Detroit Red Wings Offseason Buzz- Who Stays, Who Goes, and What’s Next
By Paul Bartosz aka wogman56
Being from northern Michigan, some of my fondest memories growing up were listening to hockey games announced by the legendary Mickey Redmond. Mickey has a way of painting a picture, if you will, while broadcasting games. Since Mickey called the Stanley Cup winning goal by Darren McCarty in 1997, winning has become expected, not accepted amongst Wings fans. After McCarty and the Wings ended a 42 year drought in Motown by hoisting Lord Stanley’s chalice, the Wings followed it up by winning the cup in 1998, 2002, and 2008 as well.
Now, in the offseason of 2012, it has been four seasons since the Wings won the Cup and fans are growing more and more impatient, demanding a winning product on the ice. The Red Wings have the longest playoff appearance streak in NHL history at 21 straight seasons, but simply making the playoffs isn’t enough to satisfy their expectant fans. The 2011-12 season included a series of peaks and valleys. Amongst the highs were an NHL record 23 game home winning streak which saw them surge to the top of the NHL’s standings near the trade deadline. The low points in the season included losing several top players due to lingering injuries and poor defensive play which ultimately led to a quick first round exit in five games at the hands of the Nashville Predators.
Since management is also not satisfied with just making the playoffs and getting knocked out in five games, the Red Wings’ brass have recently gotten together for three days over the long holiday weekend to decide where the team needs to go in the future to try to bring the Cup back to the Motor City. General manager Ken Holland, assistant GM Jim Nill, head coach Mike Babcock, and several others have sat in their war room to discuss free agent possibilities, possible departures, and which direction they would like to head in the upcoming draft in June.
The big question surrounding the Red Wings this offseason is: will captain Nicklas Lidstrom come back for a 21st season next year? If he does not, who will fill the void left by one of the best defensemen of all-time? While he seemingly lost a step this past season, Lidstrom is still in peak condition and can still outplay 95% of NHL defensemen, even at 40 years of age. The Wings are scheduled to host the 2013 Winter Classic on New Year’s Day at Michigan Stadium against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Lidstrom has expressed his interest in playing in the game, but is that one game enough of a selling point to keep him around for another season? Or do the Wings need to add some other pieces to the puzzle to try and persuade their captain to stick around for one more shot at Lord Stanley’s Cup?
Along with Lidstrom, the other two questions the Red Wings have before seeing how much salary cap space they have this season are: What will happen to Tomas Holmstrom and Brad Stuart? Holmstrom, along with Lidstrom, are the only two players remaining from the 1997 Stanley Cup season and have each hoisted hockey’s ultimate trophy four times wearing the winged wheel. Holmstrom is a warrior, making his office in front of the opposing goalie, trying to create screens and tip in teammates’ shots. He has sacrificed his body numerous times over the past 15 seasons to try and create scoring chances for the Wings. This past season, he looked like a shadow of his former self, being demoted to the fourth line and failing to produce at the level Wings fans are accustomed to seeing. Head coach Mike Babcock has expressed his interest in keeping “Homer” around for another season, but will the rest of the Wings front office agree with him?
Stuart is a different story, however. The unrestricted free-agent defenseman, who has family in California, has told the media and Wings management that he would love to go back out to the West Coast, where he began his career. Due to a court agreement with his first wife where his daughter cannot leave the state of California, Stuart would love to get back closer to home to be able to see his daughter more in the waning stages of his career. He is not expected to be back, although the Wings could use his physical presence and penalty-killing prowess.
Another free agent that is not expected to return is forward Jiri Hudler. Hudler would love to return to the Red Wings for his eighth season with the team, but being an unrestricted free agent , he will command some larger offers from other teams than Detroit is willing to pony up for his talents. That leaves two roster spots left to fill, with possibly one or two more if Holmstrom or Lidstrom decide to ride off into the sunset. The Red Wings also have quite a bit of salary cap space remaining as they failed to make any large moves at the trade deadline. Rumor around town has it that they are using it to try to lure free agent defenseman Ryan Suter away from the Nashville Predators. Suter has stated that he would love to play in Detroit, whether with Lidstrom, or trying to fill his shoes (or skates in this instance) should he choose to retire. Another free agent the Wings will be actively pursuing on July 1st will be forward Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils, the cream of this summer’s free agent crop. Parise’s Devils have recently won the Eastern Conference and will be playing for the Stanley Cup. Does that mean he will take a hometown discount to remain in New Jersey? Or will he test the free agent waters and try a new change of scenery?
The Wings have a strong nucleus built for long playoff runs, with stars Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Jimmy Howard all coming back. While the blueline will need to be retooled over the next season or two, will the Wings management decide to do it this year, or wait one more season before making significant moves? Only time will tell. For the meantime, as Terrell Owens said, “get your popcorn ready” as this off-season could be one of the most exciting in recent memory for both the Red Wings and their fans as they chase their 12th Stanley Cup next season.
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