Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Where do we go from here?

Thinking about Steve Yzerman's retirement yesterday afternoon, I came to the conclusion that it, coupled with Brendan Shanahan's desire to test the free agent market and Ken Holland's inability to sign a top-flight goalie, leaves the Red Wings in a position where they might be further ahead to start rebuilding, as opposed to loading up for another run. If Detroit is to succeed in the long term, they need to focus on getting younger and finding stronger skaters who are not afraid to fight for the puck. At the moment the Wings have a surprisingly small number of players signed for next season. According to TSN, the Wings look something like this for next year:

Under Contract
C Datsyuk, Pavel
C Lang, Robert
C Draper, Kris
LW/C Zetterberg, Henrik
LW Maltby, Kirk
RW Holmstrom, Tomas
RW Samuelsson, Mikeal

D Lidstrom, Nicklas
D Schneider, Mathieu
D Fischer, Jiri
D Kronwall, Niklas
D Lilja, Andreas
D Chelios, Chris
D Cross, Cory

G Osgood, Chris

Without going into contract specifics (as I doubt that any of these players will be bought out) the Wings are on the hook for $33.624 million. They also have four restricted free agents. Assuming that they decide to retain all four, I've estimated salaries for the quartet.

Restricted FA
C Cleary, Dan $850,000
RW Franzen, Johan $850,000
RW Williams, Jason $1.1 million

D Lebda, Brett $850,000

This brings the team to $37.274 million with 19 players under contract. I expect them to carry 14 forwards, 7 defenseman and 2 goalies into the upcoming season; they are currently at 10, 8, and 1 respectively. One of the defenseman is Jiri Fischer, whose situation is still up in the air. If he retires, his salary comes off the books, but I will leave him there for the time being. Detroit needs to find 4 forwards and a goalie. Given the retirement of Yzerman and the Shanahan departure that I am now pushing for, Detroit is in a retooling year. I propose calling up Jimmy Howard and two of the four top forwards that drove Grand Rapids a year ago (Hudler, Kopecky, Filppula, and MacLean). I confess that I really don't know how exactly contracts work for these players, but I think that it would be safe to assume that these three players would not make more than $900,000 each. (Note, the two forwards to be brought up would be determined during training camp). This brings the total salary to $39.974 million with two forwards to sign.

Who is still available on the open market? Assuming a $44 million salary cap, the Red Wings would have around 4 million to spend. Would 3 million a year be enough to make a run at Sergei Samsonov? My heart says yes, but my head says no. Perusing TSN's list of available free agents, no names jump out at me right away, but Brad Isbister (BOS) and Mike Leclerc (CAL) will do. Together they should cost less than $4 million. Both stand to provide some inexpensive grit on the wing. If Samsonov could be had on the cheap, then another Griffin could be called up to fill out the roster. Proceeding assuming Isbister and Leclerc, next years Red Wings lineup could look something like:

1st Line
LW Zetterberg
C Datsyuk
RW Samuelsson

2nd Line
LW Williams
C Lang
RW Holmstrom

3rd Line
LW Maltby
C Draper
RW Isbister

4th Line
LW Leclerc
C Hudler
RW Filppula

D1 Lidstrom
D1 Lilja
D2 Kronwall
D2 Schneider
D3 Chelios
D3 Lebda

1 Howard
2 Osgood

Bench Depth
F Cleary
F MacLean
D Cross

While this team obviously has holes, it is significantly above average on the blueline and should be able to generate enough offense to stay in most games. The goaltending is a concern, but Howard was very good last season in the AHL and certainly has the talent to approximate the success of a Cam Ward or a Andrew Raycroft (two years ago). No matter what the Red Wings do at this point, they most likely won't be the favorites in the Western Conference, but I believe that this lineup should be good enough to compete with Nashville and Columbus for supremacy in the Central Division.


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