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Red Wings' Roster About To Become Crowded

Jim Balint@MrJBalintCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2010

With new-found health, come roster decisions.

Before the news of Tomas Holmstrom fracturing his foot Wednesday night, the Red Wings seemed to have weathered the injury storm. With the return of Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary, players need to be sent back down in order to make room on the roster.

Mattias Ritola has already been sent back to Grand Rapids. The question now becomes who will join him?

Holmstrom, Jason Williams, and Johan Franzen are on pace to rejoin the team next month, so roster spots will be filling quickly. This is a great problem to have, compared to the alternative.

Pavel Datsyuk, Valtteri Filppula, Darren Helm, Todd Bertuzzi, as well as the aforementioned Cleary, and Zetterberg are sure to be on the roster. When Franzen and Holmstrom return, there will be eight players vying for five spots.

With his call-up earlier in the season, Justin Abdelkader has certainly earned his keep. Playing the role of a younger Kirk Maltby, his position seems to be set. Despite the fact the team does have the option of sending him back to Grand Rapids, he has all but secured his roster spot.

Conversely, Ville Leino has essentially played his way off the team. His nine points in 13 games last season seem to be a distant memory instead of a sign of things to come. While he has seven points in 37 games this season, he just hasn’t found his stride. Leino looks to be a surefire bet to be sent back to Grand Rapids.

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A couple of years ago, no one would imagine Kirk Maltby or Kris Draper in jeopardy of losing their roster spots. However, that is a very real possibility given the production from the new players.

With respect to production and playmaking, it has become clear both former Grind Line-mates are in the twilight of their careers. With so many other options, the best case scenario is that one is relegated to the fourth line, while the other is left as a healthy scratch.

Brad May is another player certainly destined for Grand Rapids, especially in the short term. No one is mistaking May as an offensive threat, and until Franzen returns, the Wings need to put as many in the roster as possible. His only hope to see NHL ice time is when Franzen comes back and the Wings face a bruising team like Anaheim, Calgary, or Nashville.

Since being claimed off waivers on Nov. 12, Drew Miller has been playing inspired hockey. He’s been creating the same chances that Maltby and Draper used to five years ago. Despite this, he’s still 50/50 in terms of staying with the Wings. Here’s hoping he stays, because he’s the kind of player the Wings will need come playoff time.

Patrick Eaves didn’t have the greatest start to the year, but he has since turned things around and, like Miller and Abdelkader, is playing the kind of hockey the old Grind Line provided the Wings in years past. Like Miller, he’s also in danger of being sent down, but it would do the Wings a disservice against tougher, faster teams.

Finding a spot for Jason Williams will be a bit trickier. He’s in the same boat as Maltby and Draper. If the team is dead set on keeping more experience in the lineup, Abdelkader, Miller, and/or Eaves will be sent to Grand Rapids. However, if the Wings expect to compete with younger, grittier teams, keeping the younger players would be to their advantage.

The next month and a half will certainly test the Wings. Of the 19 games remaining before the Olympic break, 14 are against conference foes the Wings are either looking up at in the standings, or battling with to get back into the playoff picture. The Wings need to win 13 of these to stay relevant come the second half of the season.

Come February, having to send players back to Grand Rapids rather than calling them up will be a welcome change for the Wings.

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