By Dave Waddell -
With the NHL and NHLPA – the two most dysfunctional groups outside of Washington D.C. when it comes to compromising – finally stepping back from the precipice to reach an agreement on a new 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement, it’s finally time to look forward to what a Detroit Red Wings’ season may look like.
It’s been over eight months since the Wings made the skate of shame off the ice following their five-game exit at the hands of the Nashville Predators. It was a disastrous end to a season that began to come off the rails in February when the injury bug bit.
To refresh the minds turned off the game by the lockout, since the end of the last season captain Nick Lidstrom retired, defenseman Brad Stuart departed for San Jose, the Wings’ free-agent plans blew up when Zack Parise and Ryan Suter rebuffed Detroit and forward Patrick Eaves still hasn’t recovered from last season’s concussion.
Questions remain abundant, so let’s take a look on some of the key ones to focus on moving forward.
How is Detroit fixed to handle a declining salary cap?
The first year of a new CBA will see contracts pro-rated against what would’ve been a $70.2 million cap, so it’s the second year that will concern teams with a cap of $64.3 million.
The Wings will have no worries there, as they sit at just over $61 million now with 25 players signed.
In Year 2, the Wings will have 10 players, highlighted by Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula, Ian White, Jimmy Howard, Drew Miller, out of a contract.
Will the Wings buy out any players?
There isn’t any pressure to dump contracts in Detroit to get cap compliant.
It then becomes a question of does Ken Holland view any of his previous deals as mistakes. Some may view Johan Franzen’s contract that runs through the 2018-19 season as a bad deal because of its length and the big winger’s frustrating inconsistency.
However, Franzen still ends up near 30 goals each season with a cap hit of only $3.954 million, so a buyout seems unlikely.
Unless, Detroit plans on swinging some deals, picking up some contract dumps from other teams or sees the need to clear the decks to accommodate a big push from within the organization, it’s hard to see the need to buy anyone out.
Any more roster moves from outside the organization?
This is where it could get interesting in Detroit. Having struck out on the big free-agents, Holland will be keeping an eye on who might come loose as teams who are in cap trouble pare their rosters to become compliant on short notice.
Each team will be allowed to buy out two players this season and next without it counting against their cap, so there could be plenty of players who were unattractive under their current contracts who become more attractive to other teams after a buy-out.
Potential help within?
Detroit may have been one of the organizations that has benefited from having some players get some extra seasoning before making the anticipated jump to the NHL.
Forwards Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson and defenseman Brendan Smith have all had excellent seasons in the AHL and appear ready to make a serious bid for a permanent spot in Detroit.
Tatar in particular has stepped up his game and has played himself into serious consideration.
The Wings are getting good news on the goaltending front as AHL rookie Petr Mrazek has been superb. Wings’ goaltending coach Jim Bedard is also giving glowing praise to the recent play of Thomas McCollum, who is enjoying his best stretch in Grand Rapids.
How to overcome Nick Lidstrom’s retirement?
There’s no filling this hole, but the pressure surely falls on veteran Niklas Kronwall to raise his game further to match his nickname of Nick Jr.
Kronwall will need help from the other veterans on the blue line, but just how well the Wings can back fill behind Lidstrom likely rests with rookie Brendan Smith.
Smith has all the tools offensively and he comes with something the Wings need more of on the back end – a bit of nasty streak.
If he shines in his first full NHL season, the transition to life without Lidstrom will be smoothed significantly.
What about the free-agent signings?
Prior to the lockout, the Wings’ main acquisitions were goalie Jonas Gustavsson, defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and forwards Damien Brunner and Jordin Tootoo.
Gustavsson will solidify the back-up spot and provide useful pressure on starter Jimmy Howard.
Colaiacovo is a useful player with some offensive ability, but he’s been injury prone. If he’s healthy he’ll help stabilize the back end.
Tootoo is Ken Holland’s latest attempt at turning a player vilified by Wings’ fans (Chris Chelios, Todd Bertuzzi) into hometown hero. Tootoo does add some badly need sandpaper and nastiness up front who also isn’t afraid to drop the mitts.
Brunner is the most intriguing of the lot. The speedy Swiss forward has excelled in his homeland’s league the past two years and has shown chemistry this season with Henrik Zetterberg when the two played together for EV Zug during the lockout.
He will be given every opportunity to earn a top six forward position.
Who will be captain?
Owners of those Henrik Zetterberg jerseys better get a C ready to be sown onto their gear.
With a personality of quiet, calm confidence, Zetterberg is exactly the type of player the Wings like to wear the C. His language skills give him the edge over Pavel Datsyuk, who prefers his quiet role in the background until the puck drops.
Datsyuk and Kronwall are obvious choices as assistant captains.