Wings line up for future
After the probable exit of McCarty, Hatcher and Whitney, there should be room for free agents.
By Ted Kulfan / The Detroit News
DETROIT -- A little more than a week remains before the free-agent frenzy begins in the NHL.
But speculation already has begun about what the Red Wings will look like in October.
The tentative agreement between the NHL and the players association on a collective bargaining agreement, expected to be ratified by both sides in the next few days, revived hockey fans who have been in hibernation.
There are rumors in every NHL city about who is headed where.
Because there are more than 250 free agents, almost half of the total number of NHL players, the Wings will have plenty of choices. But they must fit their talent under a salary cap of about $39 million, and never before have the Wings had to manage a salary cap.
They are likely to buy out the contracts of Darren McCarty, Derian Hatcher and Ray Whitney next week, lowering their payroll commitment to about $22 million spread over nine signed players.
That would give general manager Ken Holland wiggle room to re-sign forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Steve Yzerman and Henrik Zetterberg while also going after a No. 1 goalie, an experienced defenseman and a goal-scoring forward in free agency.
Here's one guess about the Wings' opening-night roster:
Goaltenders: The Wings like Manny Legace, but more as a backup than a No. 1 over the long term.
Legace has shown he can take over the job, if needed, for a stretch. During the 2003-04 season, he kept the Wings on track while Dominik Hasek and Curtis Joseph were hurt.
So Legace is fine for a stretch. Just not too long a stretch.
The Wings would love to get Nikolai Khabibulin, as would a few other teams. But fitting Khabibulin under the cap would be tricky, no matter how much money the Wings set aside for such a purpose.
Some analysts predict that the Tampa Bay Lightning will find a way to slot Khabibulin within their salary cap, because they don't want to go into the season with unproven John Grahame as their No. 1 goalie.
Khabibulin also hasn't given any indication he wants to leave Tampa.
So it probably will be Plan B for the Wings, and that could mean former Wing Chris Osgood.
Osgood has bounced from the Islanders to the Blues since being let go when Hasek came aboard in 2001-02.
But Holland knows Osgood and might feel secure with an Osgood-Legace tandem. After all, the Wings won a Stanley Cup with Osgood in 1998.
Defensemen: Nicklas Lidstrom, Jiri Fischer and Jamie Rivers are signed. Niklas Kronwall is a restricted free agent, with no leverage, so he will be signed soon enough.
The Wings think highly of Fischer and Kronwall.
Fischer, 25, could be approaching his prime years. He was impressive while playing for the Czech Republic team at the World Cup and World Championships.
Kronwall was easily the best defenseman for the Grand Rapids Griffins, and possibly the best in the American Hockey League, last season.
After that, it gets tricky.
Mathieu Dandenault, under the guidelines of the collective bargaining agreement, could become an unrestricted free agent. But Dandenault likes the city and the Wings organization.
Yes, Chris Chelios is 43, but he would play here for a lot less money than he could earn elsewhere. Chelios is a fan favorite and could add grit to this lineup. So it wouldn't be surprising to see him return.
The last spot could go to a player such as Dmitri Bykov, who played with the Wings in 2002-03, then returned to Russia.
But Bykov is interested in coming back to the NHL, and he would be a good fit given his experience, sound play and relatively meager salary demands.
Forwards: Brendan Shanahan, Robert Lang, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Tomas Holmstrom are signed.
Yzerman is an unrestricted free agent, but indications are he will return for one more season.
Datsyuk and Zetterberg are key restricted free agents. They won't play for another NHL team, but Datsyuk could remain in Russia if he doesn't come to terms with the Wings. Before the lockout, negotiations weren't going well.
How much Datsyuk and Zetterberg ultimately receive will have a large impact on the Wings' cap situation.
Jason Williams is a restricted free agent who will be re-signed.
The Wings would like another strong goal-scoring wing. They had an eye on Glen Murray (formerly of the Boston Bruins), and don't be surprised if those negotiations pick up again after Aug. 1.
If the Wings buy out McCarty, they might want to add size and toughness. How about Martin Lapointe?
Lapointe, a former Wing, made his fortune off his last contract with the Bruins. He could be persuaded to return to Detroit -- which he didn't really want to leave in the first place -- at a drastically reduced price.
After that, it will be a case of filling out the roster with young players such as Mark Mowers, Johan Franzen, Matt Ellis, Jiri Hudler and Valterri Filppula.
An experienced, productive fourth line is a luxury that few teams will be able to afford in this new era of the NHL. On many teams, the energy source might have to be young, inexperienced lines.
You can reach Ted Kulfan at (313) 223-4606 or firstname.lastname@example.org