Christmas Happens Twice a Year in the NHL
By Rhys Richards (@RREsq)
In any professional sport, the free agency period is always an exciting time for fans. The former nemesis or most hated are ushered in with open arms because they are now members of the hometown favorite. Some teams land the most sought after free agents and immediately become championship contenders in the minds of their fans and commentators.
In the NHL, fans are fortunate because that Christmas-like excitement comes a second time every season. The NHL Trade Deadline has always been pretty active, but the activity level has increased since the salary cap was imposed under the current collective bargaining agreement. More teams concentrate on building their futures from within. Whether it be properly maturing prospects or adding picks to stock the cupboards, the value of prospects and picks has soared making the cagey veterans suddenly more moveable than they were in the past.
The NHL Trade Deadline falls on February 27th this year. Some diehard fans have already requested that Monday off in order to take in each and every move. Many of us will be at work but will spend way too much company time checking the Internet, our phones, and any other electronic device for that next move.
For the Detroit Red Wings, this Deadline may very well be more exciting than it has been for the team and its fans in several seasons. This year’s version of the Wings carries a cap hit of just over $59 million affording GM Ken Holland and management over $5 million in cap space, a luxury the team has not had in recent years.
Over the weekend, Holland told the Detroit Free Press “We’re trying to compete for the Stanley Cup, and given the way our team has played, we think we look like a playoff team. I don’t worry about the East. In the West, we’re ahead of Vancouver, we’re ahead of Chicago. We’re in the top five in goals scored. We’ve improved defensively from last season — we’re in the top 10, just outside the top five.
Holland added, “We like our team. We also know we’re in a very deep conference. Anybody that makes the playoffs can go for a run.”
That statement remained true going into Wednesday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers at Joe Louis Arena, a game the Red Wings won 4-2.
While Detroit will not overpay to land someone at the Deadline, Holland is likely underselling Detroit’s activity level. The Red Wings have been rumored to be considering Edmonton Oiler winger Ales Hemsky, Carolina Hurricane winger Tuomo Ruutu, and New York Islander goaltender Evgeni Nabakov, among other targets.
On the recent West Coast swing, starting goaltender Jimmy Howard suffered a cracked finger and backup Ty Conklin let in three goals in the first period against the Edmonton Oilers. The hockey community took note and began to discuss Detroit’s priorities becoming more about acquiring a reliable backup goaltender.
And yet, the Red Wings’ AHL starter Joey MacDonald has performed admirably since replacing Conklin for the second period in Edmonton on Saturday. MacDonald took the shootout loss in Edmonton and the regulation loss in Phoenix on Monday, but MacDonald made 42 saves in 45 shots for a .933 save percentage and won four of six shootout battles. MacDonald stopped 15 of 17 shots against Edmonton last night, though the first goal should be blamed on the breakdown at the Detroit bench that led to a Sam Gagner breakaway.
Detroit is stocked with prospects, young talent, and draft picks. If the right deal comes along, do not be surprised to see the Red Wings make a move.
Hemsky’s current contract is a reasonable $4.1-million cap hit, but he will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. However, Hemsky also brings a rather significant injury history with his top-six talent. To complicate matters more, the oft-injured forward was virtually invisible in Wednesday’s game.
Ruutu carries a friendly $3.8-million cap hit but will also be a free agent this summer. The sandpaper he brings could be a welcome addition to a Detroit team that has only fought four times going into tonight’s game.
Nabakov has been unconscious of late, but his cap hit of just over a half million dollars will probably mean any team interested in him will have to overpay. In addition, several teams, not the least of which is last year’s surprise playoff Cinderella story Tampa Bay Lightning, may be willing to pay more than Detroit can or should.
The pre-cap Red Wings were known for substantial acquisitions at the Deadline. Holland may be downplaying Detroit’s interest in order to hook a big fish that may not be currently available due to ongoing playoff hopes or interconference rivalries. Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Brenden Morrow, or Shane Doan could very well see their names scroll across the tv or computer screen at the Trade Deadline as they prepare to make the D home.
Statistics and other information obtained at www.nhl.com, www.nhlnumbers.com, and www.freep.com.
Share your thoughts about the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings, and hockey in general with Rhys at Twitter: @RREsq. He can be reached via email at RhysJRichards@gmail.com. Join the many fans of The Hockey Guys on Facebook and Twitter @TheHockeyGuys.