What’s next for the Red Wings?
It was a season that saw the Red Wings painstakingly earn every point.
Nothing came easy for the 2013-14 Red Wings, yet they somehow managed to ride a group of raw rookies to their 23 consecutive playoff appearance.
Now that their season is over, the Wings face an offseason with many questions to be resolved. Here’s a look at some of their major and not-so-major concerns:
SHORING UP THEIR DEFENSE
The Wings have been searching for a veteran defenseman since last summer. They will try to sign at least one right-handed shooting defenseman through unrestricted free agency. Their top targets are San Jose’s Dan Boyle and Pittsburgh’s Matt Niskanen.
Niskanen, 27, had a breakout season with the Penguins (10 goals, 36 assists and a plus-33). Boyle, 37, has been on Detroit’s radar for quite some time. He had 12 goals, 24 assists and was a minus-8 for the Sharks during the regular season.
Expect the Wings to part ways with Kyle Quincey, and give youngsters Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul every opportunity to make the team.
Since he’s a right-handed shot, Sproul might have a better shot at sticking with the Red Wings right out of training camp. Coach Mike Babcock wants his defensive pairings evenly split — three left-handed shots and three right-handed shots.
The Wings used one of their two compliance buyouts last year on defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and must use their second one this offseason or lose it.
Center Stephan Weiss cannot be bought out because he was signed under the new CBA, which makes him ineligible. And Jordan Tootoo wouldn’t save the Wings much money, so they won’t use it on him.
The Wings will be way under the cap because of expiring contracts and a roster loaded with youngsters that have inexpensive deals.
As a matter of fact, they might be hard-pressed to reach the cap, depending on how young the roster becomes.
For those wanting the Wings to buyout Johan Franzen, forget it. He has $17.5 million on his deal, and despite his drop off offensively, he still puts up numbers that make his cap hit of almost $4 million extremely friendly and affordable.
Make no mistake, the Wings aren’t thrilled with Franzen, but he does just enough to keep himself on the roster.
ALFREDSSON AND LEGWAND
Although their young forwards blossomed this season, the Wings will have to make a decision on a couple of veteran forwards, Daniel Alfredsson and David Legwand.
If Alfredsson wants to come back next season, the Wings will welcome him with open arms. Legwand is another story.
Many of the Wings want Legwand to return, but with Stephan Weiss on the roster and going nowhere, it’s unlikely that Legwand returns.
Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson and Daniel Cleary all have expiring deals and will not be brought back.
In 2009, Hossa left Detroit after one season and signed a 12-year, $68.2 million deal with Chicago. Hossa’s cap hit is $5.275 million.
It was rumored last season that the salary-cap strapped Blackhawks would buyout the veteran winger. That didn’t happen, but rumors persist that the Hawks might want to move/release Hossa, even though they have used their two compliance buyouts.
If the Hawks really do want to part ways with Hossa — and it’s a big if — expect the Red Wings to try to lure him back to Detroit.
Hossa and the Red Wings have a mutual respect for one another, and he could have a significant impact on Detroit’s young forwards.
FINDING BACKUP GOALIE
Jonas Gustavsson stepped up big time for the Wings this year. They would like to re-sign him as Jimmy Howard’s backup, but at their price.
If Gustavsson finds a better deal elsewhere, with a chance to be a starter, he’ll bolt and the Wings will sign another veteran goalie for next season.
Although Petr Mrazek has everybody believing that he’ll one day be the Red Wings’ No. 1 goalie, they would prefer that he spend another season in Grand Rapids as the Griffins’ starter.
Babcock has one year left on his deal with the Red Wings. Although he’s completely content behind the Wings’ bench, he might be enticed to take his services north of the border.
Babcock is a national treasure in Canada, and his relationship with the Canadian hockey press is a two-way street of pure adoration.
It’s not out of the question that Toronto and Vancouver could both be looking to hire a new bench boss soon. Those two jobs could be tough for Babcock to turn down, unless the Wings sign him to a long-term extension.
What happens this offseason with Babcock will be interesting. Wings GM Ken Holland is also in the last year of his deal. You would think that based on this season, both would be offered extensions with Detroit.
But we’re in a new era of Red Wings hockey, and trying to determine how this offseason will play out is really just guesswork.
After all, nobody saw the rapid development of Detroit’s prospects happening at this time last year.