STATE OF THE UNION
As expected, the salary-cap stricken Detroit Red Wings got hammered once free agency started July 1.
Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky and Ty Conklin led the charge out of Motown, and Jiri Hudler appears headed for a Russian team. In return, the Wings added only Jason Williams (a former Wing) up front, plus organizational depth by signing veteran journeyman defensemen Doug Janik and Andy Delmore to two-way contracts. They also signed forward Patrick Eaves, who's had injury problems for much of his career.
The total carnage appears to be messy, but outside of the Hudler situation, the departures came as no surprise to the Wings' hierarchy, who still feel that with the team's core in place and in its prime, they again will be serious contenders for the Stanley Cup.
"I believe we have the potential (to win the Cup)," Wings GM Ken Holland told NHL.com last month.
Chalk it up to smart drafting, excellent player development and inventive contracts. Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg, a pair of home-grown players, signed cap-friendly contracts last season that should keep them in Detroit for another decade.
Pavel Datsyuk, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Dan Cleary and Valtteri Filppula all are signed for at least three more seasons. Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom are entering the final season of their contracts, but there's little doubt both will re-sign if they want to keep playing beyond this season. Chris Osgood is inked for two more seasons.
"We like the core of our team, and we've basically married them," Detroit coach Mike Babcock told NHL.com. "We've signed them to long-term deals, are paying them lots of money and they're the guys that have to drive the bus."
With only a few subtle differences, the Wings' lineup should look similar to the one Babcock used to win the Stanley Cup 14 months ago.
"We like the core of our team and we've basically married them. We've signed them to long-term deals, are paying them lots of money and they're the guys that have to drive the bus."
-- Detroit coach Mike Babcock
Helm has been a key component in the last two playoff runs. Ericsson, Abdelkader and Leino all earned their stripes in the playoffs last season. Howard has been a top goalie prospect for some time -- and this season, he'll get his chance as a backup to Osgood. Meech is in the picture, but if Andreas Lilja is healthy the Wings will have eight blueliners, and that doesn't include Janik and Delmore.
However, it's not fair for the Wings to ask or expect Helm, Leino and Abdelkader to replace the 82 combined goals Detoit got last season from Hossa, Samuelsson and Hudler.
That's why consistent production from Filppula and Cleary is essential.
Filppula's goal-scoring dipped from 19 in 2007-08 to 12 last season. Cleary had 14 goals after back-to-back 20-goal efforts, but regained his touch in the playoffs with 9 goals.
Both should be in the top six to start the season, meaning they'll get to play with the likes of Franzen, Zetterberg and Datsyuk, which should add to their value.
Detroit, though, still can't expect to score an NHL-best 3.30 goals per game like it did last season, so solid goaltending from Osgood and Howard is a must. It's also far from guaranteed.
Osgood is coming off the worst regular season of his career, but also one of the best postseason runs he's ever had. He insists he knows what he was doing wrong during the regular season, but which Osgood shows up will determine a lot of the Wings' success.
After four seasons in the American Hockey League, Howard finally will get his chance to be in Detroit full time, and he's bidding to be the Wings' goalie of the future. Detroit also has two prospects waiting behind Howard -- Thomas McCollum and Daniel Larsson.
"I'm wrecking lots of napkins this summer putting people all over the place," Babcock said. "Then we're going to start and see what happens."
Jonathan Ericsson and Darren Helm don't have Calder Trophy eligibility, so you can't exactly call them prospects anymore. Heck, they each have Stanley Cup rings and Helm has played in more playoff games (41) than regular-season games (23).
That means two of the Wings' prized prospects have graduated to the big time, opening the door for two more big-time prospects to jump into the top five.
Here is a look at the Red Wings' five best prospects entering the 2009-10 season:
Justin Abdelkader -- Like Helm, Abdelkader has played in more Stanley Cup Playoff games (10) than regular-season games (four). He appeared in two regular-season games last season and two games in 2007-08. A solid two-way forward, Abdelkader will be given every chance to make the Wings' roster out of training camp. They think he can be a future leader.
Jimmy Howard -- Is this finally the season the American-born goalie, now 25, becomes an NHL regular? It would appear so, as Howard has been anointed Chris Osgood's backup. He has been biding his time in Grand Rapids since 2005 and has appeared in only nine NHL games spread across three seasons. Howard will have to impress early for the Wings not to look outside the organization for a backup as the stretch run nears.
Brendan Smith -- The Wings' first-round pick in 2007 is entering his third and most important season at the University of Wisconsin. He has been plagued by injuries in his collegiate career, so the key is for him to stay healthy and play a full season. If he's able to do that, the smooth-skating, puck-moving defender likely will get a pro contract next summer.
Jakub Kindl -- The Czech-born defenseman was an all-star in the American Hockey League last season with Grand Rapids and could be used by the Wings on a call-up basis this season. After struggling in 2007-08, Kindl was much better last season and Nill said he's right on pace with his development. He recently signed a three-year extension.
Thomas McCollum -- The Wings' 2008 first-round pick (No. 30) fought adversity to have a fine season. McCollum struggled, as did most of the American team, at the 2009 World Junior Championship. However, he was able to bounce back and lead the Brampton Battalion deep in the OHL playoffs. He's turning pro and will be given a chance to be the No. 1 goalie in Grand Rapids.
When you consistently get your first pick near the end of the first round -- or as was the case this year, early in the second round -- you can't exactly target one area of need because, well, you don't necessarily have one and your choices are limited.
So the Red Wings went with the same philosophy as always in Montreal. "Pick the best player available," Wings Assistant GM Jim Nill told NHL.com.
The Wings think they got that in Landon Ferraro, who they selected No. 32. From then on, the Wings stuck with the organizational philosophy of acquiring skill. Only once did they go off the board with that and pick a mucker/grinder-type.
Here is a quick look at the seven selections the Red Wings made in Montreal this June:
Landon Ferraro -- The son of former NHL player Ray Ferraro, Landon had 37 goals and 18 assists in 68 games with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. The 5-foot-11 speedster is known for his skating and two-way game as well as his ability to win faceoffs. The Wings also like his bloodlines.
Tomas Tatar -- He jumped onto Detroit's radar with a strong showing at World Junior Championship, as he had 11 points in seven games for Slovakia. Was it a good two-week stretch and not a true telling of how good he is? The jury is out, but the Wings tracked Tatar for the rest of the season and liked him enough to use the No. 60 pick on him. They're hoping he'll come to North America this season.
Andrej Nestrasil -- He had 57 points in 66 games with Victoriaville in the QMJHL and could develop into a power forward if he becomes a stronger skater. Nill said he stuck out at the World Under-18 Championship when he was the best player on the Czech team.
Gleason Fournier -- A defenseman who had 28 points in 66 games with Rimouski of the QMJHL this past season. Nill thinks he's a great skater who has upside as a puck-moving defender.
Nick Jensen -- Jensen is 6-1 and 190 pounds and is years away from being NHL ready. He is supposed to play one more year with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL before attending St. Cloud State.
Michael Callahan -- The only non-skilled player the Wings took, Callahan can fill an agitator's role. He had 27 points and 188 penalty minutes for the WHL's Kelowna Rockets.
Adam Almqvist -- The Wings took a Swedish defenseman in the seventh round (No. 210), which means one day he'll win the Conn Smythe Trophy. OK, we're joking (to a point), but history suggests Almqvist has as good a chance as any to become a key player for the Wings. Hockey sense is his best attribute.