DETROIT — If the Red Wings are to make the playoffs for a 23rd consecutive season, they’ll have to count on a top center who wasn’t even on their team until just before the NHL trade deadline expired.
The Wings on Wednesday acquired David Legwand, a Grosse Pointe (Mich.) native, from the Nashville Predators for Patrick Eaves, prospect Calle Jarnkrok and a conditional third-round draft pick.
After the Wings did so, they quickly deemed Legwand their No. 1 center because of a rash of injuries to forwards Henrik Zetterberg (back), Pavel Datsyuk (knee), Darren Helm (headaches) and Stephen Weiss (sports hernia).
"It really started about noon today," Detroit GM Ken Holland said. "I started to get information about Pav. I started to get information about Darren Helm.
"We were talking (trade) in a couple other areas and moved in a different direction."
Holland said after Datsyuk visited the doctor Wednesday morning, they made the decision to shut him down for at least three weeks, including off-ice workouts, while trying more aggressive rehabilitation for his left knee injury.
Holland said Helm also visited a doctor because of headaches that forced him from Tuesday night’s game in New Jersey.
Weiss, who was expected to be back by now after core muscle surgery Dec. 23, still isn’t ready, although the Wings are hopeful he’ll return next week.
Zetterberg underwent back surgery Feb. 21 and will miss a minimum of eight weeks.
"When you look at our center-ice (situation) . . . we felt it was important to get a bonafide center-ice man," Holland said. "We think we found the perfect fit.”
Legwand, 33, was the Predators’ very first draft pick, in 1998, and waived a no-trade clause to return home to Detroit. He’s an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Holland said Legwand will be at the morning skate Thursday and would likely play between Johan Franzen and Gustav Nyquist.
"He’s good defensively," Holland said. "He’s a guy that puts up 50-60 points. And he’s an established, legitimate NHL player who can kill penalties and can play against anybody from the other team."
Legwand has 10 goals and 30 assists and is minus-8 in 62 games this season.
"We’re a point out of the playoffs with a game in hand," Holland said. "It was a disappointing loss (Tuesday) night, but we think we have a lot of good signs. The kids are playing good. We seem to check good.
"We need to be a little bit deeper. And we think with the addition today, we’re a little bit deeper down the middle, and we hope to be deeper next week."
Some Wings fans weren’t excited about losing Jarnkrok, but Holland said you have to give to get.
"He’s a good player," Holland said. "I think he’s going to play in the NHL, but there’s so many people that he’s behind here that I don’t know when he was going to get the opportunity. We’re fairly deep at that position."
After talking with Eaves and his agent, Holland included him in the deal so that Eaves might get more of a opportunity to play in Nashville.
As for losing a third-round draft pick, or second-round pick if the Wings reach the playoffs, Holland wasn’t too concerned.
"My scouts have told me, it’s not a very deep draft," Holland said. "We’ve hung onto our first-round pick. Somewhere around 18-24, it starts to drop off."
In the salary-cap era, the Wings aren’t able to go out and get every player they want or need.
But the cap also brings with it more parity because teams can’t afford too much depth. As a result, just getting into the playoffs means the Wings would have a chance.
Just look at last season, when — as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference — they beat the Anaheim Ducks in the first round and took the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to overtime of Game 7.
"We want to make the playoffs," Holland said. "We have to win some games, and as we go along here, we’re going to get some of these players back.
"If we can qualify for the playoffs, we still believe there’s a chance in the first round of the playoffs Z will be back."