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Wings lose Franzen for 4 months with torn ACL

by Dan Rosen
Johan Franzen is done for at least four months, a torn ACL in his left knee is to blame. The ramifications this has on the Red Wings lineup are huge and could potentially tilt the balance of power in the Central Division.

Franzen, who scored the game-winning goal in Thursday's 3-2 win over Chicago, has been playing left wing on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom.

"It happened last night, I don't know exactly when," General Manager Ken Holland told the Detroit News. "It happened before he scored the goal (second period) and he played the rest of the game with it."

Holland said the Wings have recalled forward Justin Abdelkader.

Franzen's absence creates a huge hole for coach Mike Babcock to fill. How will he do it?

"You don't lose a power forward who scores 35 goals and breaks Gordie Howe's playoff scoring record and think you're going to magically find another one and plop him in there," Holland said. "It's going to put pressure on 18 other guys. Everyone's got to be 10-percent better. At the same time it opens up an opportunity for somebody else to step up."

Babcock has a few options if the Wings want to stay in house and not sign one of the remaining free agents such as Miroslav Satan.

Since Franzen is going on IR, it does create some salary cap space to make such a move or find a trading partner, but we're not tapping Holland's phone.

Instead, let's take a look at what the Wings have in house to solve this dilemma.

First off, let's remember that center Darren Helm is due back soon from his shoulder injury and when he returns he will be slotted in and should reprise his role on the penalty kill as well.

With Helm in the lineup, Babcock has more flexibility. He could push Valtteri Filppula over to the wing to play with Datsyuk and Holmstrom, giving the Wings a similar look -- albeit not as talented -- as they have when they use Datsyuk and Zetterberg together.

Filppula is a playmaking pivot, but so are Zetterberg and Datsyuk and they obviously work well together. Helm would take over as the third-line center between Ville Leino and Jason Williams.

Helm could also play on the wing with Datsyuk and Holmstrom.

Helm, though, may not be back for Saturday's game against Washington, which means we might see the Wings' debut of Patrick Eaves or Justin Abdelkader, who has been recalled from Grand Rapids. He was sent down earlier this week to make room for enforcer Brad May, but could play center on the third or fourth line.

Ville Leino could be a guy Babcock moves into Franzen's spot with Datsyuk and Holmstrom. He's got a nose for the net and a big body that he likes to throw around just like Franzen. Eaves could replace Leino on the third line with Filppula and Williams.

Filppula, though, could still be moved up to play with Datsyuk and Holmstrom, but that would likely mean Abdelkader would have to jump into the mix because the Wings would need another center.

Babcock, though, could also go back to the well and create a lethal top line with Datsyuk, Zetterberg and either Dan Cleary or Tomas Holmstrom. If he does that, Todd Bertuzzi and the remaining winger, Cleary or Holmstrom, would have to be centered by Filppula.

Kris Draper could move up to play between Leino and Williams, leaving Abdelkader to play with May and Kirk Maltby.

Bottom line, with Franzen out the Wings desperately need Helm back and the onus falls on guys like him, Williams, Leino, Filppula, Bertuzzi and Cleary to score some goals.

"We can feel sorry for ourselves, but nobody else is," Holland told the News. "We're going to have to dig deep, keep grinding and keep competing."

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