Ken Holland is anticipating a busy summer -- albeit one that started a little too early..
"As we head into this summer, we have a lot of decisions to make," the Detroit Red Wings general manager told the team's Web site on Wednesday. "But I want to be a Cup contender. And to be a Cup contender you need lots of ingredients."
One player who won't be in the mix -- at least not next season -- is Swedish goaltending prospect Daniel Larsson, who played in 53 games for AHL Grand Rapids last season but has opted to play in his native Sweden in 2010-11. However, the move to play for HV-71 of the Swedish Elite League doesn't mean he's gone forever -- the Red Wings still own his NHL rights for three more years.
"Obviously, we don't have access to him next year, he's playing in Sweden," said Holland, whose team was eliminated by San Jose in the second round -- its earliest playoff exit since 2006. "We always want five goalies, so we're going to go out and sign another veteran minor-league goaltender. We always have two in Detroit, two in Grand Rapids and one in (ECHL) Toledo."
Holland also announced Wednesday that the club has signed gritty forward Mattias Ritola, a fourth-round pick in the 2005 Entry Draft, to a three-year contract. Though he still has some improvements to make -- especially the assimilation to the North American style of play, the 23-year-old will be given every opportunity to make the Wings as a third- or fourth-line forward, Holland said.
"He's got skill and he's been in our organization for three years," Holland said. "He's gotten better every year. He needed to be more consistent. When he turned pro he would have a good shift, a bad shift, a good game, a bad game. His consistency has been better, but he still is in the European-mode and likes to play keepaway at times. We want him to shoot, to get the puck to the net, to go to the net.
"We're hoping by signing him up that we've shown him a commitment and we're hoping that he uses that to understand that we think he can be an NHL player. Now he has to go out and do it, because there's opportunity here."
Ritola, 23, played in the five regular-season games for Detroit and dressed for the Red Wings' 7-1 win over San Jose in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals. He had 19 goals and 42 points in 73 games for Grand Rapids.
The Wings have another newcomer -- although Jiri Hudler is actually an old face. He returned to the Wings after playing for a season in Russia and is working out in California.
"I just talked to (Hudler) from Los Angeles where he's been working out," Holland said. "It shows me that he wants to come back and he wants to be in shape. It's not like he's floating around somewhere. He wants his career to take a step forward."
Hudler, 26, played three seasons with the Wings, collecting 52 goals with 75 assists in 255 career NHL games.
Another player who could make the roster in September is forward Jan Mursak, who had 24 goals with 18 assists in Grand Rapids last season – a 33-point improvement from the previous year.
"He's been a good player, who has been physically weak, but he's slowly getting stronger," Holland said. "I think that Jan Mursak has a chance to play in the National Hockey League down the road. He plays with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of passion."
The rest of the Wings' roster moves will be dictated by what happens to their current unrestricted free agents once the free agency period opens on July 1. The biggest UFA is captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who's now 40. But Holland also has to make decisions about players like Tomas Holmstrom, Todd Bertuzzi, Kirk Maltby, Jason Williams and Andreas Lilja.
It all depends on our unrestricteds," Holland said. "We can't sign everybody and Hudler is coming back and his cap number is pushing $3 million. I don't know where the cap is going, but I hope that it goes up a little bit."
NHL teams will know the final salary cap no later than June 30, though they likely should know a ballpark figure by the GM meetings early next month.
"Ultimately, every summer you reassess and there's a changing of the guard," Holland said. "Some veterans have to go and it's important for some kids to come up. We thought there was some changing of the guard in net with Jimmy Howard, but we're hoping that Chris Osgood comes back this year and pushes Jimmy Howard at camp.
"We're only going to be better if there's a tremendous competition. We don't want our veteran guys to just sit on the sidelines and let people take their job. We want competition. That's how the team is going to get deeper and stronger. We also think that it's good that the kids have to fight to make your team. You just don't hand them a job. They have to beat people out of a job."