The Detroit Red Wings have now gone back-to-back seasons with losing in the second round of the playoffs. While in most cities this would not be that big of a deal, the standards in Hockeytown are a bit higher.
The Wings still have one of the most talented teams in the NHL and will likely be among the top couple of Stanley Cup favorites entering next season.
Here are the moves that the team needs to make to ensure that they will be raising the Cup yet again next spring.
Detroit has had a historically stout defense which consistently ranks in the top 10. This year, however, they plummeted down to 23rd. While injuries played a part in that there was also just some play that was below their usual standard.
They were dealt a surprise when Brian Rafalski decided to retire at the end of the season. That leaves a huge hole that the team needs to fill. In addition there is the annual Nicklas Lidstrom retirement watch. While it appears that he will return for one more season, until it is official, the team will be on edge.
Once Lidstrom decides his fate, the next issue will be replacing Rafalski. There are several free-agent options headed by the likes of Ed Jovanovski, Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, Joni Pitkanen and Thomas Kaberle. They have $6 million freed up in cap space, so they must decide if they want to fill that hole with one big player or two players.
Regardless of which way they decide to go they need to invest well in their defense. If Lidstrom does return it will likely only be for one more year so whomever the sign they need to be thinking long-term.
The Wings currently have nobody signed to back up Jimmy Howard. Howard didn’t have as good of a regular season as he did last year, but in the playoffs he stepped it up and seems to have won the faith of the fans.
Now the team needs to look to strengthen the backup position, in part to spell Howard more throughout the season. Joey MacDonald is a career backup journeyman. When forced into immediate action due to ineffectiveness or injury he would play well. If he knew he was starting, his numbers were not good.
Many look at his GAA of 2.58 and think that he had a good season. But a closer look shows that those numbers are boosted by his play when he came in for relief of the starter. If only looking at his starts then his GAA shoots up to over 3.2. While not the worst option, they should try to secure another goalie.
The big question is Chris Osgood. Does he have one more year left in him? How well has he healed from the surgery that robbed him of most of the season? If he is healed, then he would be a cheap, effective backup. He not only could spell Howard as needed but can also continue his role as mentor for Howard and that they be where he can help the team the most.
The Wing do not have anyone NHL ready in the minors to step up so if it is not Osgood, then they will have to look at the free-agent market.
Booth newspapers have reported that Ericsson has already turned down a $2 million a season offer, which is a jump from the $1.25 million he made this season. He has not been the player the Wings had envisioned. Unless he agreed to lower last year’s salary, he is not worth signing and certainly not at double or more, which is what he is looking for.
He first received major playing time during the 2008-09 playoffs and really played well. Since then, however, he hasn’t been the force that he showed during those first playoffs. In fact in those 22 playoff games he scored four goals and had a plus/minus rating of plus-nine. In two full seasons since then, he has only plus-six and has eight goals. It seems that he made a career out of one playoff run.
He doesn’t use his size and just seems to bump into players instead of playing a more physical game. While still only 27, it appears the '09 playoff run was a fluke. With the need to replace Rafalski now and Lidstrom soon the Wings need to find better defensemen.
Helm is a one-man wrecking crew on the ice He is one of the fastest players in the NHL and is great at stealing the puck. He is a huge asset on the penalty kill as he often steals the puck and forces a shorthanded chance. This forced a power-play unit to be less aggressive when he is on the ice as they know that he can make them pay for any slip up. He does need to improve on finishing his shorthanded plays but with more ice time he will easily be a league leader in shorthanded goals.
Beyond his speed and stealth, he is also not afraid to use the body and play defense. He will throw a hard check or drop to the ice to block a puck, then be racing off down the ice. Every team would love to have a player like him. He needs to be on one of the top two lines. The Wings are great at sharing the scoring load and not relying on one or two players but if given ice time, Helm could easily be in the 25-30 goal range on this team.
Jiri Hudler was a major disappointment this season. He had several long scoring droughts and was ineffective for most of the season.
At $2.75 million, he ranks just 164th in points and 250th in goals among forwards this year. For a
player who scored only 10 goals and 27 assist he is paid way too much. A player with those type
of stats can be had for closer to $1 million. That extra cash would greatly help the team not only fill the Rafalski hole but possibly lure some other players to Detroit.
He does have talent and another team would likely take a chance on him in a trade. If not, they should persuade him to head back to Europe to play. Players such as Abdelkader, Eaves and Miller all outplayed him and deserve the minutes Hudler was getting. It is time to move him.
The Wings have a strong minor league system and have several players that could make the jump next year. There will be rosters spots available, now the question is who gets to move up. Part of this will depend on if Eaves and/or Miller are able to be re-signed, which should be a top priority for the team.
Jan Mursak seems pretty safe to make the team next year. He played 19 games for the team this year and played well. He could fill the grinder role of Kris Draper and will only get better with more playing time.
Corey Emmerton is out of options so it is now or never with the Wings. He is a solid two-way player but not overly sensational in any one area. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for him, but he might help the Wings more via a package deal with Hudler in a trade. If not, he will get a chance to show what he can do and should be solid.
Jakub Kindl played in 48 games, in this, his rookie season. While he did have the usual growing pains that take place in a players first season, he also showed enough promise that the Wings will likely not bring Ruslan Salei back, which will allow Kindl to take over that sixth defenseman spot.
Brendan Smith is the big question. Many have him rated as the top Wings prospect and he did earn all rookie honors in the AHL last season. He is a scoring defenseman with some amazing skills. Many have touted him as a future dominant force in the NHL. Is he ready yet though? While very gifted, he still needs to learn the nuances of the game.
The mental part is something he still needs to grow into and develop as well. He is only 21 years old and should see a big jump this year. He will likely spend most of his time in the minors, but should get a few chances on the Wings. What he does with those chances will determine how quickly he becomes a permanent fixture on the team.
Kris Draper has made it known that he only wants to play for the Red Wings next season. If they don’t offer him a contract then he has said that he would retire as he would like to move into the front office.
Draper can still play at a good level; however, with the youth and talent on the team and in their system, it might be time to look towards the future. Still it is difficult to walk away from someone who has contributed so much to the success of the team and is still more than capable of producing. It is also hard to allow his type of experience to waste away in an office when he can still play.
Another option is to sign him to a two-way deal. Sure Draper has said that he is not interested in that, but as the season gets closer and his options dry up, then he may be more open to it. This would allow him to still be available to the team in case injuries or ineffective play dictates his return. Now, if playing the rules correctly he may not even need to report to the minors. He still practices with the Wings to stay in shape, can start doing front office duties and if needed will be ready.
Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves are a must to sign. A team always need all-out hustle players and that’s what each of these guys do. In going back to Hudler, both of these guys have similar stats to Hudler, yet even combining their salaries they still made roughly a million less than Hudler. They are great role players that will do very well and will allow the team to spend money elsewhere, while providing excellent depth.