Andreas Lilja's post-concussion problems have been giving headaches to more people than just himself. Following the brutal beating at the hands of Nashville's Shea Weber in a demoralizing 8-0 loss in February, Lilja has yet to return to the ice for a game and has had constant ups and downs with recovery. As one of the biggest physical players on the team, Lilja was crucial to defense by way of shot blocking and clearing the crease of any blue-paint planted forward. If and when he returns to the line-up, the Wings would have a very solid 7 man rotation on defense.
But that's a big "when" and an even bigger "if" in the post-Eric Lindros NHL. Concussions aren't taken lightly, nor should they be, so Lilja's season and potentially his career are in jeopardy if the headaches and other symptoms associated with the injury don't stop any time soon. Adding to the complexity of the situation is that Lilja is in the final year of his contract, making $1.25 million and several young replacements waiting in the Wings.
There are several routes the Wings can take but they are all contingent upon whether or not Lilja is able to make a full recovery by the start of the season. We'll examine both routes and make a few assumptions in the process, because after all don't we all like to pretend we can be Ken Holland sometimes?
If Lilja is healthy:
- Returns to the starting six defenders, no doubt in my mind
- Likely would be paired with fellow Swede Jonathan Ericsson. That's a very physical third line pairing, averaging 6'4", 210 pounds.
- Brett Lebda would be the odd man out. To me, Ericsson has shown more in his very short time with the Wings than Lebda has in about 300 games.
- Detroit calls up a cheaper replacement for Lebda
If the problems continue, Andreas could wind up on the long term injured reserve list. If he's on the long-term IR, he's salary doesn't count against the cap until he returns.
If the problems force him to retire, he could be placed on the long term IR and his contract would still not count against the cap; allowing the Red Wings to call up a replacement or sign for one.
Lebda and Ericsson would likely stay as the 3rd line defensive pairing while a Grand Rapids guy like Jakub Kindl would make the jump to be the 7th man, seeing occasional or frequent play depending on injuries or lack of production from other players.
Detroit could sign another a defenseman if Lilja's salary didn't count against the cap, as mentioned above.
If Lilja is unhealthy:
So that's the long and the short of it. Detroit has several options to consider in order to deal with the situation. I would not fault him for retiring (even if temporary) due to complications from the injury. I personally would like to see him back in uniform at the start of the season because he is an invaluable asset on the penalty kill and the defending the stars side.
Let's hear what you have to say on it.
UPDATE: Ansar Khan of MLive.com had this article up today and this quote comes from it:
Unless Lilja makes a quick recovery, he will start the season on long-term injured reserve, taking his $1.25 million salary off the cap. The Wings currently are slightly over the cap. They must be compliant by the start of the regular season.