Wings Will Need Help to Stay Near the Top

The Detroit Red Wings were close, but close is definitely not good enough in Hockeytown. Nothing less than a championship will suffice in Detroit. Well the fans will have to wait another year for another crack at it after losing out to the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final.

Indeed the Wings will be hard pressed to not only get back to the Conference finals, but to come back as the number 1 seed in the West. Thanks to possible defections, salary cap constraints and age of some key players, the task will be difficult for Detroit.

Here is how the Wings look heading into the summer:

Under Contract:

Goal: Chris Osgood
Defence: Niklas Lidstrom, Andres Lilja, Brett Lebda, Niklas Kronvall
Forwards: Pavel Datsyuk, Hendrik Zetterberg, Kris Draper, Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby, Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula, Tomas Kopecky

Committed Salary: $33 million approximately

Unrestricted Free Agents: Todd Bertuzzi, Robert Lang, Mathieu Schneider, Kyle Calder, Danny Markov, Jiri Fischer, Chris Chelios, Dominik Hasek

Restricted Free Agents: Jiri Hudler

Cap Space: $15-17 million approximately

Top Prospects: Jim Howard, Jakub Kindl, Kyle Quincey, Jon Ericsson, Johan Ryno, Jan Mursek, Igor Grigorenko, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Dick Axelsson

Goaltending is already a questionmark heading into next season. Will they bring Dom Hasek back or will they decide to look elsewhere for a number 1 goalie or will they in fact look within for their top netminder? This is perhaps their biggest issue they need solved before October. While Hasek played well, he is 43 years old and after a good year likely will not come at the bargain basement price of $750K.

The team could also turn their goaltending responsibilities to top prospect Jim Howard. He has not looked out of place in a handful of NHL games and may be ready for regular employment. He could split time with veteran Chris Osgood. The question is whether Detroit is ready to have a rookie as their number 1.

Another possibility is going after JS Giguere who is the best available goalie on the free agent market. There is a connection here. He did play for coach Mike Bab***** in Anaheim. Therefore if he did not return to Anaheim, a “familiar” place to play would be Detroit for Giguere.

Defence should not be much of an issue especially considering Niklas Lidstrom is on his way to yet another Norris Trophy. Even at his age, he does not appear to be slowing down. There is an issue however concerning depth. 3 key blueliners in Schneider, Chelios and Markov could defect via free agency. It is almost likely that Chelios will return but losing Schneider and Markov could be significant.

The Wings definitely could turn things over to younger blueliners like Niklas Kronvall, Brett Lebda and Kyle Quincey but that may be too much to ask. Kronvall has yet to prove he can stay healthy while the others are more to provide depth if anything. The team definitely will need to look into getting another solid blueliner to support Lidstrom.

Scoring should not be an issue for the Wings. The team locked up Datsyuk, they locked up Holmstrom and along with Zetterberg, Samuelsson, Filppula, Cleary, Hudler and Franzen should get enough goals from the forwards. But you can be sure the Wings will look to replace Robert Lang who likely wont be back and Todd Bertuzzi who also is unlikely to return unless both take significant paycuts.

Bertuzzi gave the Wings a different dimension with his size and physical play that is absent among many of their forwards. This is an area they will more than likely address in the summer. The team is not without grit. Holmstrom and Maltby are two of the most hated players in the NHL and players like Draper, Cleary and Samuelsson hold their own. But Detroit is prone to being pushed around so GM Ken Holland will need to add some muscle up front.

The top end talent of the Wings will keep them near the top of the standings. Adding a top notch goalie will improve their chances even further. Surprisingly fan support has sort of dwindled slightly with some empty seats found even during the playoffs at the Joe Louis Arena. I guess this is what happens when fans accept nothing short of winning as being acceptable.