In the rearview: July

Now that it’s three-quarters over, it’s as good a time as any to look back at July, 2012 — the first month of a summer that was supposed to be one of the most aggressive in recent team history thanks to a third straight early playoff exit and a metric ton of cap space to improve.

More than three weeks into free agency, all the Wings have to show for their aggressive pursuit is a handful of re-treads and reclamation projects. And most of that cap space. I won’t get into the argument about whether or not Detroit is a preferred destination any longer, or if Ken Holland has done all that he could in courting free agents and trade targets.

Below is a list of players that the Red Wings have admitted to being interested in and pursuing to some degree.

JIRI HUDLER — former Detroit Red Wings winger
New Home: Calgary Flames
Why We Didn’t Get Him: Following a strong season entering a July with very few options for teams looking for scoring, we knew that someone was going to offer him a yacht full of strippers and $100 bills. The Red Wings had no intention of giving him that kind of raise and everyone wished him well to the tune of $4M per. The Wings offer was $3.2 firm.

RYAN SUTER — former Nashville Predators defenseman
New Home: Minnesota Wild
Why We Didn’t Get Him: The Wings biggest holes next season will exist on the blueline. No matter who they acquired this summer, there was no replacing Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart. The Wings were one of the finalists for Suter’s services and he chose Minnesota not because they offered him a few more dollars over the term, but because he’d rather play closer to home and with his good buddy Zach Parise. Which brings us to…

ZACH PARISE — former New Jersey Devils captain
New Home: Minnesota Wild
Why We Didn’t Get Him: Despite the Red Wings making a pitch for both players, and certain fans still pretending like they have the swagger they once did, Parise and Suter wanted to play together and chose a non-playoff team in Minnesota over Detroit. That stings, but no one can blame Parise for wanting to play in his home state.

SHEA WEBER — Nashville Predators captain
New Home: Potentially the Philadelphia Flyers, unless the Predators match the offer sheet.
Why We Didn’t Get Him: It’s unlikely that David Poile would have traded Weber to a division rival, and rumor has it that he nearly traded their big defenseman to Philadelphia. The Flyers got tired of waiting and sent an offer sheet to Weber, which he signed, likely because he grew tired of watching three weeks of July fly by without being locked up long-term. Why the Wings didn’t send an offer sheet I’ll never ever ever understand. Weber may not have signed it, but management seems to think that it’s a faux pas to attempt to improve your team at the expense of a team you hate for some damn reason.

RICK NASH — former Columbus Blue Jackets captain
New Home: New York Rangers
Why We Didn’t Get Him: The Wings allegedly made “a hell of an offer” to Columbus’ rockstar GM Scott Howson, but the conversation was a non-starter because Howson couldn’t stomach the idea of the face of his franchise playing for a division rival for the next six years.

SAMI SALO — former Vancouver Canucks defenseman
New Home: Tampa Bay Lightning
Why We Didn’t Get Him: I don’t have the answer, since the Wings likely offered something in the neighborhood of his new deal (2 years, $7.5M) but Salo chose the Lightning.

MATT TAORMINA — former New Jersey Devils depth defenseman
New Home: Tampa Bay Lightning
Why We Didn’t Get Him: Not that he would have helped the big club, but this one has to be a kick in the balls. He’s from Warren (ten miles from Joe Louis Arena), but signed with Tampa’s organization instead of Detroit’s. I guess when your childhood hero is Steve Yzerman, and he calls, you do what he asks.

So to recap the team’s changes since the season ended:

OUT
Nicklas Lidstrom (retirement)
Brad Stuart (San Jose)
Jiri Hudler (Calgary)
Chris Conner (Phoenix)
Doug Janik (Germany)
Garnet Exelby (Boston)
Chris Minard (Germany)
Logan Pyett (Rangers)
Jamie Johnson (Russia)
Andrew Murray (St. Louis)
Brooks Macek (unsigned)
Julien Cayer (unsigned)

RE-SIGNED
Darren Helm
Kyle Quincey

IN
Jonas Gustavsson (Toronto)
Mikael Samuelsson (Florida)
Jordin Tootoo (Nashville)
Damien Brunner (Switzerland, may play in Grand Rapids)
Max Nicastro (Boston University, will play in Grand Rapids)
Teemu Pulkkinen (will stay in Europe)
Calle Jarnkrok (will stay in Europe)
Marek Tvrdon (will stay in Juinors)

FUTURE UNCERTAIN
Justin Abdelkader (restricted free agent, will likely be signed)
Tomas Holmstrom (unrestricted free agent, will likely not be signed)

Including Brunner and excluding Abdelkader and Holmstrom, the Wings have fifteen forwards signed (at least one too many). With Quincey finally under contract, they have six defensemen (which is at least one too few). Your 2012-13 Detroit Red Wings as of July 23rd:

FRANZEN — DATSYUK — NYQUIST
FILPPULA — ZETTERBERG — BRUNNER (?)
BERTUZZI — HELM — SAMUELSSON
TOOTOO — EMMERTON — CLEARY
(MILLER — MURSAK — EAVES)

KRONWALL — QUINCEY
SMITH — WHITE
ERICSSON — KINDL
(No one)

HOWARD
GUSTAVSSON

Commence sadness.

2012 Free Agency Primer

This guy will likely be the first announced signing by the Wings at noon on Sunday

It’s like Christmas in July.

On Sunday at noon, the floodgates will open and several hundred NHL players will get richer. If Dennis Wideman’s deal is any indication of the proceedings, you’re about to see a whole buncha crazy numbers thrown around. And we’ll be your home for all things Live Chatty, as we’ll be hosting our third annual Free Agent Day Live Chat.

To put things in a Wings perspective before the festivities unfold, we thought we’d offer a little primer to get everyone on the same page. We all know Detroit will be gunning for Zach Parise and/or Ryan Suter, so use the following as a template to see where they’d fit — not only on the 23-man roster, but also against the $70.2M salary cap. Of course, all of this information is widely available on our Chart, which is always accessible by clicking that fancy link at the bottom of the column over there on the right –>

GOALTENDERS
35 Jimmy Howard (signed through 2013) :: $2.25M
31 Joey MacDonald (signed through 2013) :: $550k

It’s no secret that the Wings will be shopping for another backup goaltender to act as an insurance policy should Joey Mac’s back flair up again during the season. There are three additional goaltenders under contract (McCollum, Pearce, Mrazek), but none of them will be expected to fill that role. If another netminder is inked on Sunday or the days following, Joey MacDonald’s cap hit will likely be removed via waivers and a demotion to Grand Rapids (if he’s not claimed). He’s on a one-way contract for next season, so if he’s demoted, he likely won’t be recalled during the season.

TOTAL COMMITTED TO (2) GOALTENDERS :: $2.8 million, with the potential for $550,000 to come off the books.

DEFENSEMEN
55 Niklas Kronwall (signed through 2019) :: $4.75M
52 Jonathan Ericsson (signed through 2014) :: $3.25M
18 Ian White (signed through 2013) :: $2.875M
4 Jakub Kindl (signed through 2013) :: $883k
2 Brendan Smith (signed through 2013) :: $875k

With the departures of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart, the Red Wings have some holes to fill on the blueline. Which is fine, because they have a ton of cash to throw around this summer. It’s impossible to replace Lidstrom, and very difficult to replace Stuart, but they’ll be making a hard push for Nashville’s Ryan Suter.

Recently, the Wings have been carrying 7 defensemen on the NHL roster and stocking Grand Rapids with some ready-to-be-called-upon guys, but in years past, they’ve carried 8. Depending on Jakub Kindl’s future with the team, they may do that again, though I would doubt it would last all the way through pre-season (injuries and playing time, etc).

In addition to the five guys listed above, they have a restricted free agent to deal with in Kyle Quincey. His cap hit was $3.125M last season, and the Wings were not obligated to offer him a raise on a qualifying offer. Of course, Quincey wasn’t obligated to sign that offer, and here we are. Expect him to agree to terms soon and then six of the blueline spots are spoken for.

The rest of the defensemen that are under contract (Brian Lashoff, Adam Almquist, Gleason Fournier, Max Nicastro, and some homeboys that will be returned to juniors) aren’t close to competing for a roster spot on the big club.

TOTAL COMMITTED TO (5) DEFENSEMEN :: $12.63M plus whatever Quincey will command, likely in the $3.5M – 4M range.

FORWARDS
13 Pavel Datsyuk (signed through 2014) :: $6.7M
40 Henrik Zetterberg (signed through 2021) :: $6.083M
93 Johan Franzen (signed through 2020) :: $3.955M
51 Valtteri Filppula (signed through 2013) :: $3M
11 Dan Cleary (signed through 2013) :: $2.8M
43 Darren Helm (signed through 2016) :: $2.125M
44 Todd Bertuzzi (signed through 2014) :: $2.075M
17 Patrick Eaves (signed through 2014) :: $1.2M
20 Drew Miller (signed through 2013) :: $837k
14 Gustav Nyquist (signed through 2013) :: $762k
39 Jan Mursak (signed through 2013) :: $550k
48 Cory Emmerton (signed through 2014) :: $533k

That’s 12 guys signed, and the team will likely carry 14. That leaves (lemme get my abacus) two spots to be filled. It’s no guarantee, however, that the players listed above all make it to the NHL roster for the regular season. Patrick Eaves missed most of last season, but — hopefully — is well enough to continue his career. Gustav Nyquist — even though he absolutely, positively should be on the roster — doesn’t have to clear waivers to be sent back down to Grand Rapids. Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton may or may not have done enough to secure their place on this team.

Making matters a little stickier is Justin Abdelkader. He, like Quincey, is a restricted free agent. The Red Wings were obligated to offer him a 5% raise on his salary from last season, but that number ($880k-ish) won’t be acceptable for someone who contributes on a daily basis. He’ll likely be seeking somewhere in the $1.2 – $1.5M range. If he and the team can’t come to an agreement, he would be free to sign an offer sheet from another club (as would Kyle Quincey). The Wings would then have the opportunity to match that offer or accept draft pick compensation from the other team.

In addition, the Red Wings have agreed to terms with Swiss superstar Damien Brunner, who Mike Babcock believes will step right in on the Wings Top Six. He hasn’t officially been signed yet (he can’t sign until July 1st), but expect to hear about that right around noon. There are other players under contract (Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson, Landon Ferraro, Calle Jarnkrok, Teemu Pulkkinen) who are very likely not in the running for a roster spot — or are staying in Europe for another season.

TOTAL COMMITTED TO (12) FORWARDS :: $30.62M plus Brunner and Abdelkader, assuming the former stays on the NHL roster, and potentially subtracting some of the existing cap hits.

NUMBERS
So with 19 players (against the 23-player limit) already under contract, the Detroit Red Wings have committed just over $46M to the 2012-13 payroll. With the salary cap set at $70.2M, the Red Wings have the following figure with which to work on Sunday, July 1st:

$24,145,456

Again, that number could increase (if the team decides that Mursak, for example, is expendable) or decrease (if Kyle Quincey or Justin Abdelkader are signed today), but that’s a ton of cash to fill what boils down to four bodies.

2012 Free Agents: Explored

Happy New Year!

Now that the odometer has flipped over to 2012, it’s time to take a peek at the players whose contracts are expiring at season’s end. Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland is now free to explore extensions and re-sign any of the following players to additional years of hockey in Motown. Many of whom would be welcomed back — some may have worn out their welcome by July 1st.

The following 18 players represent the 2012 class of Red Wings free agents — both unrestricted and restricted. The team currently has all 50 available contracts filled, and Petr Mrazek signed beginning next season. Presuming none of the following guys are signed before July 1st, there will be 17 available contracts for Holland and Company to splurge.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
G – Ty Conklin, 36, $750,000
The Wings backup goaltender has had a rough couple of seasons. After not living up to the contract given to him in St. Louis (admittedly, playing behind a terrible Blues team), we all thought he’d be redeemed in a Red Wings uniform: one that he’s had a lot of success in. That hasn’t been the case, playing in just six games (starting five), allowing 17 goals despite a season-opening shutout. To outsiders, it appears as if the Red Wings have lost all confidence in their #2 netminder, evidenced by a stretch of 17 straight starts for Jimmy Howard, and Conklin only starting twice in the final thirty games of the calendar year 2011. I doubt Conklin will be tendered an offer, and he’ll once again be in search of employment for 2012-13.
PREDICTION: He will not be re-signed and the Wings will look for an alternative to backup Jimmy Howard, while strongly considering Joey MacDonald who will be on a one-way contract and has proven to be a reliable netminder when called upon. The Griffins situation will sort itself out — with Jordan Pearce still under contract and Petr Mrazek’s deal kicking in — but more on that in a minute.

D – Nicklas Lidstrom, 42, $6.2M
If you’d asked me at the beginning of the year, I would have told you that this was — without a doubt — Nick Lidstrom’s final season in the NHL, whether the Wings win the Cup or failed to make the playoffs altogether. Last season was the first time he’d quote-unquote “taken a step back,” although he was still the dominant defenseman in the game, winning the Norris for a 7th time. This season, he’s playing better than he did a year ago, and appears to have had a sip of whatever the hell it was that kept Chris Chelios young. Does he have more in the tank? Yes. Does he want to continue playing deep into his forties considering he has, on a few occasions, looked downright human? I’m not sure.
PREDICTION: Like always, this will be up to Nick Lidstrom. If he wants to return, he’ll be back no matter what. If I had to yield a guess, I’d say that this is his final season as he prepares for a life beyond the on-ice aspects of hockey and will transition into some superhero role in the Wings front office, a la Steve Yzerman, Kris Draper, Chris Osgood, and Kirk Maltby.

D – Brad Stuart, 32, $3.75M
As solid a second pairing defenseman as we’ve had in recent years, it’ll be an interesting off-season for the likes of Brad Stuart. It’s clear that the Red Wings would like to hang on to the big man, and I’m sure he’s become comfortable with the Wings (it’s already been four years since he came to Detroit via trade). Ken Holland got the Kronwall contract out of the way (his new deal kicks in next season, where he’ll be making $4.75M for seven years), and Stuart’s going to want similar dollars, I’m sure. Is Jakub Kindl ready to take on a more prominent role on the blueline, or do the Wings hedge and keep their top half in tow?
PREDICTION: I’m sure a lot of this decision will be based on whether or not Lidstrom returns. I can’t imagine the team allowing their top defenseman and their #3/4 to walk away at the same time. Gut feeling: Stuart will be retained for somewhere in the $4.5M range — less than he’d get on the market, but more than he’s getting now.

D – Mike Commodore, 32, $1M
Finally, with the season nearly half over, Commodore has begun to get into some games. Having gotten into only three games through the first 33 games, he’s become a regular over the last few weeks, usurping Jakub Kindl’s spot in the lineup. And he’s playing well — he’s not blowing any doors off the rinks, but he’s not expected to. He was brought in to be a physical presence, a veteran influence, and a steady back-end player when called upon, and he has been that since the end of December. I’m positive he wasn’t pleased with his playing situation early on (particularly when Brendan Smith was called up and played above him), but I’m also sure that he appreciates the opportunity to rejoin the NHL with a team like the Red Wings.
PREDICTION: I don’t think Commodore will be retained because of the nature of his position. He’s essentially the 6th or 7th defenseman and guys to fill that role are plentiful come July 1st. Is he a better fit than most of those guys will be? Perhaps, but considering Smith will likely make the jump next season and Kindl’s expanding role, it may be a one-and-done situation for Commodore in Detroit.

W – Todd Bertuzzi, 37, $1.9375M
Putting my personal feelings aside, Todd Bertuzzi fills a role on the Red Wings: he’s a big dude, he goes to the net, and he’s not afraid to mix it up if need-be. I’m still nowhere near impressed with his offensive output, which — given his top six standing most nights — needs to be a focus, but maybe not the focus. Currently seventh in scoring among forwards (behind the always-a-scrub-for-some-reason Jiri Hudler), his price tag may be large enough that the Wings will look to other options to fill that big man’s role on offense. Likewise, Bertuzzi may decide that his body has had enough and he’d prefer to walk away from the game while he still can. Of the twelve regular forwards, Bertuzzi is one of three whose futures are uncertain. Guys like Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar may be ready to make the jump into the NHL, making this one of the positions to keep an eye on as summer approaches.
PREDICTION: Something tells me he’s in one-year territory, but that he’ll be around again at least for 2012-13. But I won’t be surprised if he’s not.

W – Tomas Holmstrom, 39, $1.875M
After beginning the season as the de-facto 12th/13th forward, and not playing on back-to-back nights, Homer has made his importance well known, especially now that he’s injured. There’s no one — in the entire league, and likely in history — that can do what he does as well as he does it: screening the goaltender and tipping shots that are heading wide through a pinhole are skills that are valuable to a team like the Wings, and he’s a beloved lifer. That said, his game is extremely taxing on the body, and — at 39 — he’s not getting any younger. A groin tear around the holidays becomes a little bit more difficult to recuperate from as you approach 40, and his body may be telling him it’s time to hang ’em up, like Brian Rafalski’s did last summer.
PREDICTION: This is it for Homer. If he wants to return and his body is able, he’d be welcomed back with open arms. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him offered a Maltby-like two-way deal to make sure he is physically capable of continuing into the season that would see him turn 40, but frankly I’m shocked his spine has lasted this long.

W – Jiri Hudler, 28, $2.875M
Everyone’s favorite weird little midget’s deal (the one that was agreed upon as he defected for the KHL) ends after this season. Last year, he had an underwhelming return to the NHL after a year in Siberia. This season, however, has been a welcome surprise: his 9 goals are fourth-most on the team, and he’s playing (relatively) responsible hockey. He’s only been a healthy scratch once this season, but something tells me he’s still not a favorite of Coach Mike Babcock. Would it surprise me to have him back next season? Absolutely not, especially given his resurgence as an NHL player and the amount that the Red Wings have invested in him since drafting him in 2002. Would it surprise me to see him in a Flyers or Hurricanes jersey next season? Nope.
PREDICTION: I bet he’s gone, mostly because he can be replaced rather easily — either with a new addition from outside the organization or with a promotion from within, like Nyquist or Tatar.

W – Fabian Brunnstrom, 27, $600,000
I doubt this season has gone as Brunnstrom had hoped. After making the Red Wings out of training camp, he was a healthy scratch for seven games to start the season. Then, he played one game, was waived, and assigned to Grand Rapids. Between 10/29 and 12/3, Brunnstrom was assigned to Grand Rapids or recalled by the Red Wings a total of niiiiiine times. Currently with the Griffins, he’s only played five games with the Red Wings, netting zero goals and one assist.
PREDICTION: He’s a hell of a guy to have at the ready, but if he’s going to have to compete with players like Nyquist, Andersson, and Chris Conner for a call-up, he may not want to stick around. Granted, he didn’t get a sniff of the NHL at all last season, but he’ll very likely have a better chance of making almost any NHL team than he does the Red Wings.

W – Chris Conner, 28, $550,000
I love this kid — he’s a local Metro Detroiter, he’s fast as balls, he gives hope to the little guys. One thing is certain: Chris Conner is too goddamn good for the American Hockey League. He’s one of those dudes who may forever be a “cusp” guy — too good for the AHL, not quite good enough for everyday service in the NHL. Frankly, I’d love to have him back, but he’s in a position where — at his age and experience — he’ll do what’s best for his future in the game. I hope it’s in Detroit.
PREDICTION: Maybe he’s given a Doug Janik-like deal, where various years are one-way, giving him the opportunity to prove he belongs in the NHL at training camp or — at the very least — make NHL money while playing in Grand Rapids. I think he’ll be re-signed.

D – Doug Janik, 32, $512,500
The aforementioned Jug Danik was an awesome guy to have in the AHL awaiting the call. He really was. Shut up, haters. But he’ll be moving on, signing elsewhere where he won’t be competing with a blue chip prospect like Brendan Smith for call-ups. Story Time with Doug Janik has been put on hold.
PREDICTION: He’ll be snapped up by another NHL club, and will be given every opportunity to be their #7.

D – Garnet Exelby, 30, $600,000
The Griffins captain won’t get a sniff of the NHL with Detroit, and if that’s what he’s after, he’ll be better served somewhere else. I don’t know a thing about him and how he’s playing this season, but he’s the kind of veteran that bounces around each summer, a lifestyle that certainly isn’t ideal, but he’s playing hockey for a living and I’m not. He’s living the dream, and I wish him luck.
PREDICTION: Likely won’t be retained, particularly with an already-crowded Griffins blueline potentially adding some guys next season, like Adam Almqvist. However, if the Griffins lose Smith, Janik, and — as we’ll discuss in a minute — Logan Pyett, the team could be desperate to keep some semblance of familiarity. Don’t count an extension out.

F – Jamie Johnson, 30, $500,000
Signed before the 2010-11 season, Johnson seemed destined to be a guy who — like Chris Minard, who we’ll discuss in a second — that was a veteran depth move made strictly for the Griffins. And that has been the case, but he’s absolutely tearing apart the AHL this season, centering the top line on the farm. He likely won’t get a call-up this season — he’s actually never gotten a call-up in his career — and he’ll continue to play professional hockey at the AHL level. Whether or not that’s in Grand Rapids remains to be seen, but he’s making a wonderful career for himself in the AHL, like Darren Haydar.
PREDICTION: I bet the Wings offer him another opportunity to play within the organization, but he may seek out his options. He may choose to re-sign in Detroit because Grand Rapids is relatively close to his hometown of London, Ontario — but closer AHL cities are Hamilton (Montreal), Toronto (Toronto), Rochester (Anaheim), and Syracuse (Buffalo).

F – Chris Minard, 31, $525,000
Like Johnson, Minard was a veteran signed mostly for depth prior to the 2010-11 season. Unlike Johnson, Minard has gotten into 40 NHL games with the Penguins and Oilers. After a successful 2010-11 season in Grand Rapids, Minard’s career hit a bump: he has yet to be medically cleared to play after missing all of training camp, pre-season, and the first half of the NHL and AHL seasons with a concussion. At his age and experience, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he may be forced to walk away from hockey. He’s very quietly missed more than five-plus months of training.
PREDICTION: Sadly, Chris Minard may be one of those guys that rides softly into the night, saying goodbye to a hockey career and taking advantage of alternate opportunities. However, we’ll be pulling for him to get another shot and stay active in the AHL.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
F – Justin Abdelkader, 25, $787,500
Raise your hand if you think the Red Wings are going to walk away from Gator? Everyone with their hands raised is a moron. He may not be Maltby or McCarty 2.0, but he’s proven to be a valuable asset to the Red Wings, and he’s growing up before our eyes. I’d be hesitant to give him much more money than he’s currently making, because his skill set is (relatively) limited, but there’s just no way he’s not re-signed.
PREDICTION: Two or three years at — or just under — a million, and hometown hero will be a Red Wing for the foreseeable future.

F – Darren Helm, 25, $912,500
An even bigger lock than Abdelkader, Darren Helm is one of those ‘heart and soul’ guys that the Red Wings have become famous for. Every single person on Earth loves him, and with good reason: he’s one of the fastest dudes I’ve ever seen on skates, he works his ass off, kills penalties, sacrifices the body, and chips in the odd goal that you need from players like him. Lifer. Bank on it.
PREDICTION: It may be unwise to sign a guy like Helm to a fifteen-year deal, but they’ll give him a longer term than he’s been getting so far. Expect four years and similar cash, maybe a few bucks over the Mendoza Million Marker.

D – Travis Ehrhardt, 23, $533,333
Ehrhardt’s in a strange position: he’s not a big time prospect like Brendan Smith, but he’s certainly capable. He’s also only 23 years old and in his third professional season. He’s currently on the shelf, nursing a shoulder injury, but the Wings are high on him and look forward to his return to the Griffins lineup. Will he be a Red Wing one day? It’s too early to tell, but Detroit has turned undrafted guys into NHL players in the past, why not Ehrhardt?
PREDICTION: You bet he’ll be qualified and signed. He’ll be waiver exempt for another season, too.

D – Logan Pyett, D, 24, $525,000
Speaking of waiver eligibility, Logan Pyett is already in the danger zone. He hasn’t yet played a game in the NHL, but this is his fourth full season in the AHL. No one claimed him on waivers prior to the season (and no one will claim him next season if he’s still Red Wings property) because he hasn’t shown what he can do at that next level. With guys like Brendan Smith above him on the depth chart, despite being younger, Pyett’s opportunity to show the Red Wings he can be an NHL player may have run out. For a guy that played on Canada’s WJC squad, it’s hard to believe he may not play in the NHL. From the 2008 team he was a part of, only Pyett, Josh Godfrey, Riley Holzapfel, the notoriously flaky Stefan Legein, and the notoriously “bust” list worthy Thomas Hickey have yet to step on the ice in the big league.
PREDICTION: He’ll be offered an extension, either by the Red Wings or by the Griffins directly, to continue playing in the only professional organization he’s ever known.

G – Thomas McCollum, 22, $845,833
Our good friend Tommy McCollum is at a very important crossroads of his young career. Though he’s only 22, he’s having a heck of a time sticking in the lineup in Grand Rapids — instead spending half (or more) of his pro career in the ECHL with the Toledo Walleye. A pair of injuries to Griffins goaltenders Joey MacDonald and Jordan Pearce have allowed McCollum to take the pipes in Grand Rapids, and in his eight games he’s found himself once again above hockey’s version of the Mendoza line: a 3.00 goals against average. For the first time in his pro career, he has a save percentage above .900 in both the AHL and ECHL, but it’s pretty close (.901 and .905, respectively). Sadly, it may be the end of the road for McCollum when it comes to the opportunity to play with the organization that drafted him in 2008: another OHL stud goaltender with an impressive WJC under his belt will be turning pro in 2012-13 in Petr Mrazek. Between Mrazek and Pearce, who will still be signed, McCollum stands to be the odd man out in the AHL again.
PREDICTION: I bet he’s tendered an offer by the Griffins, but not by the Red Wings. Considering the difficulty he’s had making his way up the depth chart during the course of his three year entry level deal, I can’t imagine the Red Wings using one of their coveted 50-man reserve list spots on Mr. McCollum unless he shows that he’s worthy of an everyday start with the Griffins, or at least the occasional start with an NHL club somewhere down the line.

THE 2012-13 DETROIT RED WINGS
Franzen — Datsyuk — (vacant)
Filppula — Zetterberg — (vacant)
Eaves — Helm — Cleary
Miller — Abdelkader — Mursak
Emmerton / (vacant)

(vacant) — White
Kronwall — (vacant)
Kindl — Ericsson
(vacant)

Howard
(vacant)

Call-ups: Nyquist, Andersson, Tatar

As always, you can keep up to date with the Red Wings goings-on using our Chart. If you navigate over to the tab titled Free Agents, you can see the upcoming summers of free agents-to-be.

Photography Credits: Ty Conklin, Dave Sandford, Getty Images; Nicklas Lidstrom, Doug Pensinger, Getty Images; Brad Stuart, Jim McIsaac, Getty Images; Mike Commodore, Julian H. Gonzalez, Detroit Free Press; Todd Bertuzzi, Dave Reginek, NHLI via Getty Images; Tomas Holmstrom, Gregory Shamus, Getty Images; Jiri Hudler, Jim McIsaac, Getty Images; Fabian Brunnstrom, AP Photo; Chris Conner, Paul Sancya, AP; Doug Janik, Dave Reginek, NHLI via Getty Images; Garnet Exelby, Gregory Shamus, Getty Images; Jamie Johnson, Adam Bird, The Grand Rapids Press; Chris Minard, Mark Newman, Grand Rapids Griffins; Justin Abdelkader, AP File Photo; Darren Helm, Doug Pensinger, Getty Images; Travis Ehrhardt, Mark Newman, Grand Rapids Griffins; Logan Pyett, Tony Ding, AP Photo; Thomas McCollum, Dave Reginek, NHLI via Getty Images

Capology :: July 2nd Edition

Following an eventful July 1st (for the League, not so much for the Red Wings), now begins the Wings’ summer wheelhouse: the bargain bin of players that will be rescued from free agency hell and, likely, turned into valuable additions to an already deep Motown squad.

First, a recap.

The evening before free agency frenzy kicked off, the Wings locked up their $hitbox for another three seasons at a cap hit of $3.25M. Jonathan Ericsson not only conned his way back into the lineup, he somehow worked in a modified no-trade clause (per CapGeek). There are no details yet about the terms of the clause, but it could range from “becomes active in 2012” to “he can name six teams he would accept a trade to.” No matter what the clause stipulates, I don’t like it. He becomes only the seventh player on the current roster to be blessed with a no-movement clause of some sort.

Just before noon struck, the Wings locked up another one of their role players as Patrick Eaves re-upped for three seasons at a very reasonable cap hit of $1.2M per season. Just after the floodgates opened, it was announced that Drew Miller would also be returning to the Wings at $837,500-a-year over the next two seasons.

While money was being tossed around by small market owners, the Wings stood pat for the most part. They were hoping to find a top four defenseman on the market, but found that prices were too steep, and jumped at former Hurricane and Blue Jacket Mike Commodore for a reasonable $1M on a one-year deal. It would prove to be their only foray into the open market… and our very own Chris Hollis NAILED IT.

With Commodore, Eaves, Miller, and Ericsson locked up — the roster is beginning to take shape. If you include Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton (each of whom are out of minor league options next season), the Red Wings have 21 players on the 2011-12 roster: 14 forwards, 6 defensemen, and a goaltender. They have a total of $54,379,544 dedicated to next season’s payroll, leaving $9,920,456 in available cap space.

The only holes left to be plugged are a backup goaltender and another defenseman, unless Kenny Tick Tock and Company hope to upgrade somewhere along the line. If they plug Brendan Smith into that final blueline spot (which it sounds like they’d like to do), they’ll be left with just a touch over $9 million for just a backup goaltender. Obviously, they won’t be spending all of that in the position, but they certainly have room to play with.

The front-runners for a backup position include former Wing Ty Conklin, as well as former Wolverine Marty Turco (lol), Ray Emery, and incumbent Chris Osgood.

As of July 2nd, the roster looks like this (ignore line combinations):

Datsyuk :: Zetterberg :: Franzen
Holmstrom :: Filppula :: Bertuzzi
Hudler :: Cleary :: Eaves
Miller :: Abdelkader :: Helm
(Mursak :: Emmerton)

Lidstrom :: Kronwall
Stuart :: Ericsson
Kindl :: Commodore
(vacant)

Howard
(vacant)

Rumor has it that the Wings offered Jiri Hudler to anyone that would have him at the Draft in Minnesota. Apparently, there were no takers, but don’t be surprised if he’s offloaded to someone (cough–Florida Panthers–cough) in exchange for a little more cap room so that the Wings can chase some help within the offensive ranks.

Here comes July 2… where the Wings start to do their picking. Last season, it wasn’t until the 3rd that Detroit started signing players (Joey MacDonald, Jamie Johnson, and Chris Minard), so they got an early start in 2011.

Photo Credit: Dave Reginek, NHLI via Getty Images

Ericsson “Wanted” for Highway Robbery, $9.75 Million Reported Missing

$3.25 million a year gets you this...

Somewhere in Sweden right now, Jonathan “The $hitbox” Ericsson is sitting at a table, licking an envelope and carefully placing a stamp on the front of it. He’s taking his time writing the name and address on the front, being careful not to accidentally poke himself with the pen or get a papercut on the corner of the envelope. Next to him is a full stack of letters that look exactly like the one he’s addressing at this very moment, although a number of them have landed on the floor at odd angles. You might call it a “mess.” As he finishes with his final letter, he scoops to pick up the rest of the stack and predictably hits his head on the corner of the table. Shaking the stars out of his field of vision, the names “Ken Holland”, “Mike Ilitch”, and every non UFA and RFA defenseman in the NHL come back into view on the now crumpled and mangled pile of postage. As he turns, he trips on the rug and begins to fall, all the while trying to throw the letters in the general direction of the mailman waiting impatiently at the door. Some go wildly high. Some get blocked by the kitchen table. One even lands in the mouth of his dog, who takes off the other way. As $hitbox tries to block his path, the dog jukes around him and has a wide open lane to the waiting water bowl, where Niklas Kronwall’s letter gets neatly deposited in six inches of hydration and dog saliva.

These are Jonathan Ericsson’s “thank you” notes. This man is now worth $3.25 million for the next three seasons. Savor that.

While all signs throughout the day pointed to Ericsson making a return to the Red Wings dressing room next season, I’m pretty sure that nobody in their right mind expected it to be at the price tag that Jonny Rig just pulled down. A reported three year deal worth $9.75 million now makes Ericsson the third highest paid defenseman on the Red Wings staff, which is simply mind-boggling when you look at the lackluster development of his game over the past two seasons. Some will argue that Ericsson is making pretty close to what the market is dictating right now, and that’s actually correct. Unfortunate, but correct. Ericsson probably would have commanded a similar amount if he would have hit the open market tomorrow afternoon, but the details lie within. Just like Brett Lebda last year, teams would be paying the premium based on a combination of market value, his physical size and the pedigree that comes with playing for a championship organization for the last two years and one playoff. But instead of letting that become someone else’s problem, Ken Holland decided to make it his own and re-upped the Big Swede for an asinine number, essentially hoping that the $hitbox develops into the player he’s looked nothing like during his career in Detroit.

If we truly trust in Kenny and the Red Wings staff, we’re now forced to swallow a huge uncomfortable pill and hope that the Rig pans out over the next three seasons. Holland has made the overtures that he’s ready and willing to let the kids step up and take the reigns of this team, and for better or worse that includes Jonathan Ericsson. I can’t blame him there, especially as I’ve been one of the most vocal about making the transition to the new guard, but I wasn’t sure it would include Jon Ericsson and I most definitely didn’t believe it would have a monster price tag attached to it if it did. For a guy who said he wasn’t going to “spend money just to spend money,” this sure doesn’t jive well with that mantra. $2 million for the Rig? Kinda steep, but I could have lived with it. $2.5 million? Hoping somebody was playing a mean joke. $3.25 million? I just gave myself a swirly.

“The $hitbox.” Not sure that we really need to say anything else.

Photo Courtesy of MLive.com

Pro/No :: The Results — Goaltenders & Defensemen

It started with a tweet.

A few weeks ago one of our good friends, @JJfromKansas, casually asked the Red Wings community their thoughts about Mike Modano returning for another season. The results were remarkable… when given the choice between “yes” and “no,” a big chunk of the Red Wings online community tweeted back their choice, and an idea was born.

I asked JJ if Winging it in Motown would be willing to join forces with The Production Line (yes, again… we’re good partners, bro) to present a series of profiles: we’d take turns laying out the facts of each of the Red Wings’ impending unrestricted free agents, and ask that you, our beautiful, intelligent, charismatic readers, answer a quick question with a very simple response: Yes, No, or Unsure.

Unsurprisingly, a ton of people turned out to their polling place to cast their votes. And we have some pretty awesome statistics to share with you.

Even though the fates of a few of these guys have had their futures decided by this writing (Nick Lidstrom, for example, has decided to return; while Joey MacDonald has stated that he’ll be seeking employment elsewhere), it’ll be fun to take a peek at the votes during a tumultuous May and early June for Red Wings fans.

As an added bonus, the boys at WIIM and I took it upon ourselves to set a little wager. Each site picked a score for each of the free agents-to-be, based on what we thought the community at-large would think. We’ve listed the winning bid along with all of the other pertinent numbers. I’m proud to report that Team TPL had the closer cumulative score, and narrowly edged out our brothers at Team WIIM, getting closer-to-the-pin on 5 of the 9 players.

Following the analysis of the numbers (the goaltenders and defensemen you can find below and the forwards are hosted at Winging it in Motown), you can find a sortable chart that has all of the data in one place.

With one goaltender (Howard), four defensemen (Lidstrom, Kronwall, Stuart, Kindl), and twelve forwards (including Mursak and Emmerton — for now), the Red Wings have $48,092,044 dedicated toward next season’s $64M salary cap. By my count, they’ll have just under$16M to play with on July 1st.

With that $16M, they’ll have to find a backup goalie (Chris Osgood or otherwise), at least three defensemen (rumor has it Brendan Smith and his $875,000 cap hit are front-runners to fill one of those slots; and Doug Janik’s one-way deal may help him become the 7th defenseman), and two or three forwards (likely Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller… and the wild card is Jaromir Jagr, who may be interested in joining the Wings).

Chris Osgood, goaltender, #30
38-years-old (11/26/72)
5’10″ :: 175 lbs
17 NHL seasons (14 with Detroit)
From Peace River, Alberta

PRO-OSGOOD :: 42.27%
NO-OSGOOD :: 40.72%
UNSURE :: 17.01%
Closest Guess :: WIIM predicted 20% positive votes

ANALYSIS
How appropriate that the one human being who has caused the most dissension among Red Wings fans the last two decades… also caused the closest vote between yes and no. While more than 42% of the respondents hope to see Chris Osgood return to the Red Wings crease in 2011-12, nearly 41% of voters hope he’s played his last game in the NHL.

The two sides were separated by only 1.55 percent, or six of the nearly 400 votes. Not only were the voters who had made up their mind split nearly down the middle, 17% of all respondents were unsure of their stance — the second most (behind only Joey MacDonald). No one should be surprised that there isn’t a consensus among Red Wings fans when it comes to Ozzie because — frankly — there never has been. If the 400-game-winner was to walk away this summer, 42% of folks would be upset… and 41% would be thrilled. Go figure.

For what it’s worth, it seems like Ken Holland is content to head into July 1st and find a backup goaltender for Jimmy Howard — whether that’s Chris Osgood or not. They’ve made no secret about being concerned for Ozzie’s health, and with good reason: he’s only played a handful of games in the last two seasons, the most reason season ending in January following hernia surgery that ended up being more involved than the doctors thought it might be. Since this season seems to be a turnover-happy off-season (by Red Wings standards, anyway), my gut feeling tells me that Chris Osgood won’t be returning for another NHL season.

Joey MacDonald, goaltender, #35
31-years-old (2/7/80)
6’0″ :: 197 lbs
6 NHL seasons (2 with Detroit)
From Pictou, Nova Scotia

PRO-JOEY :: 45.42%
NO-JOEY :: 36.68%
UNSURE :: 17.90%

Closest Guess :: TPL predicted 40% positive votes

ANALYSIS
As alluded to above, Joey MacDonald was the player about whom Red Wings fans were the most “unsure,” with almost 18% of respondents wondering if he’d done enough in his tenure backing up Howard to earn another shot at the Wings’ crease for 20-25 games. While a big chunk of fans weren’t sure, the ones that were sure preferred MacDonald over Osgood, by a margin of about 3% of the vote.

What’s interesting is that there wasn’t a clear majority of Wings fans that wanted either of 2010-11’s backup goaltenders to return. Fewer than half of voters (42% for Osgood, 45% for MacDonald) were comfortable putting their trust in a returning netminder, perhaps indicating that the community as a whole is looking forward to a new body to pick up the slack behind Howard.

Unfortunately for the 45 percent of voters that hoped to see MacDonald return, he’s decided that he’d prefer to seek a one-way deal in the NHL (the Red Wings were only prepared to offer a two-way deal, so that he could be returned to Grand Rapids) or take a big payday overseas. A week away from free agency, it seems clear that the Red Wings and Joey MacDonald have parted ways and that Ken Holland will be looking for a goaltender on the open market.

Nicklas Lidstrom, defenseman, #5
41-years-old (4/28/70)
6’2 :: 185 lbs
19 NHL seasons (all with Detroit)
From Vasteras, Sweden

PRO-NICK :: 98.07%
NO-NICK :: 1.65%
UNSURE :: 0.28%
Closest Guess :: WIIM predicted 99% positive vote — and got within a single percentage point.

ANALYSIS
Obviously, all of this will be for naught as we look back now, with Nicklas Lidstrom having re-signed with the Red Wings for another year on Monday. And just as the pro/no vote was for completeness sake only, the analysis of the numbers will be strictly to take a peek at some interesting trends.

The Lidstrom vote came after the Brian Rafalski retirement, but I have a hard time imagining fewer than 98% would vote yes anyway. But, with the void left by the other top flight defensema’s sudden retirement, it was all but clear that Lidstrom had to return or the Wings would be in a tricky predicament to replace a pair of all-world blueliners.

Lidstrom’s 0.28% of “Unsure” votes was the fewest of any of the players profiled — but his 1.65% “No” was the second fewest: behind Patrick Eaves near-unanimous voter approval. To let you in behind the curtain for a moment… of the nearly 400 votes cast in 48 hours, only 7 were “Unsure” or “No.”

Ruslan Salei, defenseman, #24
36 years old (11/2/74)
6’1″ :: 212 lbs
14 NHL seasons (1 in Detroit)
From Minsk, Belarus

PRO-SALEI :: 10.7%
NO-SALEI :: 78.82%
UNSURE :: 10.5%
Closest Guess :: WIIM predicted 15% positive votes.

ANALYSIS
Like Joey MacDonald, it seems that Ruslan Salei’s fate has been decided for him. The Wings media said on Tuesday that the Red Wings will not be offering “Cirque” a contract — at least, not before the July 1st deadline, allowing him to seek employment with another NHL club, probably a west coast team to be closer to his family — who stayed behind in California despite daddy playing in Motown in 2010-11.

Fittingly, perhaps, is that Ruslan Salei received the fewest percentage of positive votes of any of the players profiled. 10.7% of respondents hoped that he’d be offered an extension, while nearly 79% — the second largest collection of dissenters — hoped that he was a one-year wonder in red and white. His 10.5% “Unsure” votes are probably a result of a community that is unsettled by a lot of potential roster turnover on the back end.

Whatever the reason, it seems that the majority of Red Wings fans will get their wish. The door isn’t entirely closed — if the Wings can’t find a suitable replacement on the market, they may see if Salei would like to return for another go-around — but it seems like#24 was one-and-done in Motown.

Jonathan Ericsson, Defenseman, #52
27 Years Old (3/2/84)
6’4″ :: 220 lbs
2 NHL Seasons (both with Detroit)
From Karlskrona, Sweden

PRO-ERICSSON :: 50.97%
NO-ERICSSON :: 36.74%
UNSURE :: 12.29%
Closest Guess :: TPL predicted a 40% approval rating.

ANALYSIS
This profile yielded my absolute favorite numbers of the entire series — and it’s not because I’m particularly pro-Ericsson (obviously). It’s because Red Wings fans proved themselves to be quite astute when it comes to matters of roster turnover. In all his wisdom, @JJfromKansas marked on our scoresheet the moment that news of Brian Rafalski’s retirement became public on Twitter. The results were remarkable — and wise.

Before news broke, only 46.75% of voters had voted “Yes,” indicating that they’d like Jonathan Ericsson to return and build on the development that he’s had with the Wings so far. After Rafalski’s retirement became a real possibility (and, eventually, truth), the votes swung way up — 57.38% of vote-casters realized that maybe we should hang on to the rest of the blueline if we could. Our voting was by no means scientific, but that’s a difference in range that you frankly can’t ignore.

Again, prior to the Rafalski news, an even 40% of voters said that they would prefer that Ericsson move on and chase dollars with another organization. After, only 31.48% of respondents thought the same. Also interesting is that the number of “Unsure” voters dropped from 13% to 11%.

When the totals were tabulated, including votes from before the Rafalski announcement and after it, just over half of the community voted to have Ericsson return — 50.97%. A cumulative score of 36.74% said no, and the remaining 12.29% couldn’t quite make up their mind.

[table id=28 /]

Roster quick hits

Congratulations to the Boston Bruins on their Stanley Cup victory last night. We’re officially in the off-season and The Production Line is looking forward to a roster shuffle, not to mention the upcoming NHL Draft and some coaching changes. Super quick bullet points to catch up:

  • Assistant Coach Paul MacLean has been named the head coach of the Ottawa Senators, meaning that the Red Wings will have to replace both assistant coaches to head coach Mike Babcock. Lots of names have been tossed around, including Windsor native and former Blue Jackets assistant Bob Boughner, Canadian Junior Coach Dave Cameron, and former Dallas Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock — my favorites are former Minnesota Wild head coach Todd Richards and former Plymouth Whalers and Florida Panthers head coach Pete DeBoer.
  • Joey MacDonald will not sign a two-way deal, and will head to Russia if he doesn’t get an NHL-only deal.
  • In the same article, we learn that it’s unlikely Chris Osgood and Kris Draper will return as players.
  • A bit of rumor-mongering, but apparently Jaromir Jagr’s agent has contacted the Red Wings to see if they’d be interested in his client’s services.

As of right now, the Red Wings have $41,892,044 committed to twelve forwards (including Mursak and Emmerton), three defenseman, and one goaltender. They’ll have somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million to spend on the following:

  • A backup goaltender.
  • Nicklas Lidstrom, should he choose to return.
  • Three other defensemen: Jonathan Ericsson is an unrestricted free agent who could return, and Brendan Smith will be given every opportunity to make the club.
  • Two more forwards, likely to be Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller.

Pro/No :: Nicklas Lidstrom

Welcome to another round of the joint TPL-WIIM series of pro/no profiles, giving you all the details you need to make an educated opinion about each of the upcoming free agents. At the bottom of the entry, you’ll find a voting form — please feel free to leave additional thoughts in the comments either here or at Winging it in Motown!

THE VITALS
Nicklas Lidstrom, defenseman, #5
41-years-old (4/28/70)
6’2 :: 185 lbs
19 NHL seasons (all with Detroit)
From Vasteras, Sweden

STATISTICS
Regular Season — 82 games, 16 goals, 46 assists, 20 penalty minutes, -2, 23:28 minutes played per game.
Playoffs — 11 games, 4 goals, 4 assists, 4 penalty minutes, +8, 21:49 minutes played per game.

CONTRACT SITUATION
Nicklas Lidstrom is in one-year contract territory from now on, even though Ken Holland was comfortable signing him to a two-year deal this past summer. Given his age, he has decided that he’ll be going year-to-year to decide if he wants to continue playing, and we’re at a similar crossroads as a year ago. Taking a modest paycut (the four years prior, he averaged a salary north of $7.5M) to a number just above Brian Rafalski’s $6M (Lidstrom netted $6.2M for his 2010-11 efforts).

Last year, we didn’t have to wait terribly long for Lidstrom’s decision — he agreed to a one-year pact on June 1st. Here we are on June 16th, and we’re told he’ll have a decision for the Red Wings by next week’s Awards ceremony.

As of July 1st, he will be an unrestricted free agent.

DEPTH SITAUTION
Depth was not a situation for the Wings’ top defenseman — he was one of only two players to play in all 82 regular season games — and repeated the feat in the post-season (the other was Darren Helm). His minutes may have decreased slightly, but he still logged over 21 minutes in the playoffs, and 23 and a half in the regular season.

In fact, of all 891 skaters to suit up in the NHL this season, only 27 played more minutes per game — and only seven of those played in all 82 games.

One would expect Lidstrom’s minutes to continue sliding down should he choose to return — it’s only natural. But he’ll remain the top shutdown threat and one of the best all-around blueliners in the game, if not the best.

CASE FOR LIDSTROM
1) He’s still one of the best in the game. He’s nominated for the Norris Trophy again, and is expected to walk away with the award… again. You don’t just call it a career when you’re that effective.
2) Brian Rafalski’s sudden retirement means that the team will need to rely on all of the veteran defenseman they can, and that includes long-time leader Lidas.
3) No one in the organization presents the kind of mentoring that Nick Lidstrom can. If Brendan Smith — or some other young defenseman — is going to make the jump to the big leagues, there’s no one on Earth they’d rather have show them the ropes than Lidstrom.

CASE AGAINST LIDSTROM
1) Frankly, his age works against him. If the Wings are hoping for a transitional year (and, by all accounts, they are), some of the veteran guys are going to have to step aside and let some fresh blood in.
2) For the first time in his career, Nicklas Lidstrom was a minus player in the regular season.
3) Uh… saving cash on the cap?

WHAT HE’S SAYING
For his part, he’s not saying much. He’s bucked anyone that’s asked about his future plans, and has only told Ken Holland that he’ll have a decision in place before the free agency period opens. Coach Mike Babcock is “100% confident” that he’ll return for some of the same reasons we’ve listed above: he’s just too good to stop now.

SALARY RANGE
Last season, he took a paycut, but still remained the team’s top paid defenseman. Only Pavel Datsyuk and his $6.7M cap hit rated higher than Nick Lidstrom’s $6.2M. If anything, Lidstrom earned a raise with his stellar play, but he knows the situation: the less he takes, the more the team can afford to pay other players to plug some holes. Nevertheless, if forced to guess, I’d say he’s come in somewhere around $7M for the 2011-12 season.

POTENTIAL REPLACEMENTS
Internal :: There’s no one that can replace a player of Nicklas Lidstrom’s calibre anywhere in the world, but with guys like Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith hopefully ready to start logging real minutes — coupled with Niklas Kronwall’s coming out party in the post-season, we may be set up for a nice transitional period on the blueline.
External :: Other top defensemen that are not yet signed for 2011-12 include Ed Jovanovski, Andrei Markov, and Tomas Kaberle.

WHAT DO YOU THINK
Thank you for your votes! We’re tabulating now and will have a recap post in the coming weeks!

Photo Credit: Paul Sancya, AP Photo

Pro/No :: Ruslan Salei

It’s Monday Tuesday, so you know what that means — it’s Winging it in Motown‘s turn to host the newest Pro/No profile. Fresh off the heels of an intriguing Kris Draper vote, it’s time to take a look at the unrestricted free agent that isn’t named Nicklas Lidstrom or Jonathan Ericsson: Ruslan Salei.

As a reminder, every Monday and Thursday, WIIM and TPL will feature another free agent-to-be, and present the voting form. When all of the free agents have been covered, we’ll each have a big post dissecting the results and sharing the breakdowns of yes’s…no’s…and unsure’s.

SO — WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, HEAD TO WINGING IT IN MOTOWN TO READ ALL ABOUT RUSTY SALEI SUBMIT YOUR VOTES!

Pro/No :: Kris Draper

Welcome to another round of the joint TPL-WIIM series of pro/no profiles, giving you all the details you need to make an educated opinion about each of the upcoming free agents. At the bottom of the entry, you’ll find a voting form — please feel free to leave additional thoughts in the comments either here or at Winging it in Motown!

THE VITALS
Kris Draper, center, #33
40-years-old (5/24/71)
5’11 :: 185 lbs
17 NHL seasons (16 with Detroit)
From Toronto

STATISTICS
Regular Season — 47 games, 6 goals, 5 assists, 12 penalty minutes, +1, 10:26 minutes per game.
Playoffs — 8 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 2 penalty minutes, +2, 9:19 minutes per game.

CONTRACT SITUATION
Kris Draper just played the final year of a three-year pact worth $4.75 million. The actual dollar salaries decreased each season, culminating with a $1,250,000 payday this past year. The cap hit, however, was an average of the three seasons, meaning he counted for $1,583,333 against the $59.4M salary cap. Nearly everyone thought that this number was too high for an aging role-player who was not a regular in the lineup for the last year. Since coming over from the Winnipeg Jets (for a dollar, I’m contractually obligated to remind you), he’s never entered free agency unsure that he’ll be a Red Wing the following October. We’ve come to that point now.

As of July 1st, he will be an unrestricted free agent.

DEPTH SITAUTION
Draper missed the first 23 games of the season with a groin injury. Upon his return, on December 4th, he immediately entered a rotation with Drew Miller, Jiri Hudler, and occasionally Patrick Eaves. Even with another veteran center going down with an injury (Mike Modano), he couldn’t crack the permanent lineup until Pavel Datsyuk broke his hand in late December.

From December 23rd until the final game in February, Kris Draper played in thirty straight games — mostly on the fourth line and taking late-game faceoffs. With Modano and Datsyuk set to return, Kris Draper returned to a healthy scratch rotation (even with Patrick Eaves missing time with a leg injury).

In all, Draper played just over half of the Red Wings’ games, but did find himself in the lineup for 8 of the 11 post-season games.

CASE FOR DRAPER
1) There’s no question he’s still a reliable NHLer, and one of the best faceoff men in the game.
2) There aren’t many four-time Cup winners out there, and if he does make it to free agency, there will be a ton of teams interested in adding him to their locker room, a la Mark Recchi.
3) Earlier in the season, each of the Red Wings was asked who the biggest gym rat on the team was — and everyone that wasn’t Kris Draper said, “Kris Draper.” He’s in unbelievable shape and rivals Chris Chelios in cyborgness.

CASE AGAINST DRAPER
1) In short, his age is working against him. With all of the positives in Draper’s game, he is still 40-years-old and you may be able to find a younger, cheaper option either internally or on the market.
2) He doesn’t deserve to be a healthy scratch every other night — the man is a Hockeytown legend, and a Grind Line original. He knows his place, and I’m sure that’s a bit painful for him.
3) He’s never been a big scorer, and you shouldn’t expect him to be now — but is it unfair to want more than six goals from a fourth line center on the Red Wings?

WHAT HE’S SAYING
Just yesterday, the Detroit News caught up with Draper (as he was working out with the Lions, naturally) and asked his thoughts. He said that he knows he can still play, feels as good as he has in years, and just needs Ken Holland to believe in him. Drapes said that he should know within a week or two if he’ll be returning, but he absolutely hopes to be a member of the Red Wings as training camp rolls around — but not on a two-way contract like his buddy Kirk Maltby took last year. He has no interest in potentially being sent down to the Griffs.

SALARY RANGE
If he were to be re-signed by the Red Wings, it’s a certainty that he’d have to take a pretty severe cut in the wallet. He could maybe get a few bucks more on the open market, but it’s not about that with Draper — and he made it clear that while he still wants to play, he’d be willing to listen to other opportunities within the organization, as well as opportunities to play elsewhere.

POTENTIAL REPLACEMENTS
Internal :: Though they won’t be taking his place on the roster, since they’re already on it, guys like Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, and Patrick Eaves are poised to take over that grinder/leadership role.
External :: Upcoming free agents that make under a million dollars and bring a Draper-like swagger with them include Raffi Torres, Scott Nichol, and Craig Conroy. But this is one situation that can’t be “replaced,” and will only see a shift in personnel from the inside.

WHAT DO YOU THINK
Thank you for your votes! They are now being tabulated and we’ll have a recap post later in the summer with all of the results!

Photo Credit: Dave Reginek, Getty Images