Ken Holland Addresses Red Wings' Needs on NHL's First Day of Free Agency
This week began with the announcement that former Detroit Red Wings Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov would be enshrined this year in the Hockey Hall of Fame. In all the nostalgia of what Lidstrom brought to the Red Wings, fans received a hefty reminder of what left the organization when he retired in 2012. It had been a rough three seasons on the blue line since, but Detroit somehow managed to handle the departure and still make the playoffs in the three seasons since.
Though Lidstrom's retirement presented its own major difficulties, the decline of the Red WIngs' defense actually started with the surprise retirement of Brian Rafalski in the offseason of 2011. Rafalski had one more year on his deal worth $6 million, and general manager Ken Holland had already "penciled" Rafalski into the lineup for the next season.
With Lidstrom's retirement the next season, it's easy to fathom just how much quality the Red Wings lost in the span of two seasons.
Despite expectations that the Red Wings would remain quiet on the first day of free agency, Detroit made headlines by signing the No. 1 defenseman of this free agent class in Mike Green. The $6 million price tag might have opened some eyebrows considering it was Detroit and not some other team that threw the money at Green, but the three-year term balances the money out very nicely. Green gets paid, and Detroit gets the latter prime years of his career.
The veteran defenseman brings an offensive element to the Detroit blue line that's been sorely lacking since two of the best blue-line producers in Lidstrom and Rafalski retired. Niklas Kronwall has maintained great numbers, especially since taking over the No. 1 defenseman's role on the Red Wings, but beyond him, the best hope for consistent offense on the Red Wings' blue line has been the much-maligned Jakub Kindl. Danny DeKeyser is coming into his own offensively, but the addition of Green gives the Red Wings' blue line a third option to create offense from the defense at even strength and a 1A/ 1B option with Kronwall to man the points on the power play.
Of course, while Green is a great addition, he is not Lidstrom, and he does not single-handedly restore the Red Wings' defense to what it used to be. But with a new head coach in Jeff Blashill and the increased opportunities for the defense to be involved in the offense, he's the perfect fit we didn't know we wanted since his contract ends when he's 32 instead of 35 or 36. Green is the kind of player they've been missing since Rafalski retired.
Not Done Yet
We also recounted in analyzing the buyout of Stephen Weiss the story of how the Red Wings have been searching for a second-line center so that the Eurotwins could play on the same line together. Now that Weiss is gone, the added wrinkle to this problem is that as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg get older, the team will start looking to move them to the wing to reduce the strain and responsibility on them in the twilights of their careers.
In order to pull that plan off, however, the Red Wings would need enough centers that can slot in to the top two center spots. Detroit has options, but with Datsyuk reportedly out until November, the Red Wings likely wouldn't be comfortable with any two of Riley Sheahan, Dylan Larkin (assuming he makes the team), or Darren Helm slotting in the top two spots. There's also the possibility of keeping Zetterberg at the top center spot, but I suspect Detroit will want to move the captain to the wing sooner than Datsyuk.
Here is where the second signing of the day Brad Richards fits in. He can slot in as the first-line center for the first month of the season until Datsyuk comes back. He can slot in at second-line center once Datsyuk comes back or from the start depending on how Detroit decides to address first-line center. If Detroit feels that Sheahan or Larkin or someone else can filll the second center spot, having Brad Richards as a third-line center gives the Red Wings a third scoring line. And even if Richards slots in on a higher line, the depth he provides almost certainly guarantees that the Red Wings will have a consistent third scoring line while the Eurotwins play together on the top line.
The Red Wings gave themselves options with the two signings they made today. We'll see how well they've addressed these long-standing organizational needs, but the execution on the first day of free agency was top notch by Ken Holland. There's still work to be done, but I'm already left asking:
Is it October yet?