When the Stanley Cup Finals began, I wanted to find an angle to follow the series that would have some value to Red Wings fans, other than a contest about which team had the most players with stupid faces. Much like current Facebook Presidential candidate discussions, the arguments seemed to be about which team one could most live with winning.
I decided to focus on whether or not any of the Penguins or Sharks UFAs would be a good fit for the Red Wings to pursue as second or third tier targets in free agency. Unfortunately, neither team had many options. There were three. The first was Dainius Zubrus, whom I had to consider slightly longer than zero seconds because of the time it took me to look up how to spell Dainius Zubrus.
I decided to look at Ben Lovejoy and Roman Polak, with the caveat that:
Now, I know some of you will say (and have possible already said this in the comments before getting to this part of the article) that we have too many defensemen as it is and that neither would make a difference. You may be right on both counts, but if some of the trades proposed in the comment section happen, we might be down to two defensemen and 3 draft picks.
Obviously I was being tongue in cheek about the last part, but I think the intangible value of having players who have been through the grueling process of winning four straight best-of-seven series under the highest pressure is something that shouldn't be discounted.
That being said, approximately 135% of the comments in the original article titled "Should the Red Wings look into either Ben Lovejoy or Roman Polak?" were some variation of "No." After watching the Finals, yeah, that's the correct answer.
Here's a quick look at why the initial response is correct.
This is the easier one to dismiss. He's bigger, he's younger, he's pylon-er. The Pittsburgh Penguin's team speed made all of the Sharks look slow at times, but Polak's turning speed reminded me of an updated edition I helped write of my favorite book on Amazon:
In 24 games, Polak had 0 points. He had an ATOI of 15.79, and his advanced stats numbers for the playoffs don't paint a pretty picture (CF% of 44.23, and GF% of 35.29). He and his defensive partner Brenden Dillon were clearly the weak links on the Sharks defense in the playoffs.
But you don't have to take a dive into the stats to see that he shouldn't earn a big raise on the free agent market. He did make some nice defensive plays, but more often than not, he was a liability.
I haven't seen the Penguins play that much this season, but I saw a few of their playoff games leading up to the Stanley Cup, and Lovejoy seemed like a better candidate for a closer look.
I watched the Simpsons every week growing up, and every day when they became syndicated, so hearing his name during Red Wings games would create a positive association, although I might be reminded that us trying to score on the power play is like Barney trying not to drink while being locked in Moe's tavern on St. Patrick's Day after being told he has one day to live.
Lovejoy had a solid playoff, with 2 goals and 4 assists, playoff 5v5 CF% of 48.55 and a playoff 5v5 GF% of 58.33. His play and the play of the rest of the Pittsburgh defense surprised many experts. He was relatively quiet in the Finals, except for Game 3, when he put up a goal and an assist in a 3-2 OT loss. Overall, he was an integral part of the team defense that kept the Sharks to under 2 goals a game.
I do think that Lovejoy would be a good fit for many teams as a veteran second or third pair defenseman, with a better fit as the latter. But, there are two big issues that keep him from being an option here.
1. We already have too many defensemen. Even if Holland was able to work some magic and create openings, we have young players waiting to fill those spots. I'd rather give the younger players a chance to build experience rather than bring in another veteran to block their ascendance.
2. Someone's going to give him way too much money or years (or both). At the right price, on a short deal, if we were a player or two away from a Cup run, then yeah, it might be worth it to overpay for a veteran who's won it all. But we're not that team. Let someone else get laughed at on July 1.
What free agents (if any) would be a good fit?
Admittedly, this is a hard debate to have because of all the question marks surrounding the Wings' roster. Ken Holland has said he plans to be active this off-season, but does that mean moving roster players? So, if some trades occur, and we have room for a free agent signing, who would you look at?
We've talked about Steven Stamkos and Alexander Radulov often lately, but feel free to continue to discuss those possibilities here, but what about other possibilities? David Backes? Kyle Okposo?
If the price is relatively reasonable, and a place on the fourth line is available, I'd take a look at Matt Martin. Of course, those are two big "ifs."