For the past 21 years, the Detroit Red Wings have been on a run of tremendous success that very few fans experience in a lifetime. It's been very special that I have been lucky enough to be a fan , and the Wings have made the playoffs every season that has been played since, a streak that has now reached 21. Most fans of other franchises might call Wings fans "spoiled," that we have become so accustomed to winning, we just take it for granted now. The fact is, what goes up must come down. That said, I don't believe the Wings are done quite yet. The past 21 years have been filled with the Wings playing into at least the third week of April, and includes six President's Trophies, 14 division championships, seven Conference Finals appearances, six Stanley Cup Finals appearances, four Stanley Cup championships, an NHL-record 23 consecutive home game winning streak, and currently, a run of 12 consecutive seasons with 100-plus points. Truth is, we as Wings fans have been spoiled. With that said, I try to cherish every moment of success we have, because I know it will inevitably end at some point. But the fact remains that I probably don't cherish it nearly as much as I will long for it once the run ends. The saying is "You don't know what you have until it's gone." So now that this season has ended, and the 2012-13 season has begun for the Red Wings earlier than any of us wanted, I played General Manager and assembled a team I think would be the favorites to win the Cup next season.
First, look at the roster you have signed entering the 2012-13 season. The Red Wings have nine forwards, four defensemen, and two goalies currently on the roster. The 15 players total a cap hit of $41,742,044, leaving over $22.5 Million to spend if the cap does not increase(multiple sites indicate the 2012-13 salary cap right now is projected to be set between $69 and $72 Million). Question marks of players that are signed, but might not be on the roster come October, are forwards Patrick Eaves(concussion) and Todd Bertuzzi(impending trial for Steve Moore incident), and backup goaltender Joey McDonald(back). Under the current CBA, Patrick Eaves and Joey McDonald will not count against the cap if they're not on the roster. It's unknown if a clause in the CBA allows for Bertuzzi's 35+ contract to be voided if he faces charges stemming from the Steve Moore incident, thus lifting his cap hit off the Wings payroll. If so, it would add another $2.075 Million in cap space.
Second, handle the team's own free agents before July 1 so you have a great idea of what you're looking for once free agency opens. We can all agree that Nicklas Lidstrom is the number one priority. I expect the captain will return for one more season because he is still too good to walk away, he doesn't want his last game to be a first round exit to Nashville, and the Red Wings are in the seemingly perfect position to make the biggest splashes in free agency and be a Cup favorite again in 2012-13. After Lidstrom, other unrestricted free agents include forwards Jiri Hudler and Tomas Holmstrom, defenseman Brad Stuart, and goaltender Ty Conklin. Restricted free agents on July 1 include forwards Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader, and defenseman Kyle Quincey.
When I look back to the Cup-winning team in 2007-08, the Red Wings had great depth at every position. Their top six forwards scored 160 goals and 353 points. Eleven players scored at least 35 points. Each of their goalies played in 40 games and 18 skaters played in at least 59 games. By comparison, the 2011-12 top six forwards scored 132 goals and 346 points. Seven players scored at least 35 points. Goaltender Jimmy Howard played in 57 games and 17 skaters played in at least 65 games. The 2007-08 team finished with 252 goals and 691 points, while the 2011-12 team finished with 239 goals and 659 points. Another statistic is the 2007-08 team finished a plus-235, while the 2011-12 team finished a plus-209.
Knowing that the Wings have become very shallow in the past three seasons, it's now time to replenish the depth with the cap space finally available. The roster can be boosted no greater than by signing unrestricted free agent forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. For weeks now, it has been known that the players are real good friends and would love to play together. When the New Jersey Devils forward was in Detroit, he was asked about their playing style by mlive.com:
“I think they play the right way,'' Parise said of the Red Wings. “They play hard. The puck possession is great. The way the (defense) get involved is awesome. They play a great style of hockey. Really fun to watch.''
The 27-year old forward then was asked about Pavel Datsyuk:
“He's awesome,'' Parise said. “He does everything out there. Just some of the passes he makes to set up guys are unbelievable. He does everything and plays the game the right way. For any player just watching him, you try to mimic some things he does out there. It's not fun playing against him, but he's fun to watch."
When you think about Datsyuk and Parise on the same line, you can't help but smile. That is unless you're on an opposing team, in which case, you just shake your head.
If the Wings can sign Parise, it will surely entice Ryan Suter to don the winged wheel as well. Adding Suter gives the Wings a top pairing defenseman that can provide 40-plus points every season while eating up 23-26 minutes every night, exponentially increasing the depth on the blue line, not to mention stealing him from a division rival.
Both players could probably find $7 Million per season deals elsewhere, but if they're willing to accept a bit of a discount to play together while also having a great chance every season to win the Cup, look for them both to be in red and white next October down at Joe Louis Arena.
Below is a roster I have assembled in hopes of watching the Detroit Red Wings hoist Lord Stanley's Cup next June.
8 Justin Abdelkader - SIGN TO TWO YEAR, $1.8M DEAL - $900,000 CAP HIT
11 Danny Cleary - One year left on contract, $3M - $2,800,000 cap hit
13 Pavel Datsyuk - Two years left on contract, $13.4M - $6,700,000 cap hit
14 Gustav Nyquist - One year left on contract, $0.875M - $875,000 cap hit
20 Drew Miller - One year left on contract, $0.850M - $837,500 cap hit
21 Tomas Tatar - Two years left on contract, $1.68M - $840,000 cap hit
37 BRANDON PRUST - SIGN TO TWO YEAR, $1.8M DEAL - $900,000 CAP HIT
40 Henrik Zetterberg - Nine years left on contract, $50.1M - $6,083,333 cap hit
43 Darren Helm - SIGN TO THREE YEAR, $3.75M DEAL - $1,250,000 CAP HIT
44 Todd Bertuzzi - Two years left on contract, $4.15M - $2,075,000 cap hit
48 Cory Emmerton - Two years left on contract, $1.067M - $533,333 cap hit
51 Valtteri Filppula - One year left on contract, $3.5M - $3,000,000 cap hit
90 ZACH PARISE - SIGN TO SIX YEAR, $37.2M DEAL - $6,200,000 CAP HIT
93 Johan Franzen - Eight years left on contract, $27.75M - $3,954,545 cap hit
2 Brendan Smith - One year left on contract, $0.875M - $875,000 cap hit
5 Nicklas Lidstrom - SIGN TO ONE YEAR, $6M DEAL - $6,000,000 cap hit
6 DENNIS WIDEMAN - SIGN TO FOUR YEAR, $17M DEAL - $4,250,000 CAP HIT
18 Ian White - One year left on contract, $2.875M - $2,875,000 cap hit
22 RYAN SUTER - SIGN TO SIX YEAR, $37.2M DEAL - $6,200,000 CAP HIT
52 Jonathan Ericsson - Two years left on contract, $6.5M - $3,250,000 cap hit
55 Niklas Kronwall - Seven years left on contract, $33.25M - $4,750,000 cap hit
29 JOSH HARDING - SIGN TO TWO YEAR, $2.5M DEAL - $1,250,000 CAP HIT
35 Jimmy Howard - One year left on contract, $2.25M - $2,250,000 cap hit
PROJECTED 2012-13 NHL SALARY CAP: $70,500,000
23-MAN ROSTER CAP HIT: $68,648,711
CAP SPACE REMAINING: $1,851,289
PROJECTED LINES, PAIRINGS, & GOALTENDERS, & THEIR PROJECTED STATS:
LINE 1: PARISE(34G-40A-74P) - DATSYUK(27G-54A-81P) - FRANZEN(31G-30A-61P)
LINE 2: ZETTERBERG(31G-46A-77P) - FILPPULA(20G-36A-56P) - BERTUZZI(17G-28A-45P)
LINE 3: CLEARY(21G-24A-45P) - HELM(12G-18A-30P) - NYQUIST(12G-23A-35P)
LINE 4: MILLER(13G-11A-24P) - TATAR(9G-11A-20P) - PRUST(9G-14A-23P)
13TH & 14TH FORWARDS: ABDELKADER(5G-9A-14P) & EMMERTON(6G-3A-9P)
PAIRING 1: LIDSTROM(13G-38A-51P) - SUTER(5G-38A-43P)
PAIRING 2: KRONWALL(13G-25A-38P) - WIDEMAN(10G-31A-41P)
PAIRING 3: ERICSSON(3G-12A-15P) - WHITE(8G-25A-33P)
7TH DEFENSEMAN: SMITH(6G-11A-17P)
STARTER: HOWARD(30-9-2; .926(1,076/1,162) SV%, 2.10(86/41) GAA.
BACKUP: HARDING(28-10-3; .910(1,077/1,183) SV%, 2.59(106/41) GAA.
When researching each players' statistics, the top six forwards can be expected to post 160 goals and 394 points, the same number of goals and 41 points more than the top six forwards in 2007-08 scored. Twelve players should score at least 35 points based on career averages. The 2012-13 team should be expected to finish with 305 goals and 832 points, 53 goals and 141 points more than the 2007-08 team scored. Lastly, the 2012-13 team can be expected to finish a plus-216 based on each player's averages.
2012-13 Detroit Red Wings Projected Stats With Assembled Roster:
(58-19-5; 121 Points)
Goals For Per Game: 3.72(305)
Goals Against Per Game: 2.34(192)
Free agency 2012 begins nine weeks from today, and the Wings are surely to make a few splashes after three consecutive seasons ending in early exits. And if you look at history, the splashes will be the biggest of the summer. After the emotional 1998 triumph, the Red Wings lost in the second round in 1999 and 2000, both against the Colorado Avalanche, and in 2001, lost in the first round to the Los Angeles Kings. Three early exits resulted in trading for goaltender Dominik Hasek, and signing free agents Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille. Pavel Datsyuk also joined the team that summer, and we all know the "Team For The Ages" brought the Stanley Cup home to Hockeytown. After the third Cup win in six seasons, head coach Scotty Bowman and goaltender Dominik Hasek retired.
In the summer of 2003, assistant coach Dave Lewis was promoted to head coach and free agent Curtis Joseph was signed as the Wings new starting goaltender. The Red Wings were swept in the first round of the 2003 playoffs by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, and in 2004, lost in the second round to the Calgary Flames. After the 2004-05 season was cancelled, Mike Babcock left Anaheim and became the Red Wings new head coach in July. The following season saw the Wings lose again in the first round to the Edmonton Oilers, in what would be Steve Yzerman's final season.
After three consecutive early exits, roster turnover continued. In addition to Yzerman's retirement, Brendan Shanahan left as a free agent and Dominik Hasek returned. The 2006-07 season saw Nicklas Lidstrom named Detroit's new captain, and the Anaheim Ducks eliminate the Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals in six games.
In the summer of 2007, the Red Wings signed free agent defenseman Brian Rafalski to anchor the blue line alongside Lidstrom. At the trade deadline, they also acquired defenseman Brad Stuart from the league's worst team, Los Angeles. The result was Detroit defeating Nashville, Colorado, Dallas, and Pittsburgh en route to its fourth Stanley Cup triumph in 11 seasons.
The Red Wings made the biggest splash in the summer of 2008, signing Marian Hossa to a one year deal. Trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice, fate was not on the Red Wings side this time as they would lose Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals on home ice to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team for which Hossa played the season before, after leading the series 3-2. Game Six and Game Seven both ended in 2-1 scores.
In 2009-10, the Wings, decimated by injuries, somehow finished with 102 points, but lost in the second round to the San Jose Sharks. In 2010-11, in seemingly parallel seasons to 1999 and 2000, the Red Wings again lost in the second round to San Jose. During the summer, more roster turnover from previous triumphs left the Detroit Red Wings. Defenseman Brian Rafalski announced his somewhat unexpected retirement, citing injuries as the major reasoning. Goaltender Chris Osgood and forward Kris Draper also announced their respective retirement. Assistant coach Brad McCrimmon and defenseman Ruslan Salei also left the organization for the KHL, in what would become a fatal choice. The two former members of the Red Wings, along with former Detroit goaltender prospect Stefan Liv, were all involved in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl air disaster that claimed their lives along with every other player and coach on board. Forty-four of the 45 passengers perished, with only the flight engineer surviving. The Red Wings signed free agent defenseman Ian White and goaltender Ty Conklin in the summer of 2011, and ended the 2011-12 season by losing in the first round to the Nashville Predators in five games.
Since Ken Holland took over as the team's General Manager in 1998, the Red Wings Cup drought has not reached five seasons: 1998-1999-2000-2001-2002-2003-2004-2006-2007-2008-2009-2010-2011-2012. Next season would be the fifth, and surely Ken Holland will do everything in his power to keep this run going. With the cap space finally available along with the players that will fit perfectly into the Wings system, the Red Wings might be parading down Woodward Avenue once more in June 2013.