Wow. WOW. It's days like these you're happy to be a Red Wings fan. While a multitude of other teams out there are frantically racing around buying and selling and freaking their fans out, the Wings have sat back and made a few careful, smart, slightly shocking, deals. The other teams I follow frequently (the Leafs and the Oilers and to a lesser extent the Capitals - thanks Capschick) as well as many other teams in the league have made drastic roster changes, lost players unexpectedly, gained players unexpectedly, and set the fans on edge for what will be very different teams next year. Not so with the Red Wings, who once again have given us every reason to continue being confident in everything from the team to the management to the owners - and anything you can imagine inbetween.
First and foremost, Andreas Lilja
The Wings resigned Andreas Lilja to a two year contract worth $2.5 million. Lilja hasn't always been perfect, but despite all the grief he's gotten for a few boneheaded moves, he honestly hasn't make a substantial amount more mistakes than a lot of other defensemen, especially for the level of play expected from him - and it's easy to look bad when you're playing next to Nick Lidstrom, right? It's just unfortunate for Lilja that his mistakes always seem to wind up in the spotlight as gamebreakers. Nevertheless, he's been around the Wings for a while, understands the team philosophy, and can contribute as a fifth/sixth defenseman. He's also very affordable, and is receiving only a small raise over the 1 million he made for the past two season. The only problem with this signing in my mind, considering the next move the Wings made, is that it perpetuates a huge logjam of defensemen and creates the potential for a promising young kid to be lost.
Bringing Back B-Stu
After the Lilja signing, the chances of the Wings resigning UFA Brad Stuart, acquired from LA at the trade deadlline this past season, seemed slim. By the morning of trade deadline day, he was still unsigned and it seemed likely that he'd hit the free agent market where he could possibly make quite a bit more than Detroit was willing to offer. And then, just before noon, the news hit that he had indeed agreed to come back. The contract is for four years averaging $3.75 million per season - a little more than the Wings wanted to give and a little less than Stuart wanted to make. TSN reports the deal also includes a no trade clause for the first two years and a limited no-trade clause in the last two:
Stuart has moved around a fair bit in recent seasons, getting traded from San Jose to Boston in 2005 (as part of the Joe Thornton trade), from Boston to Calgary in 2007 before signing in Los Angeles as a free agent last summer.It will be nice for Stuart, after all that, to get to settle down for a while. I had thought he was more than likely lost, so it was a great surprise to see that he'd decided to stay after all - and a testament to the environment surrounding the Wings that he chose to accept less to play for a team that seemed to tap into his potential. After struggling with the Kings (21 points and a minus-16 in 63 games) he clicked with Niklas Kronwall on the Wings (2 points and a plus-6 in 9 regular season games and 7 points and a plus 15 in 21 playoff games wherein he averaged over 21 minutes of ice time per night) and became an integral, top four part of the Wings' already stunning defense. He clearly liked his time here, and the way the Wings treated him (letting him travel back to LA for the birth of his second child comes to mind) and with Rafalski, Stuart, Kronwall and Lidstrom (because lets face it, even when his contract is up he isn't going anywhere unless he retires), our top four defense is locked up for a good long time. And in fact it was both family and his partnership with Kronwall, as well as tasting Stanley Cup victory, that brought him back:
“It’s been a tough couple of years from having a family and having to move around a bit, spending a lot of time a part,” Stuart said. “To be able to stick in Detroit for four years, I’m real happy about that. It’s not just about you anymore. It’s about the family and some times you have to make sacrifices to make everyone happy.”Unfortunately the resigning of both of them does have it's downfalls in that the Wings now have a surplus of defensemen. Outside of the top four and Lilja, Brett Lebda will be back as well as Chris Chelios (though he's accepted a much lesser role and won't be playing as often as in the past) and then there are Derek Meech and Kyle Quincey, neither of whom can move back and forth between the AHL without clearing waivers any longer - and neither of whom aren't likely to be snatched up should they have to. On a personal level, Quincey is my favorite Griffin and I worry for his future with the organization - not because they want to lose him, but because they may have to. And then of course there's Jonathan Ericsson who's leaped from Mr. Irrelevant to the number one Wings prospect and could easily play in the NHL this season - but is stymied by not having to clear waivers and will likely remain dominating the AHL instead. Still, it's hard to find fault with either of these signings, even if they do have a small downside.
“It was a pretty big factor. I really enjoy playing with him,” Stuart said of Kronwall. “We seem to have a pretty good chemistry. That's not always easy to find, so that was pretty important to get a chance to continue that. I'm excited to get going next year.”
Jimmy Howard: Conkblocked
Since Dominik Hasek announced his retirement, it's been one of the biggest questions in Detroit - will Jimmy Howard, the "Red Wings goaltender of the future" for so many years, finally get his NHL chance? The answer appears to be probably not quite yet, as the Wings signed former Penguins backup goaltender Ty Conklin to a one year, $750,000 deal. It's a one-way contract which means the likelihood of Conks being sent down to the AHL in favor of Howard is slim. Holland's opinion:
"Ty Conklin has the inside track, but if Jimmy Howard is the obvious No. 2 guy (in training camp and the preseason), we'll reassess,'' general manager Ken Holland said. "Do we carry three (goaltenders)?''Despite his rocky past with the Oilers, Conks looked incredibly solid with Pittsburgh last year when Marc-Andre Fleury was sidelined by an ankle sprain (18-8-5, with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage, which ranked second in the NHL last season). Aside from that, he and the number one guy Chris Osgood should get along well as both possess seemingly very casual demeanors, and it'll also be interesting to see how a goaltender like Conklin plays behind the sort of stellar defense Detroit possesses - look for some gaudy numbers. Another good decision by Holland.
WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
Free agency had slowed down a little. Day One was pretty predictable as far as the Wings went, and aside from hearing that management had been looking into both Leafs captain Mats Sundin (which seemed unlikely given the offers he'd received from other teams) and at bringing back Todd Bertuzzi, it seemed as though perhaps the Wings would be done. And then, as I was pulling out of the Tim Horton's parking lot at 12:43 pm when I received the following text from a friend who'd been updating me all day:
"Hossa: 1 year, 7.4 million. DETROIT."I stopped, stared, processed, and replied, eloquently, "WHAT?" Yes. Marian Hossa signed with Detroit, one year, $7.4 million. This sort of signing is what really puts into perspective how good your team really is. Hossa was offered nearly as much over five years by the Penguins and $9 million by Edmonton for a multi-year deal as well, and instead opted to come to Detroit for only one year, where the likelihood of him resigning after the season is virtually nil, as the Wings must then resign Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen. This effectively underlines what pretty much everyone already knew: Hossa wants to win a cup, and Hossa wants to win it now.
Brilliant. Hossa scores goals, plain and simple - and while he's not quite the two-way player most of Detroits forwards are (frankly the only downside I could possible see to this signing is if he doesn't mesh well with the team and upsets chemistry - but Detroit has a habit of bringing out the best in players), goals are never a bad thing. The team had some extra money lying around for the upcoming season and they managed to negotiate their way into becoming a heck of a lot more dangerous. How, we might never know - but is anyone complaining?
Here's another thing I like about Detroit's management of their players: Hossa was offered 7.4 million because, reportedly, it was the most Detroit would pay any UFA. No one was allowed to come in and make more money than captain Nick Lidstrom. While it's not a big deal or anything, that sort of loyalty shown to a player who deserves it as much as Lidstrom is just another example of why players stick with this team.
Finally, one hilarious bit from the Wings report of the signing:
The Red Wings’ inability to get secondary scoring last season was constantly scrutinized in the media.Only with the Detroit Red Wings could Marian Hossa be considered secondary scoring!
Landing Hossa, who has scored 299 goals and 349 assists with a plus-85 rating in 701 career games, should address secondary scoring.
Last but not least
Are the Wings done with free agency yet? Not quite, as they have to deal with making offers to Darren McCarty and Aaron Downey, should the pair be brought back (they're expected to) and Valtteri Filppula, an RFA, whose deal will likely not come until further down the road. And who knows what else may await - Hossa was certainly unexpected, there could always be more, however unlikely. But rest assured, already the team has shown the rest of the league that it is ready to come back bigger, sharper, scarier, and more devastating than before. Congrats, Ken Holland, and thank you!