Detroit Red Wings’ general manager Ken Holland has faced a perfect storm this spring.
He’s seen another early playoff exit, the retirement of defenseman Nick Lidstrom and the departure of free-agent defenseman Brad Stuart.
The Wings are at a crossroads and how well Holland plays his cards over the next couple of months is going to have a big impact on Detroit for several years to come.
“I feel pressure every day,” said Holland, who got this summer of change underway by trading away the rights to Stuart to San Jose for a conditional seventh-round pick and a throw-in player the team won’t sign.
“We all know what the expectations are in Detroit. Our ownership, management, players and fan base expect to contend for the Stanley Cup.
“That’s the challenge. That’s what we signed up for.
“That’s the goal here this summer, to put a team together that Wings’ fans are going to be proud of.”
Just how the Wings go about doing that has been the subject of this month’s organizational meetings.
As currently constructed – even if they get good internal growth and prospects Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist have impressive rookie seasons – the Wings aren’t good enough to fulfill Holland’s mission statement.
Detroit has four glaring needs – a pair of top-four defenseman, a top-six forward, a veteran goaltender to provide insurance in case back-up Joey MacDonald’s back issues resurface and a big, grinding forward to add some sandpaper to the bottom-six forwards.
Should they reach the open market, forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter will be Detroit’s primary targets. It’s also believed Florida defenseman Jason Garrison intrigues the Wings, especially being a right-handed shot.
With two significant holes on their blue line now, the Wings are also likely to kick the tires of the likes of defensemen Dennis Wideman and Matt Carle.
Montreal’s Travis Moen – Detroit tried to acquire the 28-year-old at the trade deadline – would fill their needs for a gritty bottom-six forward.
With $26.25-million to spend, Holland may well be the busiest GM in the league come July 1.
“We have a lot of good pieces in place,” said Holland, who also confirmed MacDonald won’t need back surgery and is on track to be healthy. “The next four or five weeks we’ve got to figure out a way to make the team better, deeper and a little different.
“It takes more than one or two players to make a good team. We’ll explore free agency and trades.”
For several weeks now, there have been rumblings surrounding the Wings that they are planning on doing something different or unexpected. With Lidstrom retired, Holland admitted you could look at this summer as something of a clean slate that gives him more freedom in how he constructs his team.
Holland refuses to rule out anything this summer, including avenues he’s never been down before.
“I’ve never done it, but I have no problem with it,” said Holland of whether being more aggressive means acquiring the right to negotiate with a targeted free-agent before July 1.
“Are we prepared to acquire a player’s rights at the draft? Absolutely, if the price is right and it’s a player we’re interested in.”
Holland also dismissed the notion that Lidstrom’s retirement makes Detroit a less desirable destination for free agents. He points out he believes the Wings’ reputation and attractiveness as a franchise is built on more than that.
“We’ve still got Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg down the middle as our 1-2 centermen,” Holland said.
“I’m not going to tell you that’s the best, but I’d like to think that pair is in the top five in the league. We’ve got a 27-year old goaltender, who until the 60-game pole (when he got injured), was having a tremendous year.
“There are other pieces here.
“This is a special city, with a special fan base and I think there’s incredible passion from our ownership and everybody involved with the team.”
Holland also appears to be keeping his options open as much as possible regarding his own players. He has only had casual talks with his team’s own free agents.
In addition to Stuart, who wanted to leave for San Jose due to family reasons, Jiri Hudler and Tomas Holmstrom are unrestricted free agents. Holmstrom remains undecided about whether he’ll retire and there’s a good chance none of the trio will be back.
The Wings intend to sign restricted free agents Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Kyle Quincey.
“It’s all about planning,” said Holland, who admitted he initiated some potential trade talk at the recent general manager meetings in New York.
“It’s all about being ready. We’re going to be making decisions in 10 or 15 minutes on July 1st.
“Obviously, the team is in transition. We’re hoping the transition takes only five, six or seven weeks.”