The Detroit Red Wings’ exciting playoff run came to a sudden and disappointing end Wednesday, as the Chicago Blackhawks scored a Game 7 overtime victory to bounce the boys from Hockeytown out of the postseason.
And now, the Wings’ attention turns toward what should be a very interesting offseason. Their ability to rebuild on the fly in 2013 leaves Detroit with plenty of questions to answer regarding the mix of veterans and youngsters in the system.
So, what are the most pressing issues on GM Ken Holland’s plate? Here’s a look at five key questions:
1. Can the Wings (and do the Wings want to) keep Valtteri Filppula?:
Filppula, set to be an unrestricted free agent, reportedly has asked for a contract in excess of $5 million per season. The Wings, currently with a little less than $11 million free toward next year’s cap, might be able to swing that … but is the 29-year-old forward worth such a commitment?
He has been a key part of the Wings’ top two lines and a valued playoff contributor, but Filppula also has just one 20-goal season and one year of more than 50 points (both accomplishments came in 2011-12). Maybe he’s ready to turn the corner and be a consistent producer, but he slipped back to just 17 points in 41 games this season.
Losing Filppula would be a blow up front, though one Detroit might be able to negate by giving Gustav Nyquist more responsibilities (as he received in Game 7 after Filppula was injured) and/or re-signing Damien Brunner. Detroit also could take that $5 million-plus Filppula wants and use it toward a free-agent signing or a trade deadline move.
2. Is Dan Cleary’s veteran presence worth bringing back?
ESPN’s Craig Custance wrote Thursday about the value of a player like Cleary in the playoffs. Not only does Cleary have loads and loads of experience, but his physical and grating style of play is exactly what a team needs come the postseason. The question is: Will Detroit’s young guns squeeze him out of the lineup?
The Red Wings have bid farewell to most of their get-under-your-skin guys in recent years — Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty. Cleary was invaluable in that role against Chicago, especially as the Wings frustrated the Blackhawks while grabbing a 3-1 series lead.
The problem is that Cleary will turn 35 next season and his production has waned over the past two years. Still, it’d be hard to let both Filppula and Cleary go, especially if the Wings are at all uncertain about their developing talent.
3. Will Detroit use a compliance buyout?
The NHL’s new CBA, which went into effect at the end of the most recent lockout, permits each team to use two cap-free buyouts of any players on their roster once this season wraps. In other words, a team can scrap a player’s contract, pay him a portion of what he’s owed in salary and remove him totally from their salary-cap count.
The Wings have some pretty obvious candidates for such a move, too. Namely, Mikael Samuelsson ($3 million for 2013-14), Jordin Tootoo ($1.9 million for the next two seasons), Jonas Gustavsson ($1.5 million in ’13-14) and, of course, Johan Franzen (approximately $4 million per year through 2020).
In spite continuing to be a total enigma, Franzen would be a hard one to justify. The Wings already have major issues putting the puck in the net, and he’s one of the few players capable of getting hot there. Plus, since teams are not allowed to renegotiate a player they use the amnesty on, Franzen would be done in Detroit and the Wings really can’t afford that loss.
As for the other guys mentioned, put the oft-injured Samuelsson and Gustavsson atop the list of possibilities. The Wings would love to have Samuelsson sniping goals and helping out on the point during the power play, but he barely made it onto the ice in 2013. At $3 million per year, he currently holds the fourth-biggest contract for the Wings’ forwards heading into next season. Unless he’s somehow going to step back in for 70 games and score 20-plus goals, that’s a waste.
And Gustavsson was a complete disappointment as the Wings’ backup goalie, forcing Jimmy Howard to man the net almost exclusively. Petr Mrazek, meanwhile, has led a playoff charge for the Grand Rapids Griffins and might be ready to take on an NHL role.
4. How many more young guys are ready to make the jump?
Mrazek, for one, has a shot; and Brian Lashoff, following a very solid cameo in Detroit this year, should compete for a job on the blue line. Even more help could come up front, in the form of guys like Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan, Teemu Pulkkinen and Landon Ferraro. The number of young forwards that get a crack will rely heavily on the decisions made on Filppula, Cleary, Samuelsson and others.
5. From where will the elusive top-six scoring come?
The Wings more or less knew all along this year that they’d have trouble finding goals, and that frustration played out in the loss to Chicago. Even Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg slumped in the playoffs, with no one around to take defensive pressure off of them.
Brunner and Nyquist may be ready for top-six roles, and each of those guys could pop home 20 if given the opportunity. Is that enough for Detroit, combined with Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen and another forward?
If not, then look for a couple moves in free agency — in that same article linked above, Custance mentions Nathan Horton and David Clarkson as possibilities for Detroit. Horton scored 13 goals in the shortened season and topped 20 every year from 2005-11; Clarkson lit the lamp 15 times in 2013 and 30 times in ’11-12.