NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the Detroit Red Wings.
The Detroit Red Wings find themselves in a rut.
Yes, they have reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 25 consecutive seasons, but they have been eliminated in the first round in four of the past five.
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So, the Red Wings' goal is to become a Stanley Cup contender again without going through the pains of rebuilding and missing the playoffs.
"Rebuilds take 8-10 years in my opinion, and that's if you want to tank it and go through a massive rebuild. I don't think anybody wants to go through a massive rebuild," Detroit general manager Ken Holland said. "I think we've got to try to marginally get better, maybe change the look of our team a little bit, and we've got to try to find a way to make the playoffs and give ourselves another opportunity."
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For the first time in 15 years, they will not have center Pavel Datsyuk leading the charge to the postseason. Datsyuk, 38, decided this spring that he wanted to return to Russia and finish his career there despite having a year remaining on his NHL contract. As a result, the Red Wings traded Datsyuk and the No. 16 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft to the Arizona Coyotes for the No. 20 and No. 53 picks, as well as forward Joe Vitale. The deal cleared a $7.5 million NHL salary-cap charge against the Red Wings, giving them financial flexibility to reshape their roster. Datsyuk then returned to Russia and will play this season for SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League.
"Obviously that's a huge loss, both in the locker room and on the ice," Red Wings center Luke Glendening said. "But everyone's just got to step up a little bit. It's not going to be one guy's job to carry the load that he carried. That's pretty impossible."
To help, Detroit signed free agent center Frans Nielsen to a six-year contract reportedly worth $31.5 million on July 1 (an average annual value of $5.25 million). Nielsen, 32, had 20 goals and 52 points and was plus-12 in 81 games with the New York Islanders last season. Datsyuk, 38, had 16 goals and 49 points in 66 games.
"Our No. 1 priority was a center," Holland said. "... [Frans] played behind [John] Tavares (in New York) and had a lot of responsibility offensively and defensively. We feel he's a 200-foot player."
The Red Wings also signed right wing Thomas Vanek to a one-year contract worth $2.6 million and forward Steve Ott to a one-year, $800,000 contract.
Vanek, 32, has 316 NHL goals in 11 seasons but a combined 39 the past two with the Minnesota Wild, who bought out his contract.
Video: Thomas Vanek signs with the Red Wings
"You're always looking for goals, and Thomas had 18 goals (last season)," Holland said. "Obviously, him getting bought out of his contract in Minnesota, we think we've got a motivated athlete."
The Red Wings were 23rd in the League with 209 goals, and their top three goal-scorers had 23 (rookie Dylan Larkin), 21 (Tomas Tatar) and 19 (Justin Abdelkader).
Ott, 33, is an abrasive fourth-line player. He had two assists in 21 games with the St. Louis Blues and had surgery on his hamstring in December.
Detroit re-signed goaltender Petr Mrazek, defensemen Danny DeKeyser and Alexey Marchenko, and forwards Glendening and Darren Helm.
Mrazek, who will go into the season as the No. 1 goaltender, signed a two-year contract worth $8 million (AAV: $4 million) on July 27, the day when his arbitration hearing was scheduled. He earned $737,500 last season, when he was spectacular in January (7-1-1, 1.32 GAA, .952 save percentage) but slumped from the middle of February until the end of the regular season, when he was pulled in five of 14 starts.
The 24-year-old lost the job to former No. 1 Jimmy Howard but returned to start Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Tampa Bay Lightning and played the remainder of the series, which Detroit lost in five games.
Mrazek was 27-16-6 with a 2.33 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and four shutouts.
The previous day, DeKeyser signed a six-year contract worth $30 million (AAV: $5 million). The 26-year-old was the Red Wings' best and most consistent defenseman last season, and had eight goals and 20 points in 78 games. He was second on Detroit in ice time (21:48), behind Niklas Kronwall (22:00), and first among defensemen in average ice time while shorthanded (2:41).
Detroit signed Glendening to a four-year, $7.2 million contract extension on July 14 (AAV: $1.8 million), and retained Helm and Marchenko on July 1. Helm signed a five-year contract worth $19.25 million (AAV: $3.85 million) and Marchenko a two-year contract reportedly worth $2.9 million (AAV: $1.45 million).
The Red Wings also signed fourth line penalty-killing specialist Drew Miller. The left wing, who is coming off knee surgery, got a one-year contract reportedly worth $1.025 million, and right wing Teemu Pulkkinen, an unrestricted free agent, signed a one-year contract reportedly worth $812,500. Pulkkinen will miss the first two months of the season recovering from shoulder surgery.