So close. Losing in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final may have been heartbreaking for the Detroit Red Wings, but they have built up a nucleus that promises to contend for the championship for the forseeable future.
Off-Season Game Plan examines the Red Wings and what they can do to keep the gang, or as much of it as possible, together.
The first order of business for the Red Wings may be to consider what they can do to keep Marian Hossa in Motown long-term. Hossa signed a one-year deal, in his quest for a Stanley Cup, and performed well in the regular season before eventually coming up short, particularly in the final.
By all accounts, Hossa was a good fit with the Red Wings veterans and would readily be welcomed back, but it's going to come down to money. It was surprising enough for Hossa to take less money for one year, but the 30-year-old is probably ready to cash in with a lucrative long-term deal.
Now, the Red Wings have been very creative in dancing around the league's financial restraints, signing players to front-loaded deals that would take them to age 40 so that the average yearly cost (ie. salary cap hit) is lowered. Can that kind of deal work for Hossa? If he's looking to max out his income, probably not.
With or without Hossa, the Wings will have enough talent to remain in the hunt for a championship. Some tweaking will be necessary and the playoffs showed that there are some young players ready to join the lineup full-time next year.
"I'll let the emotions of this wear off, and then take a look at our team," GM Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press the day after the playoffs ended. "But our nucleus is in place. We've got some kids coming. All of our defense is in place if we want it to be in place. We don't have a ton to do."
Ken Holland/Mike Babcock
Top Prospects: Ville Leino (15-31-46, plus-2 in 57 GP; Grand Rapids-AHL), Justin Abdelkader (24-28-52, minus-2 in 76 GP; Grand Rapids-AHL), Dick Axelsson (11-19-30, plus-3 in 39 GP; Djurgardens, Farsjestads-SEL)
After a good, not great, regular season, Henrik Zetterberg re-established his credentials as one of the top two-way players in the game with his outstanding work in the playoffs. Not only is Zetterberg a gifted offensive performer, but he is a sound performer in all three zones.
Few players in the league can match the exceptional puckhandling skills of Pavel Datsyuk, the slick Russian pivot who tied his career-high with 97 points last season and has recorded a rating of at least plus-25 for four straight seasons. Datsyuk struggled in the postseason, but still dazzled on occasion with his creative offensive moves.
When he first arrived in Detroit, Johan Franzen was a plodder, a big bodied battler along the boards who could do the grunt work, hence the nickname "Mule". Now, however, Franzen is coming off a season in which he notched career-bests in goals (34), points (59) and plus-minus (plus-21). He also lifts his game in the postseason, scoring 25 goals in 39 games over the last two playoffs.
The resurrection of Daniel Cleary's career has been ongoing for four years in Detroit, the last three of which have seen him score at least 40 points and he is coming off the best postseason performance of his career. Cleary has the offensive instincts to complement the Wings' best players, yet he's developed a work ethic that is more typical of a grinding line winger.
Even though his 40 points represented a career-high, Valtteri Filppula didn't improve quite as much as hoped, but he came on strong in the second half and the playoffs. There's still room for the 25-year-old to improve and take his scoring up to another tier.
Years of absorbing punishment in front of opposing goaltenders is starting to wear down 36-year-old Tomas Holmstrom, who has missed 52 games over the last two seasons and struggled terribly in the playoffs. Going into the final season of his contract, Holmstrom can still be a useful player, though it's fair to question if he's worth the investment if he's only going to play 50-60 games.
Energetic centre Darren Helm was hard-pressed to establish himself in the Red Wings lineup until the playoffs, when he was a very effective role player, using his speed to kill penalties and create pressure on the forecheck. He's due for a full-time job next season.
It was a difficult year for 38-year-old Kris Draper, whose minus-13 rating was worst on the team and the worst mark of his 15 NHL seasons. On top of that, Draper was hurt in the postseason, so he couldn't establish any momentum when the season was on the line.
Draper's long-time tag-team partner, Kirk Maltby has been eerily unproductive over the last four seasons, scoring 10 or 11 points and finishing minus-8 or minus-9 in each of the last four seasons. He's an inexpensive veteran, but is barely holding onto his fourth-line role.
Diminutive Jiri Hudler has improved every season, scoring 28 of his career-best 57 points on the power play last season. At the right price, the Wings would probably like to have Hudler return, but if he can't fit under the cap, Hudler would be prime trade bait for the Red Wings this summer.
A couple of prospects could be ready to make the jump from Grand Rapids as well. Ville Leino, who scored five goals and nine points in 13 regular season games with the Wings, and hard-working winger Justin Abdelkader have both shown that they are capable of handling regular work in Detroit.
The Wings don't appear to have a lot of money left under the cap for Marian Hossa, barring another creative long-term cap solution, so they may have to look for other alternatives to fill some anticipated voids up front, while moving some of their homegrown talent (like Leino) up the depth chart.
Veteran free agents like John Madden, Ian Laperriere, Chad LaRose or Samuel Pahlsson would be interesting additions, adding grit to the checking units.
Top Prospects: Jakub Kindl (6-27-33, minus-14 in 78 GP; Grand Rapids-AHL), Brendan Smith (9-14-23, plus-3 in 31 GP; Wisconsin-WCHA)
Nicklas Lidstrom performs at a level of consistency that is above and beyond the rest of the league and the 39-year-old was tremendous again last season. While it may not have necessarily been another Norris Trophy campaign, Lidstrom provides a security blanket for the entire franchise.
In his mid-30s, Brian Rafalski has continued to perform at a high level, putting up a career-high 59 points last season. He can be outmuscled at times, but his mobility and puckhandling skills are an ideal fit for the Wings' puck control style of play.
After a slow start, Niklas Kronwall came on strong and finished with a career-high 51 points, playing in a career-best 80 games. A punishing hitter, Kronwall's work on the power play is getting better as he matures, though he can be better in his own end.
While Brad Stuart is lauded as a terrific fit on the Red Wings' second pairing, his lack of speed can make him susceptible to pressure and his minus-3 rating was rather unbecoming for a top four defenceman on a powerhouse team.
Lanky rookie Jonathan Ericsson didn't do much to impress in his regular season stint, but took his game up to a new level in the playoffs. For a guy who is 6-foot-5, Ericsson moves well, can handle the puck and, after three years of seasoning in the AHL, he's ready to be an NHL regular.
A concussion kept Andreas Lilja out of action down the stretch, but he was having a respectable season through the end of February. He may have been overtaken on the depth chart at this point but, if healthy, he's surely capable of playing a stay-at-home role, whether it's in Detroit or elsewhere.
Brett Lebda has finished with between 12 and 18 points in each of his four seasons, not necessarily showing a lot of development as he gets inconsistent ice time behind much more accomplished defenders. Lebda is undersized, but is a terrific skater.
Generally overmatched at the NHL level, it seems, Derek Meech is a part-time player who doesn't get a lot of ice time when he does play. He's inexpensive, has six years in the Red Wings' pro system and can fill in at forward when needed, making him an okay guy to have for depth purposes, but he could always be moved.
The Wings have enough talent and depth on the blueline already, so any upgrades may require the departure of a defenceman already on the roster.
Free Agent Goaltender
Top Prospects: Daniel Larsson (22-12-2, 2.76 GAA, .907 SVPCT, 5 SO in 40 GP; Grand Rapids-AHL), Thomas McCollum (34-16-4, 2.11 GAA, .927 SVPCT, 7 SO in 54 GP; Guelph, Brampton-OHL), Jimmy Howard (21-18-4, 2.54 GAA, .916 SVPCT, 4 SO in 45 GP; Grand Rapids-AHL)
On the heels of what was the worst regular season of his career, Chris Osgood's strong playoff performance should provide some measure of confidence in his ability going into next season. Even at his best, Osgood doesn't need to steal games for the Wings, just provide stable, consistent puckstopping.
Ty Conklin, who has had the dubious dinstinction of being on the losing side in three of the last four Stanley Cup finals, is coming off a strong season in which he recorded a career-best six shutouts while playing in a career-high 40 games. He can likely fetch more on the open market.
If Conklin departs, the Red Wings do have prospects Daniel Larsson and Jimmy Howard available to challenge for the job.
29th - Tim Erixon, Ryan Button, Carl Klingberg.
The Red Wings have approximately $52-million committed to salaries for next season.
Needs: Two top nine forwards, backup goaltender.
What I said the Red Wings needed last year: One top nine forward, two defencemen
Who did they add? Marian Hossa, Ty Conklin.
Tomas Holmstrom, Jiri Hudler, Andreas Lilja, Jimmy Howard.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca