By Dave Waddell –
You have to be a bit of a poker player to be successful as a general manager of a National Hockey League team.
You have to know when to go all in and when it’s best to fold and wait for a fresh deck.
Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland has arrived at that moment this week with the arrival of the April 3 trade deadline.
Sure Holland will tease by dangling that old bromide if the right deal comes along we’d make a move, but it’s highly unlikely such a deal is going to materialize.
More likely Holland telegraphed his intentions with his assertion he’s fine with where his team is at. It could be a smoke screen to provide cover for talks, but in reality it also is the wisest course of action for this season.
Short of a massive multi-player trade, the type that just doesn’t happen anymore in a capped-controlled NHL, Holland isn’t going to be able to effect enough change to make an impact.
Frankly, the Wings have too many third and fourth-line talents to attract the interest of a trading partner. The alternative route would require dipping too deeply into their reserves of prospects and draft picks.
As bitter as it may taste to an organization used to being a perennial Stanley Cup contender, this is a season to see exactly what depth the organization has.
Realistically, the Wings were always going to be a bit of a muddled mess in this year of transition.
With less than a month left in the regular season, Detroit has overachieved to this point. The Wings have lost more man-games to injuries than any team in the league and they appear set to only widen their lead in that category.
It’s only going to get worse with Henrik Zetterberg suffering a groin injury in the Easter Day debacle against Chicago and Mikael Samuelsson continuing his lost season by getting injured again in his first game back after a broken finger.
There looks to be little hope of getting Todd Bertuzzi back anytime soon and Darren Helm’s timetable to return from a sore back also remains questionable.
The return of defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo, who returned April, and Kyle Quincey, by mid-April, should help the Wings stay in the scrap to make the playoffs, but that’s not the future Holland should be focused on.
This team simply has too many significant holes for Holland to fix with a couple of trades.
Any attempt to plug the gaps left by the unsuccessful signings of Samuelsson, Colaiacovo and Jonas Gustavsson at a time when players are most costly, risks causing the long-lasting damage that the Wings have been trying to avoid for the past two decades.
Even if Detroit had acquired the likes of Jarome Ignila and Brenden Morrow, as Pittsburgh did, that would not have addressed all the flaws in this line-up. Unlike the Wings, the Penguins are in a position to go all in.
Detroit requires more than just a pair of aging veterans past their best-by date, who would’ve marginally improved Detroit’s playoff chances at best.
History has also shown that teams which make such substantial change at the trade deadline rarely get the payoff they seek.
Such was the case when Holland went all in bringing in Wendel Clark, Bill Ranford and Chris Chelios in 1999. The Wings flamed out in the second-round against Colorado.
Instead, it’s been the more subtle moves that have shown the biggest payoffs, such as acquiring Brad Stuart in 2008 or Larry Murphy in 1997.
The burning of assets in the form of young players, who are on the cusp of graduating to the NHL or high-draft picks in a deep draft year, would be a waste of patient development or worse, rashness.
It’s an idea Holland appears unprepared to entertain.
“We’re not going to trade our No. 1 pick,” Holland said.
While not exactly tossing in their cards, the Wings appear to believe the long game provides the more likely path back to the Stanley Cup Final.
That’s why the most important player they’ll likely acquire this spring was free-agent college defenseman Dan DeKeyser.
The addition of DeKeyser gives Detroit outstanding depth in the area of promising young defensemen.
Starting with the NHL, the Wings have keepers in Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith and Brian Lashoff.
In addition to DeKeyser (Western Michigan), who was named the top CCHA defenseman this season, Wings’ draft pick Nick Jensen (St. Cloud St.) was the top WCHA blue-liner.
Ryan Sproul of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds was the top scoring defenseman in the OHL and Xavier Ouellette (Blainville, QMJHL) was among the leaders in the Quebec junior league.
Europeans Adam Almqvist (Grand Rapids) and Mattias Backman (Linkoping, Sweden) complete an outstanding group of defensive prospects.
Fans will already be familiar with many of Detroit’s top prospects up front in Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson, who have all played in Detroit to some extent. Swede Calle Jarnkrok, who is getting a taste in Grand Rapids this spring, and Griffins’ teammate Riley Sheahan complete the list of top forward talents.
In goal, Petr Mrazek (Grand Rapids) and Jake Peterson (Saginaw, OHL) are the most the promising prospects to reach Detroit.
For fans, the encouraging aspect of this season’s developments is it only speeds the retooling of the Detroit line-up and a return to where the Wings are used to being – back at the poker table.