The Detroit Red Wings were thought to be the favorites to sign free agent defenseman Ryan Suter and a possible destination for free agent forward Zach Parise. Both declined invitations to Hockeytown and decided to play closer to family in Minnesota. Although Wings’ GM Ken Holland couldn’t compete with the lure of playing close to home, not signing Suter was nothing short of a disaster. Many thought that Parise would be a long shot, but Suter was supposed to take over for the retired Nicklas Lidstrom. Now, it’s going to take a major trade if the Red Wings want to be one of the favorites in the West again next season and not be in true rebuilding mode.
Holland spent the first couple of days of free agency adding role players. The Wings signed back up goalie Jonas Gustavsson, former Wing Mikael Samuelsson, grinder Jordan Tootoo and Swiss forward Damien Brunner. Although all of these signings were needed, they are more icing without the cake. The Wings currently only have six defenseman on their roster. Two of those players, Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith, are unproven NHL players. I don’t think Wings’ fans are excited about Jonathan Ericsson facing the opposition’s best line every night.
So what are the Wings going to do? The list of unrestricted free agents is dwindling, especially at the defense position that is the biggest need for this team. The first thing Ken Holland needs to do now is explore trades. The Wings have a lopsided roster. As I mentioned before, the Wings have only six blue-liners under contract. On the other hand, the Wings have 16 forwards signed. The roster as-is isn’t balanced. I think Holland will almost certainly make a deal for a defenseman by trading away as many as three forwards.
Another option for the Wings is to make an offer to restricted free agent Shea Weber. The Wings could and should offer a ton of money to the All-Star defenseman from Nashville. Weber is already disappointed with Nashville management for letting Suter get away. The Wings could offer Weber more money than they offered Suter and force Nashville to either go beyond what they can reasonably afford to keep him, or the Wings would get their replacement for Lidstrom. Weber is one of the top five defenseman in the game today and is an overall better player than Suter. From the Wings perspective, you will either get the player you need or force your rival to hurt their cap number. It’s a move the Wings should make.
If the Wings don’t make a move for Weber or make a big trade, there really isn’t much left on the blue line in the unrestricted free agent market. Probably the best options for the Wings would be either the oft-injured Carlo Colaiacovo or former Carolina d-man Jaroslov Spacek. Neither one of these players would be a top pair defenseman that the Red Wings sorely need.
One player that the Wings could target via trade is Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle. Yandle would be a good fit, as he would look good next to Niklas Kronwall as a legitimate top pair. Yandle can quarterback the power play and give you 25 minutes of quality ice time every night. Another target for the Wings could be Calgary blue-liner Jay Bouwmeester. He is more a defensive minded player than Yandle, but Calgary has let it be known that he could be had for the right price. I’ve always thought that Flames’ sniper Jerome Iginla would look great next to Pavel Datsyuk. Maybe a multi-player blockbuster trade could be made? I’m not sure that Calgary management thinks they’re in a rebuild like many think they should be, however. The Flames have been aggressive so far in free agency, and even gave former Red Wings Jiri Hudler a reported $16 million deal over the next four years.
Although it appears that no significant upgrades have been made, fans need to give Holland more time to improve the roster. He isn’t regarded as one of the league’s best GMs for no reason. Just because the Wings have a ton of cap space doesn’t mean they should blow it on something that wouldn’t dramatically improve their chances of winning a cup. Signing someone like Alexander Semin would waste the cap space they’ve made to try and improve the team. Semin has talent and puts up big numbers, but his drive come playoff time is often questioned. This is the type of player that would drive fans nuts. If Wings’ fans were frustrated by the disappearing act of Marion Hossa in the playoffs, they won’t like Semin. The Wings should pass on Semin and focus on the blue line.
Although losing out on Suter hurts, there’s still time to swing a deal and reload the roster for another run at a cup. In Detroit, we’re used to reloading and not rebuilding. The next few months will show if it’s another reload in Hockeytown, or if it’s truly the end of a dominant era of hockey in Detroit.