The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/18/12 at 02:09 PM ET
Updated 3x at 2:20 PM: In theory, anyway, Red Wings GM Ken Holland could make some sort of significant player rights-snagging move this Friday or Saturday at the NHL Draft in Pittsburgh, and two weeks from today, at 12 PM EDT, free agency begins, likely yielding serious fireworks in terms of the team’s attempts to sign at least a top-pair defenseman and a top-six forward, selling Detroit’s “program” to players and hopefully kicking some doubters to the curb in the process.
I’m pretty sure I’m allowed to quote a couple of paragraphs out of an ESPN Insider article, so we’ll begin what’s likely to be a week of discussing the ways the Wings can “fix” their roster with this from Robert Vollman’s assessment of Central Division teams’ off-season needs:
Detroit Red Wings
The hole: Nicklas Lidstrom
The departure of a player like Lidstrom leaves more of a chasm than a hole. Detroit turned to Lidstrom to play the toughest minutes in all situations, and the team still managed one of its best shot differentials with the incomparable Swede on the ice. No single player can replace Lidstrom, but the right player can fill as much of that void as humanly possible.
The fix: Sign D Ryan Suter, UFA (12.0 GVT)
Along with linemate Shea Weber, Suter was the key to the Predators’ blue line, the only defensemen with whom they enjoyed a possession advantage. Suter killed 49 percent of their penalties, worked 46 percent of their power plays and played 40 percent of their toughest even-strength minutes against top opponents in both zones. Though he wouldn’t come cheap, the 26-year-old silver medalist has averaged over 40 points the past four seasons and could be the closest thing to Lidstrom available on the open market.
As the Free Press’s Evil Drew Sharp is wrapping up his chat on the Free Press’s website, having addressed a couple of “fixes,” MLive’s Ansar Khan profiles the player the Wings are likely to target if they can’t land Zach Parise in one Alex Semin. The Wings won’t offer Semin the $6.7 million salary he made in Washington this past season, but the 28-year-old would be able to address the Wings’ desire to add a sniper to the mix, and his stock rose considerably after displaying superb chemistry with Pavel Datsyuk during the World Championships:
Strengths: He’s an extremely gifted offensive player, with a great shot, tremendous one-on-one moves and good finishing ability. He averaged 33 goals over five seasons before slipping to just 21 in 2011-12.
Weaknesses: He’s not particularly strong on the puck despite his decent size. He’s not strong defensively. He’s missed a lot of games over the years with a variety of injuries. But the biggest concern about him is his commitment. He doesn’t play hard consistently and is prone to disappearing for long stretches.
Notable: He had 12 points (seven goals, five assists) in 30 playoff games over the past three seasons, after picking up 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) in his first 21 playoff games.
Why he would interest the Red Wings: They need a sniper. And if they don’t land New Jersey’s Zach Parise, the options are limited. But they are wary of Semin’s baggage. If he had trouble getting motivated playing on a club with Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, would it be any different in Detroit? And would his incentive wane even more after signing a long-term deal?
How he could fit in with the Red Wings: The Russian native would, no doubt, be taking passes from fellow countryman Pavel Datsyuk. He didn’t kill penalties in Washington but claims he wants to play in all situations.
What it might take to get him: He’ll need to take a pay cut, even in a weak free-agent field, and probably get between $5.5 million and $6 million a season on a long-term deal.
Semin’s motivation and his “fit” as a player who’d be given no quarter by Mike Babcock represent the biggest concerns in terms of trying to land a player that’s sure to test the free agent waters, but his agent, Mark Gandler, is also something of a nut-job, so Semin represents a high risk-possibly-low-reward signing in more than one aspect.
Here’s the Sports Forecaster’s assessment of the mercurial forward:
ASSETS: Owns one of the best shots in the NHL. Has the creativity, offensive wizardry, explosiveness and soft hands of a supreme goal-scorer. Is lethal one-on-one and can break a game open at any time.
FLAWS: Can be intimidated and knocked off the puck. Could use more muscle on his 6-2 frame. An unpredictable fellow, he needs to better utilize his linemates and work on his defense. Is somewhat injury prone and moody.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Supremely slick scoring winger.
Why would the Wings go after Semin over, say, re-signing Hudler? Because he’s got a track record of scoring more goals, posting more points and is a much bigger player and better skater, even if he doesn’t use his size to his advantage all the time. He’s wouldn’t be able to dog it in Detroit not only because he’d have a hardass coach in Babcock, but also because Pavel Datsyuk’s anything but a slouch when it comes to work ethic and putting in extra time to continually improve his game, his strength and his fitness.
I suppose that’s the most positive way of looking at Semin coming to Detroit: if Datsyuk were to take Semin under his wing, that “program” of excellence might rub off on the Krasnoyarsk native in a big way.
Also of Red Wings-related note this morning:
• Via RedWingsFeed, part 1: the Score’s Justin Bourne pondered whether Nicklas Lidstrom’s comments to Mitch Albom about players sticking their noses in their smartphones or laptops and not conversing as much might yield some sort of locker room technology ban, and even if you aren’t interested in the story, I may or may not have fiddled with the picture that accompanies the story to the point that it’s an awesome wallpaper-sized image of Lidstrom standing at center ice during warmups at the Joe;
• You-know-who’s picking on Predators GM David Poile’s dogged beliefs that Ryan Suter will surely want to go nowhere but Nashville and that, somehow, the Predators can land some sort of return for the rights of a player who’s headed back to Russia for good in one Alex Radulov in a certain learning-related column, but I’d prefer to not kick sand myself. Poile’s doing the best he can to hope and pray for the best given that he’s got over a dozen restricted and unrestricted free agents to sign (FTR: NHLGossip is a Sabres fan, so he asked me if the Wings had any interest in signing Paul Gaustad; my answer was that Gaustad’s inability to do much more than win faceoffs and trash talk didn’t exactly “sell” the Wings on bidding for his services), and if ever there was a player who might attract a RFA offer sheet (though not from the Wings), Shea Weber, who exhausted his salary arbitration-filing option last summer, definitely has a bullseye on his back;
• Via Paul, if you don’t buy my, “beware the source when talking about” rumors regarding players’ intentions, the Score’s Cam Charron offers a more nuanced take on the kinds of rumors we’re going to be hearing over the next two weeks;
• In CBA news, the Edmonton Journal’s Jonathan Willis admits that lowering the “cap floor” is probably the best option for the NHL and NHLPA to agree upon in terms of addressing the “holes” in the present CBA, despite Bettman’s desire to enforce parity via a narrow payroll range;
• And as Sharp’s chat on the Free Press ended while I was writing this, here’s what he had to say about the Wings:
Should we be scared as Wings fans if Holland cannot sign Suter / Parise?
by Alex 11:01 AM
Drew Sharp: No. What should scare you is the L.A. Kings championship confirms that the NHL is now officially a draft pick league. Regardless of whether or not they add Suter and or Parise, it’s more important that young guys like Brendan Smith step forward and take charge.
Red Wings fan in Chicago here. Just wondering if you think Holmstrom will retire and if so who will take his place.
by GUS 11:08 AM
Drew Sharp: From what I understand, he wants to return. They could use him in limited doses next season.
Update: Well this is just weird, per TSN’s Darren Dreger...
Jaromir Jagr enjoyed Philadelphia, but plans on testing free agency. Also plans to change training to shed some lbs and get faster.
The Blues have signed defenseman Barret Jackman to a new three-year contract. http://bit.ly/Mi2IdM #stlblues
And, per USA Today’s Kevin Allen:
Barret Jackman gets 3-year deal from St. Louis worth $9.5 million.
• MLive’s Brendan Savage has attempted to handicap what Jiri Hudler might attract on the open market…
Jiri Hudler’s name might not seem like it belongs at the top of the list when it comes to the NHL’s most desirable free agents.
And that’s no knock against the Detroit Red Wings’ seven-year veteran. It’s just that Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Alexander Semin are usually at or near the top of the list of players who could be available July 1.
But don’t underestimate the appeal of Hudler even if some Red Wings’ fans wouldn’t be broken-hearted if he took his talents elsewhere next season and freed up some salary-cap space for Detroit to use on other players.
CBSSports.com puts Hudler behind Parise, Suter, Semin, P.A. Parenteau and Matt Carle on its list of top free agents. Among the forwards on that list, Hudler’s numbers match up well with everyone and only Parise scored more goals.
In 81 games last season, Hudler had 25 goals and 25 assists.
Parise had 31 goals and 38 assists in 82 games for New Jersey
Semin had 21 goals and 33 assists in 71 games for Washington
Parenteau had 18 goals and 49 assists in 80 games for the Islanders,
Hudler made $2.875 million last season.
• And speaking of rankings, I’m not allowed to quote too much of ESPN’s Craig Custance’s insider-only articles, but here are some of his top 50 free agents:
1 Ryan Suter
‘11 team: Nashville Predators Status: UFA
Suter edges Zach Parise for the top spot on this list for one simple reason. It’s nearly impossible to land a franchise defenseman in free agency. And that’s exactly what Suter is. He’s been slightly overshadowed in Nashville by partner Shea Weber, but the talent gap between the two is indistinguishable.
“I think Suter makes the team better alone more than Weber makes the team better alone,” said one NHL scout. “It’s his smarts, puck distribution, getting the play started from his own end, making that last little play, handling it that extra second on the power play.”
The lines of communication between Suter and the Predators remain open, so it’s possible he stays in Nashville, even if he hits the market. But the Detroit Red Wings have a huge need on defense and plenty of money to spend, making them the favorites. Minnesota will take a run at him too. Suter’s personality isn’t one that craves the spotlight, so replacing Nicklas Lidstrom could be more pressure than he’s comfortable with, but despite that, many see Detroit as the front-runner.
“He wants to win. I think he wants to be the guy,” said the scout. “That would fit that situation.”
2 Zach Parise
‘11 team: New Jersey Devils Status: UFA
Parise has publicly expressed a desire to remain with New Jersey, and it’s not surprising to hear a quality person and captain like Parise feel that sense of loyalty. But as July 1 closes in, it’d still be hard to imagine him not testing the market to see what’s out there, especially considering the ownership concerns in New Jersey. The Wild, Red Wings and Kings are the front-runners to land him if he’s willing to leave New Jersey.
As good as he is, there’s some concern he’s not quite at the superstar level in which he’s about to get paid. He’s best served playing on a team where he can be part of a group of high-end players rather than the focal point of a team’s offense, similar in that regard to Marian Hossa. Balancing that minor concern is the fact that his intangibles are off the charts.
“He’s our leader out there,” said Devils forward Adam Henrique. “Everybody feeds off his energy. He’s someone the coach wants you to watch, how hard he works all over the ice with or without the puck. He’s the best in the league in getting back on the puck if there’s a turnover.”
7 Alexander Semin
‘11 team: Washington Capitals Status: UFA
Semin might be the most intriguing player on the market. One front-office executive joked that you’ll know two weeks after signing him whether or not it was a brilliant move or a train wreck. That won’t prevent teams from taking that chance.
“Someone is going to pay him,” said an NHL source. “There’s nobody else out there.”
Semin’s camp wants to see his role expand wherever he plays next, including more time on the penalty kill. Since scoring a career-high 40 goals in 2009-10, his goal total has declined each season to just 21 goals in 77 games this season where Dale Hunter limited his ice time. His preference is the NHL, but he will be tempted by big money to play in Russia.
13 Jiri Hudler
‘11 team: Detroit Red Wings Status: UFA
Hudler scored a career-high 25 goals this season and was one of the few Detroit players to produce offensively during the Red Wings’ first-round loss to the Nashville Predators. It was a major bounce-back season from the previous year in which he struggled after spending time in the KHL.
“He’s a competitive little guy,” said former teammate Chris Osgood. “When people say he can’t do something. He’ll prove them wrong. He has great hands, a great shot. The puck follows him around. He’ll find a way to score, get to the net. He’s a gamer and has scored a lot of big goals for us.”
In a weak market, the Red Wings don’t necessarily want to overpay for him and be stuck with a Ville Leino-like contract on their books, which means there’s a strong chance he hits the market where somebody will take a risk on him in a lean free agency class.
Update #2: If you’re interested, I spoke to Sports.ru’s Vadim Kuznetsov about my memories of Vladimir Konstantinov, and he posted them in Russian today.
Update #3: I’m not sold on this from Custance’s article, as noted by the Detroit News’s sports staff (via RedWingsFeed):
Rounding out ESPN’s top five:
3. Florida defenseman Jason Garrison
4. University of Wisconsin defenseman Justin Schultz
5. Anaheim winger Teemu Selanne
Schultz is an interesting case because he has not signed with the Ducks — who drafted him No. 43 overall in 2008 — after declaring his intent to leave college.
Schultz, 6-2 and 185 pounds, has been a top-10 Hobey Baker Award finalist the last two years. He is from West Kelowna, British Columbia, and has a right-handed shot. He had 16 goals and 28 assists in 37 games for the Badgers last season.
Custance says Schultz will have “no shortage of aggressive suitors,” including the Wings, Vancouver, Toronto, Philadelphia, Edmonton and the Rangers.
“He’s a great skater and his game is polished enough that he can make the jump to the NHL immediately,” Custance writes of Schultz. “There’s not a player in this free-agent class who has more upside.”
Update #3.5: For the record, from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Frank Seravalli, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren seems to believe that Matt Carle will remain a Flyer:
The Flyers are unable to complete a deal with any of their free agents - including defenseman Matt Carle and Jaromir Jagr - before July 1 because of salary cap space but Holmgren said he is “fairly confident” he can hammer out a deal to keep Carle.
Holmgren reiterated his interest in Jagr, though TSN’s Darren Dreger reported on Monday that Jagr will likely test free agency. Holmgren said he has not spoken to Jagr’s camp since May and they agreed to speak again before July 1. The Flyers could always agree to a deal in principal, regardless of tagging space issues, to bring either player back.
• And while I’m at it, here’s Pro Hockey Talk’s Jason Brough’s assessment of the UFA defensemen who will probably be available on July 1st:
Ryan Suter – But you already knew that, so let’s move on.
Dennis Wideman – The 29-year-old has said he wants to stay in Washington, but his contract demands could be pretty steep given the 46 points he put up in 2011-12. The Caps might be better served spending their money elsewhere. Obviously they’ll be hoping Mike Green won’t miss as much time next season, and young John Carlson could take on more of an offensive role if Wideman moves on.
Jason Garrison – Talks between the Panthers and the 27-year-old have yet to produce a deal. Though he’s best known for the 16 goals he scored in 2011-12 playing alongside Brian Campbell, Garrison brings more to the table than a cannon from the point – he’s a big guy that can play in all situations and doesn’t mind getting his nose dirty.
Matt Carle – The 27-year-old logged 25:19 per game in the playoffs and wants to stay in Philadelphia. In fact, he might already have re-signed if not for the “tagging rule” that prevents teams from exceeding this year’s salary cap in commitments for next season.
Other pending UFA d-men below the age of 35 include Michal Rozsival, Bryan Allen and Shane O’Brien.
Elder statesmen include Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek, Sami Salo and Bryce Salvador.
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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.