Detroit Red Wings: 5 Players Away from a Return to Lord Stanley's Cup
The Detroit Red Wings organization’s commitment to winning is not in question, but if the Wings want to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup any time soon they need to get bigger, better defensively and add depth.
Brian Rafalski's sudden retirement means that the Wings have only four defensemen currently under contract. It also means that they are in a very favorable position with respect to the salary cap. The Wings need two more defensemen.
Even though the Cleary-Filppula-Bertuzzi line only played together for a short time near the end of last season, it maximized the production and abilities of all three players. It might be the best third line in the entire NHL. The Wings would really benefit from two additional top-six forwards.
Say goodbye to the old guard. Osgood will not be back with the Wings for another season. The Wings will need a backup goaltender.
If the Wings want to reclaim the Stanley Cup next season, here are five players they should target, starting on Friday.
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images
The Wings need defensemen. Someone who could partner with Lidstrom would be the best-case scenario.
So who were the top UFA defensemen coming into this summer? Names like Bieksa, Erhoff, Jovanovski and Pitkanen come to mind. However, it was James Wisniewski, a Michigan native, who led all UFA defensemen not named Lidstrom in points last season with 51 (10 goals, 41 assists).
Wisniewski is mobile, can make plays for teammates (41 assists!) and plays with a nasty physical edge the likes of which the Wings haven’t seen since Vladimir Konstantinov wore the winged wheel.
A Wisniewski/Lidstrom tandem would make a nice righty/lefty combination on the first power play unit. He won’t come cheap, but $4-4.5 million a year might be a bargain for a 27-year-old, mobile, physical 50-point d-man that fits the Wings system.
Andre Ringuette/Getty Images
It seems evident (and wise) that the Wings are going to let Jonathan Ericsson test free agency. Losing him would mean losing their biggest defenseman.
Anton Babchuk (6’5", 212 lbs.) can replace any loss of size on defense. Though Babchuk isn't a household name, he has value beyond just his size. In addition to being a physical presence, he is a capable offensive player.
Last season he played on Calgary’s second power-play unit and posted respectable offensive numbers (11 goals, 24 assists). As a right-hand shot he would be valuable in that same role for the Wings.
Jakub Kindl will be a full time top-six defenseman for the first time next season and needs a veteran partner—Babchuk would provide that.
The signing of Babchuk would also represent great value. Last season he made $1.4 million and will probably command a modest salary somewhere in the $2-2.5 million per season range.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Osgood won't play for the Wings next season, so the Wings are in need of a backup goaltender. Last season the Wings put a claim on Nabokov, but lost out to the Islanders, who had a higher waiver priority.
The Islanders held on to Nabokov's rights this season, but there could be a win-win situation for both the Wings and the Islanders. The Wings have Jiri Hudler, whom they would love to move, and the Islanders need to improve a power play that was ranked 17th last season. Hudler certainly has his deficiencies, but one thing he can do is add some punch to a second power-play unit.
The Islanders only kept Nabokov’s rights to use him as trade bait. Nabokov for Hudler just makes sense. The Wings would also free up more than $2 million in cap space by trading Hudler for Nabokov.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Holmstrom vacillated between the first and fourth lines last season, and if he drops off the top line the Wings will need a forward to play there with Pavel Datsyuk. Radim Vrbata is precisely the type of player the Wings like.
He is fast with good hands and has decent size (6’1", 197 lbs.). Radim has never been a 30-goal scorer, but he has also never played with a top-notch passing center like Pavel Datsyuk. He would provide a much needed right-hand shot option for the power play as well.
Last season the Wings finished in third place, just a single point behind the San Jose Sharks (105 to 104). The Wings lost four games via the shootout last season and Vrbata has a special asset that should interest the Wings: He is a shootout artist. Last season Vrbata was a dazzling 64 percent in shootouts (7/11).
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
It's true that Michael Ryder doesn't exactly represent a youth movement. He isn't a young up-and-coming player that the Wings would make a part of their long-term plans. What he can do is score in the playoffs.
In the Bruins Stanley Cup playoff run he totaled 17 points (eight goals and nine assists), which was good enough to tie him for ninth overall. Many players’ points-per-game average drops in the playoffs, but Michael Ryders’ points-per-game average is higher in the playoffs (.608 to .614) over the course of his career.
The difference may not seem like much, but knowing that you can count on a player to produce in the postseason is invaluable.
Ryder is a steady player who plays efficiently in both the offensive and defensive zones. He could be placed on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen to create a powerful second line that could remain together for the entire season next year.