Detroit — Although some people still call them the New York Yankees of the National Hockey League, the Detroit Red Wings are not the big spenders they used to be.
Before the 2004-05 lockout season, if the Wings needed a player, they would just find the one who best fit in and sign him. After the lockout, the NHL installed a salary cap.
Many predicted the Wings would stumble when faced with a limited amount of money to spend. But the 2008 Wings proved that they were still the masters of utilizing veteran players and integrating younger players who had gotten experience in the minor leagues.
However, last season the team was rocked with one devastating injury after another, including the loss of scoring star Johan Franzen for four months because of a knee injury suffered in the third game of the season, the Wings’ home opener against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Because of the cap, most teams have to rely on cheaper talent (read: young and inexperienced) to fill in when there are injuries. The Wings brought up a lot of players from their American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids, plus went to the waiver wire to acquire Drew Miller (Michigan State) from Tampa Bay.
Although the Wings did not win the Stanley Cup despite making the playoffs, the experience the younger players got should make them a deeper and more confident group heading into the 2010-11 season.
“I think there’s a lot of optimism about our team,” vice president and GM Ken Holland told the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Tuesday at Hockeytown Cafe. “I think it goes back to the last 21 games last year when we finished 16-3-2. We basically kept our team together.
“We’ve added Ruslan Salei, we’ve added Mike Modano, we’ve added Jiri Hudler. We’re excited.
“Our guys took the extra month to train, the extra month of motivation. I’m hoping it’s going to pay dividends.”
Holland knows that the knock on the Wings is always going to be that they’re an older team, unlike the Blackhawks of last season who won the Cup.
“I think we’ve been old since 2002,” Holland said. “That’s probably by design. I think there’s probably 12 players in our team that are in the prime of their careers. I consider the prime to be from 26 to 32.
“(Henrik) Zetterberg’s in his prime, (Pavel) Datsyuk’s in his prime, Franzen’s in his prime, (Valtteri) Filppula’s coming into his prime, (Jimmy) Howard’s coming into his prime, (Jonathan) Ericsson. And I still think that some of our older players, even though they’re 38, 39, 40, they were elite superstar players in some cases, like Nick Lidstrom. Even if their skills have diminished a little bit, they’re still very good players.”
One of those players is Modano, a 40-year-old Michigan native who had spent his entire career with the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars franchise before coming home to play in Detroit.
Holland said the difference for Modano now is that the Wings don’t expect him to lead the team in scoring.
“I think, first off, he’s a guy that throughout his career, he’s provided offense,” Holland said. “Obviously, he’s near the end of his career. We’ve brought a lot of older players in here, kept older players, and we’ve put them in a different role near the end of their career than they were in the middle of their career.
“You take a Dallas Drake and a Chris Chelios and Kris Draper and Igor Larionov and Steve Yzerman, they didn’t have the same role, the same amount of minutes, they weren’t playing against the same type of people at the end of their career that they were in the prime of their career, which allowed them to be real important players for us.