Over the years, the mystique of the Winged Wheel has attracted more than a few free agents to the Detroit Red Wings. General manager Ken Holland has also done a more-than-fine job of drafting players who could earn their keep in the NHL.
Problem: The minor-league depth isn't quite what it used to be, and the Red Wings haven't been as dominant as of late. Detroit hasn't made a Stanley Cup Final since 2009, and also hasn't played for the Western Conference title since that year. That doesn't sound like much, but a three-year run with no conference finals appearances is practically breaking news in Detroit. Yeah, they're that spoiled there.
Bound and determined to end that "drought" this season (whenever the season begins), and with plenty of money to spend, Holland went after both of the big free agents this summer. With the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit had a huge hole on the blue line, and it could fairly be perceived the Wings lacked scoring depth, something that was exposed in a five-game series loss to Nashville where they constantly struggled to score.
Detroit never seemed to really have a shot at Zach Parise after free agency opened, but the Wings were in on defenseman Ryan Suter until he decided to join apparent BFF Parise in Minnesota with the Wild.
Suddenly, Detroit had money to spend, but no one to spend it on. Holland stood pat, refusing to sign second-tier scoring forward Alexander Semin, and then watched Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber sign a mammoth 14-year offer sheet with the Flyers, an offer the Predators matched.
Sure, the Wings have Jimmy Howard, but they can't count on him to make 50 saves a night because the guys in front of him aren't good enough.
Now, Holland has to wing it. Does he make a move for a top-tier defenseman? Can he find a forward via a trade who can make the offense a bit stronger?
Offseason Changes / New Additions
Lidstrom's retirement is the offseason headline in Detroit, and rightfully so. Arguably one of the best who ever played the game, his departure leaves Detroit without a clear-cut No. 1 defenseman, and also without its power play leader and a top penalty killer.
Recent reports have linked the Wings to Flames defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, but nothing is imminent on that front. After getting a big-money contract in Calgary, Bouwmeester hasn't missed a game in three years, but he also hasn't shown any of the offensive potential he flashed while in Florida. In 246 games, Bouwmeester has just 12 goals and 82 points. In his last season with the Panthers, Bouwmeester played 82 games and scored 15 goals.
Detroit needs to make this move. Niklas Kronwall is a ferocious defenseman, and he does have 26 goals over the last two seasons. But he shouldn't be asked to carry the load himself.
Outside of the Lidstrom departure, Detroit hasn't lost anyone notable off last year's team. Holland did add a forward, inking one-time Red Wing-turned-Canuck-turned-Panther Mikael Samuelsson to a two-year deal. Samuelsson had 13 goals and 28 points over 48 games in Florida. He also contributed five assists in the Panthers' seven-game playoff loss to New Jersey. He scored 44 goals for Detroit between 2006 and 2009 before moving on to Vancouver as a free agent.
Holland also re-signed defenseman Kyle Quincey, who was brought over from Colorado in a deadline deal last spring, and who will be asked to carry some of the load on the retooled Detroit blue line.
It's an odd spot for this proud franchise to be in. Sure, there have been serious -- and justified -- questions about the Wings' depth in recent years, but they've always had the look of a legitimate contender. Even if Holland can pull off a deal for Bouwmeester before the season starts, there's no guarantee Detroit will be a consensus pick to even win the Central Division. Losing Lidstrom and having virtually no one to even play the role makes it hard to justify labeling Detroit as such.
Perhaps the Datsyuks and Zetterbergs of the world relish an underdog role. They're likely to have it this season, so I figure we'll find out quickly.