The Red Wings addressed one of their biggest needs Wednesday and got a whole lot meaner.
Seeking to replace the physical presence of Jiri Fischer, the Wings signed free-agent defenseman Danny Markov to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. Markov, who turns 30 Sunday, rounds out a top-four blue line corps headlined by Nicklas Lidstrom, Mathieu Schneider and Niklas Kronwall.
Markov is a hard-nosed player with a multi-dimensional game, capable of carrying the puck and upending opponents with a timely hip check. He has the skill to quarterback a power play, and the grittiness to keep opponents honest. The Wings had a physical defenseman in Fischer, but he has been sidelined since November by a heart condition, and the Wings don't expect him to return. General manager Ken Holland needed to find a substitute, and in Markov, the Wings get a guy who has all-around skills.
"I think Danny plays a unique style," said Markov's agent, Jay Grossman. "I think it's very difficult to buttonhole Danny because he's got a very unique combination of skills offensively, and he's got defensive ability, and physical ability. When I talked to Ken, he indicated that they wanted to continue their puck-control game -- that's music to the ears of a guy like Danny Markov. I think you're going to see a player who is going to come in and want to fit in with the rest of the group, and want to compete."
Holland didn't return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.
Markov plays bigger than his 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame, to the point it takes a toll on his body. Last season, he missed games because of ankle, knee and groin injuries. In 58 games last season with Nashville, he had 11 assists, 62 penalty minutes and a plus-9 rating.
Markov was teammates with Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk as they represented Russia at the Torino Winter Games. Markov helped Russia claim bronze at the 2002 Olympics. Detroit will be his sixth NHL team; he's previously played for Toronto, Phoenix, Carolina, Philadelphia and the Predators.
The Wings now have seven defensemen, and the odd man out will rotate among Andreas Lilja, Chris Chelios and Brett Lebda. Brad Norton, whom the Wings signed last week, is on a two-way contract and now appears destined for Grand Rapids.
Markov's signing fits into Holland's desire to keep most of his players on a short leash, which allows the flexibility that's needed as teams assemble rosters within the limits of a $44-million salary cap. The Wings have 16 regulars under contract at $35 million.
Holland has offers out to restricted free-agent forwards Johan Franzen and Jason Williams, and remains on the lookout for an offensive forward. The goaltending issue is still playing itself out, but the Wings feel they can be patient and wait for trade prices to fall.
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