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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Trade Deadline Preview: Detroit Red Wings

Wild on Sports
Trade Deadline Preview: Detroit Red Wings
By Brian Peirce Detroit Red Wings

I am going off schedule here to rant a bit on my home town team, the Detroit Red Wings.
The reason I am jumping on this early is because Ken Holland just did something crazy and suggested to the fans that he needed to see if the team was a playoff team before deciding to buy or sell. This is a perfectly normal thing to say anywhere where you don’t expect to compete for the Stanley Cup every single season. The Wings are going to see what happens in the next six games before deciding their strategy.

This is unfamiliar territory for a ton of Red Wings fans as many simply were never alive for a time when they were not in the playoffs. Twenty-one seasons straight seems to be nearing an end, with a shaky Lidstrom-less version of the team that cannot score goals on one night or keep the other team from dumping four on them the next night. The team has lost it’s identity in part due to losing the most consistent defensive player to ever play, and in part due to a coach that seems hell bent on making the team into something it was not built to be.

The last few seasons the team simply has band-aided some of their problems, because they were always one player short of possibly winning it all and they were patiently looking for the right move. Ken Holland had a farm system that was depleted but showed long term promise, and simply wouldn’t burn it down for a trade while the cap game dried up the free agent market leaving the best deals he could make involve players like Ian White and Todd Bertuzzi. They weren’t able to make splashes since Marian Hossa left for Chicago. The Wings have serious fear of buyers’ remorse right now and the grocery list grows longer, while the youth gets tantalizingly close to being ready for the club. Ken Holland is in line for a landmark moment for the franchise; he could go for keeping a record alive boldly or safely play for a new age.

I don’t pretend to know all that Holland is thinking, because the guy has these flashes of genius sometimes that come from gambling that the scouting will keep finding gems. One of their prospects, one Martin Frk, just had a playoff record set of 8 points as I write this and it seems that there are many more like him though the defense seems further off than the forwards. Even this season they found a defenseman in Lashoff whom everyone assumed would be a career AHL’er that might have a spot wrapped up going forward. This allows Holland to be bold, but he doesn’t ever seem that confident these days in doing it. No where is this more evident than with the deadline. He has for the last few seasons claimed that a player getting healthy was their big trade, while ignoring that the team was lacking to begin with.

He seems to think that Helm, Bertuzzi, Samuelsson, and Colaiacovo will be like getting a top-six forward they really need to create two scoring lines and a top four defenseman to balance out the one dimensional backend. Helm will make the team harder to beat if healthy, but Babcock talks about him as a top four forward on the team, and he simply is not that. The Wings have needed for a few seasons a goal scorer that crashes the net and wins puck battles like a Dustin Brown or Logan Couture to counter the passive/patient play of the top six guys they have now. They have tried so hard to have Cleary be that guy, and Bertuzzi just isn’t consistent enough to be it either. They could also be better with a pure sniper type, which is why some whisper about Iginla to Detroit as a possibility.

The team has issues and for some reason they think loading up on bottom six forwards will fix the defense or the scoring. I am sick to death of hearing how Jordin Tootoo makes a difference (only difference he makes is making cheap shots and penalties that lead to possible backfires), he just isn’t helping this team win as much as getting fair-weather fans a reason to buy tickets. The Wings are one of those hold your breath until the deadline teams on whether they will be buyers or sellers, but it is far more likely they will be passive and do nothing except some minor maintenance. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world either.
The Wings could use that youth movement, and smart fans in Detroit were hoping for the lockout to make it happen for them so the streak would remain alive. The streak could remain alive, but it isn’t worth risking the farm. Now there are so many forwards in the pipe that if the asking price is a top draft pick or two and a prospect, they could make it work if the prospect is one they are willing to let go. Who those guys would be are beyond me, but I think most managers are going to ask for Nyqvist, Smith, Jarnkrok, or Tatar and I don’t think Holland doesn’t want to move those guys. I think Sheahan or Ferraro might be available, but with them being down the list it might lead to deals falling apart on Kenny.

The Wings are one of the most cap healthy teams around as they will be right at the cap floor with 16 players under contract next season leaving them about 18.5 to play with in another thin free agent crop so they might look at that as a reason to trade. The flip side is that with everyone taking the same approach as Detroit, it seems unlikely that they can get any sort of price that won’t make Holland urinate just a little while on the phone. They also have painted themselves into a corner by signing too many forwards and suddenly having too many defensemen.

If, and that is a big if, any of the six injured players come back to play (Bert, Quincey, Helm, Eaves, Colie, and Sammy), then they will have 15 forwards and 9 forwards for 26 players which is too many legally. The vast majority of these cannot be sent down and I didn’t count the ones that are playing that could for the most part. This means that any sort of trade needs to be a hockey trade where there players being moved out, or multiple trades need to happen before a big trade. This is added risk that makes me think the Wings would be better off being sellers than buyers.

If they are moving players, they would want to move Ian White and Dan Cleary as they are UFA players that don’t figure into the future of the team. White has been a healthy scratch and his value is not that high, but the lack of puck moving defensemen should make him a decent bargaining chip. Dan Cleary looks like a ghost of the former heart and soul player and will not be back next season due to the lingering contracts of some other forwards mixed with the youth movement that is coming due to lack of waiver options. He might be useful for any team that is looking for bottom six forwards with experience. The Rangers were rumored to be looking for both of these things and they also were looking to dump Gaborik so a trade might exist there.

Drew Miller, Kent Huskins, Jimmy Howard, and Valtteri Filppula are all UFA next season and Howard is the only one who for sure would not be moved. Miller could be a depth rental player for someone and expendable for the Wings, even though he is a great fourth line player for the Wings. Huskins is unlikely to be moved as he might have to go on waivers anyway. Val is interesting in that he could give way to Nyqvist in a roster space and he has had a bad year. His 3 million dollar contract would be easy to move and he might demand up to 5 million next year, while the Wings will want to keep his number under the 4 million they pay Franzen. If they are selling, he could be moved.

Speaking of Franzen, he could be a piece in a blockbuster deal, but I doubt it. He is inconsistent and cold right now which makes him harder to trade. Also his salary is all of a sudden a huge deal the next two seasons. It is not unreasonable for him to score 3/5th the goals that Corey Perry does for a whopping 4.7 million dollars less than his recently signed contract. Moving him seems too risky for Ken, especially considering they picked Johan at 4 million over Hossa for 5 million a few years back. I don’t see them having the players for a blockbuster or the will to make one right now.

I see the Red Wings buying out in amnesty Samuelsson and Bertuzzi if it looks like he won’t play because I don’t think they could move either of them. Brunner seems to be the second most important resigning for the Wings and with him and Howard they might end up having a tight cap situation if the those two players play hardball, which is another reason they might just want to play it safe. All in all, it just seems like there are more questions than answers for Detroit. Yet they will be on the phones looking for those two players to fix the team.

It just makes more sense for them to be sellers, especially if they were to move their first round pick, just miss the playoffs and would be in on the lottery. Could you imagine the buyers remorse if they spent a first rounder on Iginla, miss the playoffs and win the lottery to give Calgary the first overall pick? It would be the worst trade ever and Ken doesn’t need that in his final years as GM.

However if they do go all out, they might look at a Brendan Morrow or one of Dallas other pieces, like Jagr. They might look at Smid from Edmonton, maybe convince Nashville that they can be friends now (I would love shipping Tootoo back there), maybe a trade for Meszaros or Briere from Philly, maybe someone from Washington, or maybe a Bogosian from Winnipeg.

Something needs to be done because when left to his own devices Babcock thinks Cleary and Abdelkader are good line mates on the top line with Pavel Datsyuk. That alone makes me think the streak is over. However, the next streak could be just one year away from starting.

Of course I can write all of this then Abdelkader has a huge game with Pavel Datsyuk and maybe makes half of this moot. Who knows, I will stick with it though even with a big hat-trick game to make me eat my words.


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