The Detroit Red Wings have long been a premier destination for free agents in the National Hockey League. Over the past half decade, that has been changing at an unfortunate and alarming pace. It is time to accept that Detroit is no longer number one on everyone’s list, but it is very plausible that it may return there sooner than most would like to think.
This past summer general manager Ken Holland was on the hunt for a few upgrades to the roster after finally cutting loose the likes of Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson, and Jordin Tootoo. He also inexplicably resigned Dan Cleary which sent 99 percent of the fanbase into an uproar. According to sources there was a gentlemen’s agreement in place the past season when Cleary signed with Detroit that Holland would take care of him on his next contract. Why did this happen? Well, Cleary turned down a truckload more money and term on a contract offer from Philadelphia to stay in Detroit.
Whether you agree with the decision or not. it is nice to see Holland actually be a man of his word and pay up even if Cleary is an expendable player at best. The worst case scenario is that this could perhaps let future free agent targets know that Holland is a very loyal and honest businessman which will hopefully persuade them to ply their trade in Hockeytown.
The main free agent target Holland and Co. were after this past summer was a right shooting defenceman.
Well, the free agent frenzy did not exactly go the way anyone with an ounce of Wings fandom had hoped it would. The Red Wings were turned down by 38-year old Dan Boyle who elected to sign with the Rangers. Anton Stralman spurned the Red Wings and decided to sign with Steve Yzerman’s Tampa Bay Lightning. Stralman’s decision stung a little bit more than usual as being of Swedish ethnicity, many expected him to sign in Detroit and play alongside his countrymen. Well, apparently that held no clout and Stralman jetted to Yzerman’s side who seem to be sticking it to the Detroit front office ever since that horrible Kyle Quincey trade Ken Holland elected to make. Next was Christian Ehrhoff who spurred the Wings for Pittsburgh, as if the knife could not be twisted any deeper. Matt Niskanen decided to head to Washington after demanding entirely too much money after only one season of excellent play. Thankfully, Holland had his mind in the right place when Niskanen’s agent delivered his wage demands.
The last option for the Wings was to make a trade with the Buffalo Sabres for Tyler Meyers. After having a brilliant rookie season, Meyers has been a drastic underachiever. So, would it be smart for Detroit to take a chance that a change of scenery would kick Meyers back into gear? Well, after hearing the demands that Buffalo had in return for Meyers services, it is pretty safe to say that Holland told the Buffalo management team to politely go fly a kite. They were interested in a first round pick, Detroit’s previous first rounder Anthony Mantha, AND Tomas Jurco. That is absolute insanity. So, Holland kept his hands folded and begrudgingly resigned Kyle Quincey, hoping that this would be a rejuvenating season for him.
When all the worthy free agents had been scooped up by seemingly more proactive front offices than that of Detroit’s, a collective scream could be heard coming from Hockeytown and it’s surrounding suburbs. However, things must be looked at in a proper perspective as there really is not a whole lot to panic about. This Red Wings organization drafts brilliantly. Perhaps better than almost any team in the history of sports. The Wings may not have a signed a superstar Dman like they were hoping to, but the depth of talent within the entire organization is mind numbing.
There are many young players that featured in a few games last year for the big club, and some that have not worn the winged wheel yet, that fans should start following and getting hyped about now. Everyone saw the talents of Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, and Tomas Jurco regularly on display last year and they were the reason that this team was still entertaining to watch last year, even through the hard times. There are a few more kids in this organization who are just as talented and waiting for a chance to shine. With Mike Babcock stating that the best players will play, regardless of their age and experience, chances are you will see some of them skating through the Hockeytown logo at center ice this season.
Anthony Mantha was the number one pick of the 2013 draft for the Red Wings. He is still only 19 years old and is listed at a staggering 6 foot 5. The mind boggling part of the Red Wings taking him at the 20th spot is that he actually fell that far down the draft board. He was the only player in the draft to score more than 50 goals in junior Canadian hockey. In 2012 he posted 50 goals and 39 assists in 67 games for the Val-d’Or Foreurs of the QMJHL. Yeah that is pretty dang good, but check out his 2013 stat line, through 10 fewer games Mantha ended up scoring 7 more goals and 24 more assists than the previous season! How is that for consistency? After filling out his frame and getting stronger, the sky looked the be the limit for Mantha as he was going to be given a fair shot on the NHL roster as the season began. Unfortunately, Mantha was injured during training camp and is said to be out for 6-8 weeks but hopefully we will see him in Detroit this season and not Grand Rapids because he definitely has the ability.
21-year old defenceman Xavier Ouellet was recently sent back down to Grand Rapids and it is not because he was not wanted, under cap restraints and roster limit, the Wings cannot carry him right now. It has became clear that not everyone is thrilled about that as Coach Babcock put Ken Holland on blast during a recent interview when asked whether Ouellet would be in the opening day lineup, “I don’t have to answer that one, though. I just said I’d ask the other guy and then I’ll support everything he’s decided.” It is probably not the smartest move by Holland to irk the most sought after coach in the NHL who has one year left on his contract. To keep Ouellet on the big boy club, the Wings would have to risk one of their less desirable roster players on waivers, think Jakub Kindl, and apparently Holland was not willing to do this. That means Ouellet will have to wait his turn, and he will surely get it as he is a young budding star on the blue line. There are recent reports that Kindl is also being openly shopped, so his time may be coming sooner rather than later.
Griffins defencemen Ryan Sproul seems to be next in line. Guess what Wings fans, he shoots righty! At 21 years old, Sproul played one game with the Wings last year, and it was largely mistake free. Currently on the Griffins roster, he is seen as an offensive defenseman and has largely improved his skating and is now more defensively reliable than when he was drafted. Obviously, that comes with experience. People knocked P.K. Subban and Drew Doughty for not being defensively aware enough and look where they are now. Everyone needs a few guys willing to take risks on their club and hopefully Sproul becomes one of those guys.
Alexei Marchenko is currently playing with the Griffins as well, and is also a right shooting defencemen like Sproul. Conversely, Marchenko is seen as a very aggressive defensive defenceman. He is projected to be more of a shutdown defencemen and should be seeing a lot of playing time in the future for the Red Wings.
Another budding offensive star could be the 23 year old Prague native, Andrej Nestrasil. Currently getting solid playing time with the Red Wings, he has largely impressed just about everyone. Thus far Nestrasil has shown some blazing speed and has left some defencemen cemented to the ice. That type of speed will only make the line of Nestrasil/Helm/Nyquist that more dangerous. Having outplayed Weiss and Cleary for a roster spot says a lot about how Babcock will lineup his team this season.
Lastly, and perhaps one of the players that could pan out to be a superstar for the Red Wings, is 2014 draft pick from the US development team is 18 year old center Dylan Larkin. Dylan was drafted 15th overall and is currently playing in Ann Arbor for Red Berenson’s Michigan Wolverines. Larkin touts incredible speed and vision which should slot him as a second-line center in the NHL. However, the Wolverines are so loaded at the center position that he will play a wing instead. This should not be a problem as he will surely play as a top center for the US team during this winter’s junior tournament in Montreal and Toronto. There are plenty of opportunities for fans to see this kid play because of his proximity to the Detroit area and the national exposure that the junior tournament will receive. So smile Wings fans, the future does not look so gloomy.