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Changes coming for Wings

by Brian Compton
Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock met his team one last time before it parted ways for the summer, one that certainly would be a lot more enjoyable had they found a way to close out the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Wings held a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series before losing a pair of 2-1 games -- including Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena on Friday night. Two days later, the players cleaned out their lockers -- some of them for the last time in Detroit.

"It's just an opportunity for me as a coach to give thanks, to be honest with you," Babcock said. "The guys played hard and competed as hard as they could. Three years in a row, we've had outstanding runs. We're disappointed not being able to get it done. In saying all that, we've got to get ready and cranked up for next year. We plan on being good again."

Detroit General Manager Ken Holland will have some work to do this summer. For starters, Marian Hossa -- who bolted Pittsburgh last summer to sign a one-year deal with the Red Wings -- once again is an unrestricted free agent. Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky, Chris Chelios and Ty Conklin also are free to sign with any club on July 1.

Samuelsson, 32, was asked if he feels he'll be back in Motown this fall for a fifth season with the club.

"I'm not going to say anything about that ... it's not obviously up to me," said Samuelsson, who had 19 goals and 21 assists in 2008-09. "Let's see."

The biggest question this offseason for the Wings is whether they can lock Hossa up long-term. The 30-year-old made $7.45 million this season and scored 40 goals.

"I'd love to have him back ... I think he's a great man," Babcock said. "This is going to be something that bugs him. I was very impressed with his contributions to our team and his commitment to his teammates and how hard he worked. I've also got a lot of respect for a guy who makes a decision and stands by that. He's got to carry his head high and go about his business like he always does -- with a lot of pride." 

With changes come different looks, and Detroit is bound to have a different look in 2009-10. Up front, Darren Helm has all but locked up a permanent spot in Motown after another tremendous postseason. Justin Abdelkader showed poise and the ability to play a physical game, although the Michigan State product could play for the Wings' American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids next season. And 25-year-old left wing Ville Leino is waiting for his time to shine after tallying 9 points in 13 games during the regular season. Jiri Hudler, who scored a career-high 23 goals, is a restricted free agent and due for a big raise from the $1.15 million he earned this season.

Defensively, Jonathan Ericsson assured himself a spot on the Wings' blue line by filling in tremendously for the injured Brian Rafalski during Detroit's second-round series against the Anaheim Ducks. The teams' defense core of Nicklas Lidstrom, Rafalski, Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall is signed at least through next season, when Lidstrom's contract expires.

"All we do is we keep trying to get better," Babcock said. "What happens is there's only so much pie to go around. As you win more games and your players get better, they get bigger contracts. You need guys like Helm and Leino and Ericsson and (goalie Jimmy) Howard to come in and make a difference. We're in the winning business, so they only get the jobs if they're good enough to have the jobs. We'll try to figure that out and try to add to our team if we possibly can.

"Let's not kid ourselves ... we've got to be a pretty good team to be better than we were this year -- or the previous year or the one before that," Babcock said. "I always feel if you get to the final four in hockey, you've done an outstanding job, and that's three years in a row for us."

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