Bryan Bickell, never a stranger around the front of the net, would provide the Red Wings with plenty of much needed grit this offseason. (Julie Rubes, Flickr)
The Detroit Red Wings’ frustrating end to the shortened 2013 season wasn’t necessarily a choke job considering the circumstances, but it did expose several offseason needs for the team’s roster.
In blowing a commanding 3-1 series lead to the eventual Western Conferece champion Chicago Blackhawks, the Red Wings were outmuscled during games five through seven. Everything that had gone right from a toughness standpoint went the other way fast, and the Blackhawks started scoring gritty goals in front of the net. They had the more physical, determined players when it mattered the most.
It would make sense, then, that the Red Wings would identify such scoring as their primary need heading into the offseason. Between the final two teams remaining, both the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins seemingly lead the playoffs in gritty goal scoring. When each of those teams desperately need a goal or some offense, it’s not the most beautiful play or player netting the goal, but rather a physical effort of will from a grizzly guy missing a tooth. Detroit’s lineup needs a major sprinkling of that.
Given those variables, it also makes sense that Detroit would have interest in two of the hardest working Blackhawks and Bruins. Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press writes today that the Red Wings will be keeping a close eye on a pair of their recent tormentors, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg, once free agency opens in July. Each has the elements Detroit is hungering for up front. St. James also casually mentions the Bruins’ Nathan Horton, who after a great playoff, will be another rough, yet sought after free agent.
Either Bickell or Horton would be an immediate upgrade for Detroit in the toughness and gritty scoring department, and could be an excellent replacement for Todd Bertuzzi or the aged Mikael Samuelsson. Stalberg, the flashier player of the trio, would be more inclined to replicate Valtteri Filppula’s role at a much cheaper price. The three have several tangible advantages, namely age. Horton is the oldest of the group at 28, and is the only player with injury red flags given a checkered concussion history.
Far too often, the Red Wings tried to make the pretty play or score the beautiful goal, leading to their offensive funks. It was no surprise that during the playoffs, a young, hard working third line of Joakim Andersson, Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist led the way with scoring touch and a sampling of toughness. That’s the group Detroit must build around for the future, and players like Bickell, Horton and Stalberg would fit in perfectly with the mantra and play of that line.
By adding a few of these players up front, the Red Wings will become a much tougher team to play against next year in the Eastern Conference, where grit is the most important element needed for success.
Red Wings’ Players Of The Year: Damien Brunner and Jimmy Howard. From the beginning of the regular season, Brunner was Detroit’s best player with an impressive scoring touch. He showed a solid ability to adapt to the speed of the NHL in a hurry, and didn’t lose his touch when the playoffs started, remaining one of the Red Wings’ leading scorers. Fans should be encouraged by Brunner’s emergence, and hope that he is able to re-sign early during the offseason. Howard finally proved himself in the playoffs, and showed that he could be the major reason the Red Wings are a favorite in the Eastern Conference.
Red Wings’ Plays Of The Year: Brunner’s shootout winner in Columbus, Nyquist’s smooth playoff goal against the Blackhawks. Both of these plays, made possible by Detroit’s up and coming talent, were awe-inspiring. Brunner’s slick move was one of the better shootout performances in recent memory, helping Detroit dig out of their early season offensive funk. Nyquist showed a bit of Pavel Datsyuk in the playoffs, weaving around Chicago’s defense and netting a nice goal.
Dead Wings’ Offseason Doghouse: Mikael Samuelsson, Todd Bertuzzi and Kyle Quincey. All of these players are candidates for being amnestied given their inconsistent play, injury problems, cap hits and age. Samuelsson is most likely, but Bertuzzi and Quincey, given they can be replaced easier, shouldn’t be discounted at all. Out of the trio, the Red Wings should try hardest to edge out Samuelsson and Bertuzzi, given the better upgrades possible at the forward position in free agency.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax