Complete Guide to the Detroit Red Wings' 2014 Offseason
No offseason is unimportant, but for the Detroit Red Wings, the summer of 2014 may well represent a crossroads.
This season, the team made a virtue out of necessity, handing over key minutes to top young players because the veterans expected to handle those roles spent so much time on the injured reserve list.
As a result, the Red Wings have a rich graduating class of top forwards who will need to be mixed in with more established players to form a forward corps that can get the team into the playoffs once again (hopefully to make some noise beyond a first-round exit).
There are likely changes coming on the back end and in net, too, and a strong summer would go a long way toward ensuring that Detroit's current slump (the team just barely made the playoffs) is a time for retooling rather than the start of a full-fledged rebuild.
Read on for our take on what lies ahead, from trades to the draft to free agency.
Top Performers: Mostly it was Detroit's kids who really stood out. Gustav Nyquist led the team in goals (28), and Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco all filled in admirably over the course of a season that was filled with injury. Niklas Kronwall also provided exceptional value as the team's top defenceman.
Biggest Disappointments: Ignoring the biggest disappointment—that so many key players spent so much time on the shelf—there are some individuals who stand out. Stephen Weiss was a disaster after being inked to a big free-agent contract and then his season was cut short by injury. Danny Cleary did not deliver as expected. In net, Jimmy Howard had a down year and was temporarily supplanted by Jonas Gustavsson.
Final Assessment: The Red Wings had problems, but there were also definite signs of life in a transition year. Many of the team's top prospects forced their way into NHL jobs, and with good health, Detroit could rebound in a major way in 2014-15. Unfortunately, the combination of troubles in net and injury led to a disappointing regular season and a first-round date with the Boston Bruins that the Red Wings just couldn't overcome.
Biggest Storylines to Follow
Does Daniel Alfredsson Retire? Alfredsson had a pretty good debut season in Detroit, but his NHL career spans 1,246 games and goes back to 1995. If he calls it a career, that opens a hole up front.
The Goaltending Situation: Jimmy Howard had a difficult season, Jonas Gustavsson is bound for free agency and Petr Mrazek has played less than a dozen NHL games. It seems likely that the Red Wings will stick with Howard, but they could dramatically overhaul their goalie depth chart over the summer if they see this campaign as a sign of things to come.
Veteran Departures? For ages, the Wings have leaned heavily on reliable veterans, but many of this year's group are bound for free agency (more on that in a moment). Does general manager Ken Holland turn over key roles to impressive youngsters, does he try to retain many of the seasoned players on expiring contracts, or does he go hunting for vets in the offseason? Any of the three courses of action is plausible.
Notable Players Hitting Free Agency
Daniel Alfredsson: The 41-year-old winger had a pretty decent season for the Red Wings, putting up 49 points in 68 games despite battling injuries. However, his comments after Detroit's first-round elimination at the hands of Boston suggested that this may be his final season. "At the moment, if I come back, that's the likely scenario," he told reporters when asked if he'd be returning to Detroit.
David Legwand: Legwand had decent if unspectacular numbers after joining Detroit late in the year. The 33-year-old pivot had carved out a reputation as a two-way centre with offensive limitations over a lengthy career in Nashville prior to the trade. He's likely to get paid in free agency, as options for teams interested in upgrading at centre are decidedly limited.
Others: F Todd Bertuzzi, F Danny Cleary, F Mikael Samuelsson, D Kyle Quincey and G Jonas Gustavsson.
Top Free-Agent Targets
The Detroit Red Wings have one major need: an impact defenceman, preferably a right-shooting one. They could also add a scoring winger, particularly if Alfredsson opts not to return, but that's a secondary item on the shopping list.
1. Matt Niskanen: It's a bad year to try to add defencemen in free agency, but Niskanen is probably the best of the right-shooting lot. The 27-year-old hit a career-high 46 points and played in all situations, and while the offence is probably something of an anomaly, he'd be a solid addition.
2. Tom Gilbert: Gilbert isn't ideal, but he is a right-handed shot and excelled this season alongside Brian Campbell on the Florida Panthers' top defensive pairing. The two-way defender could certainly fill a top-four role for the Red Wings.
3. Marian Gaborik: The superbly skilled Slovakian has rebounded in a big way since joining the Los Angeles Kings and would be an upgrade on Alfredsson as a scoring winger.
Best Options in the NHL Draft
The Red Wings (barring trade) will make the 15th overall selection in the 2014 draft. Their current prospect system is pretty well-rounded but not especially deep, and it's especially shallow at centre. Should goaltender Petr Mrazek graduate, the team will also be without a credible prospect between the pipes.
Ivan Barbashev: Projected at 13th overall on Bob McKenzie's midseason list, the Russian pivot playing in the QMJHL could slide, and if so, he'd be an ice fit for Detroit. He plays a two-way game and gets high marks for hockey sense, and he fills a positional need for Detroit. He's loaded with skill, too, having put up 68 points in 48 games.
Roland McKeown: If Detroit wants to add another defensive prospect, it could do worse than McKeown, a strong skater with decent size and offensive instincts.
David Pastrnak: A small, scoring winger from the Czech Republic but currently playing in Sweden, Pastrnak doesn't really fill a need for Detroit but closely resembles a number of players who have been excellent picks for the Red Wings.
Players Who Should Be Put on the Trading Block
Joakim Andersson: The simple fact is that the Red Wings have umpteen forwards trying to cram into 13 or 14 spots; somebody has to go. In a package for a top defenceman, it might be one of the team's promising young wingers, but in a move to simply avoid losing someone on waivers, Andersson could probably fetch a mid-round draft pick or a prospect in return.
Jakub Kindl: The Red Wings' developmental magic appears to have failed them in the case of Kindl, the team's first-round pick in the 2005 draft. He seems unlikely to evolve into more than a third-pair defenceman, and his contract, while for reasonable dollars, is a long-term one. Given the glut of left-shooting defencemen and the need to add help higher up the depth chart, Kindl is entirely expendable.
Top Trade Targets
As in free agency, the top target here is a good defenceman, preferably a right-shooting one.
1. Alexander Edler: The big Vancouver Canucks veteran would certainly help solidify the Detroit blue line, though he's a left-handed shot who can line up on the starboard side, which isn't ideal. Really any good defenceman could be placed at the top of this list; the difference with Edler is that he's a fixture in trade rumours.
2. Dustin Byfuglien: The Winnipeg Jets used the right-shooting rearguard as a forward at times this year, and it wasn't because they were blown away by his defensive game. Detroit could solve a lot of problems by making a push to add him to its mix.
3. Draft picks: The Red Wings have lots of decent NHL players and prospects who are running out of waiver exemptions, so simply adding futures in exchange for clearing out bodies might make sense this summer.
Prospects Most Likely to Debut in 2014-15
1. Petr Mrazek: Mrazek's been getting his feet wet, playing nine games in the NHL this season after getting two in 2012-13; he has a 0.926 save percentage in those 11 appearances. 2014-15 is likely to mark his graduation to the major leagues; he put in an excellent performance in the AHL this season (being named along with Adam Almquist to the second AHL All-Star team) and looks like the logical successor to Jonas Gustavsson as Detroit's full-time backup.
2. Adam Almquist: The second-team AHL All-Star isn't the best defensive prospect in the Red Wings organization, but he's older than the more highly touted Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet and could stick as a depth defender after getting two NHL games this season. That he'll need to clear waivers to be reassigned to the minors doesn't hurt, either.
3. Mitch Callahan: The grinding winger took his sweet time but finally had a breakthrough in the AHL, putting up 26 goals and 44 points in 70 games. He'd be a natural fit on an NHL fourth line, and with his waiver exemption ending next season, Detroit has a decision to make. He played in one major league game in 2013-14.
4. Landon Ferraro: The 32nd overall pick in 2009 didn't have a great AHL campaign but did get his first NHL cameo. Working in his favour is that, like Almquist and Callahan, his waiver exemption is coming to an end, and he might come out of training camp with a major league job.
5. Teemu Pulkkinen: Detroit likes to give its prospects plenty of time in the minors, but Pulkkinen may force the issue. The 111th overall selection in 2010 has a cannon of a shot and scored 31 goals for Grand Rapids as an AHL rookie in 2013-14, leading the team in goals and points. He got a three-game NHL cameo with the Red Wings.
Projected 2014-15 Depth Chart
- Henrik Zetterberg—Pavel Datsyuk—[veteran scoring RW]
- Johan Franzen—Riley Sheahan—Gustav Nyquist
- Tomas Tatar—Darren Helm—Justin Abdelkader
- Drew Miller—Stephen Weiss—Tomas Jurco
- Spares: Mitch Callahan, Luke Glendening
- Niklas Kronwall—[veteran RH defenceman]
- Danny DeKeyser—Jonathan Ericsson
- Brendan Smith—Brian Lashoff
- Spare: Adam Almquist
- Jimmy Howard
- Petr Mrazek