The Malik Report
Red Wings morning news: Holland drops a hint regarding defenseman shopping list; offseason structure
by George Malik on 04/28/14 at 06:36 AM ET
Ahead of today's locker room clean-out day, I tried to set the scene for what I believe is one of the most important days of the Red Wings' calendar year for a simple reason: love 'em or loathe 'em, the Detroit Red Wings' coach and general manager tend to be straight-shooters in the personnel department.
Mike Babcock's post-elimination comments to the media issued something of an in-house diagnosis of what the Wings can do to improve while availing themselves of the players and prospects already in the organization. As such, he talked about rest and recovery for Darren Helm, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, a resurgent 2014-2014 campaign for Johan Franzen and the possibility for improvement "on the back end" via Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul, Alexei Marchenko and Mattias Backman competing for spots on the blueline as they are "ready" in his estimation.
Today, Babcock will issue what is something of an end-of-season lecture, and just as Babcock's first comments at training camp tend to outline the team's first couple months' worth of points of emphasis, today's comments will frame his "want list" and perceived franchise needs going toward the draft and free agency.
The Red Wings' general manager is perhaps honest to a fault. Prior to the trade deadline, Ken Holland suggested that the Wings would not look for rental players barring injuries. When the Red Wings' centers went down to the point that Luke Glendening became the team's first-line pivot, Holland stated that he felt it was necessary to revisit the rental market, and that he was concerned about the team's ability to make the playoffs as currently-constructed up the middle.
Lo, there came that last-second David Legwand-for-Calle Jarnkrok, Patrick Eaves and what is now a 2nd round pick deal.
On Sunday evening--again, he told MLive's Ansar Khan that Pavel Datsyuk may need not-so-minor knee surgery, and that Stephen Weiss had scar tissue removed by the specialist who fixed his...core muscle...issue...And Holland more or less let everyone know whether Weiss would be a Red Wing come September:
Center Stephen Weiss last week had what Holland called minor surgery to release scar tissue. It was performed in Philadelphia by the same doctor (William Meyers) who performed sports hernia surgery on Weiss on Dec. 23.
“He needs a big summer,” Holland said.
Holland said Henrik Zetterberg felt great in the two games he played since returning from back surgery on Feb. 21.
“We expect to see him in September healthy,” Holland said.
Holland also told the Free Press's Helene St. James that he's going to take some time to reassess the team's personnel issues...
“We wanted to have a better year,” Holland said Sunday. “Losing in the playoffs, in whatever round, is always disappointing. In a month, I’m sure we’ll look back and see building blocks, see that we have people in places to feel good about, but today I’m disappointed, and you don’t make decisions based upon emotion.”
Holland noted the Wings “didn’t get it done as a team.” Pavel Datsyuk gutted out the series on one leg, scoring three goals. Henrik Zetterberg pushed himself to get back early from back surgery. Niklas Kronwall played big. Those three guys are key reasons the Wings continue to be NHL playoff material year after year — they have made it 23 straight seasons — but all three are in their early to mid-30s, lending an urgency to surrounding them with enough good pieces to win another Stanley Cup.
And he issued a statement that may seem ominous to the Buy Out Franzen movement:
About Franzen: He underachieved in the playoffs, but his $3.95-million salary cap hit makes him more attractive to keep than to catapult. He produced 16 goals among 41 points in 54 regular-season games, well above a 20-goal average. He was quiet in the postseason, again, but so were the young guys that were so key to the Wings even making the playoffs: Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco.
“To think we’re out because of one person not scoring,” Holland said, “that’s a fantasy.”
After Holland issues his end-of-the-season address, and as he makes a few sports talk radio appearances over the next week or two, here's how a non-lockout season's "offseason" tends to unfold:
- Over the next two or three weeks, barring players heading to Belarus to take part in the World Championships (Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Jonas Gustavsson are good bets to take part), the team's trainers will deliver off-season prescriptions in terms of fitness training, and each and every player will engage in an "exit interview" with the coaching and managerial staff. The exit interviews allow the players to provide feedback as to what they feel the team needs to do to improve, and the coaching and managerial staff issue "prescriptions" of their own to the returning players and prospects. They also tend to get a feel as to whether potential unrestricted free agents wish to remain with the Red Wings, and they let said players know if the organization has interest in retaining their services.
- Around or after the time that the exit interviews take place, the coaches, management and pro and amateur scouts have the first of two or three "powwows" to assess the shape of the roster to come, the progress made by the team's prospects (and which players will be either signed to their first pro deals or retained if coming off of entry-level deals), the team's draft targets and potential free agent and/or trade additions. The team tends to have a second meeting in early-to-mid June, formalizing its draft strategy, and then a third meeting prior to the start of unrestricted free agency.
- With the World Under-18 championships wrapping up, the Wings' amateur scouts will return to North America and may make some final rounds as the QMJHL, OHL and WHL championships precede the Memorial Cup; they'll also watch the Griffins play. The pro scouts will continue to watch playoff series to both scout opponents, to scout potential free agent additions and, as Babcock would say, to engage in "Rob and Do" R&D, determining whether successful aspects of other teams' games can be folded into Detroit's games.
- Holland, Ryan Martin, Kris Draper and the rest of the front office will also begin to touch base with player agents and other general managers, and the coaching staff will occasionally "put a good word in" as well. Specific players' names aren't mentioned, but it's not collusion if an agent tells a general manager that Player X may be interested in coming to a team for Y years at Z salary, and those kinds of agent-reaches-out-to-team conversations are already taking place with both active and eliminated teams (the latter segment can already make trades if they wish), so it's not uncommon. I will tell you that you would be astonished at the amount of "phone time" that the management has to put in to land a free agent or two, to retain their own players and to keep their fingers on the pulses of the league's real rumor mills.
- The team then heads to the draft to make its picks on June 27th and 28th in Philadelphia...And as we've witnessed over the past calendar year, they now have to take into account any surprises thrown into the organization's free agency plans by cap-compliance buyouts (if teams have remaining cap compliance buy-outs at their disposal, they have to use them this spring), and the "wining and dining" period preceding the start of free agency on July 1st can help teams' causes (Daniel Alfredsson) and make life a little more difficult (Vincent Lecavalier).
This morning, Holland issued what I'd describe as two eyebrow-raising comment to MLive's Khan regarding the team's offseason to-do list.
First, he stated this to Khan about the team's playoff showing...
“We had higher hopes than going out in five games in the first round,” Holland said. “We had some real good things happen but we’re disappointed we didn’t finish higher in the standings and do better in the playoffs.
“We are trying to be a playoff team, trying to compete and advance in the playoffs and trying to be a Cup contender. We just played a team that lost three regulation games in the last 28 games and two were against the Red Wings. We played a juggernaut, experienced team.”
And then he made something of a card-showing remark:
The Red Wings’ biggest needs are a goal-scoring winger, preferably with decent size, and a top-four defenseman, preferably a right-handed shooter.
“We need more scoring, but lots of teams need that,” Holland said. “Lots of teams are looking for a right-handed shooting defenseman. If we can find a top-four right-handed shooting defenseman by trade or free agency, we’d certainly like to add one.”
There aren't many of those players out there: 27-year-old Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen and soon-to-be-38-year-old Dan Boyle highlight what is a pretty middling crop of unrestricted free agents-to-be, and just about every other defenseman comes with an asterisk or two attached, like Andrei Markov (bad knees), Kimmo Timonen (39 and slowing), Boston's Andrej Meszaros (a 35-point guy), Derek Morris (right-shooting but 35) and Tom Gilbert (puts up points for Edmonton, Minnesota and Florida, but at 31, is he truly a top-four guy?)...
Khan then provided a shopping list--according to Khan, the Wings may want to bring back both Daniel Alfredsson and Jonas Gustavsson--before letting Holland finish with this:
“I’m proud we made the playoffs for the 23rd straight year,” Holland said. “It’s hard to make the playoffs. Half the league doesn’t make it. I’m disappointed we’re out, but we got beat by a team that was better.”
Even if the salary cap rises to $69 million instead of $70 or $71 million, the Wings will still have considerable space (Capgeek's organization chart is your new best friend) with which to make additions, but the team has several restricted free agents due stiff raises in Danny DeKeyser, Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan.
If you don't already know their names by now, Alfredsson, Todd Bertuzzi, Daniel Cleary, Gustavsson, David Legwand, Kyle Quincey, and Mikael Samuelsson are the team's unrestricted free agents-to-be; the Wings still have Jordin Tootoo under contract for next season, though it may be a little easier to find a "taker" for his $1.9 million cap hit this summer...
And the Wings have to make some difficult decisions regarding their restricted free agent prospects, too. Cory Emmerton can join this summer's unrestricted free agent crop if the team chooses to not tender him a qualifying offer, and that's also true for Adam Almquist (who's out of waiver options next fall), Mitchell Callahan (ditto), Willie Coetzee, Landon Ferraro (double ditto), Gleason Fournier, Andrej Nestrasil, Max Nicastro and Trevor Parkes.
Tom McCollum's on an AHL-only contract, too, and the team needs to decide how Petr Mrazek's future fares into the team's plans to either have Jake Paterson turn pro or play one more overage season in the OHL.
If the Wings are looking for a right-shooting defenseman--and it's worth noting that Babcock did not mention Almquist as a player he views as "ready"--Almquist's undersized status is offset by a 49-assist season, so he might be "trade bait."
The Wings will probably allow Callahan and Ferraro to fight for jobs at training camp and during the exhibition season, and as RedWingsCentral noted, Nestrasil's play's brought him back into the team's plans, but I'm not optimistic about Fournier, Nicastro or Parkes' futures, and Willie Coetzee won't be waiver-exempt next season, but he's missed a year-and-a-half with knee issues, so the team may keep him to allow his play to do the talking, as it were.
In any and all instances, the Red Wings' players, coaches and management will be very busy over the next four months, and today's player, coach and general manager's comments simply set the stage for a summer in which the players will attempt to build the physical and mental foundations for healthier, more successful seasons, and the management will do its best to ensure that the returning players will return to Detroit with a stronger roster.
Again, I'm not a believer in the concept that the Wings need to get bigger and tougherr to hold a candle to the Beasts of the East: when the speedy Wings used their skating ability to roar through the neutral zone and establish and sustain a surprisingly physical forecheck, they left the Bruins flat-footed during their regular-season meetings as well as Game 1 and the first period of Game 4.
This isn't the kind of NHL where attempting to turn over a third to half of the roster, free agent-to-be for free agent signing, works very well as a long-term model: if the Wings are able to add another top-pair defenseman (I think the concept of adding both a top defenseman and a top-six, goal-scoring forward with size is a bit of a pipe dream), Babcock's list of NHL-ready defensemen bears fruit and the Wings' "Kid Line" and support players continue to make steps forward, the team will be able to kick its status as a one-or-two-playoff-round-and-done team to the curb in short order.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.