2011 NHL Draft: 10 Offseason Moves To Help the Detroit Red Wings' Aging Defense
As a Red Wings fan, I've heard the argument made hundreds of times before that Detroit is too old to go all the way. I usually respond by listing off the young guns Detroit has worked in over the past few seasons and point to how their mix of youth and experience has served them so well over the last decade.
However, this offseason, it has become harder to find a counter point to the suggestion that the Wings have aged. While a number of young forwards have begun to assert themselves as the future of the Red Wings, it's suddenly become painfully obvious that this team needs help on the back end.
For years, Nick Lidstrom has anchored a stellar crew of defenders, but at 41, the captain's future with the team is in question. Brian Rafalski's surprise retirement, coupled with the expected departures of Ruslan Salei and Jonathan Ericsson, means that the Wings have lost half of their starters from last season.
But fear not, Wings fans; Ken Holland is one of the best in the business, and he can fill these holes when free agency begins on July 1st. Let's take a look at 10 possible acquisitions that could get the Wings back on track.
Christian Ehrhoff: Unrestricted Free Agent
Just days removed from losing the Stanley Cup, Vancouver must now begin rebuilding both their team, and their city. This offseason, the Canucks have eight unrestricted free agents, four of whom play on the blue line. Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Christian Ehrhoff and Andrew Alberts are all going to be on the market come July, and I expect Bieksa, Salo and Ehrhoff to look for a raise.
The Red wings need to add a defenseman capable of stretching the ice with long passes out of the zone as a replacement for Brian Rafalski, who was also a big contributor on the power play. Nabbing a player with experience in that area would also be a plus.
Enter Christian Ehrhoff.
Granted, it’s rare to pull a free agent (not named Hossa) from a Stanley Cup Finalist, but as was mentioned above, the Canucks have a lot of guys to sign. I expect Vancouver's offseason to be similar to that of the Blackhawks in 2010, with very talented players leaving a strong team because of the salary cap.
Ehrhoff is a young guy who can move the puck out of the zone with a long pass or with his quick feet. He has the skills to jump in on the rush, and his shot from the point will be a great addition for the second power play unit.
Looking at the numbers Ehrhoff put up in Vancouver, it is a strong possibility he could be a 15-goal, 50-point guy with the Wings.
Ehrhoff is currently making $3.1 million with Vancouver, but Detroit has the cap space to make him one of the higher-paid defensemen in the game. With the raise, and the opportunity to play for such a storied franchise, I think this is an offer he can’t refuse.
Likelihood he plays for Detroit next season: 8/10
Kevin Bieksa: Unrestricted Free Agent
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The next guy on our list is here for the same reasons I just mentioned. Vancouver has a lot of expiring contracts and they'll have to prioritize. Bieksa has already told The Vancouver Province he wouldn't mind taking a pay cut to stay in Vancouver.
However, many forget that just a year ago, it seemed as thought the Canucks were ready to deal Bieksa before losing Sami Salo to injury. If in the end they decide Ehrhoff is more important to them than Bieksa, expect the Wings to make a run at the Canadian.
While Bieksa is a little older and a little less involved offensively than Ehrhoff, he has shown he has the ability to play on a top defensive pairing for the next four to five years. Kevin's mobility allows him to skate end-to-end, and he brings a fiery style of play to the rink every night. In the end, Bieksa might actually be better defensively than Ehrhoff.
Personally, if the Wings were going to poach one of these guys away from the Canucks, I'd prefer to see it be Ehrhoff. However, Bieksa is certainly a great consolation prize. I could see him playing alongside Kronwall and fitting in just fine.
Likelihood he plays for Detroit next season: 7/10
Tomas Kaberle: Unrestricted Free Agent
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Will the real Tomas Kaberle please stand up.
In 2009-10, in 82 games with the Leafs, Kaberle posted 7 goals and 49 points.
In 2010-11, in just 58 games with Toronto, Kaberle scored 3 goals and 35 points.
In 2010-11, after being traded to Boston, Kaberle scored just 1 goal and 8 assists in 24 games.
But in the postseason, on the way to the Stanley Cup, Kaberle scored 11 points.
The Bruins may have won the cup, but I don't believe Kaberle has won over a ton of fans with his erratic play.
In trading for Kaberle, the Bruins gave Toronto their first-round pick in this year's draft, and as a result of making the Finals, next year's first-rounder as well.
Hvaing so much already invested in Kaberle, the Bruins will likely attempt to re-sign him. However, if his idea of his own value doesn't match that of the Bruins' staff, he may find himself looking for a new home for next season.
I could see Kaberle coming into Motown and flourishing by finally stepping out of the spotlight. I could just as easily see him struggling and becoming one of the few poor acquisitions in Holland's tenure.
Likelihood he plays for Detroit next season: 4/10
James Wisniewski: Unrestricted Free Agent
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James Wisniewski is a guy that the Red Wings could really use. He was named the CHL's Defenseman of the Year in 2004. Just last season, he scored 51 points (keep in mind that he spent time with the Islanders). But the reason he would be a real asset to the team is his attitude.
Wisniewski plays with a fire and toughness that would compliment the finesse of the Wings. I'm not looking for Bob Probert, but it would be nice to have somebody with some snarl out there from time to time.
Montreal is notorious for a “grass is greener” mentality (see Ribiero, Roy), and I can see them undervaluing Wiz’s contributions.
Wisniewski does have a history of making poor decisions and getting himself suspended; he got the heave for a nasty hit on Brent Seabrook as well as for making an obscene gesture to Sean Avery (who hasn't?). Still, I think he's a low risk player and would be a home run signing.
Wiz is a hometown guy, and has been productive on some bad teams. In the Red Wings' system, I would expect 15 goals and 40 assists from this guy.
Likelihood he plays for Detroit next season: 9/10
Joni Pitkanen: Unrestricted Free Agent
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Joni Pitkanen is an incredible talent who has been buried in the Eastern Conference.
In the six seasons since the lockout, Pitkanen has scored an impressive 229 points. In comparison, Rafalski had 308 over the same period. Joni has also proven he can handle 20-plus minutes of ice time per night, which will be a big plus with Lidstrom's ice time on the decline.
His skill set is similar to that of the departed Brian Rafalski, and with his best years still ahead of him (he's only 27), his addition to the Wings' roster could take the team to the next level.
Carolina GM Jim Rutherford finds himself in a difficult position this offseason, but it seems he is poised to let Pitkanen walk. In an interview last week, he was asked about the team's plans and said this to the News & Observer:
"With Pitkanen, Jokinen and LaRose, we know what their position is," Rutherford said, referring to their financial demands. "I've given our position. It does not appear we will be able to sign them."
Overall, I think this move would be a win for everyone. Pitkanen could join a team on which he would get a lot more exposure and learn from the veterans on the squad. For Detroit, his addition would mean obtaining a high-caliber defenseman just entering his prime.
The more I think about it, the more this makes sense.
Likelihood he plays for Detroit next season: 5/10
Jonathan Ericsson: Unrestricted Free Agent
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I've written about Jonathan Ericsson in previous columns, and I was surprised to see he has quite a lot of support from the Detroit fans. Don't get me wrong, I'm a believer, but he needs more time.
Let's remember, he played defense for the first time just ten years ago, and he's still young and raw (27).
Evaluating Jonathan today, I see a solid player that fits on a second defensive pairing. He's a big body with soft hands and quick feet, and he's shown he can score on occasion. This past season, he made strides in his positioning, but he still has a lot to learn.
I think the young man is close to becoming the player we all expect him to be, but I'm concerned about the salary he could command from a desperate team. If I've learned one thing as a Wings fan, it's that they don't overpay their players, and Ericsson, thought talented, is still a work in progress.
Ericsson was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings 291st overall in 2001. The Wings took Ericsson with the last pick in the draft. They gave him the opportunity that nobody else did. It was the Wings who pushed him to switch to defense, and who allowed him to grow and flourish in Grand Rapids before bringing him into the NHL.
If he decides that loyalty to Detroit is more important than an inflated contract, he'll be welcomed back in the fall with more responsibilities. If not, then we move on.
Likelihood he plays for Detroit next season: 7/10
Drew Doughty: Restricted Free Agent, Los Angeles Kings
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Just stop and think about that for a second. Drew Doughty, arguably one of the top-five defensemen in the game, is just 21 years of age. That means he could have 20 more years of great hockey ahead of him.
In three seasons in the NHL, he's already amassed 125 points and asserted himself as a Norris Trophy contender.
If the Wings decide to make a splash, and I'm talking a Shamu-sized splash, they make a play for Doughty.
It's certainly not Holland's style to go after restricted free agents, but the cost could be worth it in this case. By extending a mammoth offer sheet in the range of $65 million over ten years, he forces Los Angeles' hand. Either they sign the young man and blow their salary cap, or the Wings acquire Doughty in exchange for loads of cash and several draft picks.
With the success Detroit has had in the later rounds of the draft, jettisoning a few first-round picks for this guy doesn't seem like a bad deal. And yet, this just seems very out-of-character for a franchise with the mentality that no player is bigger than the team.
In the end, this is the least likely of all my scenarios, but man would it be fun.
Likelihood he plays for Detroit next season: 1/10
Zach Bogosian: Restricted Free Agent, Winnipeg Franchise
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Zach Bogosian is another example of a talented player buried in the Eastern Conference. As a member of the now relocated Atlanta Thrashers, Bogosian has rapidly grown into one of the league's most promising young defenseman.
Atlanta selected Bogosian third overall in the 2008 NHL draft. He's strong, fast, and has proven he knows how to utilize his size. Zach has a rare combination of physicality and finesse that would fit in with the Wings just beautifully.
Bogosian is a physical player who is not afraid to fight, but most importantly, learns from his mistakes.
I believe this kid is legit. He has the potential to be just as great as Doughty and a little less pricey.
Again, it's not the Red Wings' style to push for restricted free agents, but I think this is a can't-miss scenario. His name has been connected to Detroit on a few occasions, and Winnipeg's new franchise could benefit from the addition of established offensive threats (Hudler/Filppula) or future draft picks.
Whether it's an offer sheet or a trade, I think this has a good chance of getting done.
Likelihood he plays for Detroit next season: 6/10
Keith Yandle: Restricted Free Agent, Phoenix Coyotes
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During the Wings' first-round matchup with the Coyotes, Keith Yandle was probably the most discussed player on the ice. There was a lot of speculation that he'd be a Norris finalist, and although that wasn't the case, it doesn't take away from what was a great season.
Yandle finished 2011 with 11 goals and 48 assists. Those are stellar numbers for a defenseman, although his +/- rating of minus-five is a bit troubling.
Keith is a competitor, and he possesses a high skill level on both ends of the ice. In Phoenix, he was pushed to score points, and because of that, at times he found himself out of position.
If given the opportunity to play with guys like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, I believe Yandle could play with more confidence in the offensive zone.
Watching the tape of this guy, it's apparent that he has a gift. He has great vision on the ice, and his puck movement reflects it. If he was considered to be a Norris finalist in Phoenix, imagine what he could do in Detroit.
The fact that Yandle is a restricted free agent lessens the likelihood of this move, but if the offer sheet isn't too large, or if Phoenix is looking to dump some contracts in a trade, the Wings could steal a future star.
If this deal happens, expect 15 goals and 50 assists from this guy.
Likelihood he plays for Detroit next season: 3/10
Joseph Morrow: 2011 Draft Pick
Until the WHL playoffs, Joseph Morrow was a relative unknown. But now, after a scoring six goals and 14 assists in just 20 games this postseason, the league has begun to take note.
If the Red Wings were going to build a defenseman, he would end up looking like Morrow.
He is one of the best skaters in this year's draft class at any position, and he possesses a bomb of a shot. His positioning is solid, and he is rarely beaten one-on-one.
I've even heard the name Paul Coffey tossed around in comparison.
Morrow is a great all-around player. He's not afraid to drop the gloves, he's responsible in his own end, and he could be a huge contributor in the points department. He's a low-risk player who could be ready to contribute in a year or two.
If he falls to Detroit at No. 24, I believe he and Brendan Smith will be the defensive tandem of the future for the Detroit Red Wings.
Likelihood he plays for Detroit next season: 0/10
Likelihood he is selected in this year's draft: 9/10