Detroit Red Wings: 6 Questions Heading into the Offseason

PJ Sapienza@@pjsapiContributor IIIApril 24, 2012

Detroit Red Wings: 6 Questions Heading into the Offseason

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    The Detroit Red Wings fell to the Nashville Predators in five games in the first round of the playoffs.  They were the first playoff team to be sent home this season.  It is a bad loss for a team that six weeks ago led the league.

    When early playoff losses occur, there is a tendency for people to panic and change everything.  But this is still a very good team with loads of talent.  However, they do need to make some changes in the offseason.

    Injuries derailed the Red Wings down the stretch.  Even though he returned, Nicklas Lidstrom was playing with protective padding on his foot and was not 100 percent. Over the next week, we are likely to learn how many other players were more banged up than we knew.

    At this time of year, every team is playing hurt, so that alone cannot be an excuse.  Over the past three seasons, the Red Wings have two second-round exits, and now have a first-round exit as well.

    The Red Wings have several questions facing them as they enter the offseason.

Will Nick Lidstrom Retire?

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    Now that the season is over, the annual Nicklas Lidstrom Watch begins.  Will he retire or decide to play another year?  This has become a regular end-of-season ritual around Detroit the past few seasons. 

    There is no doubt that Lidstrom can still play at a very high level.  Before hurting his foot in the second half of the season, he was being mentioned as a finalist for the Norris Trophy yet again.

    Mike Babcock expects him to be back. Maybe it is wishful thinking or maybe he already knows. Regardless, he is right that Lidstrom can still play.

    A puck to the foot caused a deep bone bruise that Lidstrom to miss several games.  The injury forced him to miss more games then he has in any season of his career.  Even once he returned, he still was feeling the effects of the injury, which caused to wear extra padding throughout the playoffs.

    There is an even bigger issue to consider than whether he wants to come back.  Not many players can still play well into their 40s.  Eventually, Lidstrom's play will decline.  With players this age, when the fall happens, it is usually drastic.  Now that is not to say that there is any expectation that Lidstrom is near such a sudden fall, but we all know he can't play forever.

    This puts pressure on Red Wings GM Ken Holland.  He simply can't pay Lidstrom another $6.2 million as he has the past two seasons.  There is no doubt that the team wants him back and that he is still a valuable asset, but they just can't do the big contract. 

    The risk associated with another such deal is too much for the team to take on. 

    There are several free agents on the Red Wings' wish list this year.  Is it better to have Lidstrom for one more year or to spend that money on two or three good young players for three to five years?  For the long-term health of the team, they need Lidstrom at a cheaper price.

    The team needs him back and needs him to at least cut that salary in half.  That move would be beneficial to Lidstrom and team. It would allow the team to reload quicker and would give Lidstrom a better shot at another Stanley Cup.

    It would also be in the best interest of the team’s long-term viability.

Tomas Holmstrom

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    It appears that Tomas Holmstrom has reached the end of the line.  Injuries have greatly slowed him.  Many assume that he will retire. But if he does not, the team will be in a tough position.

    Last season his stats started to fade as he dropped below the 20-goal mark.  He regularly has hit that mark in non injury-shortened seasons during his career. This year he scored only 11 goals, going 28 games without a goal.

    His late-season “rush” of three goals in seven games is what helped him reach 11.  His 13 assists and minus-nine rating also rank as career lows.

    He has been a playoff hero and a fan favorite.  In his career, he went from being the 257th pick in the draft to playing a vital role on four Stanley Cup championship teams.  Holmstrom has had an amazing career, but it is time to retire.

    The concern for the team is if he decides not to retire.  That will force the Red Wings to make a difficult call. They have plenty of young players ready to fill his roster spot, but will they be able to make the tough call and part ways with him?  It is the right call to make and they need to do it.

Brad Stuart

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    Brad Stuart will be a free agent.  It is assumed that he will be heading out west to be closer to his family when he hits the free-agent market this summer.  After his minus-five and one-assist performance during the playoffs, it seemed like he already had one foot out the door.

    Not counting his recent play, he has been a very good defenseman for the team. His departure will leave a big void.  The team does have Brendan Smith in the minors and he is more than ready to play next season. But he is not at Stuart’s level yet.  He could be by the end of the season. But that is a big question mark.

    If Stuart does leave, the Red Wings will need to go after a top-four defender.

Jiri Hudler

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    Jiri Hudler’s free agency will pose some issues.  He had his best goal output this year. Of course, it came on the heels of his worst season.

    So which is the true Hudler?  Was last year just a painfully long slump or was this year a lucky streak?  Was he more motivated in hopes of a raise and will his stats fall back next year?

    These are questions that GM Ken Holland and his staff will need to answer.  Hudler already has made a move for money once before.  That led to him heading to Russia to play in the KHL for a season.  That did not end well, and his first season back in Detroit was abysmal.  He jumped from 10 goals last season to 25 this year.

    He made $2.875 million last season and will likely want a raise.  Based on what other players with similar numbers are making, he will likely be seeking a contract for around $4.5 million.  Whether he gets that from the Red Wings will likely be determined by who else they bring in during free agency.

    If they can grab some of the more prized free agents on their list, there will be no room or money left for Hudler.  If they fail in that quest, they may be forced to overpay to keep Hudler and hope that he will at least repeat, if not improve, on last season’s performance. 

    It's worth remembering that Holland is not one to overpay and other teams figure to offer more than $4 million for Hudler.  This means that the team will need to act fast in order to sign or keep their own free agents.

Free Agency

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    I could list all of the available free agents and how they might work in Detroit, but there are only two names that mater; Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.

    Yes, there are several other players who would look great in the winged wheel, but Suter and Parise are the ultimate prizes.

    In Parise, the Red Wings would have a more consistent scoring threat.  He has topped 30 goals in each of his last five full seasons, with a high of 45.  The Red Wings have not had a 30-goal scorer since Marian Hossa in 2008-09.  While having several 20-plus goal scorers is good, they seem to really miss having that high-scoring go-to player.

    Signing Parise would free up players such as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula.  They are likely to score more goals with the presence of a more consistent scorer.  Hopefully, that would carry over into the postseason, where the lack of that regular threat has hurt the team the last few seasons.

    Parise seems to be open to coming to Detroit.  He already is making $6 million a year, and in the salary- cap NHL world, the Wings could only offer so much more.

    Other teams will likely be able to pay Parise more, but will likely not be able to give him a better chance at the Stanley Cup.  The Red Wings also can offer him a chance to play with Datsyuk, his favorite player.

    Suter is the premier defender on the market this year. Nashville has historically had a tight budget, but the Predators' success over the past two seasons might open up the wallet a bit.  They certainly have room under the cap. However, they do have 15 players who will be some type of free agent this season. 

    The Red Wings could lure Suter with a nice increase from the $3.5 million he made last season.  He also might have the chance to play with his good friend Parise.

    This is another big reason why Nick Lidstrom needs to sign for less money.  The money he could free up, along with Holmstrom’s retirement and Stuart’s departure, should give the Red Wings enough money to sign both of these players.

    In the end, you could see Stuart and Hudler being replaced by Suter and Parise. That would be a huge gain for the team.

The Young Guns

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    Which young players will be given a chance to crack the lineup next season?  Brendan Smith seems to be ready and should see a regular role with the team next season.

    With players like Joakim Andersson, Doug Janik, Jan Mursak and Gustav Nyquist each seeing playing time this year and players like Tomas Tartar waiting in the minors, the organization is stocked with talent.

    With the money it might take to get Suter and Parise, the Red Wings may need to move some other higher-priced players.  That would make for a tremendous opportunity for any of these players to step up and make a name for themselves.

    PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings as well as many other sports. You can follow him on Twitter.

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