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Off-Season Game Plan: Detroit Red Wings

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Scott Cullen
5/31/2012 5:30:57 PM
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The Detroit Red Wings were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and head into next season without their perennial Norris Trophy candidate on the blueline.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at a changing of the guard in the Motor City.

Nicklas Lidstrom didn't miss the playoffs in 20 seasons with the Red Wings and, even without their number one option on the blueline, there is a solid enough core on this team to think that the Red Wings are going to remain competitive.

Without Lidstrom, there will be a massive hole to fill on the blueline, but the Red Wings have more than $20-million in cap space, so they are expected to be active in the free agent market as they pursue top-end talent to help offset the loss of one of the greatest defencemen the game has ever seen.

Whether that means signing Nashville's Ryan Suter or University of Wisconsin's Justin Schultz -- both of whom are expected to reach unrestricted free agency -- there is a need for the Red Wings to invest in the long-term future on the blueline because they've been spoiled by having Lidstrom as their no-maintenance All-Star year-in and year-out.

In the larger picture, the Red Wings still have a veteran core -- Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall -- that will lead the next generation and, to their credit, the Red Wings have a promising group of prospects on the way. They are exceedingly patient in their development of those prospects, but that's been the tried-and-true method for some time now.

Until the young players rise up and prove that they can handle prominent roles, however, the Wings are somewhat a team stuck in between: still good enough to make the playoffs and compete, but maybe not ready to challenge the league's best. We'll see who they can add before that's ultimately determined.

With a couple of marquee additions this summer and perhaps a few prospects making the jump to full-time roles, the Red Wings won't fall off dramatically and it's a testament to the franchise that they even have a chance to keep pushing forward despite the retirement of one of their all-time greats.

The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus and the biggest stars will be over 80. Evgeni Malkin finished at the top of the regular season ratings with a 93.12.

Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.

GM/COACH
Ken Holland/Mike Babcock

Returning Forwards

Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Cap Hit
Pavel Datsyuk 78.82 70 19 48 67 +21 $6.7M
Henrik Zetterberg 74.88 82 22 47 69 +14 $6.083M
Johan Franzen 73.74 77 29 27 56 +23 $3.955M
Valtteri Filppula 73.02 81 23 43 66 +18 $3.0M
Todd Bertuzzi 66.24 71 14 24 38 +23 $2.075M
Dan Cleary 64.80 75 12 21 33 +2 $2.8M
Drew Miller 62.54 80 14 11 25 +6 $837.5K
Patrick Eaves 57.06 10 0 1 1 0 $1.2M
Cory Emmerton 55.78 71 6 4 10 +1 $533.3K
Jan Mursak 54.93 25 1 2 3 +2 $550K

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Class '11-'12 Cap Hit
Jiri Hudler 68.26 81 25 25 50 +10 UFA $2.875M
Darren Helm 63.32 68 9 17 26 +5 RFA $912.5K
Justin Abdelkader 58.78 81 8 14 22 +4 RFA $787.5K
Tomas Holmstrom 58.28 74 11 13 24 -9 UFA $1.875M

Since 2005-2006, there are half a dozen NHL players that have scored at least 500 points and registered a plus-minus over plus-100 in that time and none of them touches Datsyuk's plus-186, but we all know he's great.

The more pressing issue for the Red Wings is whether or not Datsyuk can continue at this elite level. He will turn 34 this summer and has missed 38 games in the last two seasons, after missing 38 in the previous seven seasons, so maybe it's just bad luck, or maybe age is starting to creep up on one of the game's most spectacular players.

While his finishing ability has decreased (7.8% over the last three seasons, 12.8% in six seasons before that), he remains one of the game's premier two-way players, capable of playing in any situation and though last year's 69 points was his least since 2006-2007, it was enough to lead the Wings.

Johan Franzen has never scored 60 points in a season, yet remains an integral part of the Red Wings offence. Mule, now 32, has scored at least 27 goals in four of the last five seasons (the only season he didn't, he scored 10 goals in 27 games) and his .40 goals per game in that time ranks 22nd in the league.

The Red Wings have been patient with Valtteri Filppula and were rewarded last season when he broke through with a career-high 23 goals, 43 assists, 66 points, plus-18 rating and 18:16 average time on ice. That becomes the new level, or somewhere similar, at which Detroit will need him to produce going forward.

37-year-old Todd Bertuzzi is, as one might expect, in the decline phase of his career, but he was still a career-best plus-23 last season, skating primarily with Datsyuk and Franzen. He offers size and snarl that most Red Wings skilled forwards don't so, for that reason, he fills a role.

Dan Cleary has turned into a gritty performer in Detroit, one that played through injury for much of 2011-2012, finishing with 32 points, his lowest total since 2005-2006. At this stage of his career, Cleary is more suited to a third-line role, with the ability, when he's playing well, to slide up the depth chart on occasion.

Albeit in a depth role, Drew Miller has been a useful player for Detroit the last three seasons. He scored a career-high 14 goals and 25 points last season, including 17 points in a 35-game stretch in the middle of the season when injuries required him to handle more minutes.

A broken jaw left Patrick Eaves on the shelf for all but 10 games last season, so it was a lost year, but he scored a total of 25 goals in the two years before that, so he can be a useful role player.

Cory Emmerton earned his way into an NHlL job, barely. He played 71 games, but his 8:06 average ice time per game was lowest among non-fighters (an arbitrary, but fair, designation) and he played the softest of minutes (low level of competition, high offensive zone starts, www.behindthenet.ca) available to Detroit forwards. None of this means that Emmerton can't play a greater role in the future, but he hasn't been given the opportunity yet.

Very similarly, Jan Mursak has been trying to earn a spot in the Red Wings' lineup, managing four points in 44 games over the last two seasons while playing under eight minutes per game. If he can stay healthy and play a full season on the fourth line, Mursak would certainly rate as inexpensive labour.

Darren Helm is an emerging checking centre, but the 25-year-old has a different role than other third-line pivots, since the Red Wings' top two lines end up facing top opposition so often. Helm's speed is the key to his success and he should continue to handle more responsibility in the future.

There are few Red Wings forwards that provide a physical presence, but Justin Abdelkader is one of them. The strong 25-year-old winger scored a career-high 22 points last season and might put up more with more ice time, but he hasn't shown enough skill to climb the depth chart, leaving him as a good bottom six winger.

Without making any changes (ie. just signing their restricted free agents), the Red Wings would have a dozen forwards under contract and while that group would be competitive, it's also unlikely that the Red Wings -- in a summer in which they have a ton of cap space -- won't try to bring in another high-end forward, whether it's signing free agents like Zach Parise or Alexander Semin, trading for Rick Nash or adding some other difference-maker up front.

On top of all that, the Wings also have some high-quality prospects in the pipeline. Gustav Nyquist seems closest to landing a regular job, but the Red Wings have several from which to choose, depending on the roles they need filled.

Returning Defence

Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Cap Hit
Niklas Kronwall 73.19 82 15 21 36 -2 $4.75M
Ian White 73.04 77 7 25 32 +23 $2.875M
Jakub Kindl 67.61 55 1 12 13 +7 $883.3K
Jonathan Ericsson 62.99 69 1 10 11 +16 $3.25M

Free Agent Defence

Player Rating GP G A PTS +/- Class '11-'12 Cap Hit
Kyle Quincey 70.29 72 7 19 26 -1 RFA $3.125M
Brad Stuart 68.53 81 6 15 21 +16 UFA $3.75M

It's been a long time that Niklas Kronwall was considered the heir apparent Nicklas Lidstrom as the leader on the Detroit blueline and, until there are acquisitions, that's the role left for the 31-year-old who has made a name for himself with devastating hits, yet also scored a career-high 15 goals last season. To be sure, Kronwall isn't in Lidstrom's class, and there's no shame in that, but he's been nudging towards 23 minutes a night in recent seasons and could cross that threshold next year.

Paired with Lidstrom last season, Ian White responded with a career-best plus-23 and his 32 points was the second-best mark of his career. His job will be more challenging next season, no matter who he plays with, but he's played between 22 and 23 minutes per game in three of the last four seasons, so he can expect to play a significant role next season.

Jakub Kindl has played such a limited role (13:46 per game in his career), that he's not trusted enough to handle a regular turn on the blueline. Maybe he gets better but, at 25, there is a possibility that Kindl is destined to be on the roster bubble.

Signed to a lucrative contract extension, Jonathan Ericsson saw his ice time dip last season, not quite taking the step forward that his pay cheque might suggest. That opportunity could be available again next season, depending on who gets brought in, but Ericsson could be stuck as an expensive third-pair option.

It cost the Red Wings a first-round pick to, in a roundabout way (through Tampa Bay), acquire Kyle Quincey from Colorado. Since leaving Detroit in 2008, Quincey has emerged as a 20-minute-per-game blueliner and with Lidstrom retiring and Brad Stuart headed for free agency, the Wings could need 20 minutes per game from Quincey.

Of course, the Wings don't plan on going into next season with just the returnees. They have top prospect Brendan Smith ready to step in and play a significant role after a couple of years in the AHL and Detroit figures to go after prime free agents Ryan Suter and Justin Schultz.

Returning Goaltenders

Player Rating GP W L OTL GAA SV% Cap Hit
Jimmy Howard 77.99 57 35 17 4 2.12 .920 $2.25M
Joey MacDonald 74.46 14 8 5 1 2.16 .912 $550K

Free Agent Goaltender

Player Rating GP W L OTL GAA SV% Class '11-'12 Cap Hit
Ty Conklin 49.21 15 5 6 1 3.28 .884 UFA $750K

Making it as a No. 1 goaltender for a perennial contender isn't easy, as Jimmy Howard is finding out. After a long apprenticeship in the minors, Howard had a strong rookie year in 2009-2010, struggled in 2010-2011 and rebounded for a good regular season in 2011-2012, but was much better early in the year before fading in the second half and into the playoffs.

He's a capable starter, but expectations are always high with the Red Wings and any time the club comes up short, the unproven goaltender will take heat before the Cup winners in front of him. Howard's job obviously won't get easier with Lidstrom retiring, but the 28-year-old is far enough into his career that he should be able to handle the challenge.

Joey MacDonald is a standard No. 3 goaltender, who typically spends his time in the AHL, but he's been reasonably effective (.915 SV%) in 29 games for the Wings over the last two seasons.

Part of the reason MacDonald played as much as he did, in addition to injuries, was the Ty Conklin struggled in the backup role, so Detroit will be looking to find Howard a better backup for next season.

Top Prospects

Player Pos. Team/League Stats
Brendan Smith D Grand Rapis (AHL) 10-24-34, +2, 57 GP
Gustav Nyquist LW Grand Rapids (AHL) 22-36-58, +7, 56 GP
Calle Jarnkrok C Brynas IF Gavle (SEL) 16-23-39, -3, 50 GP
Tomas Tatar LW Grand Rapids (AHL) 24-34-58, +7, 76 GP
Tomas Jurco RW Saint John (QMJHL) 30-38-68, +46, 48 GP
Teemu Pulkkinen RW Jokerit Helsinki (SML) 16-21-37, even, 56 GP
Riley Sheahan C Notre Dame (CCHA) 9-16-25, even, 37 GP
Marek Tvrdon LW Vancouver (WHL) 31-43-74, even, 60 GP
Petr Mrazek G Ottawa (OHL) 30-13-6, 2.84 GAA, .917 SV%, 50 GP
Ryan Sproul D Sault Ste. Marie (AHL) 23-31-54, +16, 61 GP

23-year-old defenceman Brendan Smith got a taste of NHL action last season (and that doesn't refer to his suspension, earned for a preseason head hit on Chicago's Ben Smith), playing 14 games, recording seven points while not looking out of place in his protected minutes. Going into next season, though, Smith should have a shot at a top-four role with power play time, a huge opportunity.

After putting up better than a point-per-game in his first AHL season, Gustav Nyquist impressed in a minimal role with the Wings late in the season. If any forward prospects are going to be part of the plans next season, Nyquist figures to be at the top of the list.

20-year-old Calle Jarnkrok remains in Sweden, but is a high-end prospect, a playmaking centre who only needs to get stronger before he makes his way to North America.

Tomas Tatar has three AHL seasons under his belt and he's still just 21-years-old. He started slowly, but with 19 points in his last 16 games, he did end up with a career-best and team-leading 58 points. Tatar may be knocking on the door, but it's not an easy lineup to crack.

Detroit got great value in last summer's draft when they landed Tomas Jurco in the second round. Jurco has size and skill, but wasn't particularly consistent, but he took a step forward with his powerhouse junior team this year and he seems like a player that should be able to score at the next level.

A 20-year-old who has 91 points in 111 games in Finland's top league over the last two seasons, Teemu Pulkkinen needs to work on other parts of his game, but he's got the scoring part down pat.

Expectations have been high for Riley Sheahan, a first-round pick in 2010, but his lack of point production in college may set a more realistic path. Sheahan is a big forward who, at the pro level, can use his size in an effective checking role. After 20 goals in 114 college games, it's not fair to expect that he'll be an offensive threat as he climbs the ladder.

A risky fourth-round selection in 2011 after he only played a dozen WHL games, Marek Tvrdon was healthy last season and has a combination of size and skill that could pay off with further development.

With a .919 save percentage in 102 OHL games over the last couple of seasons, Petr Mrazek is an intriguing prospect between the pipes. There's no need to rush the 20-year-old, but a couple of years in the AHL could have him ready to compete for a job.

A big defenceman who knows what he's doing with the puck, Ryan Sproul is a raw talent, but has another year of junior to smooth out the rough edges before he turns pro and then should get some time in the AHL.

DRAFT
No first-round pick

FREE AGENCY
According to www.capgeek.com, the Red Wings have approximately $42.3M committed to the 2012-2013 salary cap for 16 players. Check out my potential 2012-2013 Red Wings roster on Cap Geek here.

Needs: Two top nine forwards, top-pair defenceman, backup goaltender.

What I said the Red Wings needed last year: Depth forwards, two top four defencemen, two additional defencemen, backup goaltender.

They added: Cory Emmerton, Jan Mursak, Ian White, Mike Commodore, Ty Conklin.

TRADE MARKET Danny Cleary, Patrick Eaves, Jakub Kindl, prospects.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Datsyuk congratulated by Zetterberg and Cleary (Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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