Free agency is going to be a very interesting time for the Detroit Red Wings in 2011. In seasons past the key has been to lock up key players to long-term contracts. Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen were all the recipients of long-term, heavy contracts.
Obviously the twist that makes the upcoming offseason interesting for Detroit is Nick Lidstrom. Should he decide to retire, it will suddenly free up a massive amount of cap space for the Red Wings.
Should he decide to finally end his illustrious career the Red Wings will have over $12 million to spend on free agents, with all but five roster positions covered by players currently under contract (this number of dollars is also assuming that Kris Draper retires as well.)
To put the power of $12 million in proper context, that is what Datsyuk and Zetterberg will be making together next year.
When broken down, the team needs two forwards, two blueliners and one backup goaltender.
Detroit has several young skaters coming up the pipeline that should be able to finally crack the lineup, and who fans should be legitimately excited about. Tomas Tatar should be able to find a spot on the team despite his designation as a left winger, and lack of size (5'9'', 175 pounds). He is wicked fast, has outstanding vision and anyone who remembers his play in the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship will know why he is so highly touted.
Jan Mursak was impressive and noticeable in his stints for the Red Wings as well, but is also slotted on the left side. He is very tenacious in his puck pursuit, is tough down low and also has decent hands and good vision.
The competition for the few available roster positions throughout training camp is going to be a major story line for the Wings this summer. Also in the picture are center and Hobey Baker award runner-up Gustav Nyquist and the younger Landon Ferraro.
For the sake of this examination I am going to assume that Tatar ends up making the Red Wings lineup full-time, leaving one forward slot open. He's also the most expensive option to come up from the minors, so if another player makes the team it will just mean more money.
A lot of people in the hockey world, including myself, think that Brendan Smith (linked video has questionable language in the song...if you don't like cursing mute it and marvel) is ready to step up and play in the big league next year. I think he's going to make it, and want him to. So we'll assume his cap hit as well.
Jakub Kindl could also get the call from the Red Wings as mostly everyone in the organization is very high on him as well.
We'll slot at least one of them in the third pairing as a sizable upgrade over the dutiful Ruslan Salei.
Detroit has a few goaltenders in the system right now, and could look to Joey MacDonald to back up Howard so that their prospects (McCollum and Jordan Pearce) can log substantial playing time.
But I think they will go the UFA route in net and sign a proven backup, while continuing to allow MacDonald to season in the minors.
This scenario leaves Detroit with three open positions—one forward, one defenseman and one backup goaltender. And it also leaves the Wings with just shy of $11 million to spend across the board. Nice.
Now for the fun stuff. With all this in mind, here are the seven players the Wings should seriously consider signing to the lineup for the upcoming season.