Update (10:18 PM): Of course, as soon as I write that I’d like to see Mac take a two-way contract, the Windsor Star comes out with a report indicating he may not be willing to do so. Come on, Mac! I thought you loved GR. – Matt
Updated @ 10:00 PM – see end of post – Matt
The Lilja, Stuart, Conklin, and Hossa signings raise questions about the final makeup of the Wings’ roster. Here’s how I’m hoping it all shakes out:
To start, the Valtteri Filppula question. If anyone offers him $3+ million and he takes the offer, the Wings’ can’t stop him leaving. However, I like to think Fil would relish the thought of playing for the Cup again, particularly with a winger like Hossa. Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t see a problem there as long as he’s willing to accept $2.5 million or less from Detroit.
On the way out should be Dallas Drake, who ought to retire in order to make way for others. All indications seem to be that he’s going to hang them up while he’s on top. It’d be great to have him back, but there’s not a lot of room.
I’d love to see the Wings convince Darren McCarty to take two-way contract. It would be a move aimed at bringing in a physical presence if needed for the playoffs and would go a long way in boosting the popularity of hockey here in West Michigan. Mac can still bring it and would be valuble to have available.
I’d prefer they keep Aaron Downey around the main squad, but if it’s he who goes to GR, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. By all accounts, the guy is so good in the lockerroom that I don’t hesitate to overstate his role in the Cup win when I talk about the guy. If nothing else, I think they should make Downey Director of Team Morale or something.
Assuming Fil re-signs, Drake retires, and the enforcers split as outlined above, the Wings would end up with 12 forwards with settled statuses: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Marian Hossa, Dan Cleary, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Mikael Samuelsson, Jiri Hudler and Aaron Downey/Darren McCarty (with this guy sitting out more often than not).
I’ve seen a lot of reports stating they want to carry 13 forwards, so there’s a spot up for grabs. Personally, I’d love to see Darren Helm take it over Tomas Kopecky. The kid certainly earned it during the playoffs and would make the fourth line killer once again. However, his ability to return to the AHL without having to clear waives could mean he’ll be headed back to GR, unfortunately.
Another option for this spot is Ville Leino. Apparently, they want to bring the Finn over this season and not to play for Grand Rapids. He would face the very difficult proposition of beating out a Babcock favorite (Helm) and a good, skilled grinder (Kopecky). I can’t see that happening.
I’ve seen some talk about Justin Abdelkader, but I can’t see him cracking the lineup. He should go to Grand Rapids and get acclimated to professional hockey before he makes the leap. He’s going to be really fun to watch in GR this year, if that’s where he ends up.
On the defensive side, as I stated in the Hossa post, I think Kyle Quincey’s days as a Red Wing are over. There are a lot of fond memories of the kid from the 2007 playoffs floating around, but the fact is he’s not a very good skater and is not much on the offensive side. In other words, he’s not the prototypical Red Wings defenseman. He lacks the size to make up for those skill deficiencies in the way that Andreas Lilja does. He’s also got an apparent attitude problem. He’s got to be the odd man out in this situation. If they can’t swing a trade for picks or something, waive him.
As for Chris Chelios, as I wrote before, he’s going to have to decide for himself whether or not the very reduced role he’s facing will be acceptable. I’d love for him to come back because he brings so much to this team, but he’s certainly slowly being ushered out. I have a hard time seeing him doing anything but come back, though.
I know many fans can’t stand Lilja, but I’m a little more “eh” about the guy. He’s got an upside as a shot blocker and PKer. The guy is not here to carry the puck and make two-line passes. He’s not your typical Red Wing defenseman, but his size and physicality are meant to compensate. Obviously, his downside is that he has all-too-frequent and very visible gaffes. Still, I’m inclined to buy the argument of his few defenders that these mostly happen when he’s left out to dry by his more offensively-minded partners. If anything, he needs to improve his recovery skills. Anyway, unless he’s majorly beaten out in camp and the Wings look to trade him, Lilja’s one half of the third pairing, with Brett Lebda likely making up the other half.
I think Jonathan Ericsson is ready for an NHL job, but it won’t be this year unless he “pulls a Filppula” at training camp and forces his way onto the roster by being so good. The potential for him to be a hugely dominate AHL defenseman and the confidence that would arise from that makes sending him back to GR an attractive idea. I think he’s stronger mentally than Quincey in that it doesn’t seem likely he’ll have an off year as a result of coming down from the high of being a part of a long playoff run.
With Lidstrom, Rafalski, Kronwall, Stuart, Lebda, and Lilja under contract and assuming Chelios signs, the Wings would be up to seven defensemen with an apparent interest in carrying eight. Unless Ericsson tears it up in camp, that spot should go to Derek Meech. Meech is NHL-ready and is out of options. I’d hate to see him forced off the team, so I hope they make a point of keeping him around. He, like Ericsson, is the future of the Detroit blueline.
Now to goaltending. Chris Osgood is the starter at this point, there’s no question. He’s arguably playing the best hockey of his career, so it’s his job to lose. The job of back-up is a little more up in the air, though not too high. Jimmy Howard is going to have to be stellar in camp to pass Ty Conklin in the depth chart. Or Conklin will have to be awful.
Personally, I’d rather Conklin be the guy on the bench recording faceoffs while Jimmy gets actual ice time in Grand Rapids. Howard needs to have at least one strong year in the AHL before he’ll be ready for the NHL and if he can play the majority of the season with the Griffins, he should have the stability necessary to do that. Conklin is a great insurance policy, as his record this past season for Pittsburgh indicates.
So to me the 2008-2009 Wings roster would ideally look something like this:
Samuelsson-Hudler-Helm ( or, more likely, Kopecky)
That’s my take on the situation. We’ll see how much of it happens!
One last question that obviously needs addressing at some point is who is going to replace Todd McLellan.
In any case, the Wings are poised to have another great season. Like last summer following the loss to the Ducks, I’m fully confident in their ability to go all the way. They appear to have all the tools in the right places once again.
Update (10:00 PM): I should add here that I think the chances of a Red Wings post-Cup hangover are slim. This team is too well-coached and too focused for that. They certainly aren’t counting their chickens before they’re hatched, you can bet on it.
So, my fellow fans, feel free to do some harmless counting of poultry while the team takes care of business like group of professionals they are. There’s no harm in our being excited about their chances. – Matt
I really can’t wait for hockey to start up again!