Now that the NHL’s glorified shootout with human pylons — aka the All-Star Game — has concluded, the Red Wings officially kicked off the second half of their season Tuesday with a 3-1 victory at Calgary.
Detroit is at the top of the league standings, and with the trade deadline approaching (3 p.m. ET, Feb. 27), the Red Wings once again are expected to be aggressive in pursuing talent to make a run at the Stanley Cup.
With so many teams still in the playoff hunt, it’s unlikely the Red Wings will be able to pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal at the deadline.
For the past several years, Detroit general manager Ken Holland has shifted his club’s emphasis to acquiring major talent in offseason free agency. Gone are the days when the Wings would make several mega-deals on deadline day.
There are many factors as to why this has occurred, but the main culprits are the salary cap and players becoming free agents at age 27 instead of 31, as it was when deadline day used to be a free-for-all.
That doesn’t mean Detroit won’t be active; the Wings will be selective.
So far this season, the Wings have recommitted themselves to team defense. Jimmy Howard has solidified his spot among the NHL’s top-flight goalies, and Detroit’s offense has been paced with a balanced attack, which includes the league’s top-scoring blueline.
What might the Wings need?
If you look at their past few playoff failures, injuries and lack of scoring have led to their demise. Johan Franzen and Pavel Datsyuk each has been injured just before or during the playoffs, thereby curtailing Detroit’s scoring prowess.
The Wings need to add a scoring forward and/or depth up front before the trade deadline, and the players who have been linked to Detroit are Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky and Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu.
Both can become unrestricted free agents this summer and could provide Detroit with an influx of skill and depth offensively.
Ruutu turns 29 in February, and at 6-foot, 205 pounds, he is an abrasive forward who is versatile and enjoys mixing it up. He’s a good skater and can play all three forward positions.
Consistency and injuries have always been issues for him, but Ruutu could provide the Wings with a solid player who can score, set up his teammates and bring a bit of an attitude. In 512 career games with the Chicago Blackhawks and Hurricanes, Ruutu has 126 goals and 165 assists.
Hemsky, who turns 29 in August, is 6-0, 185 pounds — and a bit of an enigma. Blessed with off-the-chart skills, he has yet to have that breakthrough season that would propel him to the league’s elite level.
Injuries have always hampered him. Since February 2011, Hemsky has missed 35 games with various ailments. But he’s shown enough in 527 career games with the struggling Oilers — 118 goals, 297 assists — to pique the Wings’ interest. Hemsky has 247 career penalty minutes to 498 for Ruutu.
Chicago and Ottawa have been rumored to be the front-runners for Ruutu, and Montreal is said to have the inside track on Hemsky.
But as long as Ruutu and Hemsky are available, don’t count out the Red Wings. If the bidding gets too high, the Wings might back off because they’re looking to tweak their roster, not remake it.
As much as I like Ruutu, Hemsky’s skill set could blossom with the Wings. He should be their target.
Another player who could be available is New Jersey’s Zach Parise, whom the Wings could pursue this summer as an unrestricted free agent. The Devils’ ownership is having financial problems, and it appears unlikely they’ll be able to sign Parise, a clutch scorer, once he hits the open market.
With the Devils competing for a playoff spot, though, most pundits believe New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello will not part with his best player.
Wings fans shouldn’t get their hopes up about Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter, who has announced he will not re-sign with the Predators before the trade deadline and will negotiate with the club only after the season. Suter will likely finish out the year in Nashville.
What happens after the season is another story.
Suter is believed to be Detroit’s No. 1 objective in the free-agent market.
If Detroit can sign Suter and Parise during the offseason, Holland will do cartwheels down Woodward Avenue.
Still, Holland’s focus is the present — and adding a forward who will enhance the Wings’ chances of winning another Stanley Cup.
Scotty Bowman always used to say that you can never have enough defensemen.
In the case of this year’s Red Wings, even Scotty would agree it’s the forward corps that needs shoring up.