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31 in 31

Inside look at Detroit Red Wings

Lack of roster flexibility could hinder goal of returning to Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Dave Hogg / NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Detroit Red Wings.

This season will be one of change for the Detroit Red Wings, from their ownership structure to the arena they will play in to perhaps an adjustment of philosophy.

For the first time since 1982, the Red Wings will begin a season without Mike Ilitch as their owner. After Ilitch's death Feb. 10 at 87, the Red Wings are being run by his son Christopher, the CEO of Ilitch Holdings.

The Red Wings will start the season in a new home, Little Caesars Arena. They played their final game at Joe Louis Arena, their home since 1979, on April 9.

 

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And for the first time since 1990, Detroit will start a season having not qualified for the playoffs the previous season, their 25-season run ending in 2016-17.

The Red Wings may start a rebuilding process that could take a few seasons of pain for some long-term gain, or they may try to assemble a more veteran group that could start a new postseason streak immediately.

Each path is difficult, and made tougher by the limits of the NHL salary cap. Detroit is nearly $4 million over the $75 million cap for this season, according to CapFriendly.com; teams are allowed to exceed the cap by 10 percent during the offseason.

Forwards Henrik Zetterberg, who turns 37 on Oct. 9 ($6.083 million), Frans Nielsen, 33 ($5.25 million), Justin Abdelkader, 30 ($4.25 million), and defensemen Niklas Kronwall, 36 ($4.75 million), and Jonathan Ericsson, 33 ($4.25 million) are five of Detroit's nine top-paid players, and all are signed through at least the 2019-20 season. The Red Wings also have forward Johan Franzen, who last played Oct. 10, 2015, because of concussion-related issues, counting $3.9 million against the salary cap for three more seasons.

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Detroit's only significant free agent acquisition was defenseman Trevor Daley, who signed a three-year contract reportedly worth $9.5 million (average annual value of $3.167 million) on July 1. Daley, who turns 34 on Oct. 9, joins a top-six group that is expected to include four players 31 or older, along with Kronwall, Ericsson and Mike Green, 31.

There isn't much room for newcomers among the forwards. Martin Frk, who turns 24 on Oct. 5, Tyler Bertuzzi, 22, and Evgeny Svechnikov, 20, are expected to compete for one spot, but the other 11 forward positions are occupied by veterans under contract.

The Red Wings left goaltender Petr Mrazek unprotected in the NHL Expansion Draft, but the Vegas Golden Knights instead selected forward Tomas Nosek.

That means Mrazek, who will count $4 million against the salary cap this season, likely will start the season as the backup to Jimmy Howard. Mrazek will compete for the spot with Jared Coreau, 25, who had a 3.46 goals-against average in 14 games for the Red Wings and then helped Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League win the Calder Cup.

The Red Wings chose center Michael Rasmussen of Tri-City of the Western Hockey League with the No. 9 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, but he is expected to spend at least one more season in juniors.

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