Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Where do the Red Wings go from here?
The season's over, folks.
It was a tough pill to swallow, but the Detroit Red Wings were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in five games. The series wasn't very close, if we're being honest with ourselves. Yes, the scores were pretty close, but the Red Wings struggled to find their offense and couldn't beat Tukka Rask for more than two goals in a game. I am not interested in performing a postmortem on the season, the injuries, the disappointments, or the playoffs. There's tonnes of great bloggers out there who can do that better than I can.
Today I'm asking the hard question of where the Red Wings go from here.
Earlier in the week Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy wrote a pretty good piece that was critical of the Red Wings and whatnot. Lambert gets a crazy amount of attention from Red Wing fans, as though he is telling them they are bad people for choosing the Red Wings, but he's on point about one thing: the Detroit Red Wings are going to look differently after this season.
You can go over here to look at the roster before July 1st and free agency begins. To keep things moving, here's a list of UFAs come July 1st, along with their cap hits I've bolded the players most likely/definite to be re-signed, and the possibilities are italicized.
(LW) Danny Cleary, $1.75m
(C) David Legwand, $4.5m
(RW) Daniel Alfredsson, $5.5m
(RW) Mikael Samuelsson, $3m
(RW) Todd Bertuzzi, $2.075m
(D) Kyle Quincey, $3.375m
(G) Jonas Gustavsson, $1.5m
And here are the RFAs that need to be signed or a decision needs to be made:
(LW) Riley Sheahan, $900,000
(LW) Andrej Nestrasil $597,500
(C) Landon Ferraro $870,000
(C) Cory Emmerton $533,333
(RW) Tomas Tatar $840,000
(RW) Mitchell Calahan $565,278
(RW) Trevor Parkes $554,167
(RW) Willie Coetzee $543,611
(D) Danny DeKeyser $1,350,000
(D) Gleason Fournier $890,833
(D) Max Nicastro $887,500
(D) Adam Almquist $694,167
In short, the Red Wings have a lot of options. They can either a) re-sign most of the team under the belief that the injuries were the reason why the team failed, b)sign some of the UFAs and RFAs hoping the majority of the team with small adjustments can improve on getting stomped in the first round, or c) clean house and pursue UFAs aggressively.
Helene St. James wrote a nice piece pondering what might happen next year, and she repeats Ken Holland's stance on Johan Franzen staying in Detroit. That's a whole other blog post but for now we'll stay on point. She mentions a few Grand Rapids Griffin stars like defensemen Ryan Sproul, Xaiver Ouellet, and goaltender Petr Mrazek. It's getting to be that time for the organization to accept that the Griffins have accomplished everything they can in their current iteration and graduation day is coming. The team is currently battling in the first round of the AHL Calder Cup playoffs (up 2-1 in a best-of-five vs. the Abbotsford Heat) with some of their graduates from this year returning to the team, but this is the last ride in a Griffins uniform for many of them.
It's safe to say players like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, and Joakim Andersson are with the Red Wings for good. Mike Babcock has already stated that the youngsters who propped up the team in March and April have earned jobs moving forward. Good news for these former Griffins. Bad news for the pending UFA forwards who want to re-sign. Of all of the UFAs, including defensemen and goaltenders, the only player who could be brought back without the cocking of one's eyebrow is Daniel Alfredsson. He's already stated if he plays another season, the logical choice is to remain in Detroit, especially since he's also said his family loved it there. CBC's Tim Warnsby pumped out this agenda-laden piece about how he was saying similar things about Ottawa before he split on the team. The revelation of persistent back injuries is a caution flag, but Alfredsson's production was impressive (49 points in 68 games) considering the lack of support at times. It seems most likely that Bertuzzi, Cleary, and Samuelsson will be moving on to other teams or retiring. Another Helene St. James piece states Cleary will wind up with a front office job within the organization. One imagines Samuelsson will be jettisoned into space. Kyle Quincey has been a lightning rod of criticism since he was traded back to the Red Wings, and his relatively poor season-long performance isn't worth a second showing. David Legwand may very well boomerang back to Nashville if a reasonable deal cannot be struck with the Red Wings, but it begs the question why a first/second line center would rejoin this team knowing that the team is in transition looking to inject youth into the lineup. Unless one of Darren Helm, Joakim Andersson, Stephen Weiss, and Luke Glendening are being dumped, Legwand has no spot in the lineup. Jonas Gustavsson may be the only other UFA sticking around, depending on whether the organization feels Petr Mrazek is ready for prime-time. Spoiler alert: he is definitely ready.
The Red Wings defense was woefully mismatched against the Bruins. Are Sproul and Ouellet the answer? One could argue the lack of Jonathan Ericsson was a major factor in the play of the defense, but just like Ken Holland said when he defended Johan Franzen, one player isn't the difference maker. So is the answer to Detroit's defensive flaws a total flush of the bowl? Obviously Kronwall, Ericsson, and Dekeyser are going to be returning, the latter of whom is going to see both a pay hike and a delicious long term contract that will satisfy both the player, the team, and the fans. There's a lot of questions as to whether Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl, and Brian Lashoff are good enough to keep their jobs over younger, possibly better youngsters like Sproul and Ouellet. Quincey's departure leaves one space open, but there's also Adam Almquist in Grand Rapids to consider. Almquist had 53 points in 73 games as a defenseman, 49 of those being assists. Red Wings fans have been pining for a first-pass-out-of-the-zone defensive stud since Nick Lidstrom retired....
The goaltending situation is most intriguing. Jimmy Howard is the man in Detroit, like it or not. Jonas Gustavsson had a hot start to the season but settled down to numbers below Howard. Mrazek was very impressive in his showings with the big club, registering a .927 save percentage in nine showings and a 1.74 GAA. His record of 2-4 is more reflective of how few goals the Red Wings scored during his stay with the team, and it has to be mentioned that both wins were shutouts. Mrazek is ready to shoulder at least 15-20 games as a backup, and typically Jimmy Howard has shouldered at least 50-60 games a season, depending on his own injuries. This may be the ideal time to graduate Mrazek and leave Tom McCollum as the sole returning goaltender in Grand Rapids, with the idea that Saginaw Spirit's Jake Paterson joins the club on the long road to earning a job in Detroit eventually. Straight up, McCollum has no chance of suiting up in Detroit given how Howard, Mrazek, and even the most likely departing Gustavsson would be ranked before him. He's also not signed to Detroit currently and is an asset of the Griffins themselves. There's also Jared Coreau to consider, but he and Paterson will likely be the Mrazek/McCollum tandem of the future.
There's a lot of other possibilities in the realm of free agency. A quick use of the "Armchair GM" mode on Capgeek's website assuming a few signings leaves the team sporting 27 players. Keep in mind this isn't a lineup sheet, it's a list of players and their assumed cap hits.
Henrik Zetterberg ($6.083m) / Pavel Datsyuk ($7.500m) / Justin Abdelkader ($1.800m)
Johan Franzen ($3.955m) / Stephen Weiss ($4.900m) / Tomas Jurco ($0.709m)
Drew Miller ($1.350m) / Darren Helm ($2.125m) / Tomas Tatar ($0.715m)
Gustav Nyquist ($0.950m) / Joakim Andersson ($0.733m) / Daniel Alfredsson ($5.500m)
Riley Sheahan ($0.715m) / Luke Glendening ($0.628m) / Cory Emmerton ($0.605m) /
Niklas Kronwall ($4.750m) / Jonathan Ericsson ($4.250m)
Jakub Kindl ($2.400m) / Brendan Smith ($1.263m)
Brian Lashoff ($0.725m) / Xavier Ouellet ($0.670m)
Ryan Sproul ($0.620m) / Adam Almquist ($0.605m)
Danny DeKeyser ($0.874m)
Jimmy Howard ($5.292m)
Petr Mrazek ($0.595m)
Jonas Gustavsson ($1.500m)
Carlo Colaiacovo ($0.000m)
Jordin Tootoo ($0.975m)
(estimations for 2014-15)
SALARY CAP: $71,100,000
CAP PAYROLL: $62,786,170
CAP SPACE (27-man roster): $8,313,830
Even with this illegal, bloated roaster there's over $8 million dollars in salary cap space. It stands to reason resigned players like DeKeyser, Sheahan, and Tatar are going to see pay raises. The Red Wings are also not going to field nine defensemen on opening day so in the end the team will probably have about $10 million in cap space and a full lineup potentially ready for puck drop in October. The big question is whether Ken Holland will dip into that number for a chance at free agency, or will he stick to his team for now and assume injuries will lead to some necessary trades and incoming behemoth sized salaries. At the very least, it needs to be said that the Red Wings should inquire about improving their defense. Whether that means saying adieu to Quincey and one or more of Lashoff/Smith/Kindl is completely unknown, but fielding the same team isn't going to improve the results, even assuming no one gets injured.
So the question is simple. Where do the Red Wings go from here? Leave a comment below and we'll get to the bottom of this.