How the Detroit Red Wings Could Look Next Season
Tomas Holmstrom could be the odd man out going into next season (AP)
By Rhys Richards (@RREsq)
On Tuesday, the Detroit Red Wings cleaned out their lockers. As with the end of every season, questions abound. Some are questions the organization has faced before, but Detroit will also encounter new dilemmas this off-season.
Many hockey fans will wait with bated breath once again as team captain Nicklas Lidstrom takes a few months to decide whether he will return for a 21st season. Lidstrom told the Detroit Free Press that the biggest factor was motivation, adding, “I’ll sit down and talk with my family as well, see what we want to do. I won’t make a decision soon.”
General manager Ken Holland described the wait as “Game 7,” but the organization has grown used to making decisions on Lidstrom’s time in the past few seasons.
This off-season, another career Red Wing and key ingredient to the team’s success in the past 15 seasons, Tomas Holmstrom, faces the same decision as his close friend Lidstrom and his now retired teammates Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper. Holmstrom has been with Detroit for all of its recent Stanley Cups and a majority of its professional sports record 21-straight playoff appearances.
Holmstrom has been battling bad knees, among other ailments, for some time and has missed games each of the last six seasons. While Holmstrom has only played in over 80 regular season games twice, the NHL’s most infamous human goalie screen has certainly taken a physical beating that was bound to catch up with him at some point.
Unlike Lidstrom, whom Detroit would welcome back with open arms, Holmstrom may encounter the same numbers game that factored into the decisions of Maltby and Draper. The Red Wings have 10 forwards under contract next season and will re-sign restricted free agents Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm.
Despite Holmstrom’s history with the team there just may not be room for him, especially considering the potential return of Patrick Eaves and quick development of top forward prospect Gustav Nyquist. Detroit’s deep farm system and the growing rumors that the team would like to make a splash in free agency by landing young superstar Zach Parise or trading for another forward may make Holmstrom expendable.
Detroit may lose a few players to free agency. Forward Jiri Hudler returned to the player Detroit expected him to be before he left for Dynamo of the Kontinental Hockey League in 2009-2010. Hudler scored a career-high 25 goals and his second most points with 50. Hudler made $3 million this season and could garner a bigger offer on the open market with a relatively thin forward class of upcoming free agents.
Despite playing well in Grand Rapids after his demotion, goaltender Ty Conklin is likely to become a free agent. The organization was impressed with the play of Joey MacDonald when Jimmy Howard was injured. MacDonald, who suffered a back injury late in the season, is under contract for next season.
In a new twist, Detroit will have to consider replacing Brad Stuart, the second pairing shutdown defenseman who wants nothing more than to stay in Detroit. Stuart told the Free Press, “If it was purely a hockey decision, I would stay.”
True to his word all season, however, Stuart has to decide what is best for his family first. His wife, step-daughter and two young sons attempted to move to Detroit during his current four-year contract with the Red Wings. His step-daughter, who will be a senior in high school next season, did not adjust well, so the family returned to California.
During the season, Stuart flew home to San Jose approximately once a month, sometimes on as short as a two-day break.
Like Stuart, his teammates want nothing more than for Stuart to re-sign with Detroit. Fellow defenseman Jonathan Ericsson told the Free Press, “Brad is one of the best guys out there. He’s just so humble and just genuinely nice. I got to know his family a little bit this year, too, and he’s telling me about his kids. He’s really a family guy. So that’s something that he really reflects to everyone else—that some things are really more important than others.”
Detroit will re-sign restricted free agent Kyle Quincey despite a relatively poor playoff season if only because he cost the Red Wings their first round pick in this year’s draft. Should Lidstrom retire or Stuart leave as many expect, Detroit will still be in the market for a defenseman when free agency begins on July 1.
Do not be surprised if the organization aggressively pursues Ryan Suter of its first round nemesis Nashville. With the Red Wings set to have as much as $20 million in cap space when free agency rolls around, the team may have a shot at both Suter and Parise.
Young defenseman Brendan Smith is ready for the big time. He will likely figure into the team’s plans for 2012-2013. The talented prospect scored 10 goals and added 24 assists and 90 penalty minutes in 57 games with Grand Rapids this season. He potted a goal and six assists and added 13 penalty minutes of grit to Detroit during 14 regular season games with the big club.
While Detroit will look different in 2012-2013, the organization is not entering a rebuilding phase. Team management and the players remain adamant that such a rebuild is not necessary. With three straight seasons of early playoff exits, you can bet that some changes will occur and are likely to include a combination of big-name free agent signings and an infusion of homegrown youth.
Statistics, schedules, and other information obtained at www.freep.com, www.hockeydb.com and www.nhl.com. Share your thoughts about the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings and hockey in general with Rhys on 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.