*I’m reposting this from over at “Winging It”, as this is a topic I have been bugged about like crazy today and I want to give all readers a chance to weigh in…even those without memberships at SB Nation (GET ONE!!!).
(Photo courtesy of Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press)
Before we move forward and look at who might not be around, let’s take a look at who is already locked up. Up front, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader are all taken care fo for next season. Defensively, the Wings have already secured the services of Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Jonathan Ericsson, Andreas Lilja, Derek Meech and Brett Lebda. In net, Chris Osgood will be back as the starter and Jimmy Howard is signed for the next two years.
Which leaves us with the following question marks and probable results (which of course are all IMO):
- Hossa is an unrestricted free agent entering the off-season, but it is widely believed that he will be back in the winged wheel next season, and for quite a few seasons after that. Despite all but disappearing in this postseason, Hossa is still a superstar in the NHL and the Wings are a better team with him in the lineup. However, his price tag is guaranteed to be high, as he garnered 7.45 million this past season. Even if Ken Holland can work his magic and get Hossa to take less money over a long-term deal, his presence bodes pretty unfavorably for some of the other free agents on the Wings roster.
- Staying or going? Staying.
- Here’s where things begin to get complicated. Hudler is a restricted free agent, so all the Wings have to do is offer him, and he stays with the team. However, as Hossa is widely expected to sign a long term deal with the Wings, Hudler becomes one of the players on the outside looking in. Normally, this wouldn’t be a major issue, as Hudler has enough NHL experience to receive a crop of offer sheets from other clubs. However, and unproductive playoff – three assists and zero goal in his last 12 playoff games – could lead some clubs to reconsider Hudler. In the end, though, someone should take a chance on him, and Hudler will be playing for someone else when the fall rolls around.
- Staying or going? Going.
- Samuelsson, an unrestricted free agent, is expected to be another victim of a Marian Hossa re-signing. Despite being productive for the Wings early in the playoffs, Sammy fell of the map in the last 10 games, netting zero points. His contract is just over one million dollars, which is completely reasonable for a 20 goal scorer, so someone will scoop up Samuelsson off the market.
- Staying or going? Very much gone.
- Kopecky is another major question mark, as the Wings will likely need to shed one more salary, in addition to Hudler’s and Samuelsson’s, to keep Hossa in a Red Wings uniform for the foreseeable future. The likely answer appears to be Kopecky, who has been out since Game 5 of the Anaheim series after suffering a broken orbital bone. But it won’t be easy to cut ties with him, as Kopecky played 79 regular season games and is only 27 years old. But the reality is that Kopecky only put up 19 points over those 79 games, and with younger players like Leino, Abdelkader and Helm gaining experience and playing time, Kopecky’s lack of production might help to show him the door in Detroit.
- Staying or going? Probably going.
- No drama here. Leino is a restricted free agent, who hasn’t played in enough NHL games to really warrant an offer sheet from another team. Leino will be back and will probably get increased time with the big club, especially if Kopecky doesn’t get re-signed.
- Staying or going. Staying.
- With the young talent making its way up the ladder, I just don’t see both of these guys staying. McCarty played in 13 games this season to Downey’s four. Combine that with McCarty’s status as a fan favorite and someone who is willing to grind it out in the minors to get his shot, and he’s my pick to be back in a Wings uniform next season.
- Staying or going? McCarty: Staying. Downey: Going.
- Unfortunately, Cheli’s time in Motown is up. With young defensive talent like Jon Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall leading the charge, Chelios’ minutes just aren’t there anymore.
- Staying or going? Gone.
- So this is one situation that has managed to stay under the radar for the most part, but Conks finds himself as a free agent and the Wings potentially find themselves with an untested backup goaltender in Jimmy Howard. At this point, things get really tricky, and Ken Holland is going to earn his paycheck when this is all said and done. Conklin made $750,000 last season, but happened to turn in 25 wins while Osgood was interested, and will most likely ask for more money. But Jimmy Howard is making $717,000 a season, and also can’t be sent back down to the minors without being waived. And if Howard got claimed off waivers and called back up from the minors, half of his salary would be on the shoulders of the Red Wings. It’s a predicament, for sure. However, I don’t think that the Wings staff is 100 percent confident in Howard’s ability to succeed in the NHL, and surely don’t consider him a full time backup at this point. Combine that with the fact that there isn’t a huge demand for starting goaltenders this off-season and, in the end, I think it looks something like this: Howard gets a few more chances to prove himself during the regular season, but…
- Staying or going? Conklin is staying, at least until the trade deadline.
That covers off on all of our free agent action, but there is one more area of concern:
- Lilja is signed to play this year, but after getting his block knocked off during the regular season last year, he hasn’t been able to return to the ice because of persistent headaches. For awhile, it looked as if he was turning the corner, but now he claims that the pain is worse than ever. I hate to say it (and I hope it’s not true), but Lilja sounds like a player who might possibly have played his last game in the NHL. I may very well be wrong about this, but he doesn’t sound like he is making a ton of improvement here and I, for one, do not expect him to be ready for the start of next season.
- However, if he does somehow make it back to the lineup, it puts Derek Meech in a really tough position. Meech has had a really tough time cracking the starting lineup over the last two years, and if Lilja can return, Meech finds himself squarely on the trade block. However, if Lilja can’t return, then Meech finds himself on more secure footing, as long as he isn’t passed by another guy from the minors.
All in all, it’s going to be a tricky off-season in terms of roster movement. Without a doubt, there will be changes, but the Wings remain in good shape since their core players have all been taken care of. With young, playoff proven talent ready to step up for anyone who leaves town, the Wings should find themselves in a pretty good position when the playoffs fire up again next season.