More of the same on defense would be fine with Wings
Amid their summer of free-agent acquisitions and what turned out to be the epic signing of Daniel Cleary, the hierarchy of the Detroit Red Wings were behind the scenes trying to figure out how to shore up their young defensive corps.
It’s not that the Wings are down on their young defensemen. They’re just looking for a veteran presence to stabilize their youthful and unpredictable group.
“I had no idea (Brendan) Smith and (Danny) DeKeyser and (Jakub) Kindl could do what they do,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Smith and DeKeyser are in their second year, so are they going to fall off the face of the earth or be like they're capable of being? That's going to determine lots of what happens around here.''
The Wings have such an overflow at forward -- tying up roster space and salary-cap room -- that getting a veteran blue-liner is darn near impossible. Detroit will have to begin the season with their youngsters on the blue line and hope they don’t miss a beat after last season’s encouraging performance.
Again, it’s not that the Wings are lacking confidence in Smith, DeKeyser, Kindl or even Brian Lashoff; however, if they suffer an injury -- especially to veterans Nik Kronwall, Jonathon Ericsson or even the disappointing Kyle Quincey -- their lack of experienced depth could spell trouble.
As upbeat as the Wings are about their top defensive prospects -- Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet -- they’d prefer to nurture them the way they usually do: with a one-way ticket to Grand Rapids for the year.
The Wings could call them up at some point “to soak up the atmosphere” and then immediately send them back to the Griffins. But they don't want to rely on a blue-line unit made up largely of rookies and second-year players.
Quincey has to play better, and since he’s in the last year of his contract, the time to produce is now. Smith and DeKeyser should only improve the more they play. The risky Smith might have his detractors, but along with the unflappable DeKeyser, the Wings feel that they’re the least of their worries.
Kindl, 26, is the wildcard of the bunch. Written off as a bust by -- let’s be honest -- everybody, Kindl emerged out of nowhere last year to establish himself as a levelheaded and reliable two-way defenseman.
Averaging 18:33 of ice time, he had 13 points, 28 penalty minutes and was a plus-15, second-best on the team. In June, the Wings rewarded Kindl with a four-year, $9.6 million contract.
Picked by Detroit in the first round (19th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Kindl is the highest player drafted by the Wings since Marty Lapointe (10th overall) in 1991.
Standing at 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighing 213l pounds, the Wings hoped that the Czech native would become a physical force similar to Jiri Fischer, but Kindl 's development was much slower than anticipated.
“I’ve come a long way," Kindl said. “I was drafted when I was 17 in the first round, and here we go. I spent three years in the minors, and when I looked who was ahead of me, there were guys there that I couldn’t crack the lineup.
“Obviously, I wasn’t going to take (Nick) Lidstrom’s spot or Stewie’s (Brad Stuart) or (Nik) Kronwall’s spot. All of the sudden, the door got opened last year, and our back end became such young guys.”
Despite being labeled as a major disappointment, Kindl never lost his confidence and remained optimistic that his opportunity would come. Like many others, he wanted to play for the Red Wings.
“It was worth it," he said. "It was frustrating, but c’mon, you’re playing for the Red Wings. It’s such a winning organization.
“I’m one of the older guys, so it’s up to me to lead by example. I have a bright future ahead of me. I know I can still be better as the years go on.”
If Kindl, Smith, Dekeyser, and Lashoff continue to evolve, the Wings' defense could be solid, but don’t expect them to remain pat.
At some point -- as the roster slims down through injuries, trades and attrition -- they'll add a veteran defenseman because, as Scotty Bowman always says, “You can never have enough defensemen.”