If need be, the Red Wings are willing to face the 2006-07 season with Chris Osgood as their starter.
That is why Wednesday's news that Ed Belfour is being wooed by the Florida Panthers didn't rattle the Wings. They have made an offer to Belfour, but the Wings want their man on their terms. And if it is not Belfour, they are prepared to wait as long as it takes to find the right one. That's why they signed Osgood on July 1; ideally he would be the backup, but realistically he could start the season, with anyone from Jimmy Howard to Stefan Liv to Joey MacDonald in the backup role, as the Wings continue to evaluate what is available.
"Chris has done a good job for us in the past," assistant general manager Jim Nill said Wednesday. "We signed him so we wouldn't be under the gun. And we've got lots of depth -- we've got two or three kids that can play. We're covered in net. We're not under pressure to do something."
Belfour, 41, and coming off back surgery, was in Florida for a physical, which he passed, just like the one administered by the Wings two weeks ago. The Panthers also are throwing more money at Belfour -- $1.5 million for one year, according to Canadian TV network TSN -- whereas the Wings are sticking to a base salary of $500,000 with a few bonuses. But the Panthers aren't going to make him their starter, not with Alex Auld signed for $1.475 million next season.
If Belfour wants to start, his best option remains Detroit. Although the Wings believe Osgood is capable of being a starter, they signed him to be the backup. Belfour and the Wings began negotiating more than a week ago, but Nill said the sides haven't talked "in the last couple of days."
The Wings never were so dead-set on Belfour they forsook other options. They are interested in San Jose's Vesa Toskala, who starred in the 2006 playoffs and makes a reasonable $1.375 million for each of the next two seasons. But the Sharks, naturally, want to move Evgeni Nabokov, who lost his starting job in the playoffs and comes with a four-year, $21.5-million contract.
"His salary really inhibits," Nill said. "We couldn't take on a $5-million average, not without moving another player making four or five million."
The only Wings making that kind of money are centers Pavel Datsyuk ($3.9 million) and Robert Lang ($3.8 million) and defenseman Mathieu Schneider ($3.3 million) -- and the Wings have no intention of trading any of them. Datsyuk, who turned 28 today, is an incredibly talented forward, and the Wings see him as the foundation of their future.
Lang is 35, but he's big and strong and performs in the playoffs.
"For what he brings at his salary, he's good value," Nill said.
Schneider is as good of an offensive defenseman as there is, and at 37 he's coming off a career year with 59 points.
"If you make that move, who are you bringing in on defense to replace him? That's not easy to find," Nill said.
The Wings are prepared to practice patience. They are in a good spot, too, because in this summer's goalie market, the sellers far outnumber the buyers. The only teams looking for a starter are Detroit and St. Louis, and the sellers include, via trade, San Jose, Buffalo with Martin Biron, Anaheim with Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Philadelphia with Robert Esche and Montreal with David Aebischer.
Dominik Hasek remains an unrestricted free agent desperate for a job, and former Detroit goalie Manny Legace is also looking for a new home.
"It's a small market, and there are five or six guys available," Nill said. "We're not in a panic here that we have to move quickly, because there are different options. All have great things about them, and risks, and that's what we're monitoring right now. It has to be the right deal financially. And if it's a trade, it has to be the right move hockey-wise."
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