The Detroit Red Wings’ 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators in Game 5 ended the Wings’ season and may have marked the end of a dominant era of hockey in Detroit.
The Wings have made the playoffs for the last 21 seasons and the one constant during that time has been defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Although no decisions have been made, it’s very possible Lidstrom could retire at age 42. He struggled through injuries this season and the Wings didn’t appear to be close to being a true cup contender during their series with the Preds. It’s going to be a tough sell for head coach Mike Babcock, GM Ken Holland and owner Mike Illitch to keep Lidstrom for one final year.
The Wings didn’t have enough scoring up front to match the Predators and it showed as Nashville took the series in just 5 games. Although goalie Pekka Rinne played spectacular and should be praised as one of the leagues top net-minders, Detroit’s lack of depth beyond their second line of forwards was a glaring disadvantage, and something the team may find difficult to fix this off-season. Although the Wings will have some cap space to sign some big-name free agents, the core of the team is dwindling, and this could be a significant reason for Lidstrom to call it quits.
It’s probably time for forward Tomas Holmstrom to retire. Although he is still a force in front of the net on the power play, he is a liability on the ice in any other situation. Defenseman Brad Stuart has reportedly voiced interest in moving on and playing somewhere closer to his family on the west coast. Forward Todd Bertuzzi was a non-factor during the playoffs and could be let go. Johan Franzen looked slow and outmatched during the playoffs, and Dan Cleary’s knees may be failing him. Major changes may be coming for a team that has constantly been able to reload instead of rebuild over the past two decades.
Although the loss of Holmstrom and Stuart wouldn’t be completely devastating to the Wings’ lineup, it’s obvious that the Wings need to change up other parts of their roster. If Lidstrom retires, a complete overhaul may be needed. The Wings don’t have the dominant skill on their roster to keep playing their puck possession style of hockey. Babcock and Holland are going to have to decide to go in one of two directions this off-season, and it may depend on what Lidstrom decides to do.
If Lidstrom decides to play for one more year, expect the Wings to make a play for a couple big name skilled forwards. Devils captain Zach Parise would give the Wings a boost up front. Expect Parise to be targeted in the offseason even if Nick hangs up his skates. The Wings are in need of some new players that can infuse a increased hunger come playoff time.
If Lidstrom does retire the Wings will have to go after a top tier defenseman, and a change in philosophy may be needed. The Wings would probably need to become a more physical fore-checking style team to counter the lack of skill with no Lidstrom. No one will be able to replace Lidstrom’s skill of puck possession and break out passes out of the defensive zone. There have been rumors about Nashville’s Ryan Suter becoming a target for the Wings. Signing Suter would be huge, and the only way I see this team becoming a true contender without Lidstrom next season.
Signing the likes of Suter and Parise would be the best case scenario if the Wings hope to retool instead of rebuild. If they aren’t able to sign big names, it may be time for a youth movement in Hockeytown. Trades need to be explored. I wouldn’t be opposed to trading Valtteri Filppula or Johan Franzen for some younger, cheaper players. The reality is Filppula is probably overvalued internally and wouldn’t bring what fans or Ken Holland would want in return and Franzen’s contract makes him almost impossible to move. Although fans may think I’m crazy, I think Holland should field calls about Henrik Zetterberg. I love Z, but if the team’s structure is to change the Wings are going to have to give up something of value, and Datsyuk is the only untouchable player on the roster.
Although it may seem like I’m spewing crazy talk by calling for such drastic changes, you need to remember what this team looked like without Lidstrom down the stretch. The Wings were 3-6-2 and outscored 32-28 during his injury. Although that’s not completely horrible, the team looked lost without him. His leadership and calmness filters down through the team. This team as it’s currently constructed may not be a playoff team without him.
There aren’t many young players on the current roster that could make a significant impact next season. Defensemen Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl showed flashes this season, but neither looked ready to take over a significant role. Forwards Gustav Nyquist and Cory Emmerton are probably third line players at best, although Nyquist did show flashes of a rapport with Pavel Datsyuk. If big names free agents aren’t signed, it may be time for a renewed commitment to the farm system.
If Lidstrom returns for one more year, some of the urgency to revamp the roster may be premature. But the bottom line is that the Red Wings franchise is nearing a time when a playoff spot may no longer be a guarantee. Ken Holland has gotten a pass over the past few years because of what he has built over the past two decades. It’s going to take one of his best off-seasons of his career to keep the Wings as one of the top teams in the league.
One positive that Wings fans can take away from the 2011-2012 season is the play of goaltender Jimmy Howard. Although some ignorant fans may blame him for this year’s early exit, the fact is that Howard had a good season and has solidified himself as one of the top goaltenders in the NHL. Before his injury, he was on pace to set a new NHL record for wins. Although he may not be on the level of Pekka Rinne, Howard continues to improve and should provide stability at the position moving forward.
The summer of 2012 will prove to be a off-season of flux for residents of Hockeytown. Will we have a new captain? A new sniper? A new style of play? Will we break ground on a new arena? One thing is certain. Next season can’t come soon enough.