The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/22/13 at 06:24 PM ET
Updated at 7:57 PM with the Detroit News's John Niyo demanding a big move/free agent signing: As noted last night, Red Wings GM Ken Holland suggested to the Windsor Star that the vast majority of the Red Wings' roster changes will involve Joakim Andersson, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Danny DeKeyser and Brian Lashoff joining the Wings on a full-time basis, and he both reiterated those points to the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness and expanded upon them, suggesting that all five players will be full-time Wings on a team that will indeed have to utilize trades or buy-outs to alleviate a roster crunch designed to accommodate the "youth movement":
“I’m pretty comfortable saying that none of them are going through waivers. Someone will claim them, which means that we either have to have him on this team or we have to make some moves. We started the year with 23 players and you add those five, that’s 28, so we probably have 27 or 28 players."
Beware the lure of free agency? That's what Holland told Pleiness...
“We’ve got some tough decisions to make and at the same time, I don’t think it’s a big free agent market, if you look in comparison to other years, I think the free agent market every year is going to get a little thinner and a little thinner because teams are signing their best players. Nobody is letting those types of assets hit the market. They’re signing them or they’re trading them and somebody else is signing them. So much like the Red Wings were built in the ‘90s, through the draft, you know (Sergei) Fedorov and (Steve) Yzerman and Lidstrom and (Vladimir) Konstantinov, we’re trying to do the same thing now. We’ve got to build through the draft.”
With the re-signing of Drew Miller last week, Detroit currently has 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies under contract for next season. Andersson, Nyquist, Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith are all restricted free agents and will be resigned which balloons the forward unit to 14 and defensemen numbers to eight for a grand total of 24 on the roster.
“Eighteen months ago or plan was to try and be lean and go into free agency in 2012 because there was potential for a whole lot of high profile players,” Holland said. “We were lean and we did go in and we came within a whisker of getting one and we didn’t. So when you lose Lidstrom and you lose Stuart and you lost Holmstrom you’re going a little bit into the unknown.”
As Pleiness notes, that "unknown" also involved the team swinging hard for and missing in their attempts to land Ryan Suter and/or Zach Parise, and as such, making lateral moves that were supposed to ease the transition in signing Mikael Samuelsson, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jonas Gustavsson and Jordin Tootoo. Three of those four players got hurt, and in some cases, stayed hurt, and as such, the WIngs had to embrace the "youth movement" a year earlier than planned:
“We were going into the unknown, but we knew there was potential,” Holland said. “I believe Pav and Z and Kronner are world class players. I’ve always believed in Jimmy Howard. I love E. There are people here that I thought we could build around that were better than some people thought. But you don’t really know until they get put in a position of more responsibility, more minutes, different matchups than they have been before.”
Holland does acknowledge that the team will do something this summer, but Pleiness duly notes that the Wings want to retain Daniel Cleary's services, that they really want to re-sign Damien Brunner, and that they'll at least go through the motions of offering Valtteri Filppula a contract. The Wings also have to re-sign four restricted free agents in Andersson, Kindl, Nyquist and Smith, and when you add up the probable million-plus-dollar moves plus attempts to re-sign Brunner and Cleary...All of a sudden, $10.6 million in salary cap space disappears in a hurry.
“We’ve got to figure out ways to get better,” Holland said. “We’re not getting 50 percent better, we’re not bringing in a superstar player so we have to find a way to figure out a way to get a little bit better and a little bit different. Is it getting tougher, bigger, younger or quicker, but those are the decisions we have to make.
“My feeling is we’re in the thick of things,” Holland continued. “We’re not at the top of the heap, but we’re in a pile of teams that there are 24 of us in that pile. There are maybe three or four ahead of us in the class, but we don’t have those young studs. We don’t miss the playoffs to get those guys so we have to go through a longer process. When the time comes, can we trade for one or go after one that hits the market? We offered a ton of money last year to two people and one of them we kept raising it and raising it and I don’t think it was about money it was about lifestyle. I can’t fight lifestyle.”
(see: two players who wanted to play in and near their home state and where their family and in-laws lived, respectively, in Parise and Suter)
The Wings' beat writers have insisted that, should the Wings target free agents, they'll probably go after a forward to add some size, grit and/or goal-scoring ability, and will look at Bryan Bickell, Viktor Stalberg, Nathan Horton or David Clarkson.
MLive's Ansar Khan profiled Clarkson on Thursday, and this evening, the Free Press's Helene St. James suggests that Clarkson, who's neither overly big (6'1," 200 pounds, 29 years old) nor all that established as a scoring forward (he's two seasons removed from a career largely spent as an enforcer) may in fact be a "perfect fit"--someone who can score goals, drop gloves, and someone who won't be salivated over as much as Bickell, Horton or even Stalberg have because 28 other teams have been watching them play during the Stanley Cup Final.
As such, if the Wings are to go after a forward (St. James has repeatedly suggested that the Wings should go after a defenseman instead), she sees the right-shooting Clarkson as the #1 choice as the player St. James believes the Wings should target:
Clarkson has spent his career so far with the New Jersey Devils. He was never drafted, and largely has been considered a grinder-type. He has 97 goals and 73 assists in 426 games over seven seasons.
His 770 penalty minutes, meanwhile, indicate a propensity for taking far too many penalties, and his minus-32 rating is also a concern. He has bounced around on lines, and hasn’t been a picture of consistency — much like Wings forward Damien Brunner this past season, Clarkson was a scoring machine the first half, with 10 goals the first 14 games and then five the rest of the way.
One of the intriguing aspects about Clarkson, though, is his shooting. He finished fourth overall in the NHL this past season with 180 shots in 48 games. The only Wings player who shoots that often is Henrik Zetterberg (he was sixth overall, with 173 shots in 46 games). Clarkson is good along the boards and is a hound for rebounds; again, this could be valuable on the power play, where getting second-chance shots has been a huge problem.
The question is whether Clarkson can be a 30-goal scorer again (as he was in 2011-12), or, as is more likely, a guy can give a team around 20 goals per season. And of course, there’s price to consider. The Devils are talking extension with Clarkson, but Clarkson knows he’ll generate good interest if he goes to unrestricted free agency on July 5. He’s coming off a three-year, $8 million deal, with last season’s salary standing at $3 million. He’s going to command at least $1 million more per season, probably closer to $4.5 million per season.
Clarkson has more strengths than weaknesses, and it’s hard to think he wouldn’t help the Wings generate more offense, an area they consider a weakness. If he becomes available for around $4.5 million a season, he could be a terrific asset.
St. James' article sets up what sounds like a series of free agent profiles to come, but she and Khan seem to have picked Clarkson as their first player profile for a reason. At this point, it looks like Horton will a) command a $5+ million salary and b) need surgery for what's become a chronic shoulder issue; if we are to believe ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, the Montreal Canadiens really, really want Bickell; and Stalberg may be big, fast and Swedish, but there are definite questions regarding his offensive "upside."
Update: Via RedWingsFeed, the Detroit News's John Niyo believes that the Wings have to make a big move this summer, arguing that Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are essentially owed an elite set of teammates:
Florida’s Stephen Weiss, who could get $6 million annually on a four-year deal assuming he’s healthy, figures to be among the primary targets. And there should be a few other intriguing (and expensive?) options out there, including Chicago’s Bryan Bickell and Boston’s Nathan Horton. More names will emerge as salary cap-strapped teams buy out some contracts beginning 48 hours after the playoffs end.
Another reliable defenseman has to be on the Wings’ offseason wish list, and if there’s a chance to land one that’d be an upgrade in Detroit’s top four, Holland absolutely should pursue it. Because as he keeps reminding us all, “The free agent market every year is going to get a little thinner and a little thinner. Teams are signing their best players. Nobody is letting those types of assets hit the market.”
That’s why it’s going to take more than Holland’s usual tire kicking to get what he really wants. Or more pointedly, what head coach Mike Babcock wants, since most of the last two summer’s free-agent dollars were scratched in the playoffs this spring.
It’s going to take some wheeling and dealing at the draft, perhaps, buying the negotiating rights to one of the Wings’ targeted free agents. Or perhaps a trade involving some of that young talent that debuted in Detroit after the lockout and helped AHL affiliate Grand Rapids win the Calder Cup. I wouldn’t part with Danny DeKeyser, but Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl and any of those young forwards should be shopped.
As even Holland himself admits, “We don't have a guy coming through the system that I'm going to say to you is a superstar.” And as Babcock noted after the season, “The guys we’ve got coming can't all play here. But you have assets, so you make the decisions based on what's best for you.”
The Wings’ management team began last season talking hopefully — even confidently — about their depth up front. But that was before injuries — and age — started eating away at it. Mikael Samuelsson played all of five regular-season games. Todd Bertuzzi played seven. Darren Helm played 12 minutes all season. They can’t honestly count on any of those three producing next season, either.
But with some of the AHLers out of options, and some of them having proved they’re NHL-ready, there’s a numbers crunch that’ll force Holland’s hand. Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Anderson are lineup regulars now, and they’ll be among a handful of restricted free agents that get re-signed this summer. Tomas Tatar, who should’ve been a part of the playoff push this spring, has to be in Detroit next season as well.
That gives the Wings 14 forwards even without the trio of pending unrestricted free agents: Filppula, Daniel Cleary and Damien Brunner, the latter of whom the Wings still hope to re-sign. And that should give Holland all the nudging he needs to utilize one or both of his compliance buyouts, shedding Samuelsson’s $3 million cap hit and perhaps defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo’s $2.5 million as well.
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