THAW DEAL: How Wings will change in new NHL world
July 14, 2005
BY NICHOLAS J. COTSONIKA and GEORGE SIPPLE
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITERS
The minute the new collective bargaining agreement is made available, the Red Wings will tear through it as if it were a gripping novel, not a gargantuan legal document.
"I've got to get that CBA," Wings general manager Ken Holland said in a recent interview. "I've got to know how it affects me. I've got to know what I can do."
The Wings have heard a lot of things, and they have gone over a lot of scenarios. They have a good idea of what's going to happen when the NHL officially reopens for business.
Amid a mad scramble unlike any the league has ever seen, they will get ready to go to training camp in September. They will have to maneuver to stay under a salary cap, cutting ties with some star veterans in the process, while filling holes on the roster, the biggest being goaltender.
And with fans alienated by the lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season, they will have to work to make Detroit worthy of being called Hockeytown again. They might reduce ticket prices.
They are confident they can continue to have a strong team in a strong market. But until they can study the agreement and separate rumor from reality, they won't really know what they're dealing with.
"Obviously, the first order of business is to learn the CBA as quickly as possible," Holland said. "I mean, they're going to put down something in front of us that's going to be an inch thick, and it's going to be all the rules that govern what we can and can't do and how we run our business. Everybody in our organization is going to have a copy of that thing."
The salary cap will draw the most attention. Owner Mike Ilitch said Wednesday that the Wings had hired a "capologist" to help assure they would be in compliance.
"It's brand new, and you can easily mess up," Ilitch said. "And (if) you mess up, the fines are going to be heavy. It can get disastrous if you don't comprehend everything and follow the rules."
The cap is expected to put the Wings' payroll in the high $30-million range -- quite a cut for a team that used to operate in the high $70-million range. The Wings have almost $31 million committed to only 12 players for 2005-06, taking into account a 24% salary rollback. They will have to clear some room.
Will Captain Steve Yzerman be back? Ilitch said he had a hunch Yzerman would want to play with Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby.
"I think that'd make a great line," Ilitch said.
But it seems nothing and no one will be sacred.
"Obviously, my hope is Steve wants to play one more year, and my hope is we can figure out something that works," Holland said. "At the same time, when it comes to every player, they've got to be paid fairly. We're going into a new world, and I can't be paying any players on potential, and it's hard to be paying any players on past service. Your players have to kind of be paid based on what he can contribute to the team. We've never dealt in a cap world before."
Chris Chelios and Curtis Joseph probably won't have their contracts renewed. There could be buyouts that don't count against the cap -- Derian Hatcher, Darren McCarty and Ray Whitney are candidates -- not to mention trades.
When the Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2002, their fourth line was Luc Robitaille, Igor Larionov and Tomas Holmstrom.
"That was a tremendous luxury," Holland said. "Those days are not going to happen anymore. You're not going to be able to have three guys on your fourth line making a million and a half. Your fourth line now and your extra forward, to me, are going to be young players or they're going to be real good veteran players who have bounced around. ...
"Going into the new world, we're going to have to have some younger, cheaper players in the six, seven spot on defense, on the fourth line, in the 13th forward. That's what's going to kind of allow you to have some top-end players."
The Wings need to announce a replacement for former coach Dave Lewis (expected to be Mike Babcock), prep for a quick-and-dirty draft, sign players like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, explore a frantic free-agent market, find a new No. 1 goaltender ... the list goes on and on. They have so much to do in so little time, but Holland wants to be careful not to rush things.
"I don't know how fast things are going to happen," he said. "I think you're better off to move a little slower when you know exactly what decisions you're making, how they're going to affect you short-term and long-term."
The Wings hope to keep competing for the Stanley Cup. They have always emphasized skill, and rules changes are supposed to be coming that will favor skilled players. Although they won't have a huge monetary advantage over most teams anymore, they still should be a free-agent destination. After what has happened to hockey, if all else is equal, players should want to come to a city where the sports matters.
And the Wings hope the sport will still matter in Detroit as it did before. Ilitch said the Wings were going to look at reducing ticket prices.
"We'll analyze everything, and then we'll go from there," he said. "But whatever has to be done, I'm going to do it."
Contact NICHOLAS J. COTSONIKA at 313-222-8831 or firstname.lastname@example.org