What’s the hold up? The Drew Miller Edition

Throughout the week, I’ll be exploring a handful of upcoming free agents and trying my best to predict their chances of being re-signed, culminating with what I feel is a fairly accurate peek at the 2010-11 Red Wings. To the surprise of absolutely no one, I’ve already got my chart ready to go, have the numbers in a spreadsheet and it’s just about ready to share with you fine folks. 
THE DETAILS
Has there ever been a better waiver acquisition than Drew Miller? The answer is “yeah, Kyle Quincey” but forget about that for a second…and relish in the goodness that is Stanley Cup winner Drew Miller. Amidst all the injury trouble, who would have thought a waiver acquisition from the Tampa Bay Lightning would step in and help save the day?
Miller seems to have found a place (not only a town, but also a system) where he fits in. Prior to joining the Red Wings, Miller had six career goals. In his 45 games in red and white, his seven goals, eight assists, and fifteen points are already career highs. He plays a strong two-way game, kills penalties, blocks shots, and is happy to contribute on the fourth line. Sold. Man, I bet a team like the ninth place Lightning could use a guy like him…

He’s another local boy, which the Wings have shown they’re partial to. Miller played his college puck at Michigan State, spending three years as a Spartan after being drafted in the sixth round by the Frolicking Ducks of Anaheim. Not only that — he’s cousins with the Kip, Kelly, and Kevin Miller, the latter of whom also spent time as a Wing.

This past summer, the Lightning signed Miller as a free agent, but only dressed him in fourteen whole games before deciding they were going to try to sneak him down to the AHL via waivers. No dice, Florida, you just got jailsexed.

THE EXTENSION
Like Patrick Eaves, I think Drew Miller is in extension territory with the Red Wings. Is he as important a cog as Eaves has turned out to be? Probably not, but he’s certainly useful and he – like Eaves – seems to want to be a Red Wing, outplaying Ville Leino, Brad May, and a handful of other bottom-half roster guys on his way to a career year in a half-season worth of games.

Worst case scenario, Drew Miller is the thirteenth forward, scratched occasionally. But, if we’ve learned anything in 2009-10, it can’t hurt to have too many NHL-level guys, just in case. I bet that Miller signs a two year deal, somewhere in the neighborhood of $850,000 per. That’s not a ton of money, but it is a 60% raise on his current salary. 

What’s the hold up? The Patrick Eaves Edition

Throughout the week, I’ll be exploring a handful of upcoming free agents and trying my best to predict their chances of being re-signed, culminating with what I feel is a fairly accurate peek at the 2010-11 Red Wings. To the surprise of absolutely no one, I’ve already got my chart ready to go, have the numbers in a spreadsheet and it’s just about ready to share with you fine folks. 

THE DETAILS
As far as I’m concerned, re-signing Patrick Eaves is an absolute must. Have you ever seen a new player come in and immediately click with his linemates the way that Eaves has with Darren Helm and Kris Draper? Hint: the answer is no, no you haven’t. The de-facto third line has consistently been one of the most impressive for the Wings all season.

Aside from that, Eaves seems like a guy that wants to be in Motown. After being traded from Carolina to Boston, he was bought out by the Bruins. A few days later, the Wings swoop in and sign him to a league minimum contract for one season (not to mention, he’s the nephew of former Red Wing Murray Eaves, and we all know the Wings love bloodlines). Obviously, making $1.4M in seasons prior, he took a massive pay cut to join the Red Wings. He’s still getting paid by the Bruins (frolicking chumps), as the terms of a buyout dictate, so perhaps he was willing to take the haircut to prove he still belongs in the NHL and that he can contribute on a good team.

The scoring potential is there. As a rookie in Ottawa, Eaves scored twenty goals. I think the Senators (and subsequently the Hurricanes) lost patience with him and maybe couldn’t find an appropriate spot in the lineup for him. The two seasons prior to the current one, Eaves scored a total of eleven goals in 111 games. In 47 games with the Wings in 09-10, he has nine goals and 16 points. Both of those numbers are better than his 08-09.

I think he’s found his niche. The Wings have a history of finding gold in another man’s trash, as it were. Eaves, like Dan Cleary before him, was given a chance to prove to his former teams that they made a mistake by ridding themselves of him. And, also like Cleary, Eaves has been embraced and turned his career around wearing the winged wheel.

THE EXTENSION
Frankly, I’m shocked the Wings haven’t already put pen to paper with Eaves, rewarding him for his hard work and good faith in taking a league minimum deal. Remember the Blackhawks game where Patrick Eaves dropped the gloves, took a gash under the eye, and came up smiling? If I’m Kenny Holland, I have the contract extension waiting for him in his locker after the game. Do I want him fighting? No — but I loved seeing his passion for the game, for his teammates, and making Brad May think “boy, am I jailsexed…”

Eaves’ salary with the Red Wings is $500,000. He will continue to earn about $250,000 from the Bruins until 2012-13. Will Patrick Eaves be willing to take another bargain contract to stay with the Wings — or will the Wings be willing to give him a contract based on his merits?

I think the two sides come to an accord on a four year deal. Part of me thinks that the Wings give Eaves a Bertuzzi/Williams-like $1.5M, but then I think of the Wings’ history of undercutting salaries. My official prediction is that the meet somewhere in the middle, thanks in part to the Bruins supplementing his salary, on a four-year pact, $1.2M per. Would he fetch more than that on the open market? Yeah, probably. But, again like Cleary, the Wings will be rewarded for their faith in him.

Lebda vs. Meech

VS
So it’s come to this…Andreas Lilja is on his way back to the Red Wings, and someone’s going to have to go. Ken Holland has made it clear that he isn’t interested in carrying eight defensemen again this season, and when Lilja joins a healthy Lidstrom, Rafalski, Kronwall, Stuart, Ericsson, Lebda, and Meech — that’s exactly what he’s going to have. 
Lilja has been out since February 28th, 2009. When the Wings take the ice tonight against the Ducks, he will be missing his 99th straight regular season or playoff game. Even still, his sudden return to form is a bit of a shock, and don’t think that Ken Holland isn’t at least a little anxious about what to do. Loaning Lilja to Grand Rapids for three games is his way of buying some time before being forced to make a move. Petitioning for an additional two is his way of putting off the decisions for a few weeks, thanks to the Olympic roster freeze. But the NHLPA doesn’t allow players to remain dormant once they’re cleared to play, like Lilja was last week.
When Franzen and Lilja return to the Red Wings, there are plenty of decisions that will need to be made. They’ll need to trim just under two million dollars from the payroll, and drop two bodies. We’ll tackle the bigger picture some other time, but for now, let’s take a look at which of these defensemen is more likely to be moved. 
GREED IS GOOD
First of all, neither of these guys cost a ton of money. Derek Meech actually makes less than the league minimum, since he signed his deal before the minimum was raised. At $483,333, he’s obviously one of the lowest paid players in the league. Brett Lebda, on the other hand, makes $650,000. Believe it or not, that’s a bargain for a Cup-winning puck-moving defenseman. In a cap world, every dollar counts, so don’t think that the extra $167k won’t make a difference. It’s reason number one that Brett Lebda is the more likely candidate to get moved — maybe as early as next week, depending on Lilja and Franzen’s progress.
DOIN’ THE PRESS BOX BOOGIE
Derek Meech spends an unholy amount of time in the press box as a healthy scratch. And have you ever heard him say a word about it? The answer is no. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s appeased up there, but he certainly won’t rock the boat if he’s the seventh guy during the playoffs again. Brett Lebda – in the long run anyway – may cause more of a disturbance since he’s rarely been the odd man out in his young career – fair or otherwise. 
RATE OF RETURN
If the two were to be put on the trade block simultaneously, Brett Lebda would garner the larger return. He has more NHL games under his belt, and was a regular on back-to-back Stanley Cup Final teams. That kind of experience is certainly attractive at the deadline, particularly to a young playoff-bound team that doesn’t have many guys like that: think Los Angeles and Phoenix. That’s not to say that Meech wouldn’t get any interest around the league, but simple math tells me that scouts and other players are more familiar with Lebda and his play than Meech and his. 
FORWARD IN A PINCH
Derek Meech has been known to suit up for a game or two as a winger, when forwards run dry. Obviously, Brett Lebda is no stranger to pinching and creating (or attempt to create) offense, but Meech actually has the NHL experience as a forward — at least for a few minutes. Lebda was supposed to do the same at one point last season, but never played a shift anywhere but the blueline. Having the flexibility of a swingman like Meech again makes him the more attractive commodity. 
FREE AGENCY CLASSES
With Kindl’s waiver eligibility coming up, neither of these guys were likely to be re-signed by the Red Wings in July — regardless of what happened with Lilja. That said, Lebda is unrestricted free agent-to-be, meaning that come July 1st, his services are available to the highest bidder. Derek Meech, however, is a restricted free agent-to-be, meaning the Red Wings would have the right to match any offer sent his way, and would receive compensation if they choose to pass. It’s Ken Holland’s prerogative to qualify his RFA’s, thus keeping the rights to their otherwise free agents. As July 1st approaches, expect Holland to qualify Meech, and letting things develop from there. Either he’s sent offer sheets (for example: Toronto, the new home of Meech’s Junior blueline partner, Dion Phaneuf) or he comes to Red Wings camp again, where he can be traded once its determined he’s not in the team’s plans. Long story short, there’s no hurry to get rid of a restricted free agent that isn’t openly saying he doesn’t want to be here.
HOW IT’S GOING TO GO DOWN
I bet Lebda gets traded. I’d be shocked if it was a second rounder (thus, my original offer to videotape my attempted backflip stands). It’s more likely that he’ll fetch a third or fourth rounder, since Detroit can’t take bodies or salary back. Since he won’t be re-signed no matter what happens, any kind of return is a bonus. 
Meech will stay as the 7th defenseman/14th forward for another playoff run, and one of the follwing things will happen:
  • A) Holland will attempt to move him – probably for a lower draft pick.
  • B) Holland will qualify him, offering him a slight raise — which he likely won’t sign — but Detroit retains his rights. Then, Meech’s agent can take offers from other teams, and the Wings can accept the draft pick compensation.
  • C) Holland will flat out re-sign him to be the 7th defenseman again, since he knows the system and – like we’ve discussed above – he won’t mind being shuffled in and out of the lineup. 
Meech won’t be let go for nothing – that much you can bank on. After choosing him and allowing Kyle Quincey to be exposed to waivers, you can rest assured that Ken Holland and the rest of the Red Wings powers aren’t keen on losing two young defensemen for nothing. Even if it’s a 7th round pick (which is a terrible return for Meech + Quincey), it’s better than bupkis. 
PREDICTION
Brett Lebda traded to Buffalo/Ottawa/Tampa Bay/Rangers/Atlanta for a 4th Round Pick. Or to Phoenix/Los Angeles for a 3rd Round Pick. Western Conference teams will need to offer more, since there’s a greater chance we’ll have to meet him in the playoffs. I don’t know much about any of those teams’ blueline, so feel free to correct me if any of them are unlikely. 
Derek Meech isn’t moved this season, is qualified, and then offered up to anyone that’s interested. The return will be a mid-level prospect or 4th/5th round pick or some combination of the two. I bet he ends up in Toronto, like mentioned above, and reunited with Phaneuf. 

2010-11 DEFENSE CORPS
Regardless of what you’ve read, I don’t think there’s any way Nick Lidstrom doesn’t return next season. He’s in one-year territory now, due to his age, and I believe he’ll sign again for a massive discount. He knows that chopping a few million off of his paycheck will help the team – and he’ll be fine financially when he takes a job in the Wings front office, like Yzerman. 
The Red Wings don’t usually turn guys like Lilja away after they work so hard to get back into game-shape. But there simply won’t be room for him, financially and roster spot-wise, so whatever games he’s able to be in will be a showcase for the rest of the league. He’ll be unrestricted July 1st. Here’s hoping he proves that he can still play and doesn’t have to wait long for offers. 
The rest:
  • Rafalski is signed through 2012, and has a no-trade clause. His cap hit is 6M.
  • Stuart is signed through 2012, and has a no-trade clause through this summer. His cap hit is 3.75M
  • Kronwall is signed through 2012. His cap hit is 3M.
  • Ericsson is signed through 2011. His cap hit is 900k. 
  • Kindl is signed through 2013. His cap hit will be 883k.
…which looks like:
Lidstrom :: Rafalski 
Kronwall :: Stuart
Ericsson :: Kindl

Don’t think that quote isn’t for you, Chris

“It’s great, isn’t it? It’s called goaltending.”

-Mike Babcock, following the Red Wings/Penguins game, in which Jimmy Howard stopped 46 shots for the second game in a row. Over the weekend, the team earned three points and Howard stopped 96.8% shots he faced.

Mike Babcock isn’t squeaky clean in this ordeal. No one liked when Chris Osgood opened his mouth, and I think the difference is Babcock’s claims are backed up… by a third party. If Jimmy Howard wasn’t playing as well as he is, Uncle Mike would look incredibly petty and vindictive. Instead, he looks right. Them’s the breaks.

OTHER NEWS AND NOTES
Babcock’s shootout order for the Penguins game was Jason Williams, Pavel Datsyuk, and Valtteri Filppula, theoretically saving Henrik Zetterberg and Todd Bertuzzi for extra innings. Interesting, I suppose, but as noted by our intelligent (and handsome/beautiful) readers, Zetterberg kinda sucks in the shootout (to the tune of 22%). I can’t say I agree with his selected trio, and Babbles has made some questionable shootout calls lately, but obviously he knows his shooters better than I do.

Tomas Holmstrom is back tomorrow, finally banishing Brad May to the press box. Did anyone else die a little when May skated across Pittsburgh’s blue line, stopped, and promptly fell down losing possession? Oy.

Johan Franzen returns next Tuesday, the 9th, in St. Louis — three games before the Olympic break.

CAPOLOGY
When Homer and Mulo come back, the Red Wings will be about $745,000 over the cap (although, I’m not exactly clear on the exact rules regarding LTIR relief as it applies to the cap when those players return). They will also be one player over the 23-man limit (and will have fifteen forwards). Obviously, something will have to give. When Lilja returns, two bodies will have to move, as will nearly $2 million.

The Wings have long felt they can carry 22 guys instead of the maximum 23, and that’s something they’ll have to do when all the bodies return to sneak under the cap.

  • The obvious first guy to go is Brad May. But he only removes $500,000 from the cap. Waive him and send him down. I will piss my pants if anyone picks him up. 
  • I think Brett Lebda is moved before Derek Meech because A) he’s more expensive (though, not by much), B) Meech is a forward in a pinch, and C) Meech doesn’t seem to care that he’s in the press box more than he’s on the ice. I made a promise last week, that if we could get a second round draft pick for Brett Lebda, I’d do a backflip and videotape it for you folks. Hint: I can’t do a backflip. There will be injuries.
After these two moves, the Wings are at the 23-body limit, but still find themselves around 850k over. The following guys don’t make that much, thereby not alleviating the pressure:
  • Ville Leino (800k)
  • Darren Helm (599k – thank the Christ)
  • Drew Miller (525k)
  • Patrick Eaves (500k)
Kirk Maltby makes 883k, making him an actual option to be moved. I don’t like it, because I love him, but he’s in the final year of his contract and it’s extraordinarily unlikely that he’ll get re-signed in July. He’s a life and death Red Wing, so he’s the kind of guy that I can see working within the organization after he decides to hang ’em up, but maybe he’s not there yet. He’s 37, still has legs and a jaw (his two best qualities over two decades), and is a near-legendary penalty killer. You can’t tell me there aren’t teams out there that would benefit from having Kirk Maltby. I have to wonder if he’d be open to a move, considering he’ll very likely find himself in healthy scratch territory here in a little bit. 
I chart the healthy scratches during the season (nerd alert!). Maltby has been scratched five times this season: the first two were in October, when Johan Franzen first became injured, proving that he’s near (or at) the bottom of the depth chart. 

Capology :: The Sky Is Falling Edition

With the addition of Todd Bertuzzi to the Red Wings, it’s fair to say they’re done signing folks. As it stands right now, there are 13 forwards, 8 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders. These figures include Darren Helm, but not include Justin Abdelkader (who is CERTAINLY bound for Grand Rapids now). And now to the numbers…

G – Osgood (1.416)
G – Howard (0.716)

D – Lidstrom (7.45)
D – Rafalski (6)
D – Stuart (3.75)
D – Kronwall (3)
D – Lilja (1.25)
D – Ericsson (0.9)
D – Lebda (0.65)
D – Meech (0.483)


F – Datsyuk (6.7)
F – Zetterberg (6.083)
F – Franzen (3.954)
F – Filppula (3)
F – Cleary (2.8)
F – Holmstrom (2.25)
F – Draper (1.583)
F – Bertuzzi (1.5)
F – Williams (1.5)
F – Maltby (0.883)
F – Leino (0.777)
F – Helm (0.599)
F – Eaves (0.5)

If all of those players were healthy, the total cap hit is $57,747,980 which is $947,980 OVER the cap.

Andreas Lilja is all but guaranteed to start the season on Long-Term Injury Reserve, freeing up $1.25M, and leaving the team $302,020 under, which is a nice bit of wiggle room to guarantee a goaltender call-up or Abdelkader to shuttle back and forth from Grand Rapids to Detroit.

Now it becomes tricky.

If at any point Lilja is healthy enough to re-join the active roster, there’s a problem. Ken Holland has said numerous times that he’s interested in keeping 7 defensemen (not 8, like last year), so someone WILL be moved upon Lilja’s return. I’ve long thought it would be Lebda (as opposed to Meech). However, if Lilja’s number comes back on and Lebda’s goes off, the team will find itself $297,980 over the cap again.

Clearly, Lilja’s return will necessitate other roster moves. Patrick Eaves is on a 2-way contract, so he’ll be paid less money in Grand Rapids, but he will have to clear waivers to be sent down. Could he clear? Maybe. Maybe not.

Are there any players on that list that are waiver exempt, you ask? Why yes there is… Darren Helm. I can’t imagine that they’d send Helm back to Grand Rapids – not after two stellar post-seasons. If he hasn’t earned himself a roster spot by now, I can’t imagine what he has to do to make it permanent. However, if they find themselves in a bind (i.e., needing to shed salary to make a bigger move), don’t be surprised to see Helm be demoted — even if its in name only.

But, we’d be naive to assume that there will be no other injuries during the season. After all, Todd Bertuzzi is joining the team. So, no further moves may be necessary if the injury bug bites at the right time.

I’m not one for predicting lines, but I’ll give it a go and see where it takes us…

Zetterberg — Datsyuk — Holmstrom [Flying Circus]
Leino — Filppula — Franzen [2 Finns and a Mule]
Bertuzzi — Helm — Cleary [Crash/Bang/Felon]
Maltby — Draper — Eaves/Williams

I can’t see Williams playing on the fourth line because of his salary, so perhaps he takes Helm’s spot on the third line, with Helm dropping down to share centermen duties with Draper? I have no idea… it’s never what we all expect anyway.

Capology :: August 6th Edition


With the addition of Jason Williams, and confirmation from The Highlander regarding his salary for the upcoming season, we can start to piece together a roster and properly analyze the numbers.

It’s been said from the very beginning that the team prefers Justin Abdelkader spend another season in Grand Rapids, although he’s shown that he’s more than capable of playing in the NHL: the big minutes in a leadership role will go a long way when he’s finally a full-time NHLer.

That said, let’s get to the nitty gritty. All of the following figures are available via our Chart.

GOALTENDERS ::
Chris Osgood (1,416,667)
Jimmy Howard (716,667)
TWO combine for a total cap hit of $2,133,333.

DEFENSEMEN ::
Nicklas Lidstrom (7,450,000)
Brian Rafalski (6,000,000)
Brad Stuart (3,750,000)
Niklas Kronwall (3,000,000)
Andreas Lilja (1,250,000)
Jonathan Ericsson (900,000)
Brett Lebda (650,000)
Derek Meech (483,333)
EIGHT combine for a total cap hit of $23,483,333.

FORWARDS ::
Pavel Datsyuk (6,700,000)
Henrik Zetterberg (6,083,333)
Johan Franzen (3,954,545)
Valtteri Filppula (3,000,000)
Dan Cleary (2,800,000)
Tomas Holmstrom (2,250,000)
Kris Draper (1,583,333)
Jason Williams (1,500,000)
Kirk Maltby (883,333)
Ville Leino (777,325)
Darren Helm (599,444)
Patrick Eaves (500,000)
TWELVE combine for a total cap hit of $30,631,313.

Two goaltenders, eight defensemen, and twelve forwards come in at $56,247,980, leaving the team $552,020 under the cap.

ANALYSIS & SCENARIOS ::
Clearly, I didn’t include Justin Abdelkader’s salary in this mock-up. Base salary plus bonuses, he’s set to earn $850,000 in the NHL this season, and therefore won’t fit even if they were pining for him on the big club. However…

It is beginning to seem like a certainty that Andreas Lilja will not be ready for the season, and moving him to Long-Term Injured Reserve frees up another $1,250,000. This would give the Red Wings about $1.8M in wiggle room. A couple months ago, Ken Holland told anyone that’d listen that he planned on trading a defenseman after training camp, so that he didn’t carry 8 like last year. However, no one will be moved while Lilja’s injured. When (and if) he comes back, then either Lebda or Meech is likely to be traded to avoid scratching two defensemen every night.

In a perfect world, the team would like to have 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders on the roster. Can Derek Meech act as the 13th forward – while being an injury replacement on the blueline? While he’s shown a willingness to play wherever he’s needed, Mike Babcock is obviously more inclined to play him at his natural position.

WHAT I SEE HAPPENING ::
The team opens the season with Lilja on IR, and another low-cost forward “makes” the team – think Evan McGrath, Ryan Oulahen, Kris Newbury, or Jeremy Williams – someone who the Wings would rather be sitting in the press box than Abdelkader.

Then, to alleviate the cap pressure when/if Lilja’s able to return, Brett Lebda is traded. I’ve touched on it before, but I feel like Lebda is more likely than Meech to be traded for a few reasons: he’s more “seasoned,” therefore will see a higher return, he has a slightly higher cap hit, and Meech has shown the willingness and versatility to play forward in a pinch.

Given my scenario, the Wings will start the season with about $1.3M in space. When Lilja’s back and Lebda’s traded, the Wings will have about $700,000.

SCENARIOS ::
With Lilja, Meech, Lebda, Abdelkader :: $297,980 OVER the cap.
With Lilja, Meech, Lebda :: $552,020 under the cap.
With Meech, Lebda, Abdelkader & Lilja on LTIR :: $952,020 under the cap.
With Meech, Lebda & Lilja on LTIR :: $1,802,020 under the cap.

Photo Credit: Dave Sandford, Getty Images

Red Wings sign Patrick Eaves

How bout them apples?

Well. Here’s another reclamation project – think Danny Cleary. And yes, our good friend Kyle from BDS called this last month.

James Mirtle has Detroit’s press release here, which reads:

The Detroit Red Wings announced today that the club has signed free agent forward Patrick Eaves to a one-year contract. In accordance with team policy, additional terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Originally a first round pick (29th overall) of the Ottawa Senators in the 2003 National Hockey League Entry Draft, Eaves has played in 242 career games with the Senators and the Carolina Hurricanes. He scored 20 goals in just 58 games in 2005-06, his rookie season in the NHL. Eaves followed his impressive debut with career highs in assists (18) and points (32) in 2006-07.

Lots of upside for a former first rounder who potted 20 as a rookie. And while he has “fallen off,” he may come in pretty cheap considering his salary will be supplemented by his buyout cash from the Bruins.

He played collegiate hockey at Boston College, where he was a Hobey Baker finalist. In 2004, he was a member of the United States World Junior Champions.

No word on salary yet, but if it’s under – say – 900k, this is a steal.

Perhaps most importantly, does this mean that the offer to Jason Williams is off the table? Because that would be swell.

***UPDATE***
Bruce MacLeod (Red Wings Beat Writer 1B) says, via Twitter, that he hasn’t heard exact numbers yet, but it’s under a million. That’s a good start!

***UPDATE #2***
The hell you say??! MacLeod has Eaves’ salary at $500,000. Great news.

Photo Credit: Scott Cunningham, NHLI/Getty Images

The NHL up Scuttles' butt

Who would have thought the League could make more of a mess of Jiri Hudler’s “situation” than Mike Brown?

After two or three left turns from all parties, the NHL has added it’s own little caveat – one that I bet Ken Holland was hoping would be let go. Let’s break the events down, as simply as possible:

June 28 — “Step 1: Prove You’re Better Than Dale Tallon at Handling Menial Administrative Duties”
Jiri Hudler, an impending restricted free agent, is sent a qualifying offer from Red Wings management. QOs need only include a 10% raise on the expiring salary to guarantee that the player’s rights remain property of the team. Jiri Hudler was certainly due a raise — and certainly more than 10% — on his $1.015M deal. The Red Wings knew they couldn’t afford MUCH of a raise, but certainly weren’t going to let him become an unrestricted free agent and lose him for nothing. Worst case scenario — he’s given an offer sheet by another team and the Wings would receive compensation in the form of draft picks.

July 1 — “EVERYBODY PANIC!”
The Red Wings seemingly assplode, losing Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky, and Ty Conklin in a matter of hours from the opening bell on Free Agent Day. Mikael Samuelsson would find his way to Vancouver (pray for GM Place’s glass) a few days later. With all of the departures up front, it seemed pretty reasonable to assume that Hudler would HAVE to get re-signed, right? …Right?

July 5 — “I got no more questions for ‘dis guy…”
Hudler and his agent Petr Svoboda (Why, yes, that Petr Svoboda) file for arbitration, meaning an intermediatary would decide Hudler’s salary based on similar players and after hearing statements from both parties. Ken Holland reminded the overreacting masses that he’s never actually gone to arbitration with any of his clients since his tenure began (the last Wing to do so was Ray Sheppard in 1995) and that he was very confident something would get done before the hearing (which is yet to be scheduled).

July 8 — “Say what now?”
News begins to leak that Jiri Hudler has signed a very lucritive deal with the Dynamo of the KHL (rumored to be for two years and as much as $10 million, tax free). Slowly but surely, the rumors are acknowledged and summarily confirmed by all parties involved – Ken Holland, Petr Svoboda, and even Jiri Hudler – who held a press conference with his new comrades.

Ken Holland has said that he’s going to go forward with the arbitration process because if Hudler ever decides to return to the NHL, he would be forced to honor whatever contract he is “awarded” during the arbitration process. Let’s pretend for a minute that Hudler goes to Russa, plays out of his mind for two seasons and decides its time to come back to North America. Even if teams were tripping over themselves to sign him, he’d be bound to the terms of the arbitrator’s contract (which is to be determined in the next few weeks). This could be a 1 or 2 year deal, anywhere from 2 to 4M per season. That COULD be a bargain in 2011.

Not only that, the Wings don’t really have a ton of cap space to play with this summer – and are being cautious of the supposed drop next summer. One could argue that Hudler’s defection overseas is the best thing that could have happened — the Wings would maintain his NHL rights without having to pay him. Sold.

July 10 — “Hey, thanks a lot, Gary.”
The League takes it upon itself to file a grievance on behalf of the Red Wings, claiming that since the Red Wings properly filed their qualifying offer, Hudler is contractually obligated to the Red Wings next season…despite not having a contract for next season. I guess the point is that since the Wings have the “right to match” offers from NHL clubs, Jiri Hudler is still an asset that is property of Detroit.

The NHL is appealing to the IIHF to rule that Hudler’s KHL contract is invalid, as was done earlier in the week when Joel Kwiatkowski — a current KHLer — signed with the Thrashers.

So instead of all the good news that could have been squeezed out of the diminutive winger’s defection, the Red Wings are now hand-cuffed in limbo, which isn’t nearly as sexy as it sounds. Who knows when this thing gets resolved, but who can blame Holland & Co if they decide to play it safe (read: not make any more big league signings) until this whole thing goes away?

***UPDATE***

The arbitration hearing has been scheduled for July 30.

***UPDATE #2***

July 16 — “We…Are…Family…”
The president of the KHL has made his first public statement since the situation began. He – via translation – has said that the Kontinental League “will not register Hudler’s contract, pending the outcome of the NHL arbitration.” Apparently the NHL gained some goodwill by having the Thrashers rescind the aforementioned contract offer to Joel Kwiatkowski.