Bruce MacLeod has a post not calculated to raise the hopes of Wings fans here. For a slightly more measured take on the situation (particularly the part about negotiations between the Wings and Hasek), see this CP report. With Hasek no longer a sure thing, Schneider on the verge of finding out his market value, and Todd Bertuzzi wanting job security the Wings aren’t willing to give him, it looks like Danny Markov could end up being the most likely to return, after everyone wrote him off.
The Wings would be okay if they couldn’t reach a deal with Hasek. The alternatives on the market aren’t that appealing, but Chris Osgood is more than capable of backstopping the Wings to the Conference Finals, especially if they bring a similarly solid defense to the table. If pressed, they could sign one of the UFA goalies and try a rotation. Not an ideal situation, but a workable one.
But the defense is the big question: what will it look like? It could be significantly different. The thought of Mathieu Schneider bolting began growing in the back of my mind and it now seems to be the most likely outcome. He has his critics in Detroit and around the League, but Schneider’s value to the Wings is widely underappreciated, as anyone who watched the team’s last playoff run can tell you. Losing him to free agency wouldn’t be quite like losing Nick Lidstrom, but the impact would be huge. I don’t think Andreas Lilja and Brett Lebda are capable of together stepping into Schneider’s shoes. The Wings can bring back Danny Markov and count on Niklas Kronwall being healthy, but they’ll still miss Schneider’s outlet pass, his booming shot, and his underrated ability on the power play, not to mention his defensive capabilities. There’s a reason people referred to Lidstrom and Schneider as the Wings’ 1A and 1B defensemen. There is no immediate replacement for #23, if he should decide to take the money and run.
As for Bertuzzi, I would be more disappointed than upset were the Wings unable to reach a deal. I want to see what he can do with a full season under his belt, but it wouldn’t be a great loss if he didn’t re-sign. It would certainly open up some space for another acquisition by Holland, perhaps Slava Kozlov or even Ryan Smyth. Even if the Wings don’t sign a forward, whether Bertuzzi or someone else, I think they’re in pretty good shape up front anyway. They’ve got a good youth corps looking to step it up and begging for the ice time to do it, so maybe it’s right to give it to them.
So, the outlook may seem a bit bleak, but that’s just because nothing has happened yet. I still think Hasek will sign, so the Osgood haters probably won’t have to worry about watching him play more than 30 games. Schneider could very well re-sign and for a reasonable price, and the Wings are likely to sign Bertuzzi and/or another UFA. Those three points would ensure that last year’s team largely stays the same and would offer the best hope of a return to the Conference Finals. 3-out-of-3 may not be too likely, but 1- or 2-out-of-3 wouldn’t be too bad. And really, even the worst-case scenario (Hasek, Schneider, Bertuzzi gone; no UFAs) wouldn’t be awful, because of the team’s youth depth. It’d just make repeating last year’s success that much tougher for the team and stressful for the fans.
The fun days of refreshing TSN and hoping to see news of Wings UFAs’ re-signing, rather than news of their departures, begin tomorrow. Woo hoo.