should convince most that, as far as passion and determination goes, the Wings don' t have much work ahead of them in that department.
However, when it comes to personnel and moves to be made going forward, there's a bevy of questions facing the squad and the answers are likely to be slow in coming.
With their front-office team of GM Ken Holland and Assistant GM Jim Nill more or less ensconced, head coach Mike Babcock securely under contract and a core of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen to build around, the Wings are better off than most teams in the NHL.
Still, there are some major pieces that could end up falling away this summer, and figuring out how to put new ones into place is going to keep the Wings brass busy for the majority of the offseason.
There's many questions surrounding the Red Wings at this point, here's 10 of the biggest.
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Will He or Won't He?
Just like last summer, the biggest question to be answered in Detroit is whether or not No. 5 will appear once more on the ice, or will be headed towards the rafters of Joe Louis Arena.
There is no question that, based on his Norris Trophy-nominated season, Nick Lidstrom could return to Detroit for the 2011-12 season and still be their best defenseman.
Mike Babacock wisely began reducing Lidstrom's ice time this season and gave greater responsibility to Niklas Kronwall; a move both smart and affective to this point.
This strategy could indicate that the Wings want to limit the wear and tear on their legendary blueliner in hopes he'll be even more able to stay on another year; or, they're simply trying to wean themselves off the habit of relying on him to be their No. 1 defender year in and year out.
Honestly, it's probably a bit of both.
Lidstrom will take the time he needs to decide his future, but won't drag the situation on beyond what is necessary. My guess is he'll inform Ken Holland of his plans prior to the July 1 free agent deadline.
There's no telling what those plans will be, but there's no question the Wings are praying he decides to stay on for one more year.
Is This Finally the End of the Line for the Grind Line?
When Kirk Maltby retired last summer, he left Kris Draper as the only active member of Detroit's legendary "Grind Line."
Now that Draper has played out the final year of his contract, it could very well be the case that he will follow suit and hang up the skates for good.
While Draper's age has very obviously caught up with him, it wouldn't be out of the question to see the guy play yet another year.
His speed and faceoff prowess are still useful assets, if only used in a limited, every-other-night type of capacity.
Seeing Kris Draper end his career would be bittersweet, as he's meant so much to the organization and its fans in his 18-year tenure with the club.
Still, there are younger and faster versions of Kris Draper (read: Darren Helm) already looking to take his spot and that, more than anything else, may lead him to conclude now is the time to put an end to his amazingly successful career.
Will the Wizard of Oz Disappear?
There are some fans in Hockeytown that will almost undoubtedly applaud the news that Chris Osgood has decided to retire and will no longer be in net for the Detroit Red Wings.
Whether than news come this summer, is anyone's guess.
Perhaps one of the most polarizing Red Wings of all time, Chris Osgood is known as much for back-stopping two Stanley Cup championships as he is for letting in goals in a manner and time that defy explanation.
For my part, I have been and always will be a Chris Osgood fan.
He's done far more good for the team than bad.
However, whether or not he can actually continue to contribute in any meaningful way to the Detroit Red Wings, at least on the ice, is doubtful given his recent injury history and advancing age.
Along with Nick Lidstrom and Kris Draper, Osgood may in fact contribute to the close of a fantastic era in Red Wings history by deciding to retire over the summer.
Then again, he may seek another contract with Detroit.
If so, fans could be slapping their heads in disgust or applauding with approval should Ken Holland decide to oblige him.
Jiri Hudler...Anyone? Anyone?
It was supposed to be a triumphant return, a valuable offensive addition, maybe even the addition of a secret weapon. It was none of these things.
The return of Jiri Hudler to the Detroit Red Wings after a year in the KHL was a much lauded addition to the Red Wings' roster last summer, as he seemed ready to at least pick up where he left off, pitching in 50-plus points and adding a dangerous element to the power-play.
After 20 games, it was clear this wasn't going to be the case. After 40 games, one wondered if waiving him would be better than playing him. After 80 games, he was more or less a spare part.
Then, in Game 7, one of the most critical games in recent Red Wings' history, Hudler plopped the final turd in the punchbowl of his season by taking out teammate Dan Cleary with what would almost certainly been deemed a blind-side hit had he been playing for the opposition.
With the depth and youth the Wings have in Grand Rapids, keeping Hudler and his $2.85 million salary on the roster next season seems downright stupid.
Holland may very well try to find a trade partner (a skate sharpener coming the other way should suffice) for the diminishing, diminutive forward.
If not, going the waiver route may be just as prudent.
Either way, Hudler shouldn't get too comfortable.
How Much Youth Will We See on the Blueline Next Season?
Should Lidstrom retire and Ruslan Salei be shown the door in Detroit (I am so sure of the latter I didn't even bother to include it in this list), the Red Wings will have two spots to fill on their blueline.
One will almost assuredly be filled by Jakub Kindl, who spent this season as the team's seventh defender, with the latter half of his season being far better than the first.
Should the Wings seek additional youth on the blueline (a move uncharacteristic of this veteran-loving organization), they may decide to give Brendan Smith a shot at the bigs.
At some point, Smith will be a Detroit Red Wing blueliner, and his talent suggests he'll be one for the ages.
However, it may still be a year or two before we see this happen.
Putting green youngsters on the back-end is not at all the norm in Detroit; however, depending on what options the Wings can find via free agency, they may go this route if need be.
In the end, it may not actually be that bad of a move.
Wait, did I say there could be two holes on the blueline?
There actually could be three...
Is Jonathan Ericsson Hitting the Open Market, or Staying Home?
His 15 points and plus-eight rating in 74 games this season was probably about half of what the team hoped he'd contribute on the stat sheet; however, his decision making and position was far better than it was in his somewhat disastrous sophomore season in 2009-10.
His 6' 4" frame is one Mike Babcock was hoping he'd use in a punishing kind of way this season; however, he largely avoided the physical play that could have greatly enhanced his value to the team.
Ericsson finished with three points and a minus-two rating in the playoffs—not exactly endearing numbers.
However, given his size and improved play this season, Detroit could do worse than to sign him to stay on a few more years.
Ericsson's $900,000 salary will need to be increased in order to keep him, but how much that number should rise is going to be a long considered decision.
Honestly, anything over $2 million per year would be an overpayment for Ericsson's services in Detroit.
But, given his size and tenure with one of the most respected organizations in the NHL, he may well find more than a few teams willing to overpay to get him on their squad.
The Other Guys: Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves
To my mind, there's not much to talk about here.
Re-signing Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves should be a high priority for Ken Holland this summer.
They are essentially replacing Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby as Detroit's premier penalty-killing duo and their offensive upside only enhances their value to the team.
The problem is—and I'm probably not the only person to notice this—with both players are entering unrestricted free agency, their services may be in high demand over the summer.
Both of these guys are worth $1 million-plus to re-sign; hopefully, that will be enough to get the deals done.
Jimmy Howard Is No. 1, but Who Will Be No. 2 in Net?
Should Chris Osgood retire or test free agency, the question of who will back-up Jimmy Howard next season will be one of the larger, and more important ones to answer before October.
Current backup Joey MacDonald could be a good option; however, the Wings may find him more valuable returning to Grand Rapids as a mentor for youngsters like Daniel Larsson and Thomas McCollum, doubling as a veteran, third-string net option as he did this season.
With the likes of Jose Theodore, Ty Conklin and Alex Auld hitting the market this summer, there won't be a shortage of affordable, experienced, backup goalies available.
As Conklin fit the Wings like a glove in his single season with the club in 2008-09, he may be the best of the bunch should St. Louis decide to cut him loose.
Is This Really How Mike Modano Will End His Career?
What a shame this season turned out to be for Mike Modano.
Early struggles in adapting to a new system coupled with a devastating wrist injury essentially ended his and Detroit's dreams of ending his career in storybook fashion.
All signs point to Modano doing what he should have done last summer, ending one of the most fantastic careers in NHL history.
Still, the lost opportunity to end his career on his own terms may cause Modano to re-think what seems to be a no-brainer decision.
If Modano does want one more kick at the can, Ken Holland will do well to shake his hand and wish him well. Signing him one more time would be less than sensible.
Will Detroit Feel the Need to Make a Big Splash?
So, let's say Detroit loses Lidstrom and Ericsson along with the sure-to-be gone Salei, they will have both the need and the means to bring in a top-dollar blueliner to fill one of those three spots.
Without a doubt, the biggest "get" via free agency would be Shea Weber.
The only thing is, he's a restricted free agent, so the move Detroit, or any other team besides Nashville, decides to make to acquire him will be a tricky operation to say the least.
Still, it is not inconceivable that Detroit could sign a player like Weber to a large offer sheet. Now, Nashville would almost certainly be able to match any offer Detroit would give him, making Weber a long-shot option at best.
Additionally, given Nashville's step forward in the postseason, Weber may be more inclined to sign on as a Nashville-lifer than be on the lookout for offer sheets coming his way.
Be it Weber or some other high-profile free agent, the Wings may be in a position to make a big splash over the summer.
How big and what kind of splash will be one of the more anticipated answers forthcoming this offseason in Detroit.