The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/04/12 at 10:45 PM ET
I’ve been hammering it like a nail: after tomorrow, we Red Wings fans will begin to find out about the shape of the Wings to come as GM Ken Holland, assistant GM Jim Nill, capologist (from having met him, folks, trust me, he’s basically the team’s third general manager) Ryan Martin, VP Jimmy Devellano, the team’s pro scouts (Mark Howe, Kirk Maltby, etc.), special assistants Chris Chelios and Kris Drone Nicklas Lidstrom (okay, everybody take a deep breath, that’s a long sentence)...
Will emerge from their organizational meetings, having decided what the team plans on doing with their own unrestricted free agents-to-be in Jiri Hudler (unlikely to return), Joey MacDonald (likely to be replaced), Tomas Holmstrom (likely to retire) and Brad Stuart (likely out the door), the shape of the negotiations to come with their restricted free agents in Darren Helm, Justin Abdelakder and Kyle Quincey, and—most importantly for you and me—what the team plans on doing in terms of targeting free agents to attempt to fill the gaping hole left in the team’s blueline in Lidstrom’s departure, starting with draft-day rights trades, continuing into free agency, and, if the market doesn’t pan out, working the trade market.
The Wings just happen to need a top-six forward, too, may very well want to add a second puck-moving defenseman as they’ve never really addressed Brian Rafalski’s departure, either, and the Wings’ beat writers suggest that the team’s going to go after a back-up goalie who doesn’t have Joey MacDonald’s back issues and a bottom-six forward with size, grit and snarl, too…
And that doesn’t include the fact that the team’s going to re-sign Fabian Brunnstrom, but may need to re-stock the cupboard in terms of NHL-ready call-ups from the AHL up front, on defense, and even with Thomas McCollum facing a make-or-break year and Petr Mrazek turning pro, a veteran goalie who can mentor the pair as it appears that Chris Conner, Doug Janik, Garnet Exelby, Chris Minard and Jamie Johnson are going to move on, and while Jordan Pearce remains under contract, there’s really no room for him at the goaltending inn.
But the latter list of players will be ably filled by Nill, who is now the Grand Rapids Griffins’ general manager, as borderline NHL players struggle to find employment in mid-July once those KHL and European jobs start disappearing (given that their training camps start in late July and they’re playing a month’s worth of exhibition games an pre-season tournaments by the second week of August, you’re seeing players like Curtis Sanford and Sami Lepisot land some of the last available spots on European teams).
It’s the top-pair defenseman, top-six forward, potential top-four defenseman, back-up goalie and fourth-line forward that the team need to worry about more than anything right now, and while the team will tread lightly regarding parade marshal Homer’s years of service and Joey MacDonald’s status as a good soldier, they’re likely to only be able to beg Brad Stuart to not leave one more time, and every indication suggests that Jiri Hudler’s going to tell the Wings the truth—in an incredibly thin crop of free agent forwards, he’s easily going to make more money on the open market than the Wings can give him, which makes his “love for Detroit” kinda inconsequential.
Tonight, the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell gives us the first inklings as to what the Wings plan on doing, with Holland letting us all know that he understands that this may be the most important summer of his managerial career in terms of not dropping the puck in assuring that the Wings remain an elite team for their paying fans and status as a place where players want to come and play:
“I feel pressure every day,” Holland said. “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 is the subject of three days of organizational meetings that’ll wrap up today in Detroit. 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 obvious needs. A top pairing defenceman, a top-six forward, a veteran goaltender to provide insurance in case backup Joey MacDonald’s back issues resurface and a big, grinding forward to add some sandpaper to the bottom six forwards. The Wings could also use a big body to replace Stuart, if he leaves, in the second pairing. Should they reach the open market, forward Zach Parise and defenceman Ryan Suter will be Detroit’s primary targets. It’s also believed Florida defenceman Jason Garrison intrigues the Wings, especially being a right-handed shot. Montreal’s Travis Moen, who Detroit tried to acquire the 28-year-old at the trade deadline, would fill their needs for a gritty bottom six forward.
With US$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.”
MacDonald has a one-way, NHL-only contract next season, so the team’s got a couple of weeks to decide whether they’re going to go with him as he cannot be sent down to make a roster spot for a call-up without exposing him to waivers on the way down and re-entry waivers on the way up…
Is Holland going to consider trading for the rights of free agents at the draft, or maybe even before that? Yup:
“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.”
Does he buy the Toronto Star’s Damien Cox’s suggestion that Detroit may no longer be the place where free agents want to go due to their remarkably player-friendly environment, incredibly dedicated ownership and status as a big-market, big-money team playing in a lovely Metropolitan Area of about 4.5 million people who tend to give their players the kind of respectful distance a hockey-mad city’s print, radio and online media corps bafflingly mirror?
“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.”
According to Waddell, the team’s barely touched those “Blackberries” he carries regarding speaking to Holmstrom, Hudler or Stuart’s agents as of yet, but you sure as hell better believe that the Wings plan on keeping Helm and Abdelkader in Detroit for the balance of their careers, and it is their hope that Quincey represents a reclamation project who, perhaps in tandem with one or both of Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith, can soften the blow of Stuart’s imminent departure.
So now what, Kenny?
“It’s all about planning,” said Holland, who admitted he initiated some potential trade talk at last week’s 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.”
That’s what Wings fans like me are hoping, too. To offer a cheesy quote, make it so, Wings brass, make it so.
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