Commissioner of the NFL – Roger Goodell
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Red Wings re-sign Lilja
Red Wings re-sign Lilja, remain hopeful on Stuart
by Ansar Khan
Tuesday July 01, 2008, 12:05 AM
DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings re-signed Andreas Lilja to a two-year deal, while contract talks with another defenseman, Brad Stuart, were going down to the wire.
General manager Ken Holland still was negotiating with Stuart's agent, Pat Brisson, late Monday night. If Stuart isn't signed by noon today, when free agents can begin talking with other teams, Holland said he is not likely to return to Detroit.
Stuart, 28, is mulling short- and long-term offers.
He earned $3.5 million last season, on a one-year deal he signed with Los Angeles, and surely could get a more lucrative pact on the open market.
The Red Wings, however, are hesitant to pay their No. 4 defenseman that much when their No. 3 defenseman, Niklas Kronwall, is making $3 million a season.
"I don't think it's a big gap, but it's a gap,'' Holland said.
If Stuart leaves, the Red Wings will explore the free-agent market for a new partner for Kronwall.
They also will make a pitch today for a top-six forward, with Toronto's Mats Sundin and Minnesota's Brian Rolston -- whose rights were traded to Tampa Bay on Sunday -- at the top of their wish list.
They also are expected to inquire about Pittsburgh's Marian Hossa, though his anticipated price tag (between $7 million and $8 million) likely is too prohibitive.
A reasonable price (two years, $1.25 million per season) is one reason the Red Wings re-signed Lilja, who turns 33 on July 12. The big, stay-at-home defender had two goals and 10 assists in 79 games.
Turnovers and mistakes cost him his spot in the lineup midway through the first round of the playoffs, but he finished strong, playing the last seven games, including all six games of the Stanley Cup finals against Pittsburgh.
"He's a big body (6-foot-3, 220), a good penalty-killer, blocks shots (team-high 114), gives us depth,'' Holland said. "He's done a nice job for us. The coaching staff and (head coach) Mike Babcock like him. He's good insurance. When he wasn't in the lineup in the playoffs he still had a good attitude.''
Holland said 46-year-old defenseman Chris Chelios will return for another season but won't be signed for at least a few more days. His salary and bonuses will depend on how much money the team spends on other free agents this week.
"His role is to work with the (young defensemen),'' Holland said. "If they're ready for a bigger role, (Chelios) will accept a lesser role. He's going to be an insurance policy. If we're able to spend money (on free agents), he'll play for less. If not, there's more money for him.''
Including Lilja and Chelios, Detroit has nine NHL defensemen, of whom only Jonathan Ericsson can be assigned to Grand Rapids (AHL) without going through waivers. They might add a 10th in Stuart or someone else. They will carry only eight. Holland said he has no plans to trade anyone this summer.
"We want to get to camp and see where the kids are at and sort it out on the ice,'' Holland said. "(Derek) Meech could play left wing, Ericsson could go down.''
Holland said he is interested in re-signing forwards Darren McCarty and Aaron Downey but will wait to see how his roster shapes up this week before extending any offers. Ideally, he'd like both on two-way contracts, where they would earn a lower salary if sent to the minors.
Holland spoke recently with the agent for restricted free-agent forward Valtteri Filppula but is not close to a deal. He said it could take all summer. Filppula is a candidate to receive an offer sheet from another club, but Holland said he would more than likely match it.
Needless to say, I'm not very happy about this because I'm not a Lilja fan. He's OK on the penalty kill and is pretty good at blocking shots, but only bad things can happen whenever he touches the puck. Worse still, if the Wings can't sign Stuart which looks unlikely, Lilja might become the #4 D. Atleast he doesn't cost much, so I'd be alright with him as a #6.