We are t-minus 3 games before the NHL's trade deadline on April 3rd, yet the most important acquisition for the Red Wings could occur in the next day or two.
Dan DeKeyser is an undrafted free agent who just completed his junior season for the Western Michigan Broncos. He's a 6'3, 200 pound left-handed defenseman who just turned 23. He's easily the most coveted college free agent available if the expected happens and he announces that he's turning pro.
And the Red Wings will have failed miserably if they don't land him.
There's no question the Wings are interested in DeKeyser; Jim Nill admitted as much and stated the obvious when he said that the 29 other teams would all be trying to sign him as well. But the Red Wings should have the inside track based on a number of circumstances.
First, the kid's from the Detroit area and his boyhood idol was Steve Yzerman, so the opportunity to play for the team he rooted for growing up should be a draw. Throw in the fact that he could be an integral part of the new generation that maintains the team's position as a perennial contender and he could do it in front of family and friends and that's something the Wings can offer him over every other team.
Second, his coach at WMU was none other than Jeff Blashill, the former Red Wings assistant who now coaches in Grand Rapids. Besides the fact that his former college coach is in the Wings organization, Blashill could be used as a salesman to pitch DeKeyser about how great the franchise is and how well they treat their players. Further related to this is that DeKeyser went to school with Assistant GM Jim Nill's son, Trevor, so it's safe to say that Jim has had conversations with DeKeyser well before this process began.
Third, this isn't like Ryan Suter where money is an issue. DeKeyser is going to get the rookie maximum, but every single team is going to offer that, including the Red Wings. The decision he makes on who to sign with won't be about money, it will be about who is going to give him an opportunity to play both now and in the future.
And that's why this is very important to the Wings. This is a hometown kid who by all accounts is a very solid, dependable defenseman that plays a smart game and can still get better. He's a good skater, moves the puck well, has size, and plays a good all-around game. He's the kind of player that you could pair with, oh I don't know, someone like Brendan Smith who plays a bit of a flashier game and create the defensive pair of the future.
Because this isn't just about this year. Yes, he might be buried on the depth chart initially (although with injuries to Kyle Quincey and (pure guess but likely to happen) Carlo Colaiacovo, the Wings have room on the blueline), but there would be no reason he couldn't step into a top-4 role and paired with someone like Niklas Kronwall or Smith to see what he could do. The Wings are still in a dogfight for a playoff spot, but they have managed to create a little separation between themselves and the 9th place team. Therefore, right away he should get playing time.
The fallout from signing DeKeyser and giving him playing time on the top-4 and on the power play also means that Ian White could finally be moved to acquire something else the Wings need. I think if we're all being honest with each other we can admit that the only reason White is getting consistent playing time is because of the injury to Quincey, and no one has forgotten that his butt-print is still in the chair in the Leino Lounge. White could be moved on his own or as part of a bigger package to get something the Wings require either right now or in the future.
Because the Wings should be looking beyond 2013, and if they can't promise DeKeyser a legitimate spot in the lineup for next year, or the year after that, then I don't know what to think. This is a team that is woefully thin at defense in their system; they NEEDED to sign Colaiacovo after missing out on Suter and Matt Carle this offseason, and then NEEDED to sign Kent Huskins just to have a full complement of defensemen who could play in the NHL this year when injuries struck the team. The cupboard is bare, and the Wings have just gone to the grocery store and had someone drop a 24 oz porterhouse in their cart with a note that says "all yours if you want it" attached to it.
We've talked a lot about Ken Holland and his need to make this team better. He's been presented with the best opportunity to do that right now, and all he has to do is say the right things and get Mike Babcock to go along and everything will be fine. But if he can't get it done? Well, I'll let TPL say exactly what we're all thinking.
Bungling the DeKeyser thing would be unforgivable. The kids wants so badly to be a Red Wing. It can only be fucked up at this point.— The Production Line (@TPLhockey) March 27, 2013
This thing has been handed to the Wings on a silver platter. I don't want to even consider what the ramifications would be if they mess this up.