I know I'm probably the only one thinking about this right now, being 3 weeks removed from the trade deadline, and another three weeks from the start of the playoffs, but it's just been something I've been kicking around lately, especially given the opinions of the some of the other folks I've heard lately.
The Red Wings stood still at the trade deadline, as is their M.O., but looking at the contract situations, Ken Holland is going to be very busy this summer... 9 players on the current roster will become unrestricted free agents come the end of the season. Here are my thoughts on each of them. There are a couple options for some players, so I’m not comparing this to the salary cap in any way. I don’t want to get into that sort of detail in this forum. It is entirely possible that several of these players may retire outright, opening up the salary cap for another veteran forward and/or defenseman. I think the Red Wings should make a serious run at trying to acquire Brad Richards this offseason, or even Zach Parise from the Devils. The fun part is that if Modano signs on another year, he’d could have his old Dallas buddy Richards to cause some trouble with. But I digress…the point is that the Wings need to open up some cap space and bring on some hired guns to replace them. That’s why I’m not suggesting huge raises to anyone. Offer them enough to keep them interested in playing for a successful Detroit Red Wings and they’ll always be on the right side of the Cup speculation year after year.
Jiri Hudler - $2.875 million
Hudler is finally starting to wake up after a dismal first half. Holland and Mike Babcock had high expectations for the Czech forward after letting him spend a year in Russia, but Hudler hasn't produced. Except lately. He has 7 goals and 19 assists, and is +8 since Christmas (35 games). That's a pace of 33 goals/44 assists in a season, which is a lot more like the Hudler we saw in years past. The slow start is history now, and the Wings look to him to be a steady producer the rest of the way. I’d offer Hudler another one- or two-year contract for about the same amount, but Hudler needs to produce consistently over the entire season, otherwise, I might think about moving him by the trade deadline.
Mike Modano – $1.75 million
Provided he doesn’t hang ‘em up after this season, the greatest US-born hockey player can find a new home with the Wings. I doubt he’d test the free agent market. He came to Detroit specifically to play for the Red Wings – his favorite team growing up, so there’s no reason to suspect that he’d go elsewhere. It’s hard to say with Modano because he missed so much time off this season with a wrist injury. However, given the stats he put up in his last couple years in Dallas, he wasn’t going to be a streaking goal scorer. I was excited when the Wings signed Modano this summer. I love his play and his drive. I don’t want to say that he looks like a man seeking one last shot, but if it is, then so be it – it’s worked for him. I expected Modano to be a playmaker, and a catalyst for the likes of Hudler and Valtteri Filppula. He still has his great puck-handling skills and has been a healthy presence on the power play. Pending Modano’s preference, I’d offer him another 1-year contract or a time-share in Florida.
Kris Draper – $1.583 million
I like to think of Draper as the crafty older brother on a team of young forwards. He’s had a long, rich history with the Red Wings and still seems as spry as he ever was. Draper is still tops at the face-off circle and is an inspiration in the locker rooms. However, he’s been rotating on the fourth line with Drew Miller, sitting out half the games as a healthy scratch. That’s gotta sting a little for Ken Holland’s wallet. I can understand that Draper wants to be a part of this team, but I don’t know that there’s room for him anymore, especially not with a heaping salary for an on-again-off-again Grind Liner. It might be time for him to retire as well. Offer him a year-by-year contract, but at a big paycut, or if the buzz continues about the return of the Winnipeg Jets, maybe Holland can sell him back for the dollar he paid for him in 1993. I’m sure they’d be looking to fill out their roster. The only problem is finding someone in the Wings’ locker room to carry on the shaving cream pies for birthdays.
Patrick Eaves – $750,000
Eaves has been right in the thick of things up until the last several weeks when he’s been in and out of the sick bay. I’m actually surprised to remind myself that he’s only making $750K. Eaves play has been solid all year, including a hat trick against the Stars back in December. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Two-year contract for $2.5 to 3.0-million.
Drew Miller - $650,000
I see a lot of promise in Drew Miller. This is a guy who takes his game-in-game-out rotation with Kris Draper very seriously. He’s hustling, throwing his weight around, and coming up with key goals. He doesn’t have the numbers yet (8G/8A in 62 games), but I think a little Illitch & Holland’s Miracle-Gro would solve that in no time. Invest some confidence in the kid by first making him a permanent winger. Then offer him a three-year, $3.0 million contract, and ye shall be rewarded.
Niklas Lidstrom - $6.2 million
Been wondering when I would get to him, haven’t you? Much has been said about the 40-year old body and the 20-year old heart of the Swedish captain. 14G/43A to date is hard to argue with. At this point, there isn’t much to be said except to speculate on whether or not he’ll retire at the end of this year, and a lot of that is based on whether or not the Wings can win a Cup this year. Without getting into any of that, I think it’s in the Red Wings’ best interest to continue to offer Lidstrom these one-year deals for 6.2 million (no more paycuts). Or just give him the whole team…
Ruslan Salei – $1.1 million
I thought Rusty had a tough time melding with this club and it took him a while for him to get his sea legs. However, he has been a steady presence on the blue line lately. He only has two goals, but I think Rusty is a guy you can count on to be a solid defenseman, just don’t expect a lot of offense. Let him do what he’s good at and he’ll shine. With the aging defense corps of this club, Salei was brought on to bridge the gap between Lidstrom/Rafalski and Kronwall/Ericsson, and he’s done that so far. However, I can appreciate how some players just may not “fit” in the fabric of Detroit hockey, and it’s always in the back of my head whether this is the case with Salei. Offer him the same contract, maybe a slight raise, and continue the bonuses for exceptional play and you’ll see by the trade deadline next year.
Jonathan Ericsson - $900,000
Ericsson has surprised me this season. He’s worked out a lot of his issues since last season and hasn’t made nearly as many bad plays. He has a respectable 3G/11A for a young blueliner and has even gotten in a couple fights with some pretty tough contenders (David Clarkson, Ryan Clowe). I’m excited to see how this kid develops. I’ve been thinking that the Wings need a little more grit, although I hesitate to suggest hiring a “goon” for that purpose. I would encourage Ericsson’s rougher play but only to a point. He would still have some hefty responsibilities as a defenseman. 2 years and $3.5 million ought to be enough for that.
Chris Osgood – $1.416 million
Ozzy has been such an integral part of the Wings success in the last few years, that it’s hard for me to watch him sit the bench after what seems to have been a hairpin turn for the worse, and it has to be even worse for him. He hasn’t seen a lot of action at all this season behind Jimmy Howard, and sports hernia surgery. Ozzy is 38 years old, obviously entering the twilight of his career. However, there’s no way he would be able to upstage Jimmy Howard at this point. The Wings can offer him any contract extension for any amount of money they want, but he’s still going to be a backup. If he decides to test the free agent market, he could probably get a lead goaltending job in a younger, not-as-successful club. Edmonton springs to mind. Or even if he retires, he could probably get a coaching job with the Oilers too. Osgood could be a family man living at home, and being a wise mentor to a young club. When the rubber meets the road though, if I’m Ken Holland, I wouldn’t throw Osgood away, and the 1.4 million isn’t all that much. Make it an even 1.5 million for another year, but make it very clear that he will be the backup again.